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A divided dawn [Bringing dissonant leaders together after elections]

BY: Frik Landman|12 May 2019
BLOG| Business leadership and strategy

[Image credit: SABC News]

We congratulate President Ramaphosa on this most significant moment in his and our lives. This is his time to bind us to a purpose so all-consuming so we’re collectively willing to put everything we have towards it. To build the South Africa we all long for.


As mentioned in our "Dear Mr President" blog, his presidency comes with an extra load. He must clean up and heal a party that seems to have a split personality (Barney Mthombothi in Sunday Times) and a government systemically infiltrated by corruption, and, and, and.


The task is gargantuan. We need authentic, ethical leadership to guide us through the practical steps required for reform. To bring about this kind of leadership, Mr Ramaphosa will need to unite the divided factions within the ANC. As with any entity, when there’s dissonance between leaders in one group, there are always implications for the whole. And wisdom literature teaches us the conclusion is clear: a house divided amongst themselves will fall.


That’s any house – political party or corporate leadership team. Dissonance at the top, past a certain point, is destructive. 

How to build an organisational ethos to bring dissonant leaders together

It’s good to have leaders with disparate opinions and perceptions to a degree. An organisation, like an individual, ought to be liberal in absorbing ideas but very conservative in executing them. You must be open to new ideas and allow for excellent debates and fierce conversations (of course, all within the framework of civility) BUT none of this should be conducted to the detriment of the organisation.


The only thing really that can prevent this and keep it outside of anarchy, is the ethos of the organisation. If there is no collective ethos, or if there is a ‘crack’ in the ethos, then that splits everything that follows wide open i.e. strategy, processes, structure, governance and the use of resources.


It is the ethos, the character of the individual or the organisation that keeps the rest together. That is most probably the core flaw in the ANC right now – the ethos of a struggle organisation is not the same as that of a modern political party. So, President Ramaphosa, like any CEO in a merger or acquisition, needs to start at the level of the ethos on which he builds the vision, mission, strategy etc.


The ethos is also – in organisational terms – the culture of the organisation. That culture is one of the two core items on the leader’s agenda (the other is strategy) and you need a critical mass of leadership minds in the organisation to influence and build this culture. The concept of critical minds is important, because your mind is the only interface between you and the world out there.


After the ethos is defined, leaders must agree on a normative future – a significant shared future state that all would like to see happen and let that guide the WHAT of getting there. 

What if the competing factions are irresolvable?

Sometimes, like in a marriage, after you have done all that you could do, you must acknowledge that the differences are too big, too incompatible, and that walking together becomes a destructive act. If there is enough maturity in the relationship then that could lead to an amicable split, with the hope that when we meet up again, we are not enemies but parts of a bigger system just making different contributions in different ways. In the absence of a mature relationship, well the end is obvious. 

The statesman we need

Right now, the question for Mr Ramaphosa is how to step out of the role of politician into the role of statesman. In his interim presidency he swam in a tank full of Zupta sharks. He had to move strategically and with big patience and calculation. Now, he has a mandate and the expectations are high for him to show his mettle. He talked a good game; he now needs to play a good game.


The trust deficit within the party has not disappeared yet. And those looking from the outside are wondering whether he will lead the ANC in a way that will benefit us all. Can he be statesman? Can the ANC make the mind shift to understand that Mr Ramaphosa is firstly the president of the country and secondly the president of the ANC and such, the former trumps the latter? It’s a difficult requirement for a party that has not yet transitioned from a struggle entity.


We need our president to give us real practical initiatives and steps, guided by authentic, ethical leadership. He will need the ANC to unite behind him with one bigger mission and purpose, for any kind of real reform to be possible. 

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