‘Truth, although severe, is a real friend” is a centuries-old Spanish saying that is still apt as we read today’s headlines and contemplate the dismal faux pas of some of our erstwhile leaders.
An unguarded bellow is all it takes for us to witness the final convulsion of a failed leader, and there is nothing easy about the journey of leaders in these times.
In a country that is as complex and forgiving as ours, and with our historic panorama of a creative race of disparate, diverse people, accepting the responsibility of leadership is a heavy burden.
Those who take on the mantle must help shape realistic expectations of what a leader can do. A conscious, ethical leader creates a culture of trust, care and compassion, and is unafraid to display their humanity.
This is the kind of leader who will journey to an Ayurvedic wellness centre in India when the winner of the Conscious Companies Awards is announced on May 17.
In navigating the cause of conscious leadership, I sometimes cross paths with an executive who gets it; someone who gets the essence of the idea that consciousness is an inner journey undertaken so that we can have a positive energy externally.
We get caught up in culture revitalisation, strategies and presentations on corporate transformation. However, corporate transformation is not possible without personal transformation, which is an internal process that starts as a whisper in one’s own psyche and in one’s relationship with oneself.
The way one thinks, acts, feels, behaves and reacts in the workplace then cascades into an inner call of tolerance, sensitivity and the ability to challenge circumstances and cultural norms despite the obstacles one encounters.
One such executive who gets the essence of this is Xolisa Vapi, who rose from a humble village in Mthatha to become the divisional director of corporate affairs and sustainability at Liberty through sheer grit.
A passionate runner and fit mountain biker (he has just completed the 160km Liberty Winelands MTB Encounter), he is the example of young, dynamic and conscious leadership.
“I was a beneficiary of an enabling leadership that empowered me and, in turn, I have an empowering approach to leadership that extends beyond my reporting radius,” he told me.
Moving into the corporate space from his media background, he has a keen sense of doing the right thing for the right reasons.
“Reputation does not only stand on your commercial success, but it stands on multiple legs, including the trust that stakeholders have in you. What sustains trust in business is always being on top of the perceptions of your material stakeholders, and maintaining and managing those relationships very responsibly and meaningfully at the right level of the organisation.
“Gone are the days when businesses can operate in a social vacuum. Commercial success, as we have come to know it today, is not sustainable if it does not benefit or is not informed by the social reality within which the business operates.
“This need to constantly evolve the ethics culture and your responsibility and accountability towards all your stakeholders also requires you to be in tune with regulatory changes, with market intelligence being the key to top any kind of risk. My observation over the years is that society’s expectation of business has grown, and it is the responsibility of business to be responsive to its external environment,” Vapi said.
“This certainly resonates with my take on what a conscious company is – an organisation that aligns people, planet and profit in service of all of its stakeholders.
“It’s important that I work for a company whose values resonate with mine. I work with people who share a common purpose in making a difference in South Africa. I am inspired by people who are driven by a higher purpose.
“Our purpose is to improve people’s lives by making their financial freedom possible – that’s at our core. We use education not only in maths and science, but we also drive financial literacy.
“We cannot be financially literate unless we are economically included, and we cannot be economically included unless we are skilled.
“Financial literacy, when internalised by people, can be used to improve their understanding of the right products and services. When they are adopted, they become financially included,” he said.
It is quite inevitable that any company worth its salt has to make the transition from mere profit taking and focus on higher margins to a culture of service.
Can we build leadership capacity for leaders to serve selflessly because they serve at the bidding of an inner sense of purpose? That calls for thought and reflection, and the delicate balance of a journey of personal transformation.
Kali is the CEO of Conscious Companies and the author of Beyond Corporate Sludge: Insights to Create Balance and Harmony in the Workplace. The 2018 Conscious Companies Awards will be held in partnership with Liberty, Classic FM and City Press