Reflecting on Africa's Leadership Challenge

Address by Dr Reuel J. Khoza (Chairman of Nedbank Group Limited, Aka Capital  and author of several books including Let Africa Lead and Attuned Leadership) to “Nedbank Group Technology Leaders”  I  27 August 2014

Lawrence Summers, President of Harvard University from 2001 to 2006.

“In this new century, nothing will matter more than education of future leaders and the development of new ideas”!

I suppose we are all familiar with the ancient Chinese imprecation, “I curse you, live in an important age”. One practical implication of this strange curse is that in a sense we are all as damned, encumbered and burdened as we are charmed, blessed and free to achieve. In this important age we are as much cursed with the spell of a famine of leadership as we are blessed with a feast of leadership. The choice is essentially ours. We can either develop, nourish and unleash the leadership talent that is all around us, or allow it to wither on the vine and continue lamenting the paucity of leadership in present-day South Africa.

I am inclined to resist itemising the Boy Scout-type leadership traits one should seek. May I submit however that leadership is as intellectual or cognitive as it is emotional. At the emotional level, leaders create followers because they generate:

Certainty in people who are vacillating.
Action where there is hesitation.
Expertise where there was floundering.
Optimism where there was cynicism.
Conviction that the future will be better.
Practically, rationally, the leader plays the following roles:

Pathfinding: predicated on a compelling vision and mission, inculcating in followers a sense of destination and transcendent purpose.

Aligning: ensuring that the organisational structure, systems and personal processes all contribute to achieving the shared mission and vision.

Empowering: igniting the fire within followers that unleashes their latent talent, ingenuity and creativity to do whatever is necessary and consistent with the principles agreed upon, so as to accomplish their common values, vision and mission.

It is against this background that it is proper for us in this place at this time to interrogate the concept and context of leadership in our organisations, our country and our continent.

The leadership style that shall make Africans succeed must be African in outlook, orientation and foresight. That the prism through which we must look at both the definitions of problems and the resolutions of those problems must be African.  Those who support African can help and encourage us, but in the final analysis, Africa will be the instrument of her own salvation. It is through her transformational leadership that Africa will transform herself, through – A leadership whose defining features are probity, humility, integrity, compassion and humanity;

A leadership that stands for the truth and affirmation of the good, and whose primary pursuit is noble causes and the common good;
A leadership that demonstrates competence, tenacity and a sense of efficacy; and does not shy away from difficult or unpopular decisions or measures;
A leadership that practises introspection and self-renewal; living by the tenets of consultation, persuasion, accommodation and cohabitation, and shuns coercion and domination;
A leadership that generates trust, goodwill and confidence; and is politically and personally as gracious, honourable and magnanimous in defeat as in success;
A leadership that understands that the success of others does not diminish their own success but adds to the common wealth; and deeply believes that the locus of control for Africa’s future is within Africa herself;
A leadership that acts as much for today as it does for the future; and does not consume seed capital but invests it for the generations to come;
A leadership that bridges the schisms and cleavages wrought by the religious, tribal, social, ideological, economic and political diversity that characterises much of Africa’s polities;
A leadership that understands the difference between cause and effect; and for whom the means are as important as the ends;
A leadership that is visionary.

May I conclude by sharing with you what I, in concurrence with Dave Ulrich, a partner in Global Consulting Alliance, believe the leaders of the future will be known for.

Twenty-first century leaders in Africa and the world over will be known-
Less for what they say and more for what they deliver;
Less by their title and position and more by their expertise and competence;
Less by what they control and more by what they shape;
Less by the goals they set and more by the mind-sets they build;
Both for great personal integrity and for exceptional organisational capabilities.

I trust that South Africa, Zambia and Africa, will not be found wanting. The journey is long, the incline steep. But the challenge is surmountable. Failure is not an option. Despair is not an option. Africa has the wisdom and the ability to be all of these things. The catalyst that will make this destiny manifest is this kind of leadership.