One of the most impactful African words that I have ever come across is the North Sotho word “seriti”, meaning breath, spirit, presence or “shadow”. The word, in one of its renderings, refers to a person’s “presence” or the shadow that is cast by the character and personality of the person. This shadow is unique, as no two are alike (only you can cast your shadow). A shadow starts developing over time as a person lives with integrity, is real and true to himself or herself. People, with shadows that are influential, are people who take responsibility, don’t blame, are positive and make choices based on principles.

Some of the great leaders in our world had/have very large shadows – Martin Luther King, Mahatma Ghandi and Nelson Mandela, to name a few. If Nelson Mandela walked into any gathering, probably anywhere in the world, immediate respect would be shown and people would be quick to listen and slow to speak. His influence is huge.

On the other hand, it is not pleasant to be around people who are negative, reactive, always blaming and finding fault. If you saw such a person in the local supermarket, you would probably dart into a different aisle to avoid “listening to those same old stories yet again”! The “shadows” and subsequent potential influence of such people are negligible, as we don’t even want to be in their presence.

Leaders behave themselves into their respective shadows. Good rhetoric, on its own, doesn’t develop a shadow – real influence is developed through consistency of character, integrity, vision, proactivity, servanthood and selflessness.  Leaders with significant shadows are influential and leave a legacy.