The first job of a leader is to create a vision, and the second is to get the people behind it. This rule applies whether it is a CEO in private-sector business, or a leader in local or national government.
As the increasingly impotent and fractious ANC embarks on the road to Mangaung, there is fierce lobbying and behind-the-scenes manoeuvring to anoint its next leader. In these opaque and sinister processes, in which the main body of the South African electorate has no part, there is little talk about any candidate’s vision for the future. No one spells out the way forward for the country, or what the various candidates believe.
Senior ANC leaders are now punting Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe as the candidate to succeed President Zuma. It is said that he is the favourite of the Anyone But Zuma, the ABZ faction, and that Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale is in line to be the Deputy. But this is South Africa. None of these candidates have to face the people of the country or defend what they stand for.
We don’t know what Kgalema Motlanthe’s values are or what he believes. How will he lead the country, if he should get the nod, and how he will deal with its various critical challenges; law and order, education, healthcare, poverty, foreign affairs, etc. The unfortunate reality is that we will simply be told once the decision at Mangaung is made, and that will be the end of it.
Comparisons with the American election process, which is now in its hot final phase, are inevitable. In his key-note address to the Democratic Convention last Thursday, Barack Obama referred to the fact that Mitt Romney, his Republican opponent, spent his convention speech listing all that was wrong with Obama and the Democrats, but saying little of how he would fix it. He did make promises of how many jobs he would create, and that he would deliver a healthier economy, but there was little indication of how he would achieve all this. Brilliant orator Obama, on the other hand, almost reminding us of the ringing tones and cadence of Martin Luther King, expounded on a vision of cooperation and how America could manage itself out of its present crisis.
The message from this, and we hope the ABZ camp in the ANC might be listening, is that a negative motivation, in which an incumbent’s poor performance becomes the only focus, is doomed. Romney’s platform is a litany of what is wrong with Obama. This is very negative. A positive pitch is one that gives hope by spelling out what is to be achieved and how that will be done. The ABZ lot, limp and lacking any coherent vision, simply want to get away from what we have, with little thought for what may replace it; hardly an inspirational vision.
Imagine how much more engaged the whole South African electorate would be if we could have the key candidates for leadership facing each other in debate and defending their vision for the future.
With little properly articulated vision from the ANC and even less evidence of real strategic thought, various ministers and the great and the good from inside are now taking it upon themselves to say what is wrong and how it can be fixed. Treasurer-General Mathews Phosa, in a personal interview, said that the new generation was getting impatient with the poor leadership and bad delivery of services. As he put it, “We must listen to the grumble, groan and grunt on the ground.” He also said that what we need to do now is “attract intellectuals, implementers and project managers”, presumably those who can do a better job of delivery.
Apart from the picturesque speech and the slightly strange inclusion of intellectuals with implementers and project managers, he is at least giving some thought to the matter. What he may not be taking account of is how few competent and experienced implementers and project managers exist within the ranks of the ANC, and how necessary it is, if we are to make any headway at all, that the ANC will have to bring some of these skills and real appropriate experience from outside its cherished ranks.
Phosa further referred to the damning reports by the auditor-general on the state of finances in the municipalities and the dreadful levels of corruption and incompetence, saying the ANC must work hard to appoint “very skilled” leaders to the party and its government posts. Really? And where will he be getting them? Unless the ANC is willing to work with people from the broader population and commits to building productive relationships with business and the private sector, it will continue on its downward slide.
Another side-swipe from an insider comes from Pallo Jordan, National Executive Council member of the ANC, who criticised the government on Friday for its poor handling of Marikana, saying: “Does it sit easily with the membership of the ANC and with the millions of ANC supporters here at home and in the world that the government is led by the ANC?”
It may be unbelievable for those of us outside the inner circle that such a question can even be asked. The subtext is that the government must be led by a broader constituency of people whose critical skill is delivery and competence rather than merely being party apparatchiks.
And for those of us who will not be there when leaders are nominated and the final decisions are made, may we encourage the ANC to choose a man or woman of vision who can inspire confidence and get the whole country to behind them. DM
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Johann Redelinghuys is a partner at Heidrick & Struggles the international leadership consulting business, which bought the firm Redelinghuys & Partners of which he was the founder. He has been deeply involved in career management and executive search all his life. He is the chairman of the South African company and now heads up its board practice working with chairmen and CEOs focussed on CEO succession, strategic leadership review and board evaluation.
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