Dr Bheki Mfeka is the economic advisor and strategist at SE Advisory and former Economic Advisor to the Presidency. Photo: Supplied
Dr Bheki Mfeka is the economic advisor and strategist at SE Advisory and former Economic Advisor to the Presidency. Photo: Supplied

OPINION: 5 things required to turn around SA’s economic fortunes

By Bheki Mfeka Time of article published May 25, 2020

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JOHANNESBURG – I’ve been asked quite often about how long it will take for South Africa to grow the economy faster and come out of a junk status post Covid-19. My answer is simple. It will be as long as we take to have the right kind of leadership in all sectors of our society.

Leadership and/or governance is the single most important thing that drives societies forward and it creates the right values for inclusive growth outcomes such as productivity, innovation, entrepreneurship, employment, equality, competitiveness, peace and prosperity. These values must transcend and inspire people and every institution to do better, and must be part and parcel of the vision of a society which every citizen must be able to recite.

This is not an academic or democracy account, but it is a message that must be repeated and heard even through mainstream popular media.

The unprecedented times in which we found ourselves in will surely require a resolute and committed leadership that displays certain characteristics we must agree on as a society.  These should be a merit filter by which we select or appoint leaders beyond traditional educational qualifications, experience, and political charisma which seems to trump most other characteristics in developing countries.

No leader should fail the test of the characteristics required to be elected or appointed to an office. These characteristics should cut across sectors of our society, from a president, minister, chief executive, chairperson, director, vice-chancellor, school principal, or mayor.

I say this because over the past 20 years I’ve advised and studied different types of leaders in South Africa and other countries. I have observed real changes (improvement or decline) that happen in people’s lives as a result of quality of each leadership; and they transcend society during the period of that leader, beyond mere rhetorical political sloganeering. Whether you talk about life expectancy, child and infant mortality, business confidence, business competitiveness, employment rate, etc. these can be improved or declined with each leader.

How we steer the country, institutions, businesses, and households out of the crises is our chance to redeem the trust citizenry has in our leadership not only in South Africa but in Africa as a whole.

There are five things I have observed that we need to be mindful of when we elect or appoint leaders, these if we agree must signal a serious departure from the narrow view of leadership that has destroyed many societies in Africa.

Firstly, Positive Source of Power. This relate to the connection between a leader and the people through culture, history, beliefs, values, and spirituality of people. People are central to the life of organizations, communities, and institutions. Visions of organizations or societies are tied to those of the people they lead. Leaders cannot and must not lead for selfish reasons and for their own prosperity. Leaders who are disconnected to people come to positions through clandestine means or manipulations or in extreme cases by killing opponents something common in Africa. These types of leaders cannot be successful in inspiring people they lead and in transforming organizations. The connection with people is critical especially during difficult times such as these we find ourselves in. It is positive source of power that must be a source inspiration, ethics, honesty, and credibility for leadership. A leader must leave with and be accountable to her/his people. Where do you get your power as a leader?

Secondly, Leadership Intention. There is no leader for life. Each leader must define what he/she wants to achieve and inspire those that are led, building from what previous leaders have achieved, and thinking about the next generation of leaders. Leaders should not spend most of their time criticizing other leaders or their predecessors rather spend time visioning and revisioning the country, community, organizations, and institutions. By clearly stating their intention, they are held accountable, and when the time to hand over the baton has come, they must have comfort in the fact that they have achieved partially or fully what they set forth to achieve. Is there clarity of the leader’s vision and the journey ahead? Does it give you confidence that you will arrive safely at the destination? Are you clear about your role and inspired to contribute to achieving the vision?

Thirdly, Positive Psychology. Third-World countries have struggled to assert themselves positively, their socio-economic and political life, especially when they project themselves to other people outside and to the world. The post-colonial and apartheid African societies still carry the stigma of negativity in their posture when they project themselves. It is the duty of leaders to instill confidence to citizens or members of their organizations and also to speak positively about the present and the future. Often what the leader says becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. Does your leader choose his/her words carefully? Do leaders build confidence in their teams, members and citizens? I cringe when leaders who are supposed to inspire citizens refer to their own as “the poor”, and “the unemployed”, almost boxing and denigrating them to a permanent state of paralysis.

Fourthly, Understanding the Organizational or Institutional Science. When you elect or appoint leaders who are not steeped in the understanding of the organizations or institutions they lead, they would struggle to make a meaningful impact or to inspire those they lead. Does your leadership understand the science of the business or organization and its environment and the latest developments?

Lastly, Leaders must be Masters of Politics and Competition. Leaders no matter where they are stationed in society must have an understanding of the global, regional, and domestic geo-politics and competition. These go hand in hand with tactical and strategic abilities to succeed in driving societies and organizations to a better future, and achieving leadership intention and vision.

Understanding the leadership we want for our economy and society must be a continuous discussion which we must engage and support as ordinary citizens. The latest iteration of the Institute of Directors’ King Codes of Corporate Governance has introduced an element of leadership called “ethical leadership” as key to dealing with institutional and organizational degeneration we’ve seen in the past decades. This is a minefield that underpins the struggles for successful and competitive societies, organizations and institutions. It cannot be left to the elites to inculcate ethical leadership; it is every citizens’ responsibility.

* Dr Bheki Mfeka, is the Economic Advisor and Strategist at SE Advisory and former Economic Advisor to the Presidency. Twitter: @bhekimfeka Website: www.seadvisory.co.za Email: [email protected]


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