It might be the result of a bad cold, but I have a deep sense that our country cries out for decisive leadership at the moment. The context requires individual and collective leadership like never before since 1994.
I refer randomly to the shock of the auditor-general’s report on financial mayhem in local government; the collapsed feeding schemes in rural schools; the nondelivery of text books to our vulnerable learners; hooligans in Kuruman who keep a generation of kids out of school; the Marikana massacre by our democratic state’s own police; and the lack of will from businesspeople to play a more pronounced role in the sociopolitical development of our nation.
Many people have a sense of disorientation. It is as if one cannot take all the information in. A certain numbness sets in. Increasingly, we lose our energy as we stagger from one crisis to the other – not knowing if the horror of today might pale in comparison with what might follow next week.
Certainty and a sense of wellness are gone. People — yes, even able people — draw back into a cocoon of safety and personal advancement, harbouring a vague hope that "things will somehow work out fine".
I am not a leadership guru, but I have had my fair share of exercising leadership in a variety of settings.
The simplest model of leadership works with three dimensions: vision, values and execution.
If a business or a country does not have a clear vision of what is to be achieved, the danger exists that it becomes stuck in the operational problems of "today". It runs from one urgent matter to the next, working frantically to keep its head above the water, but in the meantime it has lost direction, but would not know it.
In today’s competitive environment, a lack of a clear future shape will almost inevitably mean others will overtake you as they orientate themselves toward opportunities not yet seen by yourself. I am not talking feel-good, fuzzy vision statements that appear on marketing material: I am talking hardcore vision, backed by clear implementation plans that stretch everyone far beyond their current comfort zone.
One could say — despite all the criticism — that South Africa’s recently announced 2030 development plan is the map towards fulfilling our vision. Let us for a moment accept this is indeed the case, and most reasonable South Africans buy into the vision.
Then comes the second dimension of leadership: execution, deeds, tangible results, operational efficiency, project management within budget and on time, expertise to actually do the job, and whatever other words one can use to say: "Make it happen!"
This is the weak point in our system. South Africans make plans and our government loves indabas and breakaways to think up new plans and appoint commissions to oversee their development. But there is no decisive leadership execution – mostly due to incapabilities and incapacities.
The result is that we actually stand still and in some cases go backward. Planning is not the problem. Money is not the problem. The people who should do the job are the problem. They draw payment each month. They are quick to demand more. But they fail in action.
Here is where the third dimension of leadership comes in: values. I am talking about moral and work values. A moral value like honesty or trustworthiness means nothing unless it determines and shapes conduct. You do not know the values of a local government or business by reading their so-called values-list. You "see" the values in your interaction with them. You know quickly whether they walk the talk.
That South Africa and the world live in the midst of a value crisis has been noted by many. The moral character of our leaders is questioned as newspapers week after week tell us the stories of self-enrichment and corruption. The very moral fibre of our president has been questioned many times. In the private sector, the world’s banking system has proven itself to be morally bankrupt, and had to rely on taxpayers to bail them out of their risky business practices.
In short: we may have a vision and a plan. But we do not have the leadership to execute the plan, nor the right values to shape our actions.
Weak leadership slowly extinguishes the energy and soul of a nation or a business. Let us stand up and be counted. Bad things happen when good people do nothing.