Investing in and celebrating young leadership is undoubtedly key to the development of any country. In the case of developing countries such as South Africa, being in the middle of its most important transformation ever, a strong emphasis on developing the leaders of the future is even more paramount as it builds on the foundations laid by the fathers of transformation.
Globally, it has been proven over and over that companies that take a holistic approach to growing leaders have been more successful than those that do not. And most of the successful organisations have one thing in common: a dedicated focus on strategy, selection, training and culture.
John Adair, the world’s first Professor of Leadership Studies and a leading authority on leadership and leadership development, said as far back as in the early 80s that developing future leaders is not a mystery. “We know the ‘laws of aerodynamics’ that undergird successful and sustained leadership development. Why do it? The answer is simple. You have great people working in your organisation. Do they not need great leaders? For, as John Buchan once said: ‘The task of leadership is not to put greatness into people, but to elicit it, for the greatness is there already’.”
Perfectly aligned with this belief, was the recent 2016 Old Mutual Tomorrow’s Leaders Convention, attended by more than 800 delegates, including some of the most influential and successful leaders of today.
Among them was Jeff Radebe, South Africa’s highly respected Minister in the Presidency, who said in his opening keynote address that investing in leadership is just as important today as it was when the Tomorrow’s Leaders Convention started nine years ago. The speakers that followed concurred: investing in young leadership is key in developing a successful future for South Africa.
The jam-packed programme focused on various leadership topics ranging from self-development to social media and its influence, and other leadership affairs. During breaks, the delegates took advantage of what the master of ceremonies, Jeremy Maggs called “the biggest networking opportunity this year”. The networking that took place was as important as the advice and guidance given by the speakers.
During one of the five panel discussions, speakers discussed the role of women in business today. This discussion included top executives such as Max Hussman (CEO of Elegance Group) and Ran Neu Ner (Co-CEO of The Creative Council). They asserted that the emotional and empathetic side of the female psyche, often perceived as a weakness, is actually a characterising strength that is increasingly contributing to the success of organisations.
Another thought provoking topic that surfaced at the event was the perseverance and motivation that drives young leaders to become successful. The ultimate highlight of OMTLC 2016 was the Inspirational Under 30 Leaders Panel that comprised of incredible jetsetters such as Bonolo Mataboge (Founder of Afriblossom), Sandile Shezi (Founder of the Global Forex Institute) and Bheki Kuneni (Mind Trix Media Founder).
These young and hip speakers shared some of their personal stories and challenges, from major surgeries to starting out by selling peanuts. They overcame hardships and it continues to push them forward. “It’s a mind-set thing,” says Mataboge. “I always tell people not to let their struggle become their identity. If you think of your struggle as the worst thing that could happen to you, it’s always going to hold you back,” she adds.
“This year was one of our best conventions yet! The high calibre speakers and fantastic networking opportunities made for an extremely exciting day. Platforms such as these, where dynamic young leaders can be celebrated, are of the utmost importance for the future of South Africa and the success stories are many. We look forward to following the successes of these young leaders and to welcoming them back at the next convention in 2017,” says Beverley Stone, event co-ordinator for the OMTLC.
Minister Radebe inspired OMTLC delegates by citing and accolading numerous leaders across the various disciplines who made their mark when they were young.
“The National Development Plan which charts the way towards our 2030 vision identifies leadership as one of the critical ingredients that will ensure that the promise of our Constitution becomes a lived experience for everyone. The basic requirement of the NDP is that leaders provide clear direction to ensure that by 2030 we live in a South Africa that has progressed significantly from the one that we inherited in 1994 and where these changes are felt by every South African in equal measure. It sets a high standard of leadership. The question that confronts us is, ‘Will we have the kind of leaders that will ensure that all the goals set out in the various chapters of the plan are met?’
“The subject of leadership is often contested and it is, in my view, best studied by discussing those who are recognised as great leaders. During this talk, I will advance a much broader view of leadership in the hope that we all recognise ourselves as leaders or in the absence of that, acknowledge the virtues we require to become great leaders,” according to Radebe
He said everybody agrees that leadership is important, and that we accept without questioning the proposition that good leadership is what makes societies function well and deliver benefits to populations. “So strong is our belief in the centrality of leadership that when order breaks down and the situation that we are used to is disturbed, we blame it on poor leadership.”
Radebe said we all know of schools that are well run, produce good results and have disciplined learners and committed teachers. We know of businesses that are both profitable and treat their workers and customers with respect. In many instances, what sets one school apart from another is not how much money it has but the quality of its leaders; and what makes companies win ‘Employer of Choice’ awards is the calibre of leaders they have and the organisational culture they promote, he said.
Looking back, Radebe said in history there are leaders who had a vison for the betterment of their countries and people and worked hard to realise it. “Their conviction was so strong that they managed to convince others of their vision.”
Citing a few examples, he firstly referred to the belated father of our nation, President Nelson Mandela, our most obvious and world-renown leader---one that has inspired all of us. “Together with his comrades he fought for liberation against the brutal apartheid regime and won. As we know, it was a bitter and protracted struggle with many setbacks, but what kept them going was a strong sense of justice and a belief that a better, fairer and more equal society was the only acceptable outcome.”
Other world-renown leaders he mentioned included the likes of Chinese revolutionary, statesman and the founding father of modern China Deng Xiaoping (who led his country through far-reaching market-economy reforms) and American civil activist Rosa Parks, whose arrest sparked the Civil Rights Movement in the USA.
“These are men and women who, at a very young age, forced themselves into the history books. They did not set out to be leaders, their acts of courage were fuelled by the simple and strict adherence to their beliefs in a better and more just future for their fellow citizens. Today we look up to them,” the minister said.
He also referred to other great leaders who unfortunately, did not live to see the fruit of their struggles. They include, revolutionaries such as Solomon Kalushi Mahlangu who was hanged by the apartheid government, and Patrice Lumumba, the Congolese independence leader who was deposed in a coup and later assassinated.
“What is common about each of these political leaders and revolutionaries is that they were incredibly young when they undertook the actions that made them the famous figures that they are. They did not seek fame. They were ordinary folk driven by a very strong belief in justice. They had a vision of a better society,” said Radebe as he posed the question to attendees:
“At this point, it is appropriate to pause and ask you to reflect: What drives you? What is your vision?”
He reiterated that great leaders are found in various disciplines. In sport, he mentioned Lucas “Rhoo” Radebe (who went to Leeds United FC in the United Kingdom from the then dusty streets of Diepkloof Soweto to play the game he so passionately loves) and Bruce Fordyce is the greatest long-distance runner of all times.
“What stands out about these great men and women is that in order to reach the heights that they did, they persevered despite the obstacles that they faced and despite the effort required to achieve their goals. The lesson is that it is important to believe in what you do and to face disappointments without giving up. Whether in sport, literature or photography, it takes time to master the art and become a top achiever. Talent alone is not enough, you have to practice and refine your skill over time.
Radebe said, whether we go back in history, or study the lives of contemporary leaders across sectors, a few lessons are obvious:
· Great leaders put the lives and interests of others above their own.
· Leadership requires sacrifice, commitment and conviction hence many hours and hard work.
· Being a good leader is not the same as being rich and famous, in fact those who became great leaders may have become famous along the way, but that was not their intention.
· Many great leaders reached the heights they attained because they were very hard on themselves and did not expect others to do what they were not prepared to do themselves.
· They responded to the challenges of their time, in other words they sought to solve problems.
· Their passion started at a very young age, and got refined along the way with many hours of practice and exertion.
Minister Radebe emphasised:
· To be a leader who treats others with respect is something you have to practice over time.
· To be a leader who nurtures and supports others, is something you have to consciously think about and keep on doing repeatedly.
· To be a democratic leader is something you have to commit to and practice consciously.
· To be a great leader you have to be prepared to learn from your own successes and, especially, your failures as well as learn from the examples of others.
“President Mandela’s generations will always be remembered for fighting for freedom against the brutal and corrupt apartheid regime. Upon achieving this goal, they set about building strong institutions to ensure that the democratic gains are never reversed. It is important that we continue to take a conscious view to protect and solidify these institutions of democracy. This is the task of our current leaders as well the next generation such as those that the Tomorrow’s Leaders programme aims to nurture.
“I would like to challenge you as future leaders to think hard about what I have raised with you this morning. Are you up to the task of pursuing your vision and overcoming the obstacles in your path? Will you have the determination to put in the hours to hone your talents to become the best? My appeal to you is that your focus includes the creation of a society in which there is shared prosperity. This challenge requires leaders whose focus extends beyond achieving good quarterly results and meeting their bonus targets. It requires leaders who are able to take a broad, long-term view and that can place the interests of others above their own. The vision in the National Development Plan is clear and it needs leaders who will make it achievable,” he says.
For those who were unable to be a part of this year’s event, nominations for next year will be open soon. To find out more about the Old Mutual Tomorrow’s Leaders Convention 2017 visit http://tomorrowsleaders.co.za or contact Beverley Stone at 021 681 7000. You can also join the Tomorrow’s Leaders discussion on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/TomorrowsLeadersConvention).