The Leadership lessons from Emperor Shaka Zulu the Great

by Limbic on January 30, 2008


I found this book in a charity bookshop in Ealing. I bought the book because I liked the cheesy cover and every South African has a fascination with Shaka Zulu.

I was surprised to find myself enjoying the little book, and I finished it in one sitting on the plane to Belgrade from London.

The books introduction tells the story of a young consultant with a very tough gig at a well established South African corporation. The problems in the company stem from poor leadership. Whilst complaining to his wife about the impossibility of his task, she reminds him of a family heirloom – a diary written by his grandfather at the turn of the 20th century which reveal the leadership secrets of Africa’s greatest emperor Shaka Zulu. He rushes to the family home and reads the diary.

The bulk of the book is the diary itself, written by the Oxford educated Phinda Mzwakhe Madi, the author’s grandfather.

It recounts a series of encounters with Shaka’s aunt and eventually murderer Nobelungu. She recounts Shaka’s rise and fall – and most importantly his leadership secrets – which help young Madi overcome his foes and problems related to setting u the first newspaper in Zululand.

The 10 Principles are:

1. Build a sense of Mission
2. Mission is more important than convention
3. To be a conqueror, be apprenticed to a conqueror
4. Lead the charge (from the front)
5. Build a fanatical team
6. Go where angels fear to tread
7. be a good strategist (or get one)
8. Know the battlefield (better than the enemy)
9. Be obsessed with world-class technologies
10. Never believe your own PR

I groaned when I read this list. They sound like the usual leadership clich?s. There are however a few gems in the text and an genuinely interesting take on some of these themes.

The best advice, and the wisdom Nobelungu considered the most important, was the last: Never believe your own PR. Shaka, who was adored by his people, eventually became a figure of hate who nearly destroyed everything he had build after he became convinced he was a demi-god. Eventually his team – the very people he has brought together to help him achieve his mission of unifying the African people – had to kill him to preserve what was left of his achievements.

The book is available on

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