Lose the swagger!

The truth is, whether you’re a politician or CEO, there is only one route to true leadership, the kind that makes a real and lasting contribution to the lives of those who depend on you.

When PW Botha and his wagging finger shuffled off the political stage, along with sundry other public figures, Pieter-Dirk Uys – of Evita Bezuidenhout fame – said he was a worried man. Where would he find characters to lampoon in his future shows?  Interviewed recently he said: “I need never have worried. Jacob Zuma, Julius Malema, Mac Maharaj and many others of the new political era have provided me with an overload of hilarious material.”

READ:Eskom committed to water conservation

Writing these articles, I am continually in search of high profile leaders who provide examples of outstanding management and leadership. And I have to agree with Pieter-Dirk – our government has provided me with some great material. Regrettably, though, the examples I come upon all too often illustrate how not to do things.

The Nkandla debacle and the subsequent responses of President Zuma and his colleagues is a case in point:

  • The lack of honesty, integrity and transparency.
  • The refusal to accept accountability.
  • The lack of humility to recognise their follies and the courage to take the honourable way out – apologise or resign.

Every fundamental rule of good leadership and management has been broken!

What makes leaders great?
The power of leaders to build and maintain a following is a subject that has fascinated scholars of human behaviour. Countless studies have sought to identify the core elements that make leaders great. And the result of all this research? There is no secret formula! On the other hand, it’s also true that great leaders share some common characteristics. In The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, John Maxwell attempts to identify the behavioural and character traits that occur in truly great business leaders.

His primary conclusion is that without trust and respect, no one ever became a leader, and who could argue with this?

Have you ever voluntarily followed the lead of someone you did not trust and respect?
Someone who says one thing and does another?
Someone who expects you to behave with integrity, while not doing so themselves?
Someone urging you to work harder, but not doing so themselves?

Without trust, there can be no respect. And someone who isn’t trusted or respected will never be a good leader.

When fear replaces respect
What Maxwell overlooks, however, is how ‘authority’ is retained after a leadership position is secured. This is important because all too often power is retained through the use of fear. In politics, this includes the suppression of opposition parties and draconian laws.

Business leaders
But who can deny that fear also plays a role in business? The fear of dismissal, for example, forces employees to follow their leader (or manager). Needless to say, if that’s what the bosses rely on, neither they nor the company will get far. If employees are only there because jobs are scarce, and this in turn is used as an excuse to keep salaries low, you will never get the best out of them. And this will affect the company in the long run.

What many immature leaders often do not appreciate, is that, after integrity and trust, true leadership requires sacrifice. They believe that the higher one rises in the hierarchy, the more freedom one have to break the rules.  The truth is exactly the opposite. Leaders must give up as they go up. As you climb the leadership ladder, so your rights to do as you wish decrease, and your responsibilities increase.

True leaders don’t just pontificate. They walk the talk, setting the right example by performing actions that speak louder than words.

Disturbing tendency
We also see the tendency of so many leaders to become self-serving. True leaders focus on providing service to others, not on grabbing as much as possible for themselves. Unfortunately, this behaviour is all too common, whether we’re talking about politicians or CEOs. As Maxwell so forcefully demonstrates in his book, effective leadership is ultimately about the ability to influence – nothing more, nothing less. And it’s simply not possible to influence anyone for too long unless there’s trust and respect.

We have many public figures in positions of power today who break all the rules and kill trust and respect. They may be in power for now, but their ‘success’ will be short-lived as they will never be true leaders.

Don’t make the same mistake!

This article was originally published in the 23 May 2014 issue of Farmers Weekly.

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Tags: agriculture government jacob zuma

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