Passivity among followers encourages lack of accountability in leaders, says Reuel Khoza
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Oudtshoorn. 11 April 2012. 06h45.
Reuel Khoza say passivity among followers encourages lack of accountability in leaders
The following are edited extracts from Dr Reuel Khoza’s book, Attuned Leadership:
Leadership & followership accountability
Loko murhangeni a voyana, xa valandzeri i ku n’wi ololoxa – Shangana saying (“If the leader is not honest it behoves followers to beat him into line.”)
How do you tell the difference between leadership and misleadership? The answer is not straightforward. Perhaps misleadership could be merely mistaken leadership, or failed leadership. It may be unfair to tag someone as a bad leader when things go wrong and followers lose faith. The word “leader” can be treacherously ambiguous; which is why I have insisted that it should apply only to ethical, wholesome leadership.
One of the first steps towards this end is to realise that each of us is accountable for the behaviour of our institutions. Leadership and followership are answerable at every level for the way that their organisations do things.
There are many ways in which a society can hold its leaders accountable, from state checks and balances to business shareholder meetings and media exposures of wrongdoing. My goal is to position accountability within the philosophy of Ubuntu rather than delineate techniques of accountability as such. Tyrants and fraudsters always seek to strip away institutional checks to avoid answering to anyone for anything.
Our era is moving from logos (rationality) to holos (holism). This is an epochal change of consciousness in which we stop just talking about living sustainably and actually change our habits to make it so.
The idea of holism preached by JC Smuts has become a philosophical beacon attracting increasing attention from leaders of all kinds. He himself never consistently practisedholism in his role as national leader, as he excluded blacks from political participation. Like a seed cast in the wilderness, holism took root and slowly gained ground. It grew in the consciousness of economists, social scientists, philosophers and finally business and political writers.
An integrated picture – the big picture – may be difficult to attain; but this in essence is what leadership has to visualise. Indeed, it may only be the leadership that sets out deliberately to imagine what the whole picture looks like in order to project this image to the followership.
We generally recognise ethical leadership when we see it, characterised as it is by wholesome attitudes and positive actions. It is through interaction between the followership and the leadership that the true character of the latter becomes apparent.
The well-motivated leader who makes mistakes may learn from them and bounce back if the followers allow a second chance. In misleadership, bad motivation – such as racism or greed – is premeditated and deliberate. The people are seldom consulted about the direction things are taking; if they are, the results of plebiscites are often falsified. There will be those among the followership who are guilty of what I shall call mis-followership, or willing connivance with misleadership. The more the bad succeeds in its goals, the worse the behaviour of both the leader and the followers may become.
Of course, there are shades in-between the good and the bad, but where a leader is both self-aware and attuned to community needs, the emphasis falls on the good. In time, though, the people who wield power do disclose themselves to us. Through our finely tuned instinct for right and wrong – which I firmly believe is the moral compass of individuals and communities alike – we do discern the inner character of the person in charge. Lies and double-talk, professing this and doing that, egotism and dismissiveness, favouritism, fanaticism and fear-mongering are all characteristic of misleadership. We are all human after all, and can read the signs.
Being attuned to oneself and to the expectations of others, on the basis of reason and compassion, puts leadership on the path towards the common good. The leader’s sense of efficacy identifies him or her with the destiny of the followers, not just their short-term selfish wishes but their long-term common good. The leader is an exponent of public virtue.
Without such inner and outer resonance a power-holder may ignore the common good and act without scruple. Even though it may appear that he aims to satisfy the expectations of followers, the relationship is a corrupt one. Hatred feeds off hatred, ignorance off ignorance, and greed off greed. Without ethics, leadership is lost.
A certain degree of concealed calculation may accompany the noblest leadership. We talk about Machiavellianism as the employment of cunning and duplicity in statecraft or in general conduct, and these are obviously negative qualities, evidence of misleadership. But employing guile can be positive. Even Mandela – the finest exponent of attuned leadership in our times – occasionally took followers by surprise with an astute move. The same was true of Gandhi, who perpetually outflanked religious and nationalist fanatics by paying homage to those they hated. Both men played the game adroitly to attain larger goals.
Leadership is a dynamic and ever-changing process – a “dance” with followership. How leaders are held accountable in this fast-paced process is a complex question. Leaders want freedom of action. They do not want to be pulled down by undue caution or rigid procedures. Yet they must be embedded in reciprocal relationships and duties or their leadership will be hollow.
Passivity among followers encourages lack of accountability in leaders. Attuned leaders who truly care, share and empathise with the followers will naturally hold themselves accountable and actively seek dialogue and engagement. But where leadership is less reflective and moral than it needs to be to serve the common good, institutional forms of accountability are absolutely necessary to discipline the leadership. Even responsive leaders will benefit from – indeed, welcome – these institutional forms.
A media storm has raged around management misconduct, obscene bonuses for executives, and rip-off scandals. Faith in corporate governance has been wounded by recent events and disclosures, but to heal trust is going to take more than tinkering with accounting standards. The situation calls for ethical turnaround specialists. The issues that must concern the caring corporation are empowerment, dignity, belonging, security, and at the basic level, the need for a decent standard of living, nutrition, housing and health and education. Sustainability gains no traction where stakeholders are scratching for an existence or feel they have no investment in the creation of future wealth.
South Africans are especially sensitive to what they perceive as injustices in the market economy and corporate life generally. In the history of racial exploitation in this country, private enterprise went along with the policies of successive governments from British colonial times down to apartheid. No black person can feel that the majority of companies – even today, approaching two decades of democracy – are truly open to black ownership, control, and promotions through the ranks. We still confront a caste system.
Reshaping the racial mindset which rewarded whites first and foremost with jobs and status, Coloureds and Asians next, and Africans at the bottom has been the chief mission of my life. Culturally and structurally, white hierarchies have prevented the vast majority of blacks from participating fully in the economic life of the country.
Leaders of the world, the continents and local regions need to grasp the simple truth that the whole of humankind stands to gain or lose by the successes or failures of business. Not surprisingly, in developing countries we wish to call companies to account for practices that unfairly promote exclusion of the local population. Stakeholder capitalism is an inclusive philosophy of business which offers to spread benefits to the community beyond the corporate compound.
In the wake of the world recession of 2008-9, questions of corporate accountability topped the agenda of politicians, shareholder activists and media alike. What the experience proved was that the fortunes of all of humankind are bound together. This is a potent reason for insisting on ethical, responsible and accountable business practices.
The conventional view of corporate accountability – with which I do not disagree – is that systems should be put in place to ensure an effective, efficient and transparent system of financial risk management and internal control. Dysfunctional behaviour has to be curbed. Yet this conventional view falls short of the goal of sustainability. Sustainability comes down to stewardship, or responsible caretaking on behalf of us all.
Corporate governance is essentially about a number of players, a minimum of three: the shareholders, the board and the executive, all of whom must perforce work together in harmony, following due process. As a former chairman I am appalled at the way that a precious national asset had been allowed by government to be mismanaged and fall into disorder. My understanding of stewardship is that you receive something to look after and at the very least you return it to the owner in as good a condition – preferably a much better condition – than it was in originally.
Leadership should set the example of stewardship, and in doing so, imbue the entire organisation with the ethic of safeguarding what is valuable. One of the features of stewardship theory is that it imposes a duty of care on everyone in an organisation, from top to bottom, without distinction. Critics say that this is a drawback: if everyone is responsible, no-one is responsible. That cannot be the case: responsibility ascends the ladder and stops at the top.
In traditional African village society there was no literal equivalent of the medieval steward. Some chiefs relied on a senior advisor or prime councillor to report on affairs and make proclamations. Truth-telling to the chief was the job of the royal vituperator. This interesting personality was not the chief’s agent in the sense of a modern independent director but could certainly bear the bad news of losses and plunder when they occurred. The connection with modern agency is there, and it suggests that there are ways to bridge cultural gaps between Western and other modes of governance to achieve a co-operative spirit.
Governance should be seen as a system of monitoring and guidance, both to curb misleadership and to open up possibilities for creative leadership. Leaders cannot have total discretion to do as they like at the helms of their organisations because in the first place they must respect the human rights and dignity of those under them.
To be an attuned leader in this setting requires reflection, research, communication and behavioural adjustments, all predicated upon what stakeholders expect. The leader is not their servant but at their service, bringing his own capacities and vision to the relationship.
There will be discordant voices in the mix but at the same time a leadership that inspires belief in outcomes that are beneficial to most stakeholders can gain and hold the trust of most, if not all. Attuned leadership, it must be recalled, is not a top-down process but is embedded within the collective.
What people want to hear is not rationalisation but the genuine reasons for embarking on a course of action, and they want to hear the counter-arguments mounted by those who know what they are talking about. Ethical deliberation is a framework for reflective behaviour, designed to force actors in any sphere of practical affairs to give reasons for their intended actions, and to listen to the reasons of others. In other words, ethical deliberation is a way of holding decision makers accountable as moral agents.
Three basic conditions for deliberation must be met for it to be legitimate. Firstly, the organisation must communicate the important and relevant information to stakeholders (proactive transparency); secondly, there has to be multi-faceted dialogue in bodies established for the purpose (routines of engagement); and thirdly, the leadership must be visibly dedicated to applying the principles of good governance without fear or favour (rigorous implementation). To put it simply, an organisation must declare what it is doing, listen to suggestions and criticism, and act reasonably and ethically in response.
Clear-cut implementation of a course of action that has been debated and decided is not an option but a requirement of good governance. It comes down to keeping your promises, and only by doing this can you effectively hold the support of communities over time.
To sum up, applying ethical deliberation is a major step towards real accountability. Organisations do not need to accept African communalism to embrace transparency, engagement and implementation as moral commitments. The attuned leader will do so naturally and as a matter of course because deliberation is innate to the spirit of resonance.
Extracts used with permission from Penguin SA, from Reuel J Khoza – Attuned Leadership: African Humanism as Compass (Penguin SA, 2011)
Published by Politicsweb.