Does South Africa need a collective leadership?
04 November 2016
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Hello and welcome to another edition of Old Mutual Live Business, my name is Chris Gibbons. In this edition, Part II of a two-part series, we take a close look at leadership. In particular, the kind of leaders needed by South Africa at the moment. South Africa, the nation and its businesses finds itself in a very difficult position at the moment. Government spending has been rising steadily, government income decreasing. This amidst a culture in which the leadership is perceived to be serving its own interests along with a small coterie of wealthy companies and individuals rather than the broader nation.
Critics say there is a real danger we have squandered both the profits of the commodity boom of the first decade of this century as well as the democracy dividend left by Nelson Mandela. So what kind of leaders do we need to guide the country towards a brighter future? Joining us now is Shireen Chengadu, Executive Director of the Centre for Leadership and Dialogue at GIBS. Shireen, welcome, thank you for being with us on Old Mutual Business Live, what kind of leaders do we need to guide the country towards a brighter future?
Shireen Chengadu: Thank you Chris, I think this is such a pertinent topic given where we are at this point in our country. One thing is certain, that leadership is at a crossroads and the old traditional model of hierarchical leadership styles is definitely out, where the leader makes the decisions. We’ve seen some recent examples of this at macro and institutional level where individuals making bad leadership decisions has cost institutions and the country dearly.
My thinking, at this point, and I think not just my thoughts around it, but in general, just working with businesses, government and society in the last two months. There’s a huge move towards a collaborative leadership model, a partnering strategy.
That may be partnering at an executive level to have a coherent decision made that looks at all strands and elements. What are the ethical implications of that decision making, who does it impact, the shareholders or are all stakeholders affected by the decision? There’s a huge shift now towards collaborative responsible leadership.
CG: I want to come back to collaborative leadership in a moment or two and we’ll unpick it in more detail. But leadership takes place in a certain context. A society at a given point in time gets the leaders it deserves or it needs, what’s the old saying… ‘cometh the hour, cometh the man’ that was certainly true in Mandela’s case.
SC: Correct. I have a view that there is a right leader for the right time and the right leader will emerge. Sometimes that right leader may be nominated or come into power by virtue of a nomination or a voting process. But there are leaders who are not put into a position of power through a process but who emerge, given what is happening in that context.
I think that is what we see playing out in society, in business and in government. Right now, the resonance of what our Minister of Finance said yesterday and today, it’s pretty clear that there will be a leader. You may not be in the position, voted into the position or you may not be nominated as the leader of an institution, but you will take on the leadership role. Irrespective of that position and we’re starting to see that happen across all sectors.
Woman leaders are emerging internationally
CG: Traditional models of leadership changing, as I said, at the most basic ‘cometh the hour, cometh the man’. But in the modern world, it’s also ‘cometh the hour, cometh the woman’, we’re seeing that all over the world.
SC: Absolutely. I’m so glad that you raised that Chris because I think 2016 is actually quite a defining year. I’m just going to give you three examples. Angela Merkel, first woman on the Times Magazine after 30 years. Second one, United Nations after Ban Ki-moon, a woman being considered for that position for the first time. The final one, Hilary Clinton, say what you want to say, no matter your views about her, but being considered to lead the number one economy in the world. That is surely a shift in direction of leadership model, leadership style, for sure, it’s time for women.
CG: Then bring it to South Africa, more and more women moving into leadership positions. But we still have here a very patriarchal view of things, I’m talking specifically South Africa.
SC: That’s quite correct. Chris, we’re busy doing research for a woman leadership model’s book in emerging markets. Which is due to be published by mid this year. Interestingly, South Africa is one of the laggards in this area. If I look at the Scandinavian countries and then come back to other emerging markets, but particularly South Africa, the patriarchal, there’s a treble bind. We have the historical legacy of the past and the inequality that brought.
Then we have the patriarchal mindset which is very much alive in the workplace. The last element is, and I want to bring it to women themselves, but women themselves may not have the ambition to put their hands up and say, I’m good. I deserve this, I can do the job, when they’re in that position of power to take other women along with them. We’ve seen some of it, but not nearly enough.
Both sexes need to learn to break down stereotypes
CG: There is still that traditional, again, patriarchal is the word I used, patriarchal view. That if a woman wants to get to the very top in a corporation, company, even a country, you can’t get to the top as a woman unless you sacrifice your family and you sacrifice your femininity.
SC: I have a strong view on that and I’ll start off by saying, it’s absolute nonsense.
CG: That view still holds.
SC: The view holds, but in my view, it’s absolutely nonsensical because if you look at the women who have broken those moulds or stereotypes, they still manage to lead a merged life. I don’t talk about it as a balanced life, because they don’t sacrifice their families or the wellbeing of others in their social circle.
But they do a damn find job of raising well balanced families as well as leading really successful organisations. It’s a mind-set, it’s a paradigm shift and to a large extent, the men of our country need to be educated as much as the women are being educated.
This is where, when we talk about women leadership programmes and I teach on these programmes, I want both men and women to be in these programmes. Because otherwise you convert one side of the coin without having the same discussion with the other side.
CG: You’re saying that men in particular are going to have to change the way we think, as a man. Think more like women, less control, less aggression, less seeing things in black and white.
SC: I like ‘think like a woman’ and there’s this fantastic research done by a Columbia University, Barnard College. Where they talk about, in a book called ‘Athena Doctrine’ where women and men who think like women will rule the world. I’m a firm believer in that.
You may forgive my enthusiasm around this, but there are great examples of where women are doing significantly well in all spheres, at macro, meso and micro levels without sacrificing their families. In fact, research has shown that when women succeed, they take along their communities. It’s not egocentric, it’s eco-centric.
Unpacking this model of collaborative leadership
CG: Then let’s end of by unpacking this model of collaborative leadership, what are the key elements there?
SC: It’s a team. There’s no ‘I’. It’s team work and the team brings forth this. There’s an openness about knowledge sharing and collaborating and working through a number of ideas before the right idea is taken. Ultimately, the leader will take responsibility and accountability.
But rather than going ‘here’s the idea, let’s move’ and we’ve seen how badly that has happened in the last few months. Collaborative leaders put together the right kind of teams, people who are stronger than them in certain ways. People who will push the thinking and through that process come up with an optimal solution.
Part of it would be about the brainstorming. It would be about having enabling teams to reach their full potential rather than the leader having all the opportunities. Expanding the leadership potential of their team members and also having the kind of nice-to-know when they failed at what their idea was and to embrace the ideas of others.
I think collaborative leaders also are authentic leaders, they’re not afraid to be vulnerable in the presence of a greater leadership team. They’re not afraid to say ‘I don’t know all the answers’. I think that’s a big shift, where previously the hierarchical leader was assumed to know all the answers. Now it’s moving towards, ‘I don’t know that, but I can ask. I can listen carefully and I can empathise whether it’s internal stakeholders, or external and work with the team to create an optimal solution.
CG: Much work to be done. Shireen Chengadu, thank you for being with us on Old Mutual Live Business.
SC: Thank you Chris.