We take seriously the weight we carry, our commitments and seek help
What came first: the leader or the follower? Ujima (collective work and responsibility) answers that these positions were born at the same time. As leaders, we are anchored within community, it is our moral obligation—in service to the group and to ourselves—that we ensure equity of work and responsibility. Equity guarantees that all members of a community have what they need to be productive while examining the structures, policies and procedures that enable oppression and marginalization. What does this look like? First and foremost, a leader is a servant of the community, not a superior to it. Ujima suggests that we must be attuned to the diverse needs of the collective and adopt them as if they were our own. This looks like listening and applying as much attention to the affective growth of the organization as we would to its cognitive development. Essentially, it is not enough for the leader to be positioned at the head of an organization; they must also be centered at the heart. Like the African proverb says, “He who refuses to obey cannot command.” After all, there is no leader without a following. And it is only when our communities choose to follow, that a leader is given real meaning.
If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together.African Proverb
To better grasp this principle, let us, for a moment, reflect upon the metaphysical relationship between leader and follower. As with all relationships, this sacred bond is consummated through connection. Contrary to Western ideology, the spirit of Umoja (unity) posits that leadership intuitively depends on connection over control. It is therefore critical that we are centered in the awareness of our communities’ humanity, to better serve them and ourselves. In the absence of a strong connection, our organizations and institutions are likely to exist in a dichotomous, inhumane relationship. This could look like the corporate ladder, where status and wealth are predetermined by a hierarchy of positions that do not collectively interact. The principle of Ujima, however, emphasizes complementarity through collective responsibility. In other words, an inherent twinness connects the leader and follower. After all, these positions were created simultaneously and are, therefore, interrelated.
Where does Ujima begin? Connection starts with how we communicate. To be effective communicators and, therefore, effective leaders, we must hold true to the weight of our words. Communication breathes life and energy into our collective needs and responsibilities. After all, words hold power. There is power in the significance of a promise, just as there is power in the shame of a reprimand. However, leaders should not misinterpret this power to be one-sided. Ujima ends in our failed commitments. If our words bear no weight, then the community will be uncommitted to their responsibilities. Refuse to operate as a collective, disregard the communities’ humanity, and ignore their communication, and you will have a community without a leader. Ujima teaches that our responsibility is to the community, and our work is the struggle. This principle underlines the Akoben Way as we seek to lead our communities in the struggle to serve.