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05 MARCH 2018
What can Cyril teach us about leadership?

by Alan Hosking: Publisher of HR Future, South Africa's human strategy magazine, and a Leadership Renewal Coach for senior executives.

South African politics continues to surprise everyone, including the politicians themselves.

Despite the cautious optimism that is starting to raise its head in the country, we would all do well to reflect on what’s happened in order to learn some important lessons from what we’ve gone through so that it doesn’t happen again.

Now that Jacob Zuma’s term of office has come to a premature but overdue end and he faces the distinct possibility of having his day in court as he has often requested (but secretly not wanted), we have the opportunity to reflect on a few of the developments that auger well for our country’s future.

The State of the Nation address by newly elected President Cyril Ramaphosa provided an ideal opportunity for the opposition parties to continue their bashing of the ruling party to score political points. They could have given the new President a hard time to show the voting public exactly how smart they and their parties are. But did they do so? As you will have seen, not at all.

How long has it been since we’ve had such a well behaved parliament? Everybody sat and listened respectfully, with the opposition even applauding at times. Why would that be? The answer can be summed up in one word: leadership.

When any country, company or community has a leader they respect, they will naturally give that person an opportunity to have their say. That’s what happened at the State of the Nation address. Because of the respect Cyril Ramaphosa has from the opposition parties, they gave him a chance to have his say.

Of course, there’s another side to the story. It’s very difficult to look good by heckling when a speaker is making sense. If you stand up and interrupt in such a case, you are the one who ends up looking like an idiot. Everyone knew that and so there was no way they were going to make fools of themselves.

Secondly, when the leader says things like, “Let’s all work together,” and people instinctively know that they really mean that, they’re also not going to oppose such a sentiment because they will be earmarked as trouble makers and will lose the moral high ground.

Speaking of moral high ground, when a leader is not able to occupy the moral high ground because of deceitful or illegal actions on their part, other people are free to rush in and seize the moral high ground for themselves.

And because deceitful people don’t realise that the first person they deceive is themselves, they are completely unaware of the fact that they have no moral authority and do not occupy the moral high ground. This provides opportunity for their opponents to maul them. This was the case with Jacob Zuma. Right to the end, judging from his comments in the SABC interview, in his own mind, he thought he occupied the moral high ground and was at a loss as to why he should resign, hence his comments to that end.

In contrast, Cyril Ramaphosa started to take the moral high ground before the State of the Nation address by instructing law enforcement agencies to take action against key suspects implicated in state capture. That provided him with the moral high ground he needed coming into the State of the Nation address.

Having taken the moral high ground, he then very cleverly demonstrated to opposition MPs that he did not see them as opponents but as fellow South Africans with whom he was more than ready to work. That blindsided all of them, including the usually combative EFF.

Few people have realised just how sublime these moves have been. When a political leader says, “Let’s work together,” and genuinely means it, whoever refuses the offer brands themselves as a problem child, and no-one wants to do that. There’s also a danger that whoever turns the offer down isolates themselves. Cyril has not done what he has done by accident. Everything he’s doing is being done consciously and deliberately. This has got him off to an excellent start. The challenge he faces is keeping it up. Here’s hoping he will!
Useful resources:

HR Future
HR Future is South Africa's only independent, most forward thinking human resource magazine with the richest content wealth of HR related issues on the continent of Africa to help executives recruit, manage, train, reward and retain the best talent. Visit our InfoCentre or website.

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