We need lead­ers, not charm­ers, at the helm

CityPress - - Business - Muzi Kuzwayo busi­ness@city­press.co.za

Afriend of mine re­cently bought a large com­pany that came with many staff mem­bers and man­agers. The job of find­ing the fu­ture leader for the com­pany has be­gun.

A good leader is like a pol­ished di­a­mond. He or she has to have many facets and like with di­a­monds, there are fakes. Too many charm­ers are mis­taken for po­lit­i­cal lead­ers. Charm­ers open doors, but many of them fail be­cause they can­not fol­low through. It is easy to spot a hol­low charmer. They like name­drop­ping. As the story goes: “Nel­son Man­dela told me a lot of things, but the one thing I never for­get is when he said to me: ‘Son, if there’s one thing I want you to re­mem­ber, it is that you must never name drop.’”

When the stakes are high, take a can­di­date to lunch and watch how they treat the wait­ers. Want to know whether they are nice to you be­cause you have an op­por­tu­nity at hand, or if they in­deed are a good per­son? Never judge peo­ple by how they treat their su­pe­ri­ors, but by how they treat those of lower sta­tus.

Stay clear of some­one who does not stop talk­ing about their achieve­ments. There is a fine line be­tween sell­ing one­self and brag­ging. Brag­gers do not make good lead­ers. They bore their fol­low­ers to death. More dan­ger­ously, they take re­spon­si­bil­ity only for the good and blame oth­ers for their fail­ures.

Dif­fer­ent phases of the busi­ness re­quire dif­fer­ent types of lead­ers. Some­times an or­gan­i­sa­tion may need a states­per­son, es­pe­cially if it is caught up in a web of un­cer­tainty caused by dis­rup­tive in­no­va­tion, leg­isla­tive un­cer­tainty and po­lit­i­cal tur­bu­lence.

A states­per­son has a clear vision and is led by a moral com­pass as op­posed to fol­low­ing opin­ion polls. This leader un­der­stands that in the long-run, prin­ci­ple trumps ex­pe­di­ency. They are able to see through the fog of un­cer­tainty and imag­ine what the or­gan­i­sa­tion can be­come, in­stead of be­ing a hostage to fo­cus groups. A states­per­son pos­sesses an im­por­tant quality — the abil­ity to build con­sen­sus and man­age the var­i­ous tech­ni­cal peo­ple who may have con­flict­ing views. They do not see them­selves as the saviour. They do not charge ahead. They make sure that their fol­low­ers are right be­hind them.

Some­times the busi­ness needs a tech­no­crat – a per­son who has gone up the ranks be­cause of noth­ing else but tech­ni­cal abil­ity. Such peo­ple in­her­ently be­lieve that tech­nol­ogy or money is the so­lu­tion to all or­gan­i­sa­tional prob­lems. If the or­gan­i­sa­tion is over­staffed, they re­trench. They shut down un­prof­itable divi­sions or throw out ob­so­lete tech­nolo­gies. Tech­nocrats have lit­tle room for dis­sent or end­less talk shops. They are results driven.

Ac­cord­ing to Robert Put­nam, pro­fes­sor of pub­lic pol­icy at Har­vard Univer­sity, tech­nocrats are scep­ti­cal to­wards politi­cians and po­lit­i­cal in­sti­tu­tions, which ex­plains why busi­ness is in con­stant con­flict with po­lit­i­cal lead­ers. They look for prag­matic so­lu­tions and will eas­ily over­ride ide­o­log­i­cal and even moral as­sess­ments. Tech­nocrats can only be curbed by pow­er­ful lobby groups that put them in line.

There is a leader who is as strict as the school prin­ci­pal. They take a de­ci­sion, com­mu­ni­cate their ex­pec­ta­tions and give clear goals. Achiev­ing the goals of­ten does not come with any ac­knowl­edg­ment, but fail­ure to meet the tar­gets is pun­ish­able. The dis­ci­plinar­ian al­lows con­se­quences to fol­low their course and will not in­ter­fere. This kind of leader lacks the sixth sense that is of­ten nec­es­sary to nav­i­gate the choppy wa­ters of busi­ness.

My friend is look­ing for some­one who has the abil­ity to sim­plify things. “Sim­plic­ity,” he says, “is the ul­ti­mate mea­sure of in­tel­li­gence. It is not about ig­nor­ing com­plex­ity, but con­quer­ing it.” He is look­ing for some­one who is in­tense about suc­cess. For­mer foot­ball man­ager Sir Alex Fer­gu­son would agree with him, as he looked for play­ers who had in­ten­sity and com­mit­ment at the train­ing ses­sions. The third el­e­ment is some­one who is con­sis­tent, be­cause a one-hit won­der is soon for­got­ten.

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