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A National Leadership Academy

By Clem Sunter

I was chatting to Nick Binedell yesterday at the Gordon Institute of Business Science in Johannesburg. He is the Director of this business school and is widely acknowledged for his role of turning the institution into one of the leading centres of business education in Africa. He agrees with me that the time has come for an Economic Codesa, but worries that there is not yet the same sense of crisis that drove the principal parties into a Political Codesa in the early 1990s.

He suggested that one of the items on the agenda should be the establishment of a National Leadership Academy to train leaders at all three levels of government - national, provincial and municipal. I totally agree with him because, in the words of the late Frederick van Zyl Slabbert, we suffer from a crisis of implementation. We have lots of ideas, talk, workshops, plans and summits, but we do not have a good conversion rate of turning all the things we agree should be done into action.

Apart from that, an essential part of modern leadership is good corporate governance whether you are in the public or private sector. In this regard, the public judges the leaders by their deeds and not by their words. Equally, given the hard economic times, a good nose for what is cost-effective and what is mere squandering of funds is an important characteristic of the head of any organisation.

Personally, I do not feel there is much difference between being the CEO of a major company and being the CEO of a country, a province or town. You have to understand the game you are in; you have to inspire your followers to go the extra mile; you have to be good at persuading others to your point of view; you need to be intelligent about strategy and tactics; you should be smart about encouraging innovation among your staff; you have to be consistent and fair; and above all you must hold your immediate team accountable for their actions and make sure the principle of accountability is driven down to the lowest level of the organisation.

Right now, one of the flags that Chantell Ilbury and I feel is critical in judging whether South Africa stays in the Premier League of nations is inclusive leadership. You need the majority and minorities to have that universal feeling of being part of the same team. In sports like rugby, soccer and cricket, you only win trophies with a united side and the same absolutely applies to countries. Hence, class and racial divisions are the kiss of death when they seriously disrupt the national spirit. A good leader tolerates diversity but never allows diversity to descend into outright division.

All these characteristics and much more could be taught at a National Leadership Academy. As Nick rightly says, companies obsess about their competitors and how the quality of their internal strategy and marketing can have a positive or negative impact on their market capitalisation. What they fail to understand is that the success or failure of the country in which they operate can have a far bigger impact on their net worth.

Thus, it is a no brainer if we are to have a social compact between government and business as a result of an Economic Codesa that one of the elements should be a leadership academy catering for the special qualities necessary to be a leader in the South African context. Perhaps we will then get things done which leads to a better life for all while vanquishing the triple-headed monster of poverty, inequality and unemployment.

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