I tweeted this some time ago: “Nothing beats a leader that has tried, failed and succeeded, with deep scars to prove it.” When I sent this I had Neal Froneman CEO Sibanye Gold in mind, whom we had as our special guest on CliffCentral over a year ago. At the time he volunteered that he has the scars to prove his failures. But as we all know, he also has the accolades to prove his successes. The latest acquisition of Amplats mines in a period where mining is under pressure all over proves the point.
When it comes to building mines, running them, buying them, growing them and succeeding as well as failing at this, he comes to mind. And one gets the feeling he still has a long road ahead of him.
Froneman is driven by a competitive spirit. Much of life is a competition for him. He wants to win! He is fearless and outspoken on where mining is going, on unions and his views around leadership. He comments about the future of mining: “There is definitely a need for more consolidation – I think it’s going to be more multi-commodity. There used to be good technical reasons why gold was separate.” Today Sibanye, once a stepchild Gold Company now also owns large platinum mines.
He expanded on the argument for mechanisation: “My feeling is when we talk mechanisation it’s to avoid dealing with the people issues. Yes, mechanisation is important if it’s going to make somebody’s job easier but if you think it’s going to take you away from the confrontational people issues, you’re making a big mistake. My view is to tackle the people issues head-on, and win the hearts and minds of our people.”
On the role of unions he says: “The unions have got their own business. We have made the unions surrogate and we have spoken to them for far too long and tried to win over their support, instead of focusing on our people, our workers, our employees.”
We live in a world where the principle of inclusive, consultative, collaborative leadership has become a norm and where authors in general write about it as if it is the only leadership philosophy that is needed to address our modern day challenges. Yet we also live in a complex world where leaders are expected and in fact need to be courageous, decisive and make decisions faster and more accurately than ever before. So in reality a leader needs to strike the near impossible balance between consultation and speedy decision making. Not many leaders are successful at this. One gets the impression Froneman is close, or that he is a leader that can achieve it, partly because he believes:
“Always do the right thing which sometimes is easy to do but when things are hard, still do the right thing – it will keep you on the moral high ground and your team will follow you through thick and thin.”
I can attest that every executive in Sibanye follows Froneman in this manner. He is well respected and someone they want to work with.
Perhaps these days leaders are somewhat paralysed; they are so hell bent on being consultative and engaging, adhering to necessary compliance parameters and avoiding public controversy, that they don’t make decisions; in fact that they are fearful of making decisions. And so they hide behind important and true leadership principles like: “What one creates one supports and even loves.” You see, in general when someone is involved in creating anything – from a child, to a plan, to a solution, one is more committed to that creation and therefore supports and even loves it. This is a true principle and leaders must allow their people space to be involved in creation so that they feel more ownership. But this should never ever serve as an excuse for not arriving at a decision speedily so that movement can take place, which is paramount to the fast paced environment of today. As Froneman said: “Lead from the front. Involve your people, but make a decision, because that is what they expect from you.”
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Sibanye Gold has moved from strength to strength since its inception, that it is currently the envy of the mining industry and that they somehow manage to create significant movement despite extremely negative sentiment around mining in general.
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Adriaan Groenewald (@Adriaan_LP) – MD and co-founder Leadership Platform (www.leadershipplatform.com); leadership author and advisor; presenter of Leadership Platform on Cliffcentral.com every Monday 12-1pm (@LeadershipPform)