Why do politicians feel a need to listen to ordinary people only when elections are coming? Surely this is the worst possible time to go on a fact-finding mission.
So what should we tell those requesting us to vote for them locally and their parties provincially and nationally?
We must tell them that the term “good politician” is not necessarily an oxymoron. Through hard work, good managers can be good politicians and good politicians can be good managers.
Politicians wishing to be seen as good managers of their country’s affairs should take a few pointers from good chief executives or from what it takes to be a good chief or other senior executive in a thriving corporation.
First, to get elected, political leaders must articulate a clear and compelling platform. Who can argue that a credible vision conveyed in a convincing manner would not be good for any party and its leaders?
Second, the political candidate and party must spend an inordinate amount of time getting the message across. The most effective managers communicate to ensure commitment throughout the organisation.
Third, once elected, politicians and their parties must display the ability to negotiate with other politicians who have their own interests. Only through effective alliances, diligent persuasion, and strategic compromise can one be a successful politician.
These attributes can be seen as aspects of a single, essential characteristic: the ability to see things from another’s point of view and take varying viewpoints into account. People who can’t visualise legitimate outlooks different from theirs will have little success in changing those outlooks.
By studying the varying motives and interests in their communities, working diligently to accommodate those interests, and campaigning convincingly for a just cause when compromise is impossible, politicians can engage in constructive management behaviour. Thus good politicians can be good managers.
We must tell our politicians campaigning for our votes that we need managers more than we need politicians these days.
Like good company managers, good politicians provide the injection of new ideas and prevent stagnation, while public servants ensure a sober second thought before new ideas are implemented. A working political system needs both of these seemingly contradictory characteristics: enough change to prevent entropy and enough stability to prevent system overload.
Politicians must take a clear leadership role in policy setting and stay out of administration and management; administrators must comply with the directions of politicians and not stray into the political process. Politicians and staff members must respect one another and understand their differing roles.
Like company managers and chief executives, today’s politicians are vastly different from those who reigned 20 years ago.
Politicians now need a host of new skills to deal with a world ruled by empowerment, increasingly stringent corporate governance rules, globalisation, and fast-paced technological innovation.
Our politicians must possess leadership and team-building qualities; must have a performance-driven personality; have good judgment anchored by prudent risk-taking; financial acumen; an international and global perspective; an external focus; credibility; have communication skills, values, and the ability to deal with change; an eye on tomorrow, a strong bottom-line orientation and a successful track record of results.
Politicians who possess these qualities act boldly, with courage, tenacity, and persistence, but are objective enough to realise when a cause is lost.
Today’s political leaders must have a global perspective combined with significant international market experience and must be sensitive to social, political, and environmental factors. They must have credibility inside and outside, along with the stature and personality to deal effectively with key constituencies.
It is vital for a chief executive to possess a solid record of ethical behaviour, integrity, candour, and sensitivity to people. This must combine with a positive, but aggressive, attitude that will not tolerate corruption. This is true too of politicians.
Lastly, like company executives, politicians must be able to deal with change, and cope with adversity as his or her party undergoes structural change.
It is virtually impossible for our political leaders to possess all these qualities in perfect proportion. After all, they are only human.
Nonetheless, political leaders who have a satisfactory balance of these diverse traits will be the ones to best manage our country in this century and beyond.
Liza van Wyk is the chief executive of AstroTech Training, a management and leadership training company.