Monday, September 30, 2013

Phiyega’s real problem.

Not appreciating the difference between management and leadership.

Just how much egg can one face take? If that metaphor is applied to Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega, then her head must surely resemble an omelette. Her litany of personal faux pas since taking office needs no repeating here and her positive spin of “crime is under control” on the latest crime statistics is just another reflection of an imprudent reliance on her management team to guide her on public pronouncements in her attempts to confirm her status as South Africa’s top cop. Others described those figures as “the worst in ten years”.

The statistics themselves have always been highly controversial and suspect, and have again led to Disraeli’s famous assessment of “statistics and lies” featuring in a number of headlines. They have scant credibility globally and in South Africa far more so because of a lack of expertise and effectiveness in reporting, gathering and interpretation. Yet they could have been the ideal platform for the Commissioner to demonstrate true leadership.

I can think of no other position in South Africa that is in greater need of decisive and inspiring leadership than chief of the police force. Perhaps that need even outranks the presidency itself. One is tempted to overlook Phiyega’s stumbling attempts at her job because she really has had a baptism of fire. But that disguises a more fundamental issue – was her appointment the right one in the first place? She and no doubt those who appointed her, defend the appointment on her track record as a “top manager” in the corporate sector. She herself has professed that there is no difference in managing an organisation like SAPS and a big bank.

This inevitably reminds us of the failed two year experiment in recruiting a top manager from the private sector to “shake up” the police services in the late 1990’s. That was none other than the “boykie from Britz” Meyer Khan, who had a stunning record as South African Breweries chief. Repeating that experiment with someone of a different colour and gender is something of a mystery.

We see it too often in many organisations, including companies and large corporations – a failure to distinguish between management and leadership. There certainly is a huge difference. Broadly speaking, one manages things but one leads people. But those criteria are not always clear cut. One can, for example, manage things around people that motivate and inspire them, creating an image of inspiring leadership. In addition, one can learn certain skills that are required in leadership that can support a profile of being a good leader.

Indeed, the “art” of leadership is the subject of countless books, treatises, colleges, universities, and is an important component of organisational theory. Leadership Consultancies abound everywhere, and “leadership interventions” are the order of the day in many organisations.

Biographies of great leaders both in the public and private sector from Genghis Khan (no relation to Meyer) to Winston Churchill and from Henry Ford to Steve Jobs are all eagerly devoured by aspiring young executives. All are looking for that magic and seemingly elusive quality that will propel them to the top.

One would think that if leadership could be taught or nurtured, the numbers of skilled and qualified leaders that are churned out by educational and training institutions would ensure an adequate supply of competent leaders in all of our institutions – apart from the political arena that has a completely different dynamic susceptible to all kinds of contaminants that blur the important difference between being a good politician and being a good statesman or woman.

Yet the most common lament in virtually all spheres of society is the dearth of leadership. In my consulting days, I was intimately involved in the subject through the work of my brother, Etsko Schuitema, who developed our care and growth model after extensive research in the mining industry. In essence it was not very different from the Servant leadership model developed by Robert Greenleaf in the early 1970’s and which became a popular framework world-wide. In addition, I was an avid reader of leader biographies.

Learning leadership skills and emulating leadership behaviours such as those expounded by Stephen Covey are important. But there is something in the makeup of the outstanding leader that is elusive and often not transferable in time, place, circumstance and sector. The best any institution or business can do is to be on a constant lookout for those qualities and give them the opportunity to lead without encumbrances – something most institutions are simply not equipped to do or prepared to risk. Mostly those that have these qualities cannot be bought – a feature that seriously questions our executive pay models and recruitment processes.

On reflection these past few years, when I am asked what makes a good leader, a perhaps highly inappropriate if not flippant image that comes to mind is from that 1965 movie “King Rat”, in which a nondescript prisoner of war gains power, respect and the adulation of his fellow inmates above that of senior officers through his black market enterprises, including disguising rats as other forms of protein. After the prisoners were liberated, he returns to obscurity.

The question is can and when will Riah Phiyega pull a rat out of a hat.

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