Turn to someone close by and ask them to hold up their hand in front of their face with the arm stretched out, then in a “high-five” position take your hand and push theirs. What happens? Yes, they immediately or eventually push back! There is an interesting principle that this exercise illustrates, which will be the main thrust of this piece and very relevant to our current raging e-tolls battle, as discussed with Wayne Duvenage, Chairman OUTA this past Monday on Leadership Platform CliffCentral.
Over the more than fifteen years that I have engaged top business leaders, it has clearly emerged that social dialogue between business, government and labour isn’t balanced enough. Business is still too quiet and isn’t a strong enough counterweight to government and labour. In many instances business leaders are petrified of being perceived as anti-government, which of course makes them over cautious when dealing with their counter parts. Some believed this would improve under President Zuma’s reign, because his underlying leadership philosophy is inclusive, engaging. However, it is the opinion of many that this has not materialized, including that of Duvenage. While engaging business leaders for support to make a stand against e-tolls his experience has been that this fear still exists. In general leaders agree with the effort, but will not attempt to openly support it.
It was during a discussion on the challenge of empowerment with Richard Pike CEO of Adcorp Holdings a few years ago that he asked me to hold up my hand, pushed mine with his and of course I pushed back. He asked me why I pushed back and I answered that it was instinctive, natural.
From a general leadership perspective, understand that when you push or force anyone (staff member, colleague, child, or citizens in the case of e-tolls) to follow you or implement a certain strategy they will push back, to a lesser or larger degree, consciously or subconsciously. We see this playing out with e-tolls. Society at large is pushing back.
The push back is not necessarily always obvious or even strong enough to stop the desired movement, but it will almost always slow it down!
‘Push-back’ could be in less obvious ways:
1. a negative attitude that manifests in a diminished capacity to implement effectively, or come up with innovative solutions to obstacles;
2. using unavoidable obstacles as proof that the leaders direction is ‘obviously’ wrong, thereby feeling justified in discreetly promoting alternative views.
Another push-back strategy could be finding ‘legal’ and other loopholes in the system that result in actions that are aligned with the alternative way of thinking, rather than the leader’s perceived ‘forced’ direction.
What happens when the leader eventually detects these push-back behaviours? In many cases ego and pride enter on to the scene and the leader/s pushes back even harder, creating an ‘us and them’, distrustful environment. If the leader and/or his influence is ‘strong’ enough he may seem to eventually win, but most certainly at a cost. A vicious cycle may ensue where parties push against one another with full force rather than embrace and walk together towards a dream or vision. There are just too many examples in our society to mention, e-tolls being foremost to these. It seems government has created an “us” and “them” situation, which one could argue was expressed at the polls this year.
From a general leadership point of view, should a higher road of more agreement and unity not work for whatever reason, only then do great leaders compensate by instinctively switching over to the ‘push and be tough’ approach. In SA we need to try at all cost to avoid doing it the other way around.
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