(Written 2 October 2012)

Dear All,

With the ANC’s 2012 leadership race in full swing we expect our newspapers to be crammed with the vicissitudes of political intrigue over the next three months, the big question being, will the rapacious Jacob Zuma be returned to office? Somehow one gets the feeling that the accredited souls of the ANC will not have what it takes to make the desperately needed change… which leads to the next question, why not? Why would the rank and file of that organisation return this man to office when it is as plain as a pikestaff that he is a failed president.

Zuma promised to fight corruption

On Zuma’s watch all of South Africa’s key social indicators have turned to alarms. He has, on occasion, pronounced on action to be taken to arrest the scourge that is corruption and yet, at absolutely every level of government, corruption has boomed. Some years ago Zuma declared his government ready to get teachers to spend time-on-task, but for the majority of learners education has ‘tanked’. Instead of the promised “better life for all”, we have a disintegrating public health service, labour relations at a dangerous low, abysmal municipal service delivery that exacerbates the daily struggle and we have a level of social protest and violence reminiscent of the bad old days of Apartheid, all coupled with inept, gung-ho policing

The Constitution is under threat and the National Prosecuting Authority is moribund while the ANC’s parliamentary priority appears to be its bid to hide that party’s corruption behind a Protection of Information Act. The hugely important problems of land restitution and nationalisation are left unattended expect for the occasionally mumbled question in speeches, “How do we fix these things?”… this open question being Zuma’s stock reply to every complex problem.

Astonishing amounts of taxpayer’s money have been squandered on junkets for government officials while the dysfunctional Public Works Department is being plundered for personal gain by anyone with political clout, mainly by the president himself. The list goes on and in this litany of travesties we look to the president’s example – which embodies a great deal of what has gone wrong in the country – and we recognise that in every crisis the country has had to face of late, the president has failed to inspire the struggling nation.

And despite the obvious erosion of this country’s social fabric the smiling, dancing, wooing president has convinced himself that he has not failed because, “the ANC does not have a single person as its leader, the ANC has collective leadership”. Zuma is able to reconcile his dismal performance by holding out that in the ANC the buck does not stop anywhere. For ANC members there is privilege and reward, never individual accountability.

But is there such a thing as ‘collective leadership’?

An example of research into Leadership

Over the last 30 or so years a great deal has been published in business and organisational literature about management vs. leadership. Researchers have considered whether these are just two sides of the same organisational coin, they have tried to distinguish the actions of management from the actions of leadership. They have even wondered whether managers are a different breed from leaders. My experience is that these two aspects of organisation are closely linked but are quite different in one key respect; management is impersonal while leadership is intensely personal. Management is structured, mechanistic, and to a large extent, faceless. The responsibilities of management can certainly be shared and so the idea of an amorphous “collective management” does have validity. But leadership has a character and a style; it is idiosyncratic. The character of an organisation is the character of its leader and so the idea of ‘collective leadership’ is simply nonsense.

The strength of management in an organisation is vested in its infrastructure, it is a long-term asset, while its leadership is vested in the individual at the head, a short-term thing. That is why it is possible for once well-led and well-managed organisations to continue operations for limited periods with poor leadership. Which is also why, when leadership change takes place, good organisations can make their way safely through periods of transition, but no organisation can accommodate for a sustained period, a lack of leadership, or the burden of poor leadership.

As an aside, it is worth noting that successful organisations have at their head an individual who is able to play the roles of both a manager and a leader as appropriate. Such individuals will show an inclination to be one rather than the other, but those heads that bring about prosperity always have a clear sense of when they are managing and when they need to be leading.

Which brings us back to the blight that has struck the ANC in 2012: In its 100th year it finds itself with neither leadership nor management; and no apparent way to correct itself. The ANC’s loss of direction has its roots in the mid-1990s when the leadership of Mandela was replaced by the bureaucracy of Mbeki. And this downhill slide was underscored when the bureaucratic style was replaced with the self-serving but otherwise vacuous leadership of Jacob Zuma.

It is a sorry state of affairs for an organisation that could boast a wealth of management and leadership a mere 20 years ago, but which is now mostly gone. Sadly, for the Beloved Country and for the ANC, Jacob Zuma appears to be as good as it gets. Eish!