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Challenging heroic masculinity: leadership myths of nineteenth century King Shaka Zulu

Weir, J. (2008) Challenging heroic masculinity: leadership myths of nineteenth century King Shaka Zulu. In: Engendering Leadership Through Research and Practice, 22 - 24 July, University of Western Australia, Perth

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The Zulu of southern African have long been held as a particularly strong example of African patriarchy. Over almost two hundred years, king Shaka Zulu (b. 1787, d. 1828), has been credited with founding the great Zulu state, and he has often been described as a brilliant leader, warrior and military strategist conquering all in his path − the ‘black Napoleon’. Popular history books abound with ‘facts’ of Shaka’s life. Two books have been published in recent years that translate so called leadership secrets of king Shaka to modern leadership and management practice. Leadership lessons from Emperor Shaka Zulu the Great by Phinda Madi (2000), and Lessons on Leadership by Terror: Finding Shaka Zulu in the Attic by Manfred Kets de Vries (2004). On the basis of lessons learned from Shaka, or aspects of his psychology, Madi manages to produce 10 leadership lessons including ‘leading the charge’, while Kets de Vries provides 15 lessons. Not only is much of what is
written about Shaka based on myth, but also totally ignores the leadership role of chiefly women. It is curious that these myths of Shaka still hold so strongly despite research findings to the contrary. Leadership by women was an intrinsic part of several pre-colonial systems in southern Africa, and Shaka did not rule alone. This is all very far removed from any lessons on modern management and leadership to be learned from king Shaka. Many of the points in this paper in relation to women have raised in previously published work (Weir 2006), but it is worth repeating in an effort to go some way towards limiting the impact and reproduction of Shaka myths in the modern leadership studies, and because the role of women has been left out. There’s enough evidence to show that the long enduring picture of Shaka Zulu presented by Kets de Vries, and many before him, is questionable.

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