Leaders should strive to always be aware of “another side” to situations. In this article I share examples and will refer to the underlying principle as the “concurrent wave”.
We became a democracy and many situations had to and still have to transform. Not only did we have to level the political playing field but also the economic one. In a recent article, Mncane Mthunzi BMF President highlighted how figures of management control by black managers in large corporates have gone backwards. In other words, in this respect it seems we have regressed as far as transformation is concerned. So the natural instinct is to step it up. This is right, but be careful of missing the “concurrent waves”.
We hear how Julius Malema and the EFF push for land reform, another legacy of our past that must be rectified. I can go on about what needs to change in our country, which government drives by way of many programs and legislation; Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) being one of the strategies.
These things are right and must happen in one way or the other. If not we may have a revolution on our hands.
However, while this transformation took place over the last few decades, and continues to do so, another concurrent wave swept across the economic landscape – one that is probably more important for the future of South Africa and job creation. Many white South Africans were forced into a new and independent way of thinking and living. For example, they were sent packing from secure jobs in government and SOE’s – these were the experts that played a role in ensuring service delivery happened. They had no option but to start their own businesses to put food on the table – in many instances consulting back into government for a start.
A lot of complaining and disgruntlement ensued – mostly around the family braai over weekends – and those that became fixated on the negative probably regressed economically, while continuing their search for employment. Some decided to get on with life and seized the opportunity of building their own asset or small business, which in some cases grew large. They turned out to become successful and even wealthy; never looked back. Forced Transformation became life changing for many. What seemed like a negative was turned around into a positive.
Some of this wave also played itself out in the private sector, though on a smaller scale – white South Africans leaving the so called secure environment of corporate because of a real or perceived threat of employment equity. They started their own businesses, often consulting practices and successfully so.
The trick of leadership is to try and be aware of the “concurrent wave/s”.
Another example is this. While some leaders are focused on land distribution; ownership in large corporations like mines, to control natural resources; acquiring political power; developing industrialists; climbing the corporate ladder; another concurrent wave is rolling along. A world different from the industrial age is materializing; another power base is emerging – a digital web based world where power lies in information, data, content generation and distribution
through that thing we call a mobile device; a world that has no boundaries with social media playing a far more powerful role than traditional media; a world where power is placed firmly into the hands of the masses and even individuals; a world where governments will be held accountable real-time; a world that is fast moving away from being a mere appendage or support structure to the industrial age power base of huge conglomerates like banks and insurance houses; a world where symbols of land and natural resources matter less; a world that can and may dramatically transform and even destroy age old industries like banking, retail, publishing, media and others as we know it.
Let me emphasise – the focus on local Transformation (B-BBEE; land reform; etc) is understandable and important. If not careful however, those that are fixated on it only could miss the wave of transformation and opportunities on an unprecedented global scale; they will wake up one morning and realise the power base has shifted and lies with someone else. In other words, just as many black South Africans understandably and rightfully so moved into government and SOE’s for employment to capitalise on transformation, while white South Africans moved out to capitalise on the freedom and mission critical economic trend of successful entrepreneurialism, so we have to watch out that the emphasis on further local transformation initiatives – with an industrialisation age mind-set – does not blind us from seeing the larger, global and exceptionally fast digital transformation wave.
I believe that it is within most governments’ interest – be it with good or bad intention – to create a certain level of dependency on them, so that people have to vote for them. Perhaps our government is no exception – WE will issue grants so that you can look after your children; WE will ensure white capital is brought down so that you can benefit; WE will put legislation in place to assist you in becoming more successful and wealthy; WE will keep government structures large in order to employ many who then become dependent on us; and so on. As long as a black South African adopts the attitude of “government must move transformation forward faster so that I can benefit” the bigger picture will be missed.
I see many black South Africans coming to the realisation that running one’s own business is a very liberating option indeed; it is the solution to a more empowered life and country. They also take the leap from government, SOE’s and even their private sector jobs to start their own businesses. One can argue that they missed the best part of the wave, although it’s never too late. But they have to understand that they are entering this space at a time when weak economic conditions are and will continue to be par for the course. And of course building a business in such conditions is more burdensome.
Another concurrent wave is this. While economic doldrums persist and large entities shrink by cutting costs or embracing disruptive technologies to survive, the social challenge of unemployment rises. In so many instances people are then forced to do something on their own, to start a little business just to survive.
As a society we may see the negative in unemployment, but don’t miss the concurrent wave of entrepreneurs popping up all over the place. This is good and must be encouraged like never before. If we don’t see this trend and fixate on unemployment we may miss the opportunity of proactively capitalising on and supporting these SME’s.
Having said all this, these black or white Small and Medium Enterprise owners are the ones that are ready or will be ready to see the concurrent digital web wave with its opportunities and new power base; and they will be nimble
enough to capitalise on it. A new economic model is emerging; a new and more interconnected way of communicating is emerging. All of this will at worst either dramatically transform industrial age entities – if they embrace it fully – or make them redundant overnight if they don’t notice and embrace. Just ask the Nokia CEO…
Remember to look out for the concurrent wave trends, in a world where these emerge faster than ever before in the history of the world. As a political, corporate or other leader, make sure that you have very effective advisors and experts around you who look out for these concurrent waves. You simply cannot afford to miss it in today’s world. Your dilemma is that it is more critical for you to be inwardly focused on your business in today’s world than ever before, with heightened competition, escalating costs, globalisation, attitude shift by employees, disruptive technologies, and much more. Yet it is also more important than ever before that you are tuned in to the world outside your business, that you have your finger on the pulse of what the emerging “concurrent waves” are and in fact try to create the waves. Find a way!
Adriaan Groenewald is a leadership expert and commentator. Do you recognize some areas in yourself or your team that need improvement? Email Adriaan on firstname.lastname@example.org for more on creating “Leadership Fit” leaders that generate successful movement (performance) inside your organisation. Follow him on Twitter: @AdriaanG_LP or @LeadershipPform.