Stop and ask anyone to identify political leaders holding executive office in South Africa and you will be shocked at how many blank faces you will draw. Rams Mabote on the importance of (visible) leadership.
Outside President Jacob Zuma, his deputy Cyril Ramaphosa and a few high profile ministers, many cabinet ministers exist almost completely incognito. The little said about provincial MECs and some premiers the better.
Hands up if you know the minister of public enterprises? This is the minister in charge of important and key state-owned companies like Eskom, South African Airways and Transnet. Does anybody know the minister of economic development? For the record, he oversees the expenditure of hundreds of billions of rand in infrastructure development.
One reality of leadership is that every organisation’s brand is linked to the brand of its leader(s). No leader has a right to choose to have a high or low profile. What is critical is that any and all executives must have the right profile for the job they do.
Another misnomer held by many leaders in business and public sector is the belief their brand is separate from that of the organisation. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Steve Jobs was Apple and Apple was Steve Jobs. You cannot mention Virgin outside the context of Richard Branson or Pick n Pay outside Raymond Ackerman, and the same can be said about the University of Free State and Professor Jonathan Jansen.
Leaders wishing or fantasising that they can separate their brands from the organisation are living in dreamland. Once you assume office, the office and you are one.
When public feels warmly about you, your office tends to benefit from such association. And when office does badly, in spite of how good a person you are in your individual capacity, you will become collateral damage.
A perfect example of this is Nazir Allie, the CEO of Sanral, the owners of the infamous e-tolls. I do not know Allie; he is very possibly a good human being at heart, but he leads a poisoned chalice and by association, his brand has taken a knock.
Even poor performing ministers during Nelson Mandela’s presidency ate from the tree of international goodwill that Madiba attracted because they were ministers in “Mandela’s South Africa”.
Any leader in the crudest of senses, serves an office. And whatever work that office does, that leader must be synonymous with it. You cannot hide behind the excuse that but “I don’t like attention”.
It is not attention, it is public affairs. As a leader, you have a responsibility towards your publics – shareholders (if you are a minister that is the electorate), customers and employees – and you cannot remain faceless and voiceless in the name of ‘low profile’.
Any leader must always be in the radar of three groups of people: shareholders, public and peers.
The shareholders get a lot of confidence when they see and hear you, including in times of trouble.
The public – and this can be customers – buy into leadership. A good sheriff does not hide behind a deputy, no matter how much he or she trusts the deputy.
And any leader is worth his or her salt when their peers are aware of them, talk about them and better still if they envy them. Your stock among your peers is proportionally pegged to you public profile.
Public affairs cannot be relegated to spin doctors and advisors, albeit all these are important as blind spot mirrors and voices of conscience.
To this effect, celebrity leaders should also be careful because when their profiles stumble for one reason or another, inevitably their organisations take a battering. The minute you try to be bigger than the organisation, you are putting the organisation in the line of danger.
This happens a lot of with church leaders. When church is no longer about substance but about the leader, the pastor, wait until the day the leader falls to human frailties and see how the church suffers.
Remember Jimmy Swaggart? The difference between Swaggart and say Bishop Barnabas Lekganyane of the Zion Christian Church is that the latter, although not keeping a low profile necessarily, does not try to be the church, he is just the leader of the church.
Public affairs demands of any leader to rise above their egos and stay below their vanity and work in accordance to the profile of the organisation.
The Kingmaker Rams Mabote is a PR coach, radio host, connector, businessman, lobbyist, propagandist, strategist and media trainer. Follow him on Twitter @RamsByTheHorns
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