This blog is a bit late for the New Year but Happy New Year in any case.

I don’t feel too bad because I’m sure most of you reading this went to work last Monday but only got to work today 🙂

Two stories from my town to introduce some points on leadership……

We have some trees above the houses in front of ours – old, tall Fir trees. When the wind blows from any direction towards the North, they make a rushing sound. Whispering Pines no doubt got its name from trees like these. They don’t bend too much but they “russhh” and have a beautiful effect on our environment.

So too, sitting on the sea-cliff paths, you can see the white horses in the distance on the sea but not feel the wind. But only a fool would think that that wind is going to stay out at sea. Sure enough, sooner or later, in it comes and it can blow for 48 hours. These last few days even bringing us some precious rains but always cooling the hot humidity of the coast.

Leadership does not stand still. It has an effect that you can sense and finally feel as it begins to change and even revolutionize the environment. Therefore some points in no particular order:

  1. On the way to Harvard in 2000 I read a book about leadership and its premise was simply that you don’t need leadership when everything is going well. It’s always good but maintenance of a status quo can be managed by managers and somewhat motivated people. When you need leadership is when the chips are down and the organization broken. The great examples are Winston Churchill who, once he had ignited Britain to fight and win the war, found himself spent in the next election. He turned a horrible time in Britain’s and the world’s history into the rebuilding of Europe. So too, many great CEO stories come off a low base as they reconfigure the company and take it to hitherto unknown heights.

Cyril Ramaphosa [CR] has the opportunity to be our Leader. Beautiful, tortured South Africa is on its knees financially and morally with more to come as the drought in the Western Cape bites with Gauteng having used their “Get Out of Jail” card last year. Broken sewerage, broken communities, broken trust, broken indebtedness, broken values, broken cities, broken corporates, broken labour relations – Broken, yet eminently fixable. Don’t believe me? Watch Eskom. Jabu Mabuza, with “unimpeachable integrity” and loads of successful corporate leadership under his belt, will make a difference. He has to; Eskom could go down in the next month.

Leadership is essential in crisis and rises to great heights in storms.

  1. Success breeds success. Leadership breeds success as well. The reason is that success, other than a one-off fluke, is the progressive realization of the positive efforts of a group of people. You see, you can channel energy but you cannot create it. If leadership was a science you and I could learn it and formulae and templates would do the trick to point a group of people in the right direction and then get them to perform – apply the formula and everybody will “do the maths”. But leadership is a social skill. Why can the technically competent not lead? Why is your best sales person often not your best sales manager? Leadership.

CR is a leader. In doing so, he plies a trade of negotiation and direction. Is he ever going to do this alone – Never! So he’s going to have to envision and motivate 10’s of thousands of people and then stop their tendency to corrupt in order to fix the municipalities, for instance. Can he do it? I don’t know but I’d bet on him as being the best of the ANC to pull it off by galvanizing resources and raising the bar of performance individually and in large groups of influential persons.

  1. Allied to point 2 is the definition of Leaders. Definitional to anything on leadership that you Google, are followers. You cannot be a leader-of-one. Self-leadership is cute and necessary but battles to be impactful. Leaders have followers that define their leadership. Followers are the foot soldiers of leaders. Those who are leaders in their own right have the duty to share the vision downwards and outwards and to coordinate its activity cross-leadership with their peers. This cross-leadership avoids silos and makes sure the left hand knows what the right hand is doing. But at some level, the need to Do becomes stronger than the need to Lead. Motivation then comes to the fore and it simply has to be given direction so as to be effective. Wonder at the mighty Blaauwkrans River bridge and you’ll know what I mean.

Followers are willing to sacrifice something to follow. Even if it is just their daylight hours that they spend working, that sacrifice we all call Work makes organizations great. An ex-CEO of Nedbank always used to say: “If you can’t lead or you can’t follow, get out of the way.” He’s right. Especially in SA Inc right now.

  1. Leadership brings prosperity. Of course, it can bring gloom as well ala Hitler and JZ but the kind we’re talking about brings wealth to the people. Social Justice looks to the upliftment of the Poor and the sense of Gain, if not Equality, between the Have’s and the Have Nots. The reason may not be entirely philanthropic but just common sense. I often say that people don’t burn what they own so ownership and belonging, in their broader context, is really stabilizing and therefore creates the environment in which people can succeed.

So the point is that if a leader is winner-takes-all and self-enriching [heaven knows we’ve seen sick examples of them in Southern Africa recently in politics and corporates], he gains and everybody else loses. Instability fails All and investment dries up as business people prefer to conserve rather than to grow. The same goes for your business as for our country.

  1. I hear some nonsense about the thought that Zuma should have won the Elective Conference so that the ANC would lose in 2019. If that were the answer to prayer that the Good Lord gave us, I would need to accept it, but why would anyone want to have another year and a half of tragic leadership for the brinkmanship of losing an election? And then you end up with an EFF/ANC coalition or something more deleterious. I’m not being political but just asking why would we want Eskom and the Rand to go to the wall [like TOTAL COLLAPSE] to have the chance to change the government. Of course, I can imagine the answer of my naysayers – “Take the pain now”; “No pain, no gain” – but what about the disastrous economic scorched earth impoverishment and social instability while the greedy get richer at the cost of our People?

Surely a reasonable man would wish Jabu Mabuza success and that Eskom keeps the lights on and enables the smelters to begin to beneficiate iron ore into steel at great electrical cost because we can do it cheaper than the Japanese? Com’on!

  1. Leaders trade in Hope. Lift the eyes of your people and you will be amazed how soon they can sense the excitement, understand the new standards and “the way we do things around here” and get on with the task at hand. I’ve said is before on this platform, you reinstate Pravin, bring Thuli in as Minister of Justice, appoint Russel Laubscher to Public Works etc and you will be shocked at how undervalued the Rand is to the Dollar. About 60 years ago Singapore – the Mighty Tiger – was practically a well-placed fishing village. National Will is an unassailable commodity and we have resources in this country to make the eyes water. No train should derail in any Metro – Ever!
  2. A final one-liner. What is written above applies to yourself, your home, your business, your province and your country. But it’s up to you and I to activate it.

I hear really good news coming from business leaders in Gauteng. Many stand by to advise government and invest in economic plans. The wind is in the trees and the white horses dancing.

I’m not a supporter of CR. My eyes are placed far above him and my hope centers way broader than his politics but I have had a little to do with leadership. When it’s bad, it’s really bad and things grind to a halt. But when it’s good, it’s really good and harnesses the immense talents even of the common man and women to the Greater Good.

Am I an old idealist? Have your view but in the meantime, let’s get on with what we can do to make a positive impact on our world.

Yours in 2018 Property.

Jack Trevena
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