Messages From Society

Of late we have had some significant activities, news worthy events and occurrences within our society – US Elections, ANC Elections, Lance Armstrong episode, Oscar Pistorius drama, Dr Mamphela Ramphele launching her movement (or party?), State of the Nation address, more disruptions in the mining sector, budget speech, to name but a few. Of course a lot of this is much of the same “stuff”. However, all socio-political and economic factors or trends impact on leaders and their decisions.

Great leaders implement two universal life skills very effectively – evaluate and do! I simply refer to these as the EDO-factor. They evaluate – assess, analyse, think through, ponder every situation and their environment around them and then they do – act, implement, put in place, or in other words, create movement. The quality of evaluating usually impacts the quality of doing. So, following the movement they often re-evaluate in order to learn and improve future doing or movement, which becomes a perpetual cycle of growth or “improvement of movement”! Of late so much has happened in our South African and broader environment and I wonder if leaders have taken the time to evaluate effectively, read between the lines, recognise some of the signals that all these events and trends are sending to them and so taken on board some crucial learning’s? I will venture to assist in this all important exercise:

The battle for wisdom amidst a barrage of information and knowledge

The writer T. S. Eliot says it best:

“O world of spring and autumn, birth and dying!

The endless cycle of idea and action,

Endless invention, endless experiment,

Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;

Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;

Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.

All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance,

All our ignorance brings us nearer to death, But nearness to death no nearer to God.

Where is the Life we have lost in living?

Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?

Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?

The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries bring us farther from God and nearer to the Dust.”

He touches on many important points, including the fact that there is a real difference between information, knowledge and wisdom. The latter is so important in our world where access to information is instant and immediate. We need wisdom to sort through and discern how to apply what we are learning. Plant this fact right next to the truth that the pace of life is increasing by the day and it is almost as if leaders may run out of time to effectively evaluate information, internalize knowledge and then apply wisely. And to add more pressure leaders need to make quicker and more accurate decisions than ever before, under a constant spotlight and scrutiny from all kinds of watch dogs, including media and more empowered followers. Learn to distinguish between information, knowledge and wisdom and don’t allow the former two to overshadow the latter.

The need for silence and to be “still”

As Eliot says – “…knowledge of motion, but not of stillness; Knowledge of speech, but not of silence…” I often speak to leaders about listening to their instinct, but I prefer to refer to this as a “still” or quiet voice that far too often gets drowned out by noise, rushing, pressure, worry, stress, overload of options and many other attributes of our modern society. It is this quiet voice that warns leaders of dangers ahead, the need to engage a staff member at the early stages of discomfort before it is too late. Silence is also crucial as far as effective evaluation is concerned. For optimal evaluation, which eventually taps into the space of wisdom, a leader needs silence.

Make time for silence!

Back to simplicity

The more the world attempts to simplify things and become more sophisticated, through for example technology, the more the opposite happens – life becomes more complex. Leonardo da Vinci said “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”. Leaders should hold on to this truth. The ultimate sign of intelligence is the ability to simplify. Great leaders are able to simplify and this skill is crucial in today’s environment. Any system or structure that does not serve the principle of simplicity is a danger to a leader’s successful movement forward. Return to the sophistication Da Vinci suggests!

Life in the “now”

I especially refer to social media, twitter and the immediacy of information that come ones way. I knew what movie won at the Oscars before I heard it on morning live TV. Eusebius McKaiser, evening presenter on 702 Talk Radio and Cape Talk said it this way in a tweet: “Newspaper editors used to be powerful, and then someone invented twitter”.

On the way to the Freestate there is a town called “Tweeling” (Twins). I noticed someone had simply painted a horizontal line through the “l” on the town sign, changing it to “Tweeting”. I hesitate, yet have to admit and even accept the fact that perhaps leaders need to start embracing social media and more specifically Twitter. Many of their followers are and so should they, if they want to be in touch with the “now” out there and see the world as their followers see it, which is as and when things happen. For exactly how long society will keep this up I don’t know. It is the current reality though. But, going this route in isolation to points one to three above will defeat the purpose and turn social media into the enemy rather than the friend.

The fragility of stardom

The world, media, society in general absolutely thrive on lifting individuals to stardom and then bringing them down as fast when the beneficiaries provide ever so small an opportunity. So, when leaders forget to be leaders and instead choose to be stars they are in fragile territory.  The risk with social media and more specifically Twitter is that it hinges on the premise or feeling of stardom – the more followers you have the more of a ‘star you are’. As with all good things there is a bad side to it. Twitter and social media is no different.  Let these amazing platforms inform you, but don’t allow it to rule you! Be a leader and not a star!

 Our racial divide is still a huge barrier to national unity

Following an interview with BUSA CEO Nomaxabiso Majokweni (article to follow) it once again dawned on the Editor Ellis Mnyandu and myself that our racially divided past is a clear barrier to trust and by default progress in SA.

I have experienced conversations with leaders from opposite ends of the scale and listened to their views on a road to national unity. The case for “moving on” and putting our racially divided past behind us is a strong one. The case for still needing to “redress the past”, in some form, is an equally strong one. The view that many are involved or getting involved in projects that assists in healing psychological and emotional scars of our racial past is sound, as is the view that not enough is being done. The opposite and different views are many and mostly sound, depending on who one speaks to. It seems impossible to arrive at a united answer of what needs to be done! One of the big elephants in the room that is resisting national unity, that seems to chain us, hold us back emotionally and psychologically, is our racially divided past and its contribution to societal inequalities. Be aware of the racial divide; confront it in yourself and in others; rise above it!

 Confidence of the disillusioned masses

We are experiencing disillusionment in South Africa and beyond. Ordinary South Africans on the ground have grown impatient of the charm, audacious promises and motives of political, labour and corporate leaders. There is a huge trust deficit in our society. As Gill Marcus said to me: “Nobody trusts any more, and yet this is crucial to solve the current global economic dilemma. Until trust and confidence is rebuilt, it will be very difficult to stabilize the global economy.”  Closer to home she felt “In South Africa we just have to pull ourselves together and create greater cohesiveness.  There needs to be a common purpose between business, labour, government and civil society. Those times when we have been for something, like the 2010 world cup, it was fantastic!”

South Africans want to experience movement that positively impacts their lives. Through mediums like cell phones and social media the powerless voiceless masses are starting to re-claim their confidence and power, learning to coordinate united action. To leverage this confidence, create a positive vision and future where your people can stand for something.

Rise of the National Development Plan

The National Development Plan has been drafted and finalised. It can be that path and future that all of us stand for, a course that ensures a future for our younger generation. It has the potential of uniting all South Africans while rising above other irritations and past baggage. As a leader, familiarise yourself with this plan and discover how your organisation can align with it.

 We are undergoing a values revolution

Todd Christofferson, a spiritual leader based in the USA recently made the following bold comments during a global satellite conference: “The societies in which many of us live have for more than a generation failed to foster moral discipline. They have taught that truth is relative and that everyone decides for himself or herself what is right. As a consequence, self-discipline has eroded and societies are left to try to maintain order and civility by compulsion. The lack of internal control by individuals breeds external control by governments. One columnist observed that ‘gentlemanly behaviour (for example) once protected women from coarse behaviour. Today, we expect sexual harassment laws to restrain coarse behaviour… Policeman and laws can never replace customs, traditions and moral values as a means of regulating human behaviour. At best, the police and criminal justice system are the last desperate line of defence for a civilized society. Our increased reliance on laws to regulate behaviour is a measure of how uncivilized we’ve become’.

If the above comments are remotely true then perhaps we are not as civilised as we believe because as a nation we are gambling with the future of our children by depending too heavily on our “last desperate line of defence”.

Christofferson had more to say: “In most of the world, we have been experiencing an extended and devastating economic recession. It was brought on by multiple causes, but one of the major causes was widespread dishonest and unethical conduct, particularly in the US housing and financial markets. Reactions have focused on enacting more and stronger regulation. Perhaps that may dissuade some from unprincipled conduct, but others will simply get more creative in their circumvention. There would never be enough rules so finely crafted as to anticipate and cover every situation, and even if there were, enforcement would be impossibly expensive and burdensome. This approach leads to diminished freedom for everyone. In the end, it is only an internal moral compass in each individual that can effectively deal with the root causes as well as the symptoms of societal decay”.

More than ever leaders not only need the intelligence to handle complexity, or the emotional intelligence to deal with their own and different people’s emotions, they also need to be able to make the right moral decisions under pressure and open scrutiny. They need to have a good sense of what is right and what is wrong.

Know your values; live your values.

In summary, put information, knowledge and wisdom in its rightful place; make time for silence; return to the sophistication Da Vinci suggests – simplicity; embrace life in the “now”, in particular Twitter, but let it serve you; remember stardom is fragile, so focus on being a leader; be aware of the race divide, confront it in yourself and in others, rise above it; disillusioned masses are regaining confidence, so give them something positive to stand for;  embrace the NDP, for the sake of the future generation; know your values, live your values.

This article appeared in the:

Business Report




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Adriaan Groenewald is a leadership expert and commentator. Do you recognize some areas in yourself or your team that need improvement? Email Adriaan on for more on creating “Leadership Fit” leaders that generate successful movement (performance) inside your organisation. Follow him on Twitter: @AdriaanG_LP or @LeadershipPform.




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)

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