Mentors Can Open New Doors For Young Leaders

Africa’s leadership vacuum must be addressed if talented business leaders are to emerge in the future.

Annelize van Rensburg writes that Africa is on the ascendence, a continent that is being reassessed by international investors as a worthy place of investment.  This success is, however, bringing into focus Africa’s challenge of a lack of business leadership skills, which is characterised by inexperienced managers, poor succession planning and a need to increased levels of corporate governance across all spectrums of business endeavour.

Read full article in the HR Future Magazine

Does Executive Coaching Risk Going From Success To Excess?

Talking business substance abuse in wider society and solution abuse in business have at least one thing in common — the victim’s reluctance to admit there is a problem. It is difficult to determine when use becomes abuse and success leads to excess, but there are signs that executive coaching may soon approach this slippery slope. The progression is readily understood.

Initially, a new solution achieves remarkable results. Great highs are experienced. Business leaders reach for the new tool more and more. Suddenly, it is being used in ways that were never envisaged. The solution is seen as a cure-all, until disappointment sets in. Executive coaching is now at the proliferation stage, where it is used in more and more business situations. A warning about the potential for abuse is therefore timely. Let’s be clear. Executive coaching is a vital element of any comprehensive talent solution. It has an increasingly important role in succession planning.

Its availability also helps to attract, engage and retain key talent. A 2010 survey by a United Kingdom-based human capital consultancy found 97% of organisations believe executive coaching impacts positively on business performance. Research by the global DBM Consultancy and the Human Capital Institute revealed that 78% of HR, training and organisational development professionals rate executive training good or excellent. A global study of 2 100 coaching clients showed strong demand among potential clients as coaching is believed to drive improved self-confidence and self-esteem (a core motivator for 40,9% of clients) and is perceived to improve work and life balance (35,5%) and career opportunities (27,6%). The same study found that 82,7% of client organisations were very satisfied with their coaching experience. So, acceptance and credibility are high among both companies and potential beneficiaries. However, dig deeper and worrying trends emerge. The 2010 UK survey found a growing number of line managers act as coaches — although it is not clear what extraneous perspectives and insights they can provide. As executive stress rises coaches work to increase an executive’s sense of calm, a development that threatens to blur the line between coaching and psychotherapy. Published research on coaching in South Africa is not readily available, but personal experience in various industries indicates similar diffusion. Coaching is both used and abused. Three abuse scenarios stand out: fixing the misfit: here the coach is asked to fix a senior manager who is out of his or her depth. The appointment was flawed. The individual should be replaced and new talent brought in. Instead, coaching is attempted, with little prospect the misfit will measure up; passing the buck: a bad apple (or apples) threatens to impede progress on strategy or important projects. However, the CEO or board prefers not to replace problem children and uses coaching to pass the buck.

The coach is supposed to rescue a situation that should never have been allowed to fester; and next generation cloning: The coach is supposed to ensure a neat comfort fit is tailored for today’s CEO. Up-and-coming achievers are not a perfect replica of the current) boss. The incumbent leader wants subordinates who are more like him. The special attributes of promising performers one tier down are not encouraged. Conformity with the current norm is expected. In this instance, the CEO who prescribes coaching for a key subordinate probably needs coaching more than the intended coachee. All scenarios betray deep misunderstandings of executive coaching’s role. Prospective coachees should already be good performers. Coaching can turn them into great ones. Achievers become leaders. Successful interventions result in self-discovery and self-enablement by the coachee, benefiting both the individual and the organisation. Unfortunately, there is a growing perception that coaching is a rather ill-defined executive perk to be doled out when a candidate reaches a specific rung on the executive ladder. As a result, there is little effort to establish objectives and accurately measure progress, individual by individual. Often, the coach’s first task is to suggest benchmarks linked to specific behaviours, enabling improved business performance. Input here may reveal that solution abuse is contemplated.

The client organisation may see coaching as a quick fix for poor decision-making or as a way of evading responsibility. A seasoned coaching professional can sometimes remedy this situation by explaining the true role of coaching and what it can and can’t achieve. Coaching can then be deployed to groom potential high-flying employees, helping good performers to achieve great results while addressing derailing behaviours.

Simo Lushaba is chairperson of Talent Africa, a provider of integrated talent solutions, and heads it executive coaching division. Auguste Coetzer is Talent Africa founder, director and shareholder. 




Leadership is often the underlying goal when boards of directors and senior corporate executives embark on strategy formulation. Unfortunately, followership’ is often preferred in practice — a worrying trait as Africa tries to shake off its status as the continent that’s perennially at the back of the queue. There are numerous reasons for the contradiction, but two common factors are normally apparent.

copycatsThe first is the urgent need for answers; the second is the habit of dependence. Directors and CEOs are under pressure to produce results, which is why they call in leadership and strategy consultants in the first place. The subconscious desire is for a quick-fix. Off-the-peg solutions can then seem irresistible, while the consultant’s role may be seen solely as that of a facilitator of ‘best practice’ from elsewhere. In fact, a more fundamental assessment is necessary if the uniqueness of an organisation’s situation is to be understood properly. Leaders can focus so strongly on answers they fail to properly understand the questions. Yet a thorough understanding of problems invariably leads to new appreciation of leadership opportunities. However, it requires discipline to spend time ‘within the problem’ thinking through the possibilities.

Thinking is good, but a leader’s starting point is listening. Again, it is necessary to be thorough about it by listening to all stakeholders. Turn a stakeholder complaint or concern around, and a possible solution is invariably revealed. Specific cases might compromise client confidentiality, but numerous general examples demonstrate the point that challenges can work to our advantage. Industrialisation occurred first in the West. Therefore, Africa has no ‘first-mover advantage’. We have to exploit our ‘last-mover advantage’ instead. One of our continent’s big problems is lack of infrastructure (one result of coming last), but even this can be turned to advantage. Most countries in Africa don’t have to worry about amortising investments in old smokestack industries.

Without this baggage, African business can focus instead on new, ‘green’ industries. Leaders can focus so strongly on answers they fail to properly understand the questions. Yet a thorough understanding of problems invariably leads to new appreciation of leadership opportunities.

Sometimes we make a start, but fail to follow through. For instance, the windup radio is an Anglo-African development that was commercialised in South Africa. Other ideas came through like windup cell phone power generators and windup torches, but you can’t help thinking that if this breakthrough had been pioneered by the Asian Tigers or the USA a substantial windup industry would today be in place. Other opportunities exist. Our continent is potentially the world’s biggest cell phone market, thanks to a combination of long distances and almost non-existent telephone line networks. Our need for affordable, reliable communication should turn us into the drivers of cell phone industry innovation, but the tendency is to wait for 3G and 4G solutions to be developed in Europe, America and Asia.

This brings us to the second impediment to real leadership — the habit of dependence. We are well aware of the scourge of ‘dumping’ in a trade sense, but fail to realise that intellectual dumping also happens. Some of our teachers regard outcomes-based education as an example. We decided to cut and paste an educational prescription from international sources when we might have developed initiatives suited to our own circumstances if we had had the discipline to ‘stay in the problem’ and define our own solutions. It is important to learn from the First World. But to realise our last-mover advantage, we have to learn from its mistakes… and then do something else. We should also have the confidence to pursue our own best interests. Leaders know where profit and growth lie and are not afraid to head in that direction. A current example involves our membership of the Brics ‘club’ of emerging economic powers. The Brics forum can become a talking-shop or can be commercialised to our advantage.

Ways of achieving this goal become evident simply by applying the mantra ‘turn the problem into the opportunity’. South Africa suffers from geographic isolation. We sit at the tip of Africa rather than its centre. We’re at the end of the line; being the hub would suit us better. Our hub objective might be realised by seeking a Brics role as a ship-building centre and seaborne freight services provider on the Brazil-SA-India-China trade route. As shipping services provider to the Brics we would become central to the new economic power bloc. To achieve the desired differentiation we have to overturn past norms. Leadership like this requires courage as you deliberately set the country (or organisation) apart. Dramatic achievement of leadership status is rarely achieved and, admittedly, it’s safer not to stand out.

Perhaps we crave acceptance rather than leadership. There are historical reasons for this. Many of those reasons — generations of exploitation and colonisation — also applied in the East. That did not inhibit the emergence of the Asian Tigers. They were not content to remain copycats. They sought future advantage from the disadvantages they suffered in the past. If we are so keen to learn from overseas, let’s learn that lesson as well.

Dr Simo Lushaba is chairman of Talent Africa, a leading provider of integrated talent solutions and leadership development.


Learning To Be A Leader May Require The Right Coach

Dr Simo Lushaba writes that the overall key to business success depends on just how well a CEO interacts, inspires and builds company management’s belief in the ability of its leader.

Read the full article here Business_Day_Learning_to_be_a__leader_may_require_the_right_coach_1Sep.pdf