Chairman & Country General Manager: Commercial Shell of South Africa and President of Black Management Forum Bonang Patric Mtolo
Chairman & Country General Manager: Commercial Shell of South Africa and President of Black Management Forum Bonang Patric Mtolo
Adriaan Groenewald
Adriaan Groenewald

LAST week we featured Bonang Mohale, chairman and vice-president of Shell SA Energy and president of the Black Management Forum (BMF), on Cliffcentral.

He is a diminutive figure, yet has an energy and personality larger than life. When he enters a room he infuses it with energy and engages people in like manner. He radiates hope that achieving is within anyone’s grasp.

He was raised in Katlehong in a family of seven siblings, poor but happy. Mom started out as a domestic then turned into an entrepreneur. His father spent his career at SA Railways but passed away when Mohale was in Grade 11. As a photographer, he assisted in putting his younger siblings through school and became a professional. This skill also put him through university and enabled him to pay lobola.

Originally he wanted to become a doctor but, while studying towards this, his eyes were opened to other possibilities, like becoming a manager in the corporate environment. He joined the pharmaceutical industry as a representative and worked his way to the top, then jumped to Otis Lifts as the managing director for five years.

This happened at a time in our country’s history when it was the absolute exception for a black man to be in a senior position. Thereafter he was also the chief executive of Drake & Scull for six years. The company started with three employees and had grown to about 1 500 by the time he left. From there he moved to Shell.

It seems what drove him to success is also the underlying reason for his energy: 1) Fear of poverty – “not landing up in an environment or state where one cannot be the best one can be”, says Mohale. 2) Rubbing shoulders with individuals like Wiseman Nkuhlu, Wendy Luhabe, Lot Ndlovu, and others who imbued in him a will, dedication to succeed. 3) A desire to be a great role model.

Somewhere on his career path he also consciously committed to the following: 1) To always produce embarrassingly good results. 2) To always remain connected and married to his wife Susan. 3) He would always remember that what he accomplished was partly as a result of the efforts, directly or indirectly, of others. He explains: “Coming from a township I knew others were rooting and even praying for me. I realise that others have gone before me to prepare the way.” 4) To be connected spiritually, that he was here for a purpose.

Mohale’s guiding principles and values are powerful, firstly because they help him to avoid the arrogance trap, which more often than not is the downfall of leaders; and, secondly, they direct him towards getting involved in society, which is a good thing for South Africa.

He transcends the barriers like negativity, unsubstantiated criticism and race that so often permeate our country. Mohale is the ideal leader to take the BMF and South Africa to the next level, driven by purpose and a bigger picture, not by ego.

In our conversation, we extracted the following insights, starting with: Why do leaders, in Mohale’s words, struggle to create “embarrassingly good results”? The answer is linked to one or all of these principles:

Principle 1:

You, your leaders are not succeeding at consistently generating motivation. Frankly, you may struggle to keep yourself motivated. But let’s assume you are motivated and successful at motivating your direct reports, more importantly you need to get them to confidently motivate their people, and they theirs, all the way down organisational structures.

Even though literature is riddled with motivational theories and it almost seems like your job is to be a psychologist, rather than a leader, from a leadership perspective, to motivate a team or organisation, even yourself, do these four things:

a. Unite around positive aspirations. When people enter that space where they passionately aspire, desire, they are motivated. Get your team to honestly, clearly tap into aspirations they want, then empower them to do the same with their people, again, all the way down organisational structures. But first make sure you know what your aspirations are. Too few people in the corporate environment aspire – they just get on with their job.

b. Get rid of, or manage, the constraints that demotivate. Consistently confront and address real or perceived constraints, obstacles, challenges. Sometimes the mere exercise of combating constraints together can motivate. And yes, confront head on those constraints, obstacles that hold you personally back.

c. Be clear on facts. Everyone must be clear on what exactly they need to move, from where to where. And they need to know factually the entity that they are moving – company, region, branch, division. The same goes for yourself – know yourself; know what you need to move to get to your aspirations.

d. Seeing the positives. Always assist your people to see the positives – possibilities, options, opportunities. In today’s complex world it is very tempting to fixate on the perceived negatives. For your personal sanity, avoid this.

Principle 2:

There is a lack of clear and relevant direction consistently, from top to bottom: the direction you and your team follow may not be relevant, or if it is, it is not simple or clear enough.

It may lack believability, or it is simply not trusted because of a trust deficit within your organisation. Perhaps you and your team did not truly create it together, reinforced by an accurate understanding of what really goes on at the essence of the business.

A team break-away does not necessarily mean everybody was part of creating the direction either, or that your direction is relevant, simple, believable or trusted. If, however, facilitated correctly there will be a high feeling of “we co-created the plan”, and therefore a sense of “we own it”.

You may be autocratically forcing your direction on your team and organisation, in which case buy-in is slower; much-needed action is delayed, and when implemented, it is not necessarily with the best attitude and even full grasp of the original message, because why would someone listen effectively when there is little or no trust? Perhaps at this stage your forced direction seems to work out, but this approach will come back to haunt you.

Your direction must point to the aspirations, positively impact on the facts that you need to move, and address identified constraints. Again, you may pass the test as far as your direct reports are concerned. But that is the easy part. To ensure your leaders do the same with their people, and they with theirs all the way “down” to the essence of the business, is more important and challenging.

Principle 3:

Structures – resources, systems, procedures are not adequately supporting motivation and directions: your organisation has developed a culture of unnecessary compliance, rather than one of passionate value-adding and positive movement. Your structures have become a law unto themselves.

Structure, systems, procedures are there to serve your and the organisation’s aspirations and directions. Any structure that does not do this must be eradicated with immediate effect, as it is officially your enemy to positive movement.

This could take the form of an unnecessary meeting, reporting system, complex procurement processes, endless audits or pointless building.

Find the balance between appeasing compliance to relevant procedures and systems on one hand, while delivering on the need for speedy decision-making and movement on the other. If steps one and two above are absolutely clear, then step three becomes far simpler.

Adriaan Groenewald (@Adriaan_LP), is MD and co-founder of Leadership Platform ( Tune into his show on every Monday 12-1pm (@LeadershipPform).