An African Theory of Good Leadership

Thaddeus Metz


This article draws on the indigenous African tradition of philosophy to ground a moral-philosophical theory of leadership that is intended to rival accounts in the East Asian and Western traditions. After providing an interpretation of the characteristically sub-Saharan value of communion, the article advances a philosophical account of a good leader as one who creates, sustains, and enriches communal relationships and enables others to do so. The article then applies this account to a variety of topics, including what the proper final end of an organization is, how decisions ought to be made within it, who counts as a stakeholder, and how to deal with non-performing or misbehaving employees. For each topic, the article notes respects in which the African theory of good leadership entails approaches that differ from other, more internationally familiar ones, and suggests that its implications are prima facie attractive relative to them. 


African ethics; Communion; Decision making; Employee relations; Leadership; Stakeholder theory

Full Text:



References (aside from those deleted for blind review)

Ake, C. 1987. The African context of human rights. Africa Today, 34: 5–12.

Amaeshi, K. and Idemudia, U. 2015. Africapitalism: A management idea for business in Africa? Africa Journal of Management, 1: 210–223.

Appiah, A. 1998. Ethical systems, African. In Routledge encyclopedia of philosophy, ed. E. Craig. London: Routledge.

Bhengu, M. J. 1996. Ubuntu: The essence of democracy. Cape Town: Novalis Press.

Bhengu, M. J. 2006. Ubuntu: The global philosophy for humankind. Cape Town: Lotsha Publications.

Blunt, P. and Jones, M. 1997. Exploring the limits of western leadership theory in East Asia and Africa. Personnel Review, 26: 6–23.

Bolden, R. and Kirk, P. 2009. African leadership. International Journal of Cross Cultural Management, 9: 69–86.

Boon, M. 2007. The African way: The power of interactive leadership, 3rd edn. Cape Town: Zebra Press.

Bujo, B. 1997. The ethical dimension of community: The African model and the dialogue between North and South, trans. C. N. Nganda. Nairobi: Paulines Publications Africa.

Chang, H-C. and Holt, G. R. 1991. More than relationship: Chinese interaction and the principle of kuan-hsi. Communication Quarterly, 39: 251–271.

Gbadegesin, S. 1991. African philosophy. New York: Peter Lang.

Greenleaf, R. 2002. Servant leadership. New York: Paulist Press.

Gyekye, K. 1997. Tradition and modernity: Philosophical reflections on the African experience. New York: Oxford University Press.

Gyekye, K. 2004. Beyond cultures; Ghanaian philosophical studies, volume III. Washington, DC: Council for Research in Values and Philosophy.

Gyekye, K. 2010. African ethics. In Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy, ed. E. Zalta.

Hiley, D. and Sass, R. 1985. Employee rights and the doctrine of at will employment. Business and Professional Ethics Journal, 4: 1–10.

Ip, P. K. 2009. Is Confucianism good for business ethics in China? Journal of Business Ethics, 88: 463–476.

Iroegbu, P. 2005. Beginning, purpose and end of life. In Kpim of morality ethics, ed. P. Iroegbu and A. Echekwube, 440–445. Ibadan: Heinemann Educational Books.

Jackson, T. 2004. Management and change in Africa. London: Routledge.

Kasenene, P. 1998. Religious ethics in Africa. Kampala: Fountain Publishers.

Khoza, R. 2006. Let Africa lead. Johannesburg: Vezubuntu.

Kuada, J. 2010. Culture and leadership in Africa. African Journal of Economic and Management Studies, 1: 9–24.

Li, C. 2014. The Confucian philosophy of harmony. London: Routledge.

Louw, D. 2010. Power sharing and the challenge of ubuntu ethics. Paper presented at the Forum for Religious Dialogue Symposium of the Research Institute for Theology and Religion held at the University of South Africa, 26–27 March 2009,

Lutz, D. 2009. African ubuntu philosophy and global management. Journal of Business Ethics, 84: 313–328.

Magesa, L. 1997. African religion. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.

Masango, M. 2002. Leadership in the African context. Verbum et Ecclesia, 23: 707–718.

Masolo, D. A. 2010. Self and community in a changing world. Bloomington: University of Indiana Press.

Mbigi, L. 2007. The spirit of African leadership. In Diversity, ed. K. April & M. Shockley, 294–303. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Mbigi, L. and Maree, J. 2005. Ubuntu: The spirit of African transformation management. Randburg: Knowres Publishing.

Menkiti, I. 2004. On the normative conception of a person. In A companion to African philosophy, ed. K. Wiredu, 324–331. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Mofuoa, K. 2015. The exemplary ethical leadership of King Moshoeshoe of Basotho of Lesotho in the nineteenth century Southern Africa. Journal of Public Administration and Governance, 5: 21–35.

Mokgoro, Y. 1998. Ubuntu and the law in South Africa. Potchefstroom Electronic Law Journal, 1: 15–26.

Msila, V. 2014. African leadership models in education. Anthropologist, 18: 1105–1114.

Murove, M. F. 2007. The Shona ethic of ukama with reference to the immortality of values. The Mankind Quarterly, 48: 235–241.

Ndlovu-Gatsheni, S. and Ngcaweni, B., ed. 2017. Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela: Decolonial ethics of liberation and servant leadership. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press.

Newenham-Kahindi, A. 2009. The transfer of ubuntu and indaba business models abroad. International Journal of Cross Cultural Management, 9: 87–108.

Nicholson, N. 2005. Meeting the Maasai: Messages for management. Journal of Management Inquiry, 14: 255–267.

Nkomo, S. 2011. A postcolonial and anti-colonial reading of “African” leadership and management in organization studies. Organization, 18: 365–386.

Nkondo, G. M. 2007. Ubuntu as a public policy in South Africa: A conceptual framework. International Journal of African Renaissance Studies, 2: 88–100.

Nkrumah, K. 1970. Consciencism: Philosophy and ideology for de-colonization, rev. edn. New York: Monthly Review.

Nkulu-N’Sengha, M. 2009. Bumuntu. In Encyclopedia of African religion, ed. M. K. Asante & A. Mazama, 142–147. Los Angeles: Sage.

Nussbaum, B. 2003. Ubuntu and business. World Business Academy Perspectives, 17: 1–16.

Nussbaum, B., Palsule, S. and Mkhize, V. 2010. Personal growth, African style. Johannesburg: Penguin Books.

Pheko, B. and Linchwe, K. 2008. Leadership from two cultural perspectives—a tune or discord: Botswana’s experience. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 27: 399–411.

Prozesky, M. 2016. Ethical leadership resources in Southern Africa's Sesotho-speaking culture and in King Moshoeshoe I. Journal of Global Ethics, 12: 6–16.

Rukuni, M. 2009. Leading Afrika. New York: Penguin.

Sautman, B. and Hairong, Y. 2015. Localizing Chinese enterprises in Africa: From myths to policies. Thought Leadership Brief, 5: 1–4,

Shutte, A. 2001. Ubuntu: An ethic for the new South Africa. Cape Town: Cluster Publications.

Tutu, D. 1999. No future without forgiveness. New York: Random House.

Wiredu, K. 1992. The African concept of personhood. In African-American perspectives on biomedical ethics, ed. H. Flack and E. Pellegrino, 104–117. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press.

Woermann, M. and Engelbrecht, S. 2017. The ubuntu challenge to business: From stakeholders to relationholders. Journal of Business Ethics DOI 10.1007/s10551-017-3680-6.

Xiaoyang, T. 2016. Does Chinese employment benefit Africans? African Studies Quarterly, 16: 107–128.



  • There are currently no refbacks.

ISSN 0976-3600 (on-line) ; ISSN 1817-7417 (print)

Powered by OJS and hosted by Stellenbosch University Library and Information Service since 2014.


This journal is hosted by the SU LIS on request of the journal owner/editor. The SU LIS takes no responsibility for the content published within this journal, and disclaim all liability arising out of the use of or inability to use the information contained herein. We assume no responsibility, and shall not be liable for any breaches of agreement with other publishers/hosts.

SUNJournals Help