Bonang Mohale – Always Produce Embarrassingly Good Results

I chatted to Bonang Mohale, Chairman of Shell Marketing SA (Pty) and President of the BMF on Cliffcentral Leadership Platform recently. He is small in stature, yet has an energy and personality larger than life. When he enters a room he infuses it with energy and engages people in like manner. He radiates the hope that achieving is within anyone’s grasp.

He was raised in Katlehong in a family of seven siblings, poor but happy. Mom started out as a domestic then turned into an entrepreneur. His Father spent his entire career at SA Railways but passed away when Mohale was in Grade eleven. He assisted in putting his younger siblings through school as a photographer and later even became a professional one at that. This skill also put him through university and gave him the means to pay lobola to the parents of his then wife to be.

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Bonang Mohale with the Leadership Platform team

Originally Mohale wanted to become a doctor, but while studying towards it his eyes opened up to other career possibilities, like becoming a manager in the corporate environment. He joined the Pharmaceutical industry as a representative and worked his way to the top of this field, then jumped to Otis Lifts as the MD for five years. This happened during a time of our countries history when it was the absolute exception for a black man to be in a senior position. There after he was also the CEO of Drake & Scull for six years where the company started with three employees and grew to about 1500 by the time he left. From there he moved to Shell.

It seems what drove him to success is also the underlying reason for his energy:

  • Fear of poverty – “not landing up in an environment or state where one cannot be the best one can be,” says Mohale
  • Rubbing shoulders with individuals like Wiseman Nkuhlu, Wendy Luhabe, Lot Ndlovu, and others that imbued in him a will, dedication to succeed
  • A desire to be a great role model to himself and others

Somewhere on his career path he also consciously committed to the following:

  • To always produce embarrassingly good results
  • To always remain connected and married to his wife Susan
  • He would always remember that what he accomplished was partly as a result of the efforts, directly or indirectly, of others in his life. He explains: “Coming from a township I knew others were rooting and even praying for me. I realize that others have gone before me to prepare the way”
  • To be connected spiritually, that he was here for a purpose

Mohale’s guiding principles and values are powerful, firstly because they assist him in avoiding the arrogance trap, which more often than not is the downfall of leaders; and secondly they direct him towards getting involved in society, which is a good thing for SA. He transcends barriers like negativity, unsubstantiated criticism and race that so often permeates our country. Mohale is the ideal leader to take the BMF and South Africa to the next level, driven by purpose and a bigger picture, not by ego.

Why you struggle to create “embarrassingly good results”:

Why are you struggling to create successful movement, or deliver “embarrassingly good results”, as Bonang Mohale would say, whether at local government level or in the corporate environment? The answer is linked to one, two or all three of these principles:

Principle 1

You, your leaders are not succeeding at consistently generating motivation – of self and others: You struggle to keep your team and employees motivated. Frankly, you may struggle to keep yourself motivated. But let’s assume you are motivated and successful at motivating your direct reports, more importantly you need to get them to confidently motivate their people, and they theirs, all the way down organisational structures.

Even though literature is riddled with motivational theories and it almost seems like your job is to be a psychologist rather than a leader, from a leadership perspective, to motivate a team or organisation, even yourself, do these four things:

  1. Unite around positive aspirations. When people enter that space where they passionately aspire, desire, they are motivated. Get your team to honestly, clearly tap into aspirations they want, then empower them to do the same with their people, again, all the way down organisational structures. But first make sure you know what your aspirations are! Too few people in the corporate environment aspire – they just get on with their job!
  2. Get rid of, or manage the constraints that demotivate. Consistently confront and address real or perceived constraints, obstacles, challenges across the business. Sometimes the mere exercise of combating constraints together can motivate. And yes, confront head on those constraints, obstacles that hold you personally back from achieving your aspirations.
  3. Be clear on facts. Everyone must be clear on what exactly they need to move, from where to where. And they need to know factually the entity that they are moving – company, region, branch, division. The same goes for yourself – know yourself; know what you need to move to get to your aspirations.
  4. Seeing the positives. Always assist your people to see the positives – possibilities, options, opportunities. In today’s complex world it is very tempting to fixate on the perceived negatives. For your personal sanity, avoid this. Make sure you always embrace the positives.

Principle 2

There is a lack of clear and relevant direction consistently, from top to bottom: The direction you and your team follow may not be relevant, or if it is, it is not simple or clear enough. It may lack believability, or it is simply not trusted because of a trust deficit within your organisation. Perhaps you and your team did not truly create it together, reinforced by an accurate understanding of what really goes on at the essence of the business; where the rubber hits the tar. A team break-away does not necessarily mean everybody was part of creating the direction either, or that your direction is relevant, simple, believable or trusted. If however facilitated correctly there will be a high feeling of “we co-created the plan”, and therefore a sense of “we own it”.

You may be autocratically forcing your direction on your team and organisation, in which case buy-in is slower; much needed action is delayed, and when implemented, it is not necessarily with the best attitude and even full grasp of the original message, because why would someone listen effectively when there is little or no trust. Perhaps at this stage your forced direction seems to work out, but this approach will come back to haunt you and/or the organisation.

Your direction must point to the aspirations, positively impact the facts that you need to move, and address identified constraints across the business.

Again, you may pass the test as far as your direct reports are concerned. But that is the easy part. To ensure your leaders do the same with their people, and they with theirs all the way “down” to the essence of the business, is more important and challenging.

Principle 3

Structures – resources, systems, procedures are not adequately supporting motivation and directions: Your organisation has developed a culture of unnecessary compliance, rather than one of passionate value adding and positive movement. Your structures have become a law unto itself.

Structure, systems, procedures are there to serve your and the organizations aspirations and directions, not the other way around. Any structure that does not do this must be eradicated with immediate effect, as it is then officially your enemy to positive movement. Its primary purpose has become that of slowing down movement.

This could take the form of an unnecessary meeting, reporting system, complex procurement processes, endless audits or pointless building. Find the balance between appeasing compliance to relevant procedures and systems on one hand, while delivering on the need for speedy decision making and movement on the other. If steps one and two above are absolutely clear, then step three becomes far simpler.

Now, the Auditor General recently released their results of audits done for the 2012/13 financial year – ending June 30, 2013.

Audited were municipalities and entities, consisting of 8 metros (e.g. Western Cape and Tshwane), 44 district municipalities (smaller municipalities grouped together), 226 local municipalities and 57 entities (e.g. CTICC in Cape Town and Fruit and Veg Market).

Unfortunately audits revealed R21.61bn in unauthorised, irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure. And, of the 335 municipalities and entities, only 30 were awarded the clean status, of which 8 were entities, which means only 22 municipalities in total. Of the 8 metros only one received a clean audit, which forms part of the 22, with 4 unqualified (a few niggly issues that need to be rectified) and 3 disclaimers (there simply wasn’t enough documentation for the AG to form an opinion – in essence, chaos) – a far cry from successful movement, or delivering “embarrassingly good results”.

Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu said much about those that received clean audits, especially the ones that repeated this achievement. The comment I highlight though is: “Most importantly, they have accountable managers and leaders…”

But here is the truth we all must face, and lets demonstrate maturity in setting aside pride, emotion and party politics for the sake of South Africa. Of the 22 clean municipalities, 11 come from the Western Cape – 50%. The one metro that was awarded the clean status is none other than the Western Cape.

Somehow, in these areas the leaders that are appointed are able to motivate, give clear and relevant direction and ensure structures support the former two. We must employ correctly and then multiply these leadership skills country wide. You leaders that are failing, humble yourselves and learn from those that are succeeding. A pipe dream? Well, let it start as such. What is the alternative? We need leaders at local government levels that have an attitude of passionately wanting and knowing how to “deliver embarrassingly good results”.

This article was featured in the





Adriaan, as an accomplished author and leadership advisor, has been interviewing and working with top leaders for more than 15 years. He is the Co-Founder and CEO of Leadership Platform. (Twitter: @AdriaanG_LP)

Call: +27 (0)12 653 3022

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Leadership Platform is a specialist leadership development consultancy, focusing on creating measurable impact to the bottom line through the enhancement of leadership understanding and engagement.


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