There are few successful examples, certainly in South Africa, of organisations where two chief executives rule, which in itself tells us something. Comair seemed to be one of these, but we know that Gidon Novick left recently and Erik Venter resumed the top position, solo. If it really worked well, why not continue the combo model?
The “two-leader” model may work in exceptional circumstances where the organisation or its strategy needs certain leadership abilities, which happen to reside in two individuals combined who get along superbly and complement one another.
Or it may work where the need to balance certain political factors weighs heavier than the universal truth that only one leader can lead from the top and be ultimately accountable for performance.
But, in essence it is not possible to have two leaders at the top and in truth chances are that one of them probably ends up being the de facto leader. Both may think they are able to hide this from stakeholders, leaving much room for other managers to play politics to one or the other leader. For an organisation to function successfully there are important leadership principles that must be in place, one being that all participants should “serve the office of the leader”. To have to “serve the offices of the leaders” is a tall order and one could argue it halves leadership energy and potential.
Another important principle is that the “level of unity equals the level of performance”.
If the level of unity in an organisation is 50 percent then chances are the organisation is functioning at a 50 percent performance level.
This unity starts at the top, where a chief executive creates unity in vision, purpose and strategy with his team and this should then filter all the way to the bottom of the organisation. Having two chief executives means they should first and foremost create unity between themselves before creating it with the executive team. In other words there is now an added step in the process and in today’s complex, fast paced world simplicity and speed is crucial. Two chief executives can only make it more complex, even if roles are clearly defined.
We could add to these concerns that for it to work the two leaders should almost be devoid of egos. What are the chances? Having met Sim Tshabalala I believe he has a relatively controlled ego, but so much could happen to test this. Again, to assume that an additional ego contest won’t play itself out is somewhat ignorant, to say the least, especially during difficult or tumultuous times.
Tshabalala seems to be a real banker, conservative, cautious yet humble and intelligent. He seems to be steeped in Standard Bank culture. Question is can Ben Kruger, his co-chief executive balance Tshabalala out by way of other attributes that are necessary for leaders to succeed – boldness, taking risks, making the tough calls and much more.
Is it a good thing to have both leaders from within Standard Bank? I am a proponent of promoting from within and that the mark of a true leader is his ability to multiply other leaders. In other words had Maree left Standard Bank without several possible internal successors he would have failed in a sense. Perhaps when an organisation takes the risk of appointing two leaders it could be a feasible option to bring in outside blood and perspective in at least one of the posts?
South Africa’s racial divide is still a barrier to our country achieving its full potential, as indicated by our recent leadership conversation with Nomaxabiso Majokweni, the chief executive of Business Unity SA. Distrust between black and white continues to haunt us.
When FirstRand appoints Sizwe Nxasana to the top position and then changes the structure by appointing a strong white chief operating officer it raises questions. In that instance there were few questions probably because of the poise and credibility of Nxasana, but they were there. Standard Bank had an opportunity to elevate a black leader in whom it had invested for a long time, and what did it do? The company has followed a model that has more chance of failure than success. This act by the Standard Bank Board may be an authentic attempt at a solution of appointing the right leaders, but in our racially sensitive environment it could be viewed through different lenses.
In short the model of two leaders at the top works against age-old universal principles of leadership. We all know good leaders focus on their teams. We all know good leaders rely on their teams and give them credit for achieving success together. We all know that good leaders don’t always arrive at the vision and strategy on their own, although they usually have clear views before engaging their teams. But we all also know even in organisations where there is a strong emphasis on growing many leaders, ultimately there is only one leader that is accountable for the organisations successful movement.
Standard Bank is taking a huge gamble, which does not make sense for a large and very conservative bank. It may at the moment be spinning the move successfully by saying that this structural change is geared around company needs and strategy. But what really drove this decision? Will we ever know what arguments for and against happened in the inner circles of the bank’s boardroom?
Ask yourself, would it have seemed wise if both Louis Von Zeuner and Maria Ramos were appointed as ABSA chief executives? Or if both Pres Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa were made presidents of South Africa, for that matter?
In this case this “two-leader” model will probably be a temporary measure and someone will probably emerge as the ultimate leader within two or three years.
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