Failing to lead by example

2008-02-07 00:00

Not content with hindering the country’s competitiveness through an antiquated telecommunications policy, the latest display of government ineptitude via the Eskom debacle has served only to compound South Africa’s woes in the global business and economic stakes. Warned repeatedly over the past decade by a number of experts, including Eskom and coal mining interests, about the need to develop the country’s energy infrastructure, the African National Congress government chose to ignore the advice of those at the sharp end of the industry. As a result, the country has now been placed in an embarrassing and precarious position from both a global credibility and competitiveness perspective.

In one fell swoop, the government has succeeded in damaging the marketing efforts aimed at attracting foreign direct investors and persuading expatriates to return home with much-needed skills.

As South Africa lurches from one crisis to another, the list of government misdemeanours grows longer with each passing year, sowing more seeds of doubt in the minds of even the most ardent optimist. A quick reality check indicates that the key areas on which the government has repeatedly failed its citizens over the past 14 years, namely crime, telecommunications, energy, health and education, have together created a negative multiplier effect in terms of the future economic and competitive prospects for our country. With South Africa the product weakening, relative to other developing economies, it is only a matter of time before the country finds itself as a package that few want to buy.

Attempting to patch up the cracks in an already competitively weakened nation can only last for so long before they reappear, wider, deeper and more damaging than before. South Africa has become saddled with a government that either does not understand or is oblivious to the dynamics of the global business, economic and societal arenas, all of which are strategically interconnected.

The government would do well to heed the advice of one of the greatest strategic thinkers of all time. In his famous treatise, The Art of War, written over 2 500 years ago, Sun Tzu provides timeless advice for leaders of both companies and countries. Within the many nuggets of wisdom to be found in this classic work is what Sun Tzu refers to as the Moral Law. He counsels that “the consummate leader cultivates the Moral Law and strictly adheres to method and discipline; thus it is his power to control success”.

Put simply, people who see their leaders wasting resources, behaving in an inappropriate manner, not delivering the kind of service that has been promised and generally displaying incompetence, are unlikely to be motivated to strive for the results expected of them. Leaders, either in business or in politics, who fail to set the proper moral and ethical examples, only succeed in transferring that failure to their country or company.

In nations the advanced status of which is coveted by our government’s ego, incompetence such as that displayed over the country’s energy requirements would have serious consequences for those responsible.

The most recent example of British MP and former anti-apartheid activist Peter Hain, who found himself at the centre of a campaign donations row, is a case in point. Perhaps if those in our own government were subjected to the same kind of accountability, then better quality decisions would be made by our ministers and South Africa’s competitive capability would improve.

• Paul Dorrian is a management consultant, author and teacher who specialises in strategy, marketing and customer service.

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