Clem Sunter

Five leadership lessons for 2013

2012-12-28 09:01

Clem Sunter

I was asked by Bruce Whitfield on 702 the other night what principal lessons on leadership were learnt in 2012 which might be carried forward into 2013. There were five I quoted:

1. Co-operative leadership

It is a global rule of the game under all economic scenarios that to get things done, you need co-operation from people or parties you don't control. Whether it is the ANC needing the co-operation of business, unions and civil society to implement the National Development Plan; or whether it is President Obama needing the co-operation of Congress to avoid the fiscal cliff: in both cases neither the ANC nor Obama can go it alone. The ANC requires the support of business just as Obama needs the support of the Republicans. It may be a drag to be nice to people that you normally can't stand, but that is the way it is in today's world.

For this reason alone, Mangaung has made me feel a lot better than a month ago. The election of Cyril Ramaphosa to Zuma's deputy in the ANC is a signal that the government realises that to implement a common vision for this country, which genuinely achieves a better life for all, it requires a joint effort by all players. We are moving from walking behind each other to walking together. Hurray!

2. Problem-solving leadership

2012 has been the year of kicking the can down the road and not addressing the fundamental sovereign debt problem besetting the rulers of the biggest economies in the world. The central banks are printing money like fury to buy up the bonds being issued by governments and to keep interest rates as low as possible. The Bank of Japan now owns 11% of its nation's outstanding debt; the US Fed is purchasing 40% of all American treasuries auctioned at the moment; and the European Central Bank has pledged to buy unlimited quantities of Spanish and Italian bonds. Lucky for all of them, inflation has not reared its head above 3%.

Are they resolving the problem? No way. They are buying time for the politicians to get their financial house in order by either raising tax revenues or cutting government expenditure or both - the only real solution to a budget deficit and towering debt. However, austerity measures are unpopular with the electorate and so the can gets kicked further down the road. At some point, the can grows to a size where it can no longer be kicked. Ireland, Britain and Greece are finally taking the right medicine but will America, Italy and Spain follow? Or will they bring down the whole house of cards because, like the commercial banks once appeared to be, the misperception exists that they are "too big to fail".

3. Leadership by example

In these "Hard Times", how many political and business leaders have practised austerity measures on themselves by taking salary reductions, cancelling Head Office festive functions in line with the operating business units, trying to keep employees in jobs as opposed to keeping them in a permanent state of uncertainty about forthcoming retrenchments, showing generally that leaders are capable of sharing the pain?

Somehow we have to recapture the spirit of the festive season in terms of generosity and doing unto others what we would like them to do for us if we were placed in a similar, miserable position. It is not all about the bottom line and growth and efficiency and pleasing the analysts. Only good old morality and spirituality will allow us to kill the three-headed monsters I call PIU - poverty, inequality and unemployment.

4. Knowledge leadership

Knowledge of the game transcends culture and affiliations. Gary Kirsten led India to become the No. 1 test cricket-playing nation and now he has done the same for South Africa. Other than at one time sharing the characteristic of being a member of the British Empire and now being democracies, these two nations have marked cultural differences: yet one man could take 11 individuals in each nation and mould them into a victorious, fighting machine on the cricket pitch.

This type of leadership is all about understanding strategy and tactics of the game because you have been involved in it for a long time. Experience counts and so does bringing out the best in the players. It would be nice if our government understood this principle when appointing the CEOs of parastatals: they must have a knowledge of the game that only comes with experience. Cadre deployment is like making Gary Kirsten Springbok rugby coach because of his services to cricket. He won't get the same results, however good his general leadership qualities are. It's a different game.

5. Get-up-and-go leadership


One of the highlights of 2012 is that we are beginning to see the emergence of entrepreneurial leadership in South Africa where individuals just get up and go and do their own thing. By so doing, they become local heroes as one TV campaign has testified in covering the remarkable ascent and contribution of people who have come from nowhere to secure their names in the annals of the community in which they live. Whether it is helping to start a cycling academy in Khayelitsha which has already produced some racing aces, or establish a conservatoire in Soweto which has allowed Rosemary Nalden to assemble an orchestra which plays all over the world; or whether on the business front it is creating Fundamo based in Cape Town which is now the world's leading specialist mobile financial services solutions provider - all these examples are setting the scene for South Africa to become the  leading nation in innovation in the Southern Hemisphere.

Whenever I fill in one of those tedious visitor books at the reception desk of a big corporation and they ask me what company I work for, I put "myself". Oh that the government here understands that creating five million jobs by 2020 means backing one million new get-up-and-go business and social entrepreneurs. They'll do the job of creating five million jobs, no problem.

If as a reader you have managed to get this far in the article, I wish for 2013 to be for you "The Sweetest Thing", to quote the name of the best patisserie in Simon's Town.


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