So the CEO of South Africa, President Jacob Zuma, had no involvement in arranging for the Gupta wedding aircraft to land at Waterkloof. OK, I’m prepared to buy that. But what I won’t buy is that he bears no responsibility for it, that he’s not accountable. He is, regardless of how much he condemns ‘name-dropping’. After all, it happened on his watch. It was his officials who assisted in the violation of our national security. And, as those of us in the private sector know, the top person in the organisation gets the credit for success, but also takes the fall for failure. It goes with the job.
The ‘Guptagate’ incident is a typical consequence of the crumbling ethical and moral fabric of our government – and the corruption and dishonesty we see in South Africa’s public sector is the result. There are many complex reasons for this, but the chief one is the poor ‘tone at the top’ set by the president and our senior political and government leaders. When the bosses in any organisation, be it the government, a company, an NGO or a club, lack integrity, it permeates throughout the organisation, and everyone starts breaking the rules. That’s the reason why Guptagate happened.
‘Integrity’ is a difficult concept to describe. Ask 10 people for a definition and you’ll receive 10 different answers. But most will use words such as ‘honest’, ‘reliable’, ‘trustworthy’, ‘consistent’, ‘sincere’, ‘moral’, ‘truthful’ and ‘ethical’. The reason is that they’re all part of it, for integrity is a ‘cluster concept’, with overlapping qualities of character. Challenging someone a few days ago to tell me what ‘integrity’ is, she said: “It’s very difficult to define, but I know it when I see it.”
That is precisely our present trouble. We don’t see much of it in government. ‘Tone at the top’ is a phrase coined by the architects of the internationally recognised South African-born King III corporate governance principles, which are now mandatory practice for all JSE-listed companies. Integrity is the core of ‘tone at the top’, but it also encompasses other aspects of behaviour displayed by directors and CEOs that affect the morale, ethics and honesty of staff throughout an organisation.
Are you a person who sets a ‘tone at the top’ that stands your organisation in good stead? Ask yourself the following:
- Are you prepared to recognise conflict of interest? Let’s say you’re on the board of a local company and are attending a board meeting. The matter under discussion is clearly in the best interests of the company, but will increase costs to your own business. What do you do? Do you declare a conflict of interest and offer to recuse yourself from the discussion? Or do you shut up and persuade the meeting to do what’s best for you, not the organisation?
- Do you have any unauthorised copyright material or unregistered software in your personal possession or business? Do you recognise that this is both criminally and morally wrong? Does your staff know it’s a practice you abhor?
- Do you pay lip service to high safety, health and environmental standards, or are you truly committed to a ensuring a safe working environment?
- Have you appointed a member of your family to a position for which he or she is clearly unsuited, in preference to a longstanding, capable member of staff?
- Do you undertake business trips in luxury while urging your staff to cut costs and travel as cheaply as possible?
If you answer ‘Yes’ to any of these questions, you’re eroding the ‘tone at the top’ and are in danger of inviting your own Guptagate incident.
In The Laws of Teamwork, John Maxwell identifies six ‘compasses’ needed by any leader to set the ‘tone at the top’:
- The moral compass (‘Look above’) – These are the values you and your team will strive to uphold in all of your business dealings.
- The intuitive compass (‘Look within’) – If it feels wrong or too good to be true, it probably is. Don’t do it.
- The historical compass (‘Look behind’) – Never denigrate the history of the organisation. People who have been in the team a long time derive value from this history.
- The directional compass (‘Look ahead’) – All teams need goals. Set them, and make sure each team player has a clear role in reaching the goal.
- The strategic compass (‘Look around’) – Know your country, your market, your industry. Identify what you need to do the job, then do it.
- Visionary compass (‘Look beyond’) – A great vision includes all team members and has plans for them to reach their full potential. Integrity is the backbone of ‘tone at the top’. Deviate from it at your peril.
Contact Peter Hughes at [email protected]. Please state “Managing for profit” in the subject line of your email.
This article was originally published in the 28 June 2013 issue of Farmer’s Weekly.