Jacob Maroga: A Good Leader Is Hard To Find – And Keep

What was clear from the start of our leadership discussion, joined by Jacob Maroga, the former Eskom chief, was that all administrative situations need to be viewed within a current and broader context.

Some may consider this to be a cop-out song sung by leaders who are deemed to have failed, even though they were placed in a situation and organisation, potentially beyond their personal influence. In other words, the context of the situation rendered it almost impossible for the leader to succeed, as Maroga claim happened to him, and many other heads of state-owned enterprises (SOEs).

Over and above this, there is the context of media reporting to also consider – how much is factually sound versus sensationally driven?

We commented on the past week where we have seen the media running with sensationalised headlines about Helen Zille and internal issues in the DA, where context was certainly everything but there was actually little to be had.

Still, there are egos at play and positioning for power taking place, and from a leadership point of view, Zille needs to do something to bring back the balance.

Chris Griffith, the Anglo American Platinum chief executive, made a leadership blunder and had to apologise for his recent statements about executive pay.

This reiterated the need for leaders to be in touch with their current context and to remain in control of their emotions at all times. We commended Griffith for apologising, but the damage was already done, especially inside a broader environment where there exists a trust deficit between management and labour, even employees and management.

Disunity within trade union federation Cosatu was also noted and discussed as a challenging leadership situation.

A positive leadership story touched on was the India election results and victory for Narendra Modi, the head of the conservative, pro-business Bharatiya Janata Party.

This is a situation to watch closely. And, so too, Maroga’s tenure as chief executive of Eskom has a certain context.

While admitting that it was not the most successful period in the public utility’s history, he was able to assist us to understand why this happened by citing contextual details we are quick to forget when our lights do not switch on at night. These included policy decisions in the late 1990s that have ultimately led to any new leader being on the backfoot from the beginning of their term in office.

He also highlighted that historically what assisted SOEs to function so well was a combination of three things:

First, an integrated framework that allows all SOEs to function together;

Second, individuals who are highly educated, who are specialised in their fields;

Third, tenure – sufficient time to allow your vision as a leader to become reality.

So policy decisions and moving away from an established leadership framework that has served the entire SOE environment well for many years, did not help the former chief executive or others as leaders.

Maroga’s view is that it was a loss that Brian Dames had to leave after only three years at the helm. Why? Again, point three aforementioned was not adhered to. He said that it was a shame to lose him so soon.

He gave good insights into leadership that also spoke to the kind of leader that Eskom should look for next. The country cannot afford to make a mistake in this appointment.



Adriaan Groenewald: Context is crucial. Controlling emotions are important. During the “development” part of the show we discussed that people follow for at least four reasons, one being an emotional connection with the leader (Full article – Election Leadership Lessons). Maroga commented: “Leaders need to have trust equity with the people. This trust equity is established over time.” Building this trust is crucial in creating that emotional connection with the leader and even organisation.
Did Maroga fail as a leader? One could argue yes, even though he denies this, understandably so. But, would any leader have failed at that time, because of the context mentioned above? Probably, and Government need to return back to some of the principles mentioned during the show. In last week’s interview with Grant Pattison he mentioned the importance of understanding the history of an organisation in order to turn it around. Politicians would do well to embrace this advice (to listen to the Pattison interview by clicking here)

Gareth Armstrong: “When finding one’s self in a leadership position in a big organisation, your sense of leadership is important. There is difference between supervision and leadership: Leadership is creating a context within which people can thrive and perform; [supervision] is when you tell people what to do.”  Too often, especially when we are first starting our ascendancy up the corporate ladder, our idea of leadership is different from the realities of such a responsibility. Here Maroga gives us a clear understanding of what is expected from a leader, and what followers expect from their leader.
Leaders who focus on doing what Maroga outlines find that when they then ask something of their followers or need to give instruction, that their followers respond promptly and with a much larger sense of personal responsibility. Why? Because they are following for a different, purer reason and they are self-motivated.


“Leadership is creating an environment, creating a vision where people can see a big and abundant future for themselves, and once they see it, they are the ones that will do what is necessary to make it come to pass.”
Jacob Maroga (watch out for articles on leadership by Jacob Maroga on www.leadershipplatform.com)

“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured”
Mark Twain



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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
Email: info@leadershipplatform.com

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