Responsible and Responsive Leadership in Turbulent Times

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 “SAICA Northern Region Spring Conference  I  08 SEPTEMBER 2017


The great humanitarian and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Alfred Schweizer opined: “I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.”

Conscientious, that is to say responsible, empathetic, responsive leaders, in addition to their strong analytical, emotional, spiritual and socio-systemic intelligence, are keenly aware of the significance of service in helping their nations or organisations realise their highest potential. In essence they know that genuine service to (their) followers – service to others, leads to more personal accomplishment.

Many amongst us will concur with George Eberhard that, “The vital force in business life is the honest desire to serve. Business it is said, is the science of service. He profits most who serves best. At the very bottom of the wish to render service must be honesty or purpose, and as I go along through life, I see more and more that honesty in word, thought and work means success! It spells a life worth living and in business clean success.”

Responsible and responsive – and might I add accountable, leadership is anchored on a sound / wholesome value system; attuned to its time through its sense of historical mission; it resonates with the needs and aspirations of its followership, and it is responsive to its beckoning sense of destiny.

In the book Attuned Leadership I argue that leadership is about sense and sensing, about thought and feeling, about insight into and harmony with the followership.

Having regard to the forgoing, how would we describe the turbulence within which the responsible and responsive leadership must seek and find expression? What is the nature and manifestation of this turbulence? The challenges it poses to leaders nationally and internationally? Is it sufficient for leaders merely to be responsible and responsive in providing leadership in these turbulent times? What about accountability?


I suppose the prevailing turbulence is pervasive: national, continental and international.

Internationally this is manifest inter alia, in

  • Ascendancy to the presidency of the world’s most powerful nation by an unorthodox, often insensitive, at times not so subtle racist; menacingly oblivious of the imperative of the triple bottom-line considerations of people, profit and planet.
  • Emergence to the leadership (misleadership) role of the erstwhile British Empire, of an isolationist, jingoistic, counter megatrend force in the form of BREXIT.

The so-called leaders of the Free World seem oblivious of the reality that the world now is a neighbourhood; and that what this world sorely needs is to transform that neighbourhood into a global brotherhood / sisterhood.

With the imminence of nuclear war about which the USA and North Korea feud with gay abandon, the stark choice facing humanity is global interdependence or global mutual annihilation.

Where is Responsible and Responsive leadership in this regard?

  • Where the former Soviet Union is concerned we observe a vice-like grip on Russian citizenry marked by total intolerance of opposition, etc.

As for our beloved continent, the somewhat low-intensity but just as debilitating and potentially devastating signs include:

  • The waning of the once powerful unifying and compelling vision of the African Renaissance and the emergence in its place of limp-wristed AU leadership that seems to take the continent nowhere.
  • A continent that continues to be in fragments, apparently oblivious of the twenty-first version of the scramble for Africa.
  • Rampant hunger, malnutrition and starvation on a continent with countries that should be food baskets for the world, not basket cases.
  • Internecine strife in the build-up to and post elections, stolen elections, denied elections in the form of indefinite postponements, etc.
  • Atrophy of wholesome practices like the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM).
  • Wide-scale genocide inspired by ideology or religion such as that by Boko Haram.

As we look around our beloved country, South Africa, what do we see that is symptomatic of the turmoil?

A nation struggling unsuccessfully to articulate its own compelling vision; a country devoid of a sense of national destiny.

  • A national political leadership so depraved it appears to feed on a regular diet of scandals, happy to move inexorably from a wholesome democracy to kleptocracy.
  • Citizenry so debilitated it watches with placid indifference as its putative leadership elevates mediocrity to the status of virtue – promoting and placing the incapable and corrupt in positions of leadership; castigating and casting aside those who are as able and ethical as they are incorruptible in their leadership delivery.
  • A prominent association of educationalists which should be a flag bearer of academic excellence, so morally degenerate it has sunk to the level of selling principalships and senior vacancies; quite apart from dispensing promotions based on political comradeship.
  • Professional bodies which fail to censure their errant members, and are coy to cry foul in the face of large scale embezzlements and blatant lootinDisplacement of robust political debate and discourse by the murder of contestants and opponents.
  • Dereliction of national duties by our intelligentsia: a duty to engage, debate and resolve issues in our political economy; a duty to enlighten and inform.
  • A political economy contending with junk status with its painful effects on all, but particularly on the poor and destitute in society.
  • Corrosive delays and denials at the highest levels of political leadership, which amount to justice denied in appointing commissions of inquiry into corruption and related matters.

All of the above amount to turbulence which manifests in peaks and troughs.

Turning to the core of today’s theme, Responsible and Responsive Leadership, having flagged aspects of our turbulent environment, we need to address the questions, responsive and responsible to whom, how and to what end?

Connectedness, compassion, integrity, humility, approachability and a sense of efficacy based on being knowledgeable, are the keys to responsible and responsive leadership. This is leadership which is reflective, resonant, based on a sound value-system and beckoned by a compelling vision.

Responsive leadership is about sense and sensing, about thought and feeling, about insight into and harmony with the followers. In my latest book, a book of the same title, I call this Attuned Leadership. Genuine, responsive leaders cannot stand alone but must stand with their followers, interpret issues for them, strive to fulfill their hopes, and be their champions in the struggles of life. Responsible and responsive leadership is earned or achieved. The leader’s moral authority is fashioned in the interface with community. The power to lead responsibly is the product of support for a person whose actions bespeak solidarity with the needs and aspirations of the many.

I have come to use the term Attuned Leadership to describe the quality of leaders who are attuned to the hopes, expectations, fears, and requirements of their followers, what I suppose this conference chose to call responsible and responsive leadership. An ethic of service lies at the heart of responsible, responsive and accountable leadership.


Nelson Mandela, in the foreword to my book, Let Africa Lead, wrote: “It has been said that good leaders lead from within. What I think this means is that the privilege of true leadership is given to those whose energy derives from deep within, in the spiritual dimension of the self, rather than in the managerial or technical expertise, important as these are.” It is this dimension of inward self-examination / reflection that singularly has been lacking in our world. In corporate affairs we have seen directors of global companies such as Enron simply plundering the wealth of their organisations without considering the loss and suffering they caused among investors and other stakeholders.

In our own beloved country we are witnessing state capture and corruption on a massive scale with utter disregard for the plight of the destitute.

A responsible and responsive leader is not above, or below, the followers, but is one with them and leads from within; occasionally boldly stepping ahead in response to a beckoning compelling vision, his sense of destiny. The responsive leader is both empathetic and intelligent. Insight into the lives and dreams of the followers comes from the ability to identify with them and share their perspectives.


Responsible leaders do not shy away from courageous conversations to reveal brutal facts. One of the factors in the success of great organisations and great nations is striving for consistency in making good decisions. These good decisions flow from the fact that responsible and responsive leaders make thorough efforts to confront reality, internalizing the facts relevant to their organisations or nations. Having lofty goals can be good, but you can never lose sight of what the reality is on the ground, no matter how you will it to be different.


Responsible and responsive leaders correctly sense the direction that followers need to take in order to realise a desirable cardinal goal. This sense of direction comes partly from intuition and partly from knowledge of the situation. Properly crystallized and persuasively articulated, vision is a powerful force for organisational or national alignment. As the Good Book advises, where there is no vision the nation perishes. Moses of the Bible promised the Israelites a land of milk and honey to lure them out of bondage in Egypt, through the desert to the Promised Land. Nelson Mandela articulated his vision and mission as follows: “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and achieve. But if needs be it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” Rivonia Trial: 1964

These visions clearly resonated with the aspirations of their respective followers.


We should be mindful of the reality that no leader is simply born to the role: leaders are born, but then made. Leaders need to be developed through education, training, mentoring and example. Saying that responsible and responsive leaders know which direction to take implies that serious reflection and investigation have gone into a decision, and the leader is well aware of the complexities of the challenge at hand. The uneducated and undeveloped leader will suffer from the twin shortcomings of lack of serious introspection and lack of situational analysis and awareness. You cannot responsibly and sensitively transform others if you have failed to transform yourself. And you cannot transform an organisation or nation without a sound appreciation of important aspects of the situation.

Responsive and responsible leadership in today’s complex environment demands sophistication and the uncanny ability to deal with complexity. So-called native intelligence and street wisdom will not cut it. A great deal of the required wisdom cannot be picked up from the streets.


The moral authority of the responsible leader rests squarely on the followers’ appreciation for the personhood of the leader. Personhood is the term to describe not just personality but the achievement of respect in the eyes of those one purports to lead. Those who prove to be effective leaders are individuals who seek power not for its sake, but to be of service to their followers.

It is this that gains them approbation, conferring the moral worth of personhood on their shoulders. It is this that gives them the confidence to forge ahead knowing they have won the trust of those who yearn to be led. It is personhood that lends responsible leadership its being. The responsive leader takes direction and the mandate from a deep spiritual bond with the followers, and in placing himself or herself at their service is bound to be reflective and principled. Moral authority can never be built on superficiality, opportunism, populism or hidden intent to exploit.

Corrupt looters and those leaders who allow themselves to be captured by sinister forces have neither moral authority nor are they imbued with personhood.


In this regard it is apposite to tap into the wisdom of Robert J McCracken (a Scottish-born professor of systematic theology) 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 (people) of courage and resolution who, in devotion to the cause of right and truth, can rise above personal feeling and private ambition.”

I choose to believe that this conference’s key objective, with its theme of Responsive and Responsive Leadership, aims 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 lift out political economy, our beloved nation from the jangling discords of kleptocracy, onto a symphony of a worthy, healthy, morally sound and prosperous cause. As responsible and responsive leaders, we owe it to ourselves, we owe it to posterity.


As I have said elsewhere not so long ago, there can be no gainsaying that the integrity, health, socio-economic soundness and prosperity of South Africa are the collective responsibility of us all as citizens, corporate and individual. We cannot leave it to depraved political leadership. We have to be responsive and responsible. We therefore have a duty to build and develop this nation and call to book the putative leaders who, due to sheer incapacity to deal with the complexity of twenty-first century governance and leadership, or due to naked corruption and moral decadence, cannot provide responsible, accountable and responsive leadership.

We are obliged to insist on strict adherence to the institutional forms that underpin our young constitutional democracy. We have a duty to help define and clearly articulate our national vision based on rigorous analysis; to proclaim a compelling sense of national destiny that will serve as a rallying point and clarion call for our pursuit of excellence and prosperity. It behoves us to shun 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 the creeping kleptocracy dead on its tracks. It behoves responsible and responsive leadership to act as though the nation were on a burning platform. It is!!

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

There is courage in demonstrating that there is a better way than following the mob or allowing populist misleadership to (mis) lead us down dangerous alleys. There is courage in taking the steps that business needs to take to truly transform our productive lives. We cannot simply feather our own nests. We have to consider that overcoming poverty is the greatest challenge facing us today. Youth are marginalised, the unemployed are desperate: there is indeed a revolution in the making unless we pull together. We must help create jobs, pay living wages, curb executive greed, improve the skills base of the under-educated, seek new ideas and markets, serve our stakeholders honestly, and rise to the challenge of conscientious individual and corporate citizenship. That is what Responsible and responsive leadership is quintessentially about.