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Re-engineering South African leadership: awakening the leadership genius within yourself and your followers

Re-engineering South African leadership: awakening the leadership genius within yourself and your followers

By Charles Cotter who can be contacted at , or on 084 5629446


1. Introduction

The unique, multi-cultural demographic composition of the South African population, commonly referred to as the Rainbow Nation in political circles, has presented numerous pressing contemporary management and leadership challenges. This wide cultural spectrum with its divergent value systems, namely the Afro-Centric (humanitarian principles, based on the values of consensus seeking and compassion) vs. Euro-Centric (based on bottom-line thinking - business values like production and performance), has posed the question of how to define a truly authentic, bona fide South African leadership approach.

Leadership is, undoubtedly, contextual. As an emerging economy, South African leaders have to cultivate and establish a leadership culture, a form of corporate DNA, in which the current and future generations of leadership can optimise their potential.

The Skills Development Act encourages employers to use the workplace as an active learning environment and to provide employees with the opportunities to acquire new skills. Management education and training and leadership development currently feature very prominently on South African companies’ training agendas, in the form of their Workplace Skills Plans (WSP). A critical success factor during the implementation phase of Employment Equity (EE) Plans is to develop a balanced set of targets that include qualitative objectives including, inter alia, training and development programs.

2. Leadership in the New Economy

With the changing of the management and leadership guard, predominantly spearheaded by legislative compliance and more representative governance, the new leadership advocates are currently confronted by the realities of the New Economy. In real terms, this translates into a business environment driven chiefly by two forces – knowledge and information. These are precious commodities, and when they are shared their value increases exponentially.

Many management buzzwords are banded about to label the highly productive, modern workplace, which includes the concepts of organisational intelligence, the learning organization, and intellectual capital. In essence it means having smart people working smartly for a smart company. Human Resource departments have a crucial role to play in promoting and enhancing the capacity of individuals to achieve this. Performance development is no longer adequate – performance improvement is essentially what is required. Value adding is now the accepted norm - value creation is what South African leaders need to generate.

Leaders have to innovate not imitate – ‘outside the box’ thinking is imperative. South African leaders cannot solve today’s problems with yesterday’s outdated solutions – if they fail this test, companies will be stung into a crippling, future shock paralysis. The National Skills Development Strategy (NSDS), launched in February 2001, has the express purpose and objective of equipping South Africa with the skills to succeed in the global market and to offer opportunities to individuals and communities for self-advancement to enable them to contribute towards a productive society.

The mandate for current and future leadership is founded upon results-oriented, solutions-driven and performance-based criteria and actions. This sentiment is best captured by Barbara Jordan, the tough-talking US senator, who through her actions and communication crystallised the confusion surrounding the Watergate Scandal, "As Public officials, if we propose we must produce, as Public Officials if we promise we must deliver." Not an easy job – but nobody ever guaranteed that management and more especially, leadership would be plain sailing. Truly authentic leaders distinguish themselves in difficult times – they make their mark in a turbulent environment, characterised by uncertainty, dynamic change and major upheaval. These conditions are symptomatic of South Africa today. To solve South Africa’s uniquely challenging problems, we need uniquely South African solutions, generated by uniquely thinking South Africans.

3. Awakening leadership genius from the inside out

The ability to work with and through people to achieve mutually beneficial goals is likely to become a key performance defining skill in the future workplace. As a leader you need to ask yourself, "What can I do to add and create value to and positively impact on my people’s development?" Leaders create a lasting impression and a memorable legacy. The rich heritage of the footprints they leave behind in the sand are indelible.

There are 5 attributes, skills and competencies, which leaders should acquire to enhance their leadership capacity, by means of awakening the leadership genius within themselves and that of their followers.

# 1. Purpose-directed visionaries

Followers fall around in the dark, whereas leaders stand up and switch the light on, illuminating the way forward. Leaders display creativity and innovation with the necessary execution skills and managerial competence to convert their dreams and aspirations into reality. They need to be future-directed, have the ability to solve tactical problems and anticipate and project strategic shortfalls.

They will have to engage in creative thinking processes and stimulate and plug into the intellectual and knowledge capital of their followers. They have 20/20 strategic insight and vision to see opportunities when others see threats, they see challenges when others see problems and they translate chaos into order, by means of structure and organisation.

Leaders need to re-conceptualise their thinking – adopt the mentality of what the Buddhists call a "Beginners’ Mind"- receptive to fresh ideas and perspectives – safeguarding their minds against filtered perceptions and stagnation. Authentic South African leaders should be focused, targeted and constantly keep their eye on the prize. They have the ability to keep reminding their people of what’s really important. Indeed, the icon of this leadership attribute is Nelson Mandela, who in the face of adversity was able to unite a troubled, restless and potentially volatile nation, bringing people from all walks of life to see common ground and clearly communicate his compelling vision and its merits to all South Africans.

# 2. Transformational missionaries

Quality leaders are trailblazing and groundbreaking missionaries – testing, transcending and stretching known boundaries – not prepared to settle for the tried and tested. They are dedicated explorers and adventurers. In the words of David Livingstone, " I will go anywhere, as long as its forward." They question the status quo, motivated by finding a better, more effective manner for the sake of their followers and the organization they serve. They re-define the limits, raise the bar and empower and enable their people to supersede these new heights.

Modern leaders are independent thinkers who are able to re-deploy, position and mobilize their resources for optimal performance and utilization. Effective leaders can re-invent themselves, advance with the contemporary developments and stay in sync with the changing needs of their people. They will modify and revolutionize their thinking and fulfil the role of a change catalyst. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a servant of his people and to the human kind, the world over, has the ability to open peoples’ minds and eyes to embrace the opportunities presented by the multi-faceted changing landscape of South African society. Owing to the demands placed on future leaders, they will need to be highly flexible and demonstrate elasticity in order to deal with the challenges posed by a diverse workforce and dynamically changing environment.

# 3. People developers

Many academics propose the utilisation of Norton & Kaplan’s Balanced Business Scorecard (BBS) during the actual implementation phase of EE plans. This management tool has a proven track record in effectively translating strategy into action and accurately determining the overall value of a company. In particular, the Learning and Innovation perspective is significant in terms of answering the question of how to sustain the ability to change, grow and to improve. This can be achieved by means of education, awareness, focused training and development, diversity workshops and mentoring and coaching.

Current and future leadership are developmental brokers and change agents for improved levels of performance, skills, competency, capacity building, productivity, competitiveness, and service delivery. Effective leaders create and develop windows of opportunity in which their people can grow and prosper. All people need a platform from which to showcase and prove their abilities and talents. Leaders need to be committed to sharing their knowledge, expertise, experience and skills and facilitating an effective transfer of learning to their people. They display the Midas touch of an Alchemist in elevating and converting present performance standards into golden results.

Stephen Covey refers to the development of a new leadership theory – addressing the whole person consisting of body, mind, heart and spirit. If we don’t address the whole person, we cannot hope to lead, then we can only manage. Leaders are expected to get the best and the most out of their people in order to harvest a significant return on the developmental investment.

# 4. Warriors and Olympians

In the truest sense of African leadership, King Shaka Zulu, can be regarded as an icon. He was a conqueror - a highly visible leader who led courageously from the front. He expected no more from his impi’s as what he was prepared to give himself.

Brave heart leaders are courageous and tread where angels fear to go – they never bow down to or submit to pressures imposed by external forces. Dynamic leaders have to become fighting fit – whipping themselves and their followers in shape – to measure up to and keep pace with the exceedingly rigorous demands of the frantic, corporate rat race. Top leaders, similar to Shaka Zulu, are zealous, uncompromising and vigorous in their efforts to achieve their objectives.

Authentic leaders are champions in their own right and also champion team players. In my opinion, Jesse Owens is the icon that typifies this. Within the space of 60 minutes, at the Olympic games, he captured 4 gold medals – 3 individual and 1 team, when he anchored the 4x100m American relay team. South African leaders need to become globally competitive – winners with high levels of endurance and stamina in order to measure up to the incrementally demanding challenges in the workplace. Leaders have to re-focus, moving from inputs to outputs – finding anticipatively generated solutions and achieving platinum results.

# 5. Magnetically and emotionally connected

Top class leaders have personal power - they are charming, charismatic, convincing and credible, capable of positively influencing others to willingly follow them. They have an aura or force field around them, which, like a magnet, naturally attracts and draws people. People want to be associated with winners – and leaders are winners. They have the ability to build rapport, always being sincere, approachable and they invest quality time and interest in people. Great leaders are people-centric, nurturing trust and mutual respect. They are the pivot of most life-defining moments and their presence and influence is magnified by the achievements they inspire people to attain. Remarkable leaders are instrumental in fundamentally transforming our lives into havens of self-actualisation and success. They also instil a compelling sense of self-belief and worth in their people in order for them to realize their goals.

Quality leaders are emotionally smart. They have the ability to recognize, understand and manage their own emotions as well as those of the people who they serve and to interpret and apply these emotions to enhance quality of life. This is the key to improved levels of breakthrough performance. Authentic South African leaders have to become quintessential masters of human competencies and relationship management.

4. Conclusion

The success of the NSDS is critically dependent on the vibrant partnership and interdependence between employers (predominantly represented by leaders) and workers, as well as the invaluable contribution of Education, Training and Development (ETD) practitioners.

King II has set the trend to squarely position South Africa on the global map as the leading light on matters of corporate governance. This country has the potential to achieve similar success with the implementation of Employment Equity and Skills Development Plans. Leaders have a crucial stake in realizing these objectives.

Very few can dispute the fact that any organization’s most precious asset is its human resources. People development-focused managers and leaders can significantly bolster performance and counteract the severe skills shortage in this country, thereby having a stake in directing the revolution of re-engineering South African leadership and making our country a significant player in the New Economy.

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Gary Watkins

Gary Watkins

Managing Director


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