Unpacking Effective leadership - My Top 7 Insights

Feb 2020 // Johannesburg // By Thandie Mashego

The concept of effective leadership is fascinating because it depends on context. For me, effective leadership is the ability to influence others to act together in order to achieve a particular objective.

To quote John C Maxwell, a top leadership thinker:

“Leadership is not about titles, positions or flowcharts. It is about one life influencing another.”

As a business leader, one is constantly challenged to find creative solutions to address transformation, inequality and poverty alleviation. In addition, leaders are faced with day-to-day challenges of driving growth and creating value for different stakeholders, while having to deal with soft issues around the management of diverse teams of people.

A leader cannot rely on their technical and managerial skills to lead a diverse team to deliver value and growth; we need to augment these capabilities with strong leadership skills in order to drive financial sustainability.

My insights on leadership including the following aspects (there are more, but I feel these different aspects should be at the top of the list):

1. Being able to influence change within your area of control.

I have learnt that one can influence change in the organisation notwithstanding the position one holds, by focusing on areas where one has influence.

There are times when difficult conversations are needed in order to assert your position, but mostly one gets buy- by making the business case for change; illustrating the benefits; providing a platform for others to raise their views, objections and fears; listening to others’ inputs and dealing with their fears in a sympathetic manner; and providing support for them throughout the process.

2. Driving the transformation agenda

Business leaders have a responsibility to drive transformation within their organisations and should not delegate the transformation responsibility to one person or department.

Economic inclusivity can be driven only through transforming the race and gender profiles in boardrooms, at executive levels and within all levels of management.

Investing in young people who have the potential, but not necessarily the skills, is essential in order to bridge the skills and inequality gap.

Directing a significant portion of procurement to black emerging businesses will not only help SMEs to create jobs, but will also drive economic inclusion.

I’m also fortunate to work for a company where transformation is the focal point of our business. We do this by driving dialogue with investee companies on their transformation strategies. As a BBBEE investment holding entity, our efforts are directed at ensuring financial sustainability of the WDB Trust, which helps to uplift women in rural areas.

3. Nurturing talent

Great leaders invest time nurturing talent through coaching and mentoring others. Great leaders also delegate meaningful work to develop their people.

As a leader, your task when you take up a new role is to understand the individuals in your team, their strengths and developmental areas, and how you can partner with them to achieve their developmental goals.

As a leader, the aim should be to leave a positive impression on the lives of those one has led and interacted with. Leaders are validated by their followers, not their superiors.

4. High level of emotional maturity and self-awareness

One of the key challenges facing leaders is how to lead, motivate and retain a diverse team of talented individuals. The generational gap, where people from different generations must interact and work together effectively to achieve a common goal, brings further complexities. As a leader, one must be able to manage and navigate dynamics caused by the mind-set gaps between different generations.

To lead effectively, one requires a high level of emotional intelligence, and the ability to adopt and apply different management and leadership styles to different situations. The ability to listen and the art of reflection is important when it comes to enhancing emotional intelligence. Being emotionally charged distracts one from finding solutions.

5. Acknowledge performance but retain accountability

As a leader, one must entrust one’s team with significant responsibilities so they can realise their full potential. To do this effectively, a leader must be comfortable to delegate meaningful work.

This is one area where I have struggled for the longest time in my career. In fact, I have often heard words such as “inflexible”, “perfectionist” and “control freak” being used to describe me.

Through my leadership journey, I have come to appreciate that leadership is not about my performance, but the performance of my team.

To quote Jack Welch: “Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.”

As a leader, one must ensure that one’s team has the capacity to carry out the task. However, one cannot disempower them by retaining control of the task. A leader must provide support when needed, but be held accountable when things do not go according to plan.

6. Ethical and authentic leadership

Society is confronted daily with multiple challenges that question the moral compass of public- and private-sector leaders.

There is a widening wage gap between the top executives and lower levels in organisations, making it difficult to address inequality. Sometimes it is easy to sit back and criticise what one assumes to be excessive pay for some executives, but how often do we, as leaders, question our own pay-cheques in relation to the lower-level staff in our organisations?

Imposing rules and driving fear within the organisation will not promote ethics. However, by adhering to high ethical values and behaviour and being transparent in their dealings, leaders set the tone for others to emulate.

A leader’s decisions must be open to criticism and scrutiny. In fact, a leader must foster an environment where others, irrespective of their level, are encouraged to question decisions, because transparency promotes ethical behaviour.

7. Alignment of values

Finally, alignment of personal values with company values is also critical. If your personal values are in conflict with the values of the company, you cannot lead with authenticity.

It is also important for a leader to understand factors that drive performance and commitment for their team members. Understanding what their passions and values are will ensure that there is an alignment in objectives. Passion drives commitment, hard work and superior performance.

As Nelson Mandela once said: “After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.” The problems that we are faced with as a society and in business, requires us to continue climbing multiple hills in search of solutions.

[This is an edited version of the address for the UNISA SBL Short Learning Programmes delivered by Thandie Mashego, Chief Financial Officer and Director at WDB Investment Holdings.]