Seven bil­lion lead­ers There isn’t a sin­gle country in the world that can say it is cur­rently thriv­ing eco­nom­i­cally, so­cially and po­lit­i­cally. Not China. Not In­dia. Not Ger­many. Not South Africa. Not the United States.

Finweek English Edition - - OPINION - Ed­i­to­rial@fin­ Pro­fes­sor is dean of the Univer­sity of Pre­to­ria’s Gor­don In­sti­tute of Busi­ness Sci­ence (Gibs).

afew weeks ago, at our MBA grad­u­a­tion cer­e­mony, I opened pro­ceed­ings with this ex­tract: “We have a com­plete frac­tur­ing of lead­er­ship in this country. What we need is a vi­sion of op­ti­mism, unity and in­clu­sion. We are no longer liv­ing in a time where we can look up and see the lead­ers that per­haps we once as­pired to. We are in need of an eco­nomic and moral trans­for­ma­tion. There is tremen­dous anx­i­ety and con­cern about where the country is headed.”

The per­son speak­ing was Howard Schultz, the Amer­i­can CEO of Star­bucks. The fo­cus of his re­flec­tion was the US.

Yes, Schultz’s call for lead­er­ship to drive eco­nomic and moral trans­for­ma­tion was made within a par­tic­u­lar con­text, but no country to­day is im­mune from the fact that the broader eco­nomic, po­lit­i­cal and so­cial sys­tem is deeply tur­bu­lent.

The world is shift­ing – not just in SA. The as­sump­tions about the role that busi­ness and lead­ers play in build­ing strong so­ci­eties is be­ing thrown into ques­tion in the face of rev­e­la­tions like the Panama Pa­pers and the Petro­bras in­ves­ti­ga­tions in Brazil.

Look to the un­fold­ing mi­grant cri­sis in Europe. What does that say about how fiercely peo­ple hold on to what is theirs and how pas­sion­ately they re­sist change?

We have much work to do; the ques­tion is where to start.

Cer­tainly we need to look at lead­ers who will serve the world best in the fu­ture. I be­lieve there is a lovely provo­ca­tion in Schultz’s words. He is, of course, talk­ing about Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial hope­ful Don­ald Trump, but his words con­tain lessons for ev­ery country cur­rently ex­pe­ri­enc­ing lead­er­ship chal­lenges: Brazil, Ukraine, the EU, Ice­land.

SA, we must re­mind our­selves, isn’t alone in ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a tur­bu­lent so­cioe­co­nomic land­scape and ques­tion­ing moral­ity.

Yes, some of our chal­lenges are no doubt the con­se­quences of our po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship, but I won­der how much is glob­ally symp­to­matic.

This world­wide evo­lu­tion forces us to ex­am­ine what makes strong economies, so­ci­eties and po­lit­i­cal sys­tems. At its core, this shift is driven by tech­nol­ogy and the democrati­sa­tion of voice brought about by so­cial me­dia. Citizens are no longer wholly re­liant on lead­ers to dic­tate their for­tunes.

How­ever, th­ese tech­nol­ogy en­ablers have also in­creased our per­sonal op­por­tu­nity to ig­nite change and the sense of own­er­ship we have in so­ci­ety. We’re be­ing com­pelled to stand up.

It re­quires us to don mul­ti­ple hats, as citizens, neigh­bours, lead­ers, par­ents, sons and daugh­ters. Now is not the time to look for in­spir­ing lead­er­ship, it is time to be in­spir­ing lead­er­ship. At the very base of this idea of agency is the re­spon­si­bil­ity of ev­ery ci­ti­zen of vot­ing age, in ev­ery country, to vote. But it goes deeper. We all have a voice, we can all reach out. It’s un­ac­cept­able for any South African to say they can’t make an im­pact. Even in the poor­est of com­mu­ni­ties, where eco­nomic power is de­nied to many, in­di­vid­u­als can be po­lit­i­cally ac­tive and build strong so­ci­eties. We need to get away from see­ing lead­er­ship as the purview of the elite. We’re all lead­ers in our homes, schools, at the work­place, within our churches and our com­mu­ni­ties.

Busi­ness lead­ers, of course, have the plat­form to make a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence within their or­gan­i­sa­tions and through par­tic­i­pa­tion in in­dus­try fo­rums and net­works. But I warn against busi­ness lead­ers adopt­ing a my­opic view of their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. We need to take a leaf out of the “slash gen­er­a­tion” mind­set, where those born in the new mil­len­nium chose to de­fine them­selves by all they are and do, not by sin­gle iden­ti­ties. They know they’re not just an en­tre­pre­neur or teacher; they are philoso­pher/ mother/stu­dent/busi­ness owner/com­mu­nity ac­tivist/mu­sic lover/sci­ence fundi.

This ap­proach recog­nises that you shouldn’t just be a change agent in the work­place. In­creas­ingly we are see­ing this play out in SA, with lead­ers like Mark Lam­berti, CEO of Im­pe­rial, Gold Fields chair Ch­eryl Caro­lus, and Ned­bank CEO Mike Brown stand­ing up as mem­bers of civil so­ci­ety.

There is an en­cour­ag­ing rise in such en­gage­ments lo­cally, in­clud­ing the likes of the So­cio-Eco­nomic Fu­ture of South Africa, with which my col­league Nick Binedell is in­volved.

Just re­cently, our sec­ond year MBAs went through our Dy­nam­ics of Com­pet­i­tive­ness course. The idea is to ex­pe­ri­ence how the econ­omy op­er­ates be­yond pri­mary busi­ness hubs, so they went out into sec­ondary town and spent time en­gag­ing with ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions, lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties and busi­ness to build a deeper un­der­stand­ing. What struck me was the num­ber of stu­dents who, hav­ing be­come aware of needs, had acted to im­prove those con­texts.

This high­lighted the lead­er­ship role which we all can play in so­ci­ety. We need to look be­yond pre­ex­ist­ing lead­ers and recog­nise that we all need to con­trib­ute as lead­ers if we are to suc­cess­fully drive the moral and eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion im­per­a­tive to which Schultz refers. Else, if we just sit back, we open the door to scare­mon­gers like Trump.

No country to­day is im­mune from the fact that the broader eco­nomic, po­lit­i­cal and so­cial sys­tem is deeply tur­bu­lent.

Howard Schultz Amer­i­can CEO of Star­bucks

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