Lessons Learnt From Gareth Cliff Spectacle

Any outstanding leader cannot stomach being surrounded by leaders who are weak and don’t speak their mind, or are not willing to go out on a limb and say what needs to be said for the good of the organisation, even at the risk of offending colleagues around the boardroom table. A leader that tolerates or appreciates “yes-men” suffers from lack of confidence, is insecure within him or herself and cannot lead without title.

Many individuals in leadership teams care more about being liked, accepted or praised by their peers than they do about the future of the very organisation they are employed to lead. Of course this is also relevant to politicians that are voted in to serve a country.

An insecure leader breeds an insecure, distrustful leadership team, which in turn mutates into an insecure organisational culture. And this insecure culture allows the dictatorial leader to rule by fear and grow in artificial power, which power – and the leader – invariably crumbles, causing colossal damage and ultimate failure for all concerned.

I will come back to this…

In the month of January 2016, #ZumaMustFall occupied 54.88% of the social media space; Gareth Cliff followed with 15.92%; next was Proteas with 5.28%; and Penny Sparrow came in at fourth place with 4.86%. Think about this for a moment. What does it actually mean? Let’s try and make some sense of it, because if we don’t it all may go to waste. Nothing good or bad that happens to us as individuals or as a society is wasted, if we consciously learn from it.

I want to zoom in on the Gareth Cliff spectacle that dominated social media and more during the month of January. Love or hate Cliff, he is an opinion leader. One could argue that he used to predominantly be a conversationalist only – one who holds conversations (often interesting ones), sometimes just for the sake of doing it, or to solicit controversy, or for entertainment purposes. However, in my view he may be evolving into a “Transformational Conversationalist”. In other words, he is not afraid of conversing or facilitating conversations directly or indirectly that steer towards solutions, or that challenge beliefs or views, hopefully for the betterment of the bigger picture. Transformational Conversationalists go out on a limb, are bold and risk causing offence. They have to because the broader picture and society is more important than their own little world and real change never happens from inside a comfort zone. Their conversations are not superficial but rich in substance and attempt to unlock wisdom, practicality. This is how Cliff is maturing as a leader. I am not for one moment inferring that he has arrived, as very few have, but he certainly is on his way.

South Africa, like an organisation, has decisions to make. Do we want a confident or insecure culture? Do we want to be a confident or insecure nation? I guess the first question is – where are we currently? And then we should ask – where do we want to be? Looking at this from the very top – which is where it always begins and the tone is set – are our current political rulers speaking up, saying what needs to be said for the good of South Africa, or are they appeasing the powers that be in order to sustain their comfortable life styles?

On a broader societal level, do we want gutless opinion leaders that hold conversations just for the sake of it, to entertain? Do we want ‘yes-men’? Or do we want our opinion leaders to be Transformational Conversationalists who hold productive, gutsy conversations of substance with the intention of bringing about change and healthy transformation; who are willing to go out on a limb for the good of our nation?

When Gwede Mantashe states conversations about racism will not heal us but that rectifying economic inequalities will, he is right, particularly if the conversations he refers to are superficial ones and not transformational conversations – open, bold, substantive and solution driven.

I know what happens and will happen to an organisation where the leader’s style results in a weak team of fearful, selfish ‘yes-men’, especially in today’s highly complex, challenging world where only united, dynamic, open, confident teams and organisations survive. I can quote real examples in business and politics, and so can you.

If we don’t deliberately decide what we want, the default position will be an insecure culture where our Transformational Conversationalists withdraw and either become ‘yes-men’, or become so cautious of what they say and protective of their own reputations and interests, that they stop saying what needs to be said and therefore we stop hearing what needs to be heard. The outcome is inevitable: We stop doing what needs to be done! And of course when this happens we really shouldn’t be surprised when our beloved country spirals downward fast.

Cliff and Rina Broomberg started Cliffcentral at great risk. This venture did not have to start as an entire station where different – often unknown and hidden talent – discuss and debate real life issues that matter to us and our country. They could have started with a three hour Gareth Cliff show only. I am sure this is how most counterparts in the USA did it. But they didn’t! They went out on a limb and probably succeeded in creating that which reflects the world we live in.

When Cliff held his Press Conference on Saturday 30 January, following the court victory over M-Net, the most difficult questions to him were not posed by the media contingent but by his own Cliffcentral presenters – Transformational Conversationalists in the making.

To society I sound a warning voice. It is difficult yet absolutely crucial to encourage transformational conversations with social media firmly entrenched, because it quickly echoes our insecure or confident culture, which threatens or enhances substantive conversations and productive transformation. Social media magnifies the odd blunders that may be made as opinion leaders go out on a limb for you and I. Let us be patient as we move forward. At the same time, to you Transformational Conversationalists in society, politics and business, do not go into hiding because of recent events surrounding Chris Hart, Gareth Cliff and perhaps others. Work hard at tempering your actual comments; think twice before sending a message; run it through one or two filters. But please, don’t stop going out on a limb, for the good of South Africa.

Listen to my conversation with Gareth Cliff, following the court victory over M-Net: Click here

Adriaan Groenewald is a leadership expert and commentator. Follow him on Twitter: @AdriaanG_LP or @LeadershipPform. Furthermore you can contact him on email: adriaan@leadershipplatform.com.





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

Follow Us

Leadership Platform is a specialist leadership development consultancy, focusing on creating measurable impact to the bottom line through the enhancement of leadership understanding and engagement.


By subscribing you will be updated with the latest insights and news from us. We never spam.