Finweek English Edition - - MANAGEMENT -

Tony Leon is a fa­mil­iar face to many South Africans. For al­most 20 years he has been a Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment, and for 13 years he led the DA and its pre­cur­sor, the PFP. He is the long­est-stand­ing leader of the op­po­si­tion in par­lia­ment since 1994. He grew the DA from the verge of po­lit­i­cal ex­tinc­tion into the sec­ond-largest party in SA. A trained at­tor­ney, Leon ac­tively took part in the piv­otal con­sti­tu­tional ne­go­ti­a­tions that gave rise to a demo­cratic SA. He also served as a co-chair­per­son of the Con­sti­tu­tional Assem­bly’s Theme Com­mit­tee on Fun­da­men­tal Rights.

In 2007, Leon stepped down as leader of the DA. He was SA’s Ambassador to Ar­gentina, Uruguay and Paraguay from 2009 to 2012. Since then, he has been writ­ing, speak­ing and con­sult­ing to busi­nesses about is­sues in SA and the world. He has au­thored three books: Hope and Fear: Re­flec­tions of a Demo­crat, On the Con­Con trary: Lead­ing the Op­po­si­tion in a Demo- cratic South Africa and The Ac­ci­den­tal Ambassador – From Par­lia­ment to Patag­o­nia. Look­ing back, what are Leon’s big­gest ca­reer mis­takes? He nar­rows it down to three key ar­eas:

Not fol­low­ing my gut in­stincts “This cov­ers a va­ri­ety of sit­u­a­tions and en­coun­ters in a num­ber of fields. Too of­ten I have fol­lowed a cere­bral ap­proach to de­ci­sion-mak­ing and shut down the emo­tional side. While I do not be­lieve the heart should rule the brain, it does need to be in bal­ance. Most of the mis­takes that I made hap­pened when I shunted aside my ‘in­ner voice’ or warn­ing that a par­tic­u­lar sit­u­a­tion re­quired a re­think be­cause it left me feel­ing dis­com­fited, ini­tially. Events of­ten proved the ini­tial con­cern to be jus­ti­fied.”

Con­tract­ing out my think­ing to oth­ers “While I gen­er­ally have en­joyed a ro­bust ‘ in­ner comp com­pass’ that points in the right di­rec­tion, some­times som I al­lowed my­self, es­pe­cially when un un­der pres­sure, to del­e­gate some key de­ci­sion de­ci­sions to subor­di­nates. There is, again, a fine line l be­tween proper del­e­ga­tion to other trusted truste mem­bers of the team on the one hand, an and al­ways re­mem­ber­ing that there can never nev be room for lead­er­ship to al­low oth­ers t to make the key de­ci­sions on its be­half. A full and ra­tio­nal check­ing of avail­able ev­i­dence is one thing, but al­low­ing this through pre pres­sure of tim­ing and events to let de­ci­sions de­ci­sion be de­ter­mined by oth­ers who have mar­shalled mars the facts and ev­i­dence can be co costly later on. ‘Time to think things thro through’ and re­flect is of­ten left at the back of o the men­tal queue when, in fact, it should sho be front and cen­tre.”

Suc­cumSuc­cumb­ing to pres­sure “Mostly, I avoided this trap, but some­times I was w wrongly swayed by the in­stant or mo­ment of peer or me­dia pres­sure into mak­ing a de­ci­sion that I later re­gret­ted. Once again, there is a nar­row but im­por­tant dis­tinc­tion be­tween lis­ten­ing and re­spond­ing to out­side and crit­i­cal voices – which need to be heard – and al­low­ing th­ese to sway you off a nec­es­sary course of ac­tion.” And Leon’s learn­ings from th­ese re­grets? “All th­ese are judg­ment calls, but my var­i­ous ca­reers and de­ci­sion-mak­ing roles have con­firmed that we mostly op­er­ate in less than ideal cir­cum­stances. A friend of mine, who held a se­nior po­si­tion in the White House, put this best: “The essence of be­ing a de­ci­sion maker is mak­ing de­ci­sions with real con­se­quences with im­per­fect in­for­ma­tion and with too lit­tle time.” So what­ever lessons I learned from th­ese ‘mis­takes’, there is no iron-clad guar­an­tee that they won’t be re­peated in some in­stances again; as sim­ple, and as com­plex, as that.” So, look­ing at their ex­pe­ri­ences, what are the key take­aways? Even though th­ese three re­mark­able in­di­vid­u­als have had very dif­fer­ent sto­ries and learn­ings, what they all share are hu­mil­ity, keen self­aware­ness and an abil­ity to take own­er­ship of their mis­takes and turn th­ese to their ad­van­tage. Even though it looks like things have come easy for them, just like the rest of us they have also their fair share of mis­takes. The dif­fer­ence is that they don’t run from their fail­ures. They em­brace fail­ure as an op­por­tu­nity to learn and grow and to hone their craft – this is the real les­son in their sto­ries.

Co­lette Sy­manowitz is Founder/MD of www.MBA­con­, a so­cial net­work ex­clu­sively for MBAs from all busi­ness schools in South Africa and world­wide.

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