To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.
by Dr. Malik Muhammad and Sadiki Muhammad
It’s quite interesting that when we think about leadership we often don’t associate it with unity. Umoja, which translates from Kiswahili as “unity” is the first principle of the Nguzo Saba. What else is there to be done if not based and rooted in unity? Umoja provides the requirement to get in and remain connected, always seeking ways for us to come together in person, thought, and spirit: the 3 levels of our existence. Leadership, therefore, leads us toward a unity of action, thought, and heart.
To begin, we must come together.
Dr. Malik Muhammad
Does this focus on unity mean that we should not have conflict or disagreement? Does unity provide for the space to challenge ideas, tactics, strategies, and each other? Absolutely! Real unity requires the opportunity for all voices to be heard, including the dissenting ones. Leaders must strive to listen to all voices, think positively about what they say, and acknowledge the validity and soundness of even criticism. To do this well, leaders must have a genuine desire to know their people, be among them and avoid isolation from them and their problems. Amilcar Cabral, a revolutionary leader from Guinea Bissau, wrote that “the basic principle of unity lies in the difference between [things]. If this were not true, it would not be necessary to make unity in the first place.” He argued that there is, in fact, a dialectical relationship between unity and struggle. Unity is a means for us, especially leaders, to deepen the productive struggle, the internal struggle which leads to dynamic growth within an organization dedicated to a common and worthy aim.
Umoja also creates the opportunity for leaders to have their ideas and direction “sense-checked” by others. It is true that no one of us is more intelligent than all of us. Upholding the value of unity is critical to both building and creating a deep sense of belonging and community within our organizations but also to keep our own leadership grounded and aligned to the common direction of the people within the organization.
Umoja is analogous to the African philosophy of Ubuntu, a Nguni Bantu term meaning “I am we” or “I am because we are”. In the investigation of these concepts, we realize the prevalence of this concept throughout human history: the Hygge in Norway, the Maat in Egypt, and the Ikigai of Japan. As leaders, it is imperative to recognize that we too are only one part of the collective, one cog in the wheel of time. As such, we must honor the truths that our collective histories have offered so that we might navigate a more united future.
From a restorative perspective, Umoja is synonymous with connection, therefore leading from the WITH box means holding unity (Umoja) and struggle (challenge) in a powerful dynamic tension. Umoja, the first and perhaps the most considerable of the Nguzo Saba, reminds us that it is through unity that we will accomplish more, better, faster and significant together, beyond what we as leaders can do alone.