Local Government elections in this past week have provided many surprises – and lessons – for political parties, and voters alike.
Never before since the dawn of the country’s democracy in the early 90s has there been such uncertainty as to the outcome of the voting, particularly in some of the hotly contested metros.
Simply put, the ANC, which has enjoyed an unchallenged majority since coming into power, experienced a number of unpleasant surprises which have probably caused party bosses to sit up and take notice. Whether they have the wherewithal to effect the necessary changes to win back voters in time for the national elections in three years’ time remains to be seen.
There are, however, lessons that all political and business leaders would do well to take heed of and learn from. Here are three such very basic lessons that apply to political as well as business leaders alike.
Leadership Lesson One: Listen to those you lead
When a leader discovers they have lost the support of many of those they’re leading, it simply means that they haven’t been paying attention (listening) to those they are leading. The reason leaders stop listening is that they become arrogant and believe they are all knowing and unable to make mistakes. Arrogance in leaders is a terminal condition – it may take a while but it will eventually result in their demise as a leader. That’s because it blinds and deafens the leader so severely that s/he does not see or hear reality for what it is and fails to recognise key messages and trends that are emerging and/or being sent to them by their followers and other role players. They therefore fail to take appropriate action to address key issues.
Because arrogant leaders think they know better, they therefore conduct themselves based on what THEY think they know to be true or right and don’t realise that what they think or know to be true or right is not necessarily so at all. While political leaders lose voters, business leaders lose the support of their people in the form of lower productivity. When an employee loses confidence in your leadership, they simply stop working hard and do the bare minimum necessary. Business leaders will never know what they are losing out on when they have disengaged employees. The company’s performance figures will tell a story of non-performance but the true reason for the non-performance will remain a mystery.
Leadership Lesson Two: Respond to what your people tell you
It’s one thing to say you’re listening to what people tell you. It’s another thing to show them that you’re doing something about what they’ve said. Without taking action, you won’t demonstrate that you’ve really listened. It’s the old “actions speak louder than words” thing. When you fail to act on what your people tell you, you are telling them that you won’t listen to them because you know better.
Business leaders who fail to respond to what their customers tell them will soon find that they have a lot fewer customers. When they fail to respond to what their employees tell them, their employees leave.
Leadership Lesson Three: Treat your competitors with respect
The age of collaboration has arrived. As a result of the elections not delivering winners with more than 50% of the votes, certain areas will see political parties forced to enter into coalitions with competing parties. Political parties which have maliciously attacked their competitors in the interests of vote scoring will be faced with humiliating climb downs with regard to their attacks, when they are forced to approach opposition parties for coalitions.
When you treat your competitors with respect, you make it so much easier to build bridges where necessary. In the dawning of the age of collaboration, business competitors never know when they will be forced to enter into collaborative business activities with so-called sworn enemies. It’s therefore a lot smarter to maintain your dignity when dealing with competitors.
Leadership success in politics and business is not necessarily a difficult thing – when leaders do the basics, they find they succeed beyond what they expected!
Alan Hosking is the publisher of HR Future magazine, www.hrfuture.net, @HRFuturemag. He assists executives to develop new generation leadership skills, manage their age as an asset, and achieve self-mastery so that they can lead with greatness and agility in an increasingly disruptive world.