All successful business leaders, particularly those in the 50+ age group, should not underestimate the significance of the unfolding story leading to Mark Lamberti’s recent resignations from a number of business entities in corporate South Africa.
While he has achieved much in his business career, which must be acknowledged, he has unfortunately failed a number of tests his business education never prepared him for and which he never saw coming.
His B Com. in Business Economics, Economics, Accounting, Industrial Psychology from the University of South Africa (1984), his MBA in Strategy and Finance from the University of the Witwatersrand (1987) and the Presidents Programme in Leadership which he completed at Harvard Business School in 2001, were probably excellent qualifications in their day ... But the world – and indeed South Africa – is a very different place from what it was in 1984, 1987 and 2001.
Lamberti appears to have made one of the most fundamental mistakes that all successful business leaders are at risk of making – thinking what they know to be right and true is still valid.
That’s what caused him to fail the tests reality recently required him to take – tests which reveal how much he has adjusted to the realities of today. These tests include the transparency test, the authenticity test, the arrogance/humility test, the self-reflection test, the self-honesty test, the “take responsibility” test and a number of other similar tests. He failed all of these tests because he hasn’t realised or seen the need to renew his thinking for the world of today and tomorrow.
This classic mistake made by executives who still operate on the basis of what they think they know to be right and true and who have not changed their thinking with the changing times results in their success causing their downfall. They’ve become so successful from the decisions they have made in the past so they assume the decisions they make in the present will be just as smart.
Like many successful executives of his generation, Lamberti has made a major contribution to the success of SA Inc. and created many jobs. And therein lies the tragedy – the tragedy of someone making themselves irrelevant before their time, when they still have a lot to give.
Based on my interactions with senior executives, I can assure you that he is not alone and will not be the last to suffer this fate. The greater tragedy is that these falls from grace are preventable, if only executives were able to have a moment of clarity that enables them to see themselves as they really are, instead of seeing themselves as they think they are and display enough humility to acknowledge that they need to unlearn and relearn how to conduct themselves in the 21st century.
But what about you? Have you, too, failed to grasp the enormity and the depth of changes that have occurred in the past two decades? If you started your career in an era when tough talk, feulled by insensitivity and bias, were seen as admirable qualities in macho leaders – you know, the “boys will be boys” mentality – you may also be unconsciously displaying the same flaws as Lamberti.
Up to five years ago, business leaders could still make it based only on their skills. Not today. Leaders now have to acquire and utilise a range of new and very specific skills and qualities that haven’t occupied much priority in the C-suite to date. When I talk to them about such skills and qualities, they look at me with expressions that range from blank to disbelief. That is a dead giveaway that they really haven’t grown themselves over the past five years.
How many Lambertis will it take for business leaders to realise that their thinking is outdated? Closer to home, how many will it take for you to learn this lesson? We need every experienced business leader and can’t afford the luxury of losing them simply because they have failed to adapt.
Start doing some intense self-evaluation to determine if you have a need to change your beliefs and thinking. Then do it. Your career may depend on it!