Recently (13 May 2020) I watched you trying hard to appease this nation by actually addressing us, following an unprecedented outcry for it. I wanted to say: “He did it South Africa”. But I couldn’t, because something was missing.
I wondered why you didn’t openly mention that you addressed us because of the outcry – perhaps you were going to speak anyway? You came across as less prepared and indecisive. In fact, it felt and looked like a different leader from the one that delivered the previous speeches where you acted like the Commander in Chief. This time you came across as a tentative leader, for whatever reasons. I don’t know the background dynamics.
In my humble and professional opinion, what you could or should have said in the beginning of your speech is the following. And I suggest it knowing your advisors are also to blame for the lapse in judgement, though you ultimately preside and make the final call:
“Dear Fellow South Africans. You have been calling for me to address you because I seem to have been absent for a while now. I ask your forgiveness in this regard and you are right, I should be more visible, keep you more informed and just be here for you. So here I am, to speak to you because you asked for it and because it’s simply the right thing to do as a leader during such a crisis. Please allow me to explain why I have been absent…
Even today some advisors cautioned me against addressing you as they felt we needed to be more prepared… But, I decided it was more important than coming across as perfectly prepared. Nevertheless, let me share some thoughts, feelings, facts and then broad strokes regarding our way forward…”
Mr. President you almost succeeded at coming across as humble, caring and a listening leader when you apologised for unclear, contradictory and poorly explained decisions made. This was probably the best part of your speech. It showed signs of authentic leadership. But again, because you did not position the timing and motivation for the speech authentically, this part did not land as you had intended. Your attempt at gaining lost ground from the past few weeks may have failed… at least partially.
Years ago I remember collecting the late Stephen R. Covey from the airport and also interviewing him on leadership, for a second time. Should you not recall him, he was that world renowned expert and author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Engaging him quite intensely opened my eyes regarding his life. I realised that he was not “in charge” of his diary and time, hence perhaps also not his life. He was so in demand that others arranged his diary, booked conferences and told him where he had to be and when.
I have interviewed two of your predecessors and am fully aware that being President of a country can be even more demanding than that. You are often told what to say and what should be in your speeches. Therefore it is undoubtedly more challenging to come across as authentic. If you do not have sincere, brilliant writers and advisors that consciously assist you to showcase your true self, then you are doomed.
But President Ramaphosa – and other Presidents – do try harder to allow your real self to shine through, that’s if your real self is indeed authentic and sincerely in favour of the country, it’s people and a prosperous future for all South Africans. In difficult times like these we do not need or want a robot, we desperately crave a human being, an authentic and purposeful leader, because that will translate into authentic actions and ultimately the trust of your fellow South Africans.
I would like to leave you with this. No leader can claim they know exactly how to lead in these unprecedented times. Every leader on this planet needs to realise that it is time to THINK and LEAD on a whole new level and then have the courage to do it. I hope and trust you and your team have – or do very soon – come to this realization Mr. President. What South Africa needs right now is a balance between crisp action and absolute authenticity in character. We hope to see more of this in you and your leaders, in the days to come.
I wish you well over the next few crucial weeks.
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