#changethestory: Time for leaders, not loyalists

#changethestory: Time for leaders, not loyalists
We are on the sixth day of the 3650 days that make up this decade.

South Africa faces the real possibility of ending this new decade as a failed state, unless there are major course corrections. There are many smart justice-based ideas that could move us into a more progressive pathway as a country.

The most significant is the practice of leadership. “Dear Mr President, you are the president. Please lead.” Given the crisis we are facing, it’s important that the president lead with decisive thinking, a humble orientation and an intelligent understanding.

He must also surround himself with those who can lead. Ministerial leadership is not a gift to be given to loyal subscribers as if it’s a cellphone upgrade.

The level of intransigence in our modern state is quite simply appalling. It appears that, after 25 years, many of the failures by government are linked to a critical fundamental: we have raised up loyalists, not leaders.

The differences between the two is significant. Loyalists have a survival-focused agenda. Leaders have a service-focused agenda. To influence this decade and save our country from the failed state scenario, the president must show that he is appointing the most competent people to execute government business.

One practice he must do away with is cadre deployment. Let’s be clear - cadre deployment is not an ANC invention. Over the centuries, political parties have handed top jobs to loyalists.

The DA does the same thing. Given the ever-deepening gulf between rich and poor, the entrenchment of right-wing politics and the possibility of a global war, is it not time to try more advanced leadership approaches?

For example, let’s appoint the most capable academic with experience, intelligence and a knowledge of global trends to lead education in our country.

It’s far too critical a ministry - and a key influencer of our future global competitiveness - to be led by those with no real vision or understanding of the evolving nature of global education. The same can be said of virtually every other ministry.

One of the ideas that economic philosopher Francis Fukuyama expounds is that a successful state is modest in scope, but strong in ability to carry out basic state functions. The problem with many countries is that it seeks to have excessive control, which ultimately leads to many state functions being done incompetently or not done at all.

As Fukuyama says: the state becomes strong in all the wrong areas: they become good at jailing opponents and restricting freedoms but can’t process a visa or a business licence in under six months.

To add value to the emergence of a new leadership culture across government business, it would be refreshing to see government embracing new leadership ideas by doing away with all the nauseating pomp and ceremony and adulation they require to give a 10-minute speech.

All this smacks of completely inappropriate imperial grandeur at a time when we would much rather listen to a minister who delivers a speech with his or her sleeves rolled up and speaking intelligently from the heart and head.

Listening to the canned content some speech writer has put together often causes uncontrolled drowsiness.

Our government ministers must realise that informed executive decision-making is a key part of their leadership.

Our survival requires earnestness, urgency and intelligence to be the principles that guide the agenda of our 64-member Cabinet and its 28 government departments.

In focusing on the next decade, the president’s upcoming State of the Nation Address should embrace the principle of appointing proven leaders and not cowering loyalists to be in charge of government business. It’s a most basic first step to becoming a successful state.

Let us watch this State of the Nation Address with patriotic eagerness overlaid with grave concern.

* Lorenzo A Davids is chief executive of the Community Chest. 

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Cape Argus