An insightful focus on leadership
The NWU Potchefstroom Business School’s annual prestige day was a great success this year. Focusing on the issue of ‘leadership’, Mr Brand Pretorius, Prof Raymond Parsons and Dr Theuns Eloff all gave valuable insights into the need for, characteristics of and the difference that good leadership can make in society. Each speaker provided his own ‘flavour’ in addressing the question of leadership, with Brand Pretorius focusing on leadership within a business context, Raymond Parsons on a political context and Theuns Eloff on an educational context.
Mr Brand Pretorius, director of McCarthy Motor Holdings, was clear in affirming how quality MBA leaders could make a big positive difference in South Africa’s future. In the midst of a global leadership vacuum, we need more individuals who are willing to take the initiative and give employees and staff direction and inspiration in their respective companies. Mr Pretorius mentioned three big lessons that he had learned in his time as a leader as being crucial to doing this: 1) The recognition that leadership is a responsibility and not a right, 2) recognising that there is a difference between managing people and leading people and, finally, 3) the need for everyone to develop their own brand and style of leadership. For Mr Pretorius, this was the model of servant leadership whereby leaders seek to serve and inspire their employees so that employees would likewise serve customers. He then gave us some very practical advice regarding the necessary qualities that would make such a leader, mentioning things such as a need to control oneself, humility, fashioning a culture of respect, clear communication and passion and energy. A stand-out lesson that we all learned was that leadership is primarily concerned with inspiring and dealing with people, and as such one must remember that people never forget how you make them feel.
Prof Parsons, who will be releasing his latest book on the SA Economy – Zumanomics Revisited – in August 2013, then proceeded to expound upon leadership in the political arena, focusing on South Africa’s future. One thing that was clear from Prof Parsons’ lecture was that leadership is often specific to a particular time, place and circumstance. The great leaders in history were men and woman who stood up at the right time, when an appropriate issue that had to be dealt with, and they inspired individuals to follow them. Leaders are the ones who take the responsibility to confront the major anxiety of the people of their time. At the political level, there is a great need for the leaders of our nation to implement the plans and proposals of the National Development Plan, which, according to Prof Parsons, “may be SA’s last opportunity for many years to mobilise the nation behind a shared vision and avoid the economy falling into a “low growth trap” ”. This is necessary if South Africa is to create a society that will be bigger, stronger and better in the years to come so that we can have more shared welfare and greater stability. Prof Parsons emphasised that the National Development Plan’s vision for South Africa in 2030 should be apolitical, it should be something that all parties agree to and work towards implementing. Lamenting in the lack of political leadership evident at the highest level in SA, Prof Parsons challenged us all to ensure that we are a part of the implementation of the NDP wherever we are placed. Since the success of the NDP will depend on the existence of “a cadre of political, labour, business, civic and administrative leaders”, we need to ensure that we also share the vision of the NDP, and work towards its implementation in our respective spheres of influence.
Finally, Dr Theuns Eloff told us about the leadership that was required to transform the North-West University into the leading academic institution that it is today. He argued that leadership is not something we can define in a sentence or neat phrase; rather it is something that we recognise when we see it. Leadership is identified and shown by the results achieved by individuals. We know what leadership is when we see it in action, and we can measure leadership by its fruits. As a result, he mentioned the struggles and challenges that were faced by the NWU in the merger of the Mafikeng, Potchefstroom and Vaal Campuses. They had the courage to pursue new models of university management and thereby go against the wisdom of the time. There was an emphasis on the need for ownership from the different campuses, and giving them the freedom to take responsibility and control for their own development. Some of the principles that were emphasised were the need to take accountability for decisions, evidenced by Dr Eloff’s endeavour to ensure that all his decisions are transparent. There was also an emphasis on the need for incentives to reward good performance by staff, as key to any successful implementation of a business strategy.
Many lessons were learned during the course of the day. Modern challenges and problems were identified, and ultimately, we were all inspired to go back to our places of work and influence, and take the initiative to be leaders who serve, inspire and work towards having a positive impact on our societies.