Courageous Leadership Conversations

Address by Dr Reuel J. Khoza to the IoD Annual Business Update 2011 I  6 October 2011

May I commence by tapping into the wisdom of Robert J McCracken, who opines:
“The world is not perishing for the want of clever or talented or well-meaning men (people). It is perishing for the want of men of courage and resolution who, in devotion to the cause of right and truth, can rise above personal feeling and private ambition.”

I submit that this colloquium’s cardinal objective is to help move us from being merely “talented or well-meaning people” to “people of courage and resolution, who in devotion to the cause of right and truth” can help lift our political economy, our beloved nation onto a worthy, healthy, morally sound and prosperous cause.  We owe it to ourselves, we owe it to posterity.

Before we engage in this discourse, I propose that we pause and reflect on the challenge and purpose of Courageous Conversations. It behoves us to answer at least three key questions germane to the theme:

  • Why courageous and what kind of courage?
  • Why converse, and converse about what?
  • Courageous leadership conversations to what end?

First, a brief reflection on courage and its place in national, good-directed discourse. Courage is, as Winston Churchill observed, “the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees all the others”. It is the supreme virtue because it is the sine qua non for every other virtue. Without courage, essential knowledge and wisdom cannot be brought to bear among the ignorant and ill-informed to realize the folly of their ways, particularly those masquerading as leadership.

We must also insist on moral courage. Moral courage, which in Samuel Goodrich’s considered view, is “a virtue of higher cast and nobler origin than physical. It springs from a consciousness of virtue, and renders (people) in the pursuit or defence of right, superior to the fear of reproach (or intimidation), opposition in contempt”. We submit that courage with no ethical base is bravado – wild, inimical to any good cause and characterized by bluster and swagger. Moral courage is not based on bravado but on knowledge, expertise and deadly competence.

Second, why the discourse, and conversations about what? Well, there is a great deal to discuss and compelling reasons for us to engage in serious discourse as conscientious, caring and committed citizens – both corporate and individual. As we look around what do we see? We observe, inter alia:

  • A nation with no clearly articulated compelling vision;  a country with only a fuzzy sense of destiny.
  • A political leadership whose moral quotient is fast degenerating, with cabinet ministers embezzling, wasting, maladministering and abusing their fiduciary duty with impunity, a leadership without compunction – no pricking of conscience. Even Gwede Mantashe, ANC general secretary, laments the painful reality that “we have allowed thieves and thugs to run the country”.
  • A leadership bent on propping up mediocrity to the status of virtue.  We observe putative national leaders who actively suppress excellence and brush shining professionalism aside with gusto, simply because it is at variance with their corrupt view of the world. The same questionable leadership is also preoccupied with drumming up the warped logic that would have us believe that the superior wisdom and expertise of independent institutions such as the judiciary is inferior to that of the party, fragmented, ill-informed and chaotic as it is.
  • In our model constitutional democracy, we observe the emergence of a strange breed of leaders, determined to subjugate the rule of law and override the constitution.
  • A fall-out between the ruling elite and civil society including the information bill, the visit of an innocuous but inspirational Nobel Peace Prize Awardee, to celebrate the birthday of a fellow Laureate, etc is manifest of a leadership out-of-step with its followership. Instead of seeking attunement and fostering consensus, you have Chief Whips spitting adversarial venom.
  • A deleterious, ill-considered and vexed nationalization campaign that corrodes economic confidence and deters foreign direct investment.

All these and more demand attention and deserve serious discourse by this country’s citizenry, particularly the intelligentsia – the well-informed sector of South Africans who must move from being learned and well-meaning to being men and women of courage and resolution who, in dedication to the cause of right and truth, can rise above the mere pursuit of personal wealth and self-aggrandisement. National duty calls. Citizens of goodwill, both corporate and individual, must give a resounding response.

Third, and finally, Courageous Leadership Conversations to what end?

There can be no gainsaying that the integrity, health, socio-economic soundness of and prosperity of South Africa is the collective responsibility of all of us as its citizens, corporate or individual. We, therefore, have a duty to build and develop this nation and to call to book the putative leaders who, due to sheer incapacity, to deal with the complexity of twenty-first century governance and leadership, or naked corruption and moral decadence, cannot lead.

We have a duty to insist on strict adherence to the institutional forms that underpin our young democracy. A duty to help define and clearly articulate our national vision based on rigorous analysis - a compelling sense of destiny that will serve a national rallying point for our pursuit of excellence and prosperity. It behoves us to show depravity and to diligently promote a nation built on moral values.  We are duty-bound to guide, teach, develop and imbue our youth with a sound and wholesome value system.  We must stop creeping kleptocracy dead on its tracks.

Above all, following rigorous analysis and robust discourse, we must seek to help develop a comprehensive national plan designed to combat ignorance, ill-health, poverty and unemployment and to promote abiding respect for ethical behavior, a sense of efficacy, a powerful work ethic, and active pursuit of excellence as we build our nation. As we implement all of these, we must bear in mind that without courage even supreme wisdom will bear no fruit.