Panel Discussion following Adriaan Groenewald's interview with Helen Zille
Copyright © Adriaan Groenewald
Used with permission of the author:
Author: Adriaan Groenewald
14 August 2007
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Panel Members - Adriaan Groenewald (Leadership Platform, Coach and Author); Lizwe Nkala (Leadership Platform, MD Moditure Consulting) and Nicola Tyler (CEO Business Results Group)
Adriaan: Lizwe, what can you take away from that interview? What stands out for you?
Lizwe: I think the one thing that clearly stands out when you listen to Helen is that she is very different to the public profile politician or leader that you normally hear and listen to in the media. She probably is the true opposite of the typical politician, she strikes me as more of a philosopher or an academic. You probably wouldn’t think she would be in politics. She has got a certain depth of how she approaches the political game, that’s one thing that comes across quite clearly.
Adriaan: We will expand on that now, because the question is: “Is that what is needed for this fringe stuff?” What did you pick up from that interview there Nicola?
Nicola: The theme that kept coming through for me was the focus on the value system, and repeatedly she spoke about identifying problem situations, deciding what the solutions were going to be, providing very clear direction for people, and then executing with courage. I don’t think it matters what leadership role you are in, I think that’s what most people look for in a leader, it’s a universal truth. That’s what came out for me - when she said the hallmark of a leader is about identification, decision, direction and execution. I like that.
Adriaan: Helen doesn’t read leadership books, she told me before the show - it's not part of her habit, but she talks comfortably around what’s expected of a leader, because of those universal principles l would guess.
Nicola: In some years they publish a thousand books on leadership in one year, I don’t know how many of us have read all the books on leadership. I think it goes back to her values, I think when you are in politics and in business that’s ultimately why people will follow you.
Adriaan: What role does her background play, we always touch on it in our analysis - what do you think, Lizwe?
Lizwe: She certainly has a very strong value system which somehow seems to flow out of her background. The mere fact that she comes from a German environment - everybody understands that Germans are quite straightforward, they are very clinical, they are executors and they are firm, they take the most economic route to get to the end game. You kind of see it in every space where a German executor is at work, I mean you see it in football, you see it in German fans, you see it in German cars - it’s all about efficiency. You get a sense that she is bred in that space and l guess a lot of it comes from her upbringing, her family background and so on.
Adriaan: That did come out on the research by the way, very strongly, the German golden thread did come through there. l like what you said - you said she is almost the opposite of a normal politician. Is this what South Africa needs, is this what the DA needs from a clinical analysis?
Lizwe: When you went and explored the whole fringe thinking and what her view is in terms of challenges for the country at a political level going forward, you get a sense that she’s got a very deep philosophical understanding of what the future needs to look like. You hardly associate that with political thinking - generally politicians tend to be very strong on constituency thinking - they lead on the basis of what the constituencies are looking for and they tend to appeal to certain constituencies. She seems to have the ability to come close to what constituency thinking is but at the same time she has the ability to withdraw herself from constituency thinking. She responded when she was talking about fringe thinking when she was saying the true essence of fringe thinking is actually to think the future from your current vantage point and still be able to revert back to what’s core. By and large politicians tend to live in the core, they tend to live in what needs to be done and executed now, what will appeal today to the masses. She seems to take this philosophical view to that very same question. In my view when l listen to a typical politician talking you hardly expect to hear this ‘to and fro’ talking about today, what’s here and now and also talking where we are going, about what’s in the future. It’s almost like a corporate look - it’s a strategic look which is very apolitical l think in terms of how she is approaching it. It also comes across very strongly when she is talking about what the DA as a party needs going forward - there is a very clear departure from the sloganeering platform talk, influencing people and talking about promises - she is departing from that. She is taking a very hard philosophical look at what the party genuinely needs to exist into the future and that’s why, in my view, l am saying she is not in the mode for a typical politician, quite frankly.
Adriaan: Nicola - interesting points by Lizwe there, the ability that he thinks Helen has to bring in the strategic element with a constituency etc etc. What do you say about his comments?
Nicola: I’m not sure that today there is an ‘atypical politician’, but what l picked up from Helen is a lot of people seem to want a better future, a lot of politics is about creating a better future for everybody. What she didn’t speak about was the vision for the future, other than towards the end, around overseeing a country that has democracy where race is not the voting card but the right decision for the people. I am not sure if she is ‘atypical’ or if she is ‘new regime’ because we are in a situation were we need action, we need results, we need people who can go to the ground and develop empathy. So our situation calls for that kind of behaviour. I think that being different to your ‘atypical politician’ is actually a problem - she also expressed very clearly that you adapt your style based on the situation, sometimes its consensus and sometimes its confrontation. l was quite drawn in to her position, but l am not quite sure what the position was. l like the values, the style and the approach of execution and l agree it’s a very long road, but what the end state looks like and how we can get there incrementally, l wasn’t too clear on that.
Adriaan: There is no doubt that we need a “fringer” here - do you agree with me, Lizwe? We’ve been talking about this fringe thing for the last week or two but l don’t know, l try to push it to the fringe, have a discussion there and come back but maybe it’s not the appropriate platform for that. I don’t know if l pushed her hard enough there, l think she kind of went there, do you think she went far enough in her comments?
Lizwe : I think she started touching on some of the critical points - if you really think about leading a party with a background that the DA has got - she did touch on the fact that l think at face value as the leader of the DA she’s looked at and perceived as somebody whose actually representing a particular constituency, which is a constituency of white people or white voters. She did touch on the fact that if you’re going into fringe thinking and really think about what you need to change going forward in the future, to really build a true democracy, you have to start thinking about how to change the party from these race based, ethnic dimensions. She might have gone into slightly more detail in terms of saying what strategies do they want to pick on to execute that kind of ambition. The whole idea of calling a party Indaba where she is going to call expert people who studied ethnicity, how to integrate groups from diagonally opposed backgrounds into a party and get them to change and re-think how they group themselves around particular leaders - that’s quite an innovative idea and again, l almost see that as a corporate space mentality. You don’t expect political parties to bring in experts to come in and tell them how they can re-strategise and change the course of the organisation going forward. I think that in itself is fringe thinking enough, cutting edge enough, because she is not talking about calling an Indaba of DA people into a rally and going around the country pulling people to become DA members and vote for the DA. She is saying we need an incisive in-depth understanding of what it will take, someone from the outside, someone not thinking within the box of the DA. I think there are some elements of creative innovative thinking that’s beginning to flow out of the party.
Adriaan: Maybe they can go to the fringe and identify the challenge which it sounds like she can, but can they come up with a really innovative fringe solution? Nicola, l know you are very good at asking the difficult questions - for a team to start thinking broadly and to start thinking simply about action and so forth. What are some critical questions that you would ask the DA and Helen to move them into another space, because something radical must happen with them?
Nicola: I think some of the questions to ask her, are more “how” questions. There is no question that Helen said herself that politicians are there to make South Africa a better place. The question is, "How are you going to do that and what are you going to do?" Because it’s the incremental steps that will keep people committed to change and how are you going to demonstrate integrity - if integrity is part of your value set as a party, execution and truth, how will we see that? What does transparency look like and l think also in a smaller party context you need a lot of visibility, because your visible face will get you promoted and your credibility will come from your execution. Provided you are delivering on results and you are executing you will build up credibility, but your visibility and your voice of the party is absolutely critical, so how are you going to do that? How do we see you, where do we get in touch with you, what should we be looking to expect?
Adriaan: Any comments on that Lizwe?
Lizwe : I think practically you could probably say Helen has got a very clear strategic view of where the party needs to be a couple of years down the line, I think what’s critical is what is the implementation plan? I guess that’s what Nicola is talking about - what’s the implementation plan, what are the critical steps that are going to take them there? One of the things l highlighted, noting some of the challenges that they are facing which are pretty much in that line is, "How do you practically get the majority black population from whom you actually want to try and garner those new votes that will build a new Democratic Alliance party?” How do you get those people to start transforming and changing from the politics of struggle, which is the politics of mortal heroes being the appeal - your entire campaign has to be based on that? How do you get people to transcend from that into economic politics where you talk about what it will take to build a better future, society, create jobs and create homes? How do you get people to transcend from that? The other question is that you have the bulk of the population that is predominantly illiterate, not highly educated, living in very poor squalid conditions and you have a leader like Helen who says she lives in a very comfortable home and it doesn’t leak in winter and so on, and she was quite straightforward about that. How you do get people to see you as an individual who understands their background? I do understand she has gone into quite a lot of effort going down to the ground and facing the people and meeting them, also understanding the environment they are living in. Quite frankly for people to believe you, it’s a whole believability question. For people to believe that you can represent their needs, wants and worries, that is a different game.
Adriaan: Nicola, does Helen have what it takes as a leader to do what needs to be done in our country - to have a solid opposition, whether one votes or not for them it doesn’t matter - does she have that substance?
Nicola: I sense ‘yes’ and the reason l say that is l think the only way to create a solid opposition in this country will only be demonstrated through execution. If the values that she purports and speaks about are the ones that get translated into political activity, then l don’t see why she isn’t the right person to lead the opposition. The only way an opposition will build any ground is through credibility, delivery and implementation that Lizwe was talking about.
Adriaan: Thank you to Lizwe and Nicola for being with us. Next week we will be having Ingrid Kast, the CEO of the ‘Top Company to Work For’ – DAV Professional Placement Services. I spent an hour and a half at their monthly company meeting and l was totally blown away at what they are doing. l don’t have words to describe what an incredible vibe, action orientation and motivated state they have inside that company. We are going to talk about that and some innovative things they are doing - they are leading the pack as they should be and they are the ‘Best Company to Work For’. If you want more information go to www.leadershipplatform.com
You have listened to The Leadership Platform, every Thursday evening at 7 pm and Friday mornings 8am on Summit TV, presented by Moditure – Inspiring Leadership Confidence, only on Classic 102.7 FM.
(To read a summary of the interview with Ingrid Kast on the Workinfo.com website, click here.)
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Adriaan Groenewald is the presenter of the Leadership Platform Radio Show, which broadcasts on Classic FM every Thursday evening between 19:00 and 20:00 and on Summit DSTV twice the following week. He is also co-author of the 'CEO Leadership Handbook', the author of a weekly full page article in the Star Workplace and Executive Director of Moditure Group. Adriaan has interviewed on and off air top leaders like Paul Harris, Charles Nqakhula, Mark Lamberti, Phuthuma Nhleko, Gill Marcus, Mbazima Shilowa, Tony Leon, Wendy Lucas-Bull, Thoko Mokgosi, Adrian Gore, Herman Mashaba, Patrick Lekota, Russell Loubser, Ian Cockerill, Alan Knott-Craig, and many others. In 2005 Adriaan was one of the 8 Judges on the prestigious Boss of the Year panel. On the sporting front Adriaan proved his discipline and drive by achieving his junior provincial colours and later on a second Dan Black Belt in Karate. He completed a Bachelor degree in Psychology as well as diplomas in various other fields of interest, including a Post Graduate Diploma in Strategic Marketing from the University of Hull in the UK . He has also studied business on a Masters Degree level. Because of his leadership abilities he was appointed as a manager in an international organisation within two years, despite competition from several individuals that had been in the organisation for many more years. He was then head hunted by an international consulting firm where he consulted, trained and coached nationally & internationally in organisations such as Vodacom, Standard & Poors, Investec, HP, Huntsman Petrochemicals, and so on. Subsequently he has consulted in many other organizations such as Nestle, Siemens, SABC, Standard Bank. Adriaan has published articles in CEO Magazine, Management Today, Leadership Magazine, Succeed Magazine, Journal of Marketing, Argus, Star Newspaper, Business Day, and Sunday Times.
Adriaan Groenewald interviews leaders in South Africa and reports on their opinions and theories on leadership.
Keywords and relevant phrases
Accountability, action, change management, commitment, courage, decision, defer gratification, delivery, develop, diagnose problems, direction, diversity, empathy, ethics, execution, feedback, fringe thinking, government, identity, implementation, innovation, insight, involvement, judgement, justice, leadership, manage, mission, morals, motivation, politics, positive attitude, problem solving, reputation, responsibility, shared values, skill, skills transfer, solution, strategy, trust, understanding, vision, working environment
Back to ... Workinfo.com Human Resources Magazine Volume 1 Issue 9, 2007
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