File picture: Philimon Bulawayo
JOHANNESBURG - With just about two weeks left of the year, I hear the noise of corporate greed, corruption, fraud, mismanagement and a leadership crisis in both the political and business space slowly recede into the mists of time as we navigate massive uncertainty and anxiety with the upcoming ANC elective conference this weekend.

On reflection of 2017, we had seen more than our fair share of looters and cheaters, pervasive greed, raw ambition and dishonest dealings by our leaders. This begs the question: In a country that is the birthplace of King IV, where we should be held up as a global beacon of conscious leadership, ethics and governance, why are we so severely compromised?

Where is the moral muscle of our leadership? We have on our hands a gargantuan leadership crisis in both our political and economic spheres by the elaborate façade of outwardly impressive leaders who remain inwardly impoverished by greed, ambition and power.

The curious effect of Steinhoff International’s debacle costing shareholders a colossal R300billion is no mean feat by a once celebrated leader. Markus Jooste’s net worth was an estimated R5.8bn and entrusted with millions from shareholders and pension funds while living a life of decadent luxury, lost South Africans millions of rands. Driven by greed, his actions had disastrous consequences for the overall wellbeing of the collective.

On the back of KPMG, McKinsey and Eskom, a week without scandal hardly exists and takes us to the brink as never before where the dismay and dramatic headlines of corporate and political shenanigans expose the unscrupulous antics of unconscious leaders.

Corporate indifference, trickery and thievery have become all too insidious that demand we evaluate and examine the behaviour of its leadership.

All too often we have created icons and heroes of liars and thieves, of the fraudulent and corrupt. We revere the drugged athlete, the sushi-guzzling entrepreneur and the flamboyant whiskey swilling executive without so much as questioning their actions.

What is the lesson?

I had spent the better part of the year extensively writing about ethics and governance and advocating that conscious leaders shape conscious companies. So what is the lesson here? As we choke on techno-embellished information, we are starved of wisdom, clarity and awareness.

Ben Horowitz, a Silicon Valley Venture capitalist, posted a blog titled “What’s the most difficult CEO skill?” In the blog, he spoke frankly about managing one’s own psychology.

“Organisational design and process were all relatively straightforward skills to master compared to keeping my mind in check,” he wrote.

“It’s like the Fight Club of management. The first rule of the CEO’s meltdown is - don’t talk about the CEO’s psychological meltdown. Shareholders and employees suffer the consequences of the mistakes you make. Admitting to your employees that you have mental difficulties is extremely hard. It’s a huge admission of weakness. As a chief executive, you are very aware that people are already questioning you.”

This brought to the fore my chat some time ago with Discovery Group’s Adrian Gore, a leader who had changed the face of health insurance in this country. “Most people can lead if they have a purpose,” he told me. “The most powerful leadership is authenticity. If people believe that your purpose is authentic, it is not very difficult to lead. I do not compromise on anything. Decision makers are good at compromising. Life is compromise but I am not sure I am good at making them. What I do not compromise on is honesty, integrity without doubt, and family time. I never want to lie at night thinking that we had done anything wrong.”

Despite this leadership vision, Discovery has had its share of challenges. However, when the leadership of an organisation has the passion and purpose and an innate calling to do the right thing, they stand at the shore without instruction, as courageous leaders who are willing to utilise their resilience and resources for the greater good.

In a quest to identify these courageous, conscious leaders and companies who were driven to prosper, perform and pursue profits while placing a premium on people, community, culture and the environment beyond the bottom line, I discovered the reality of a very fallible leadership made up of mostly imperfect men and some women.

But there were a few profoundly perceptive CEOs who displayed courage, commitment, care, compassion and code of ethics that saved the day.

'Spiritual calling'

If only the words of Vincent Van Gogh, “Your profession is not what brings home your pay check. Your profession is what you were put on earth to do with such passion and intensity that it becomes a spiritual calling” had been heeded by President Jacob Zuma, Steinhoff’s Markus Jooste, Brian Molefe and the leaders of KPMG, McKinsey, Eskom and Prasa, we could have had a very different scenario today and the headlines would have been a tad more generous.

However, I pray that as we move into the New Year, they take cognisance of the fact that a crisis is an opportunity that should give rise to an intense dialogue among an organisation’s leadership to herald positive change to forge a new path of awareness, integrity, ethics and a sense of purpose, performance, profit and perception of its brand to create a conscious company.

Brenda Kali is the chief executive of Conscious Companies and a communication and reputational strategist. She is the author of Beyond Corporate Sludge: Insights to create balance and harmony in the workplace.

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.