With it becoming a case of “another week, another bunch of revelations” as the breadth and depth of the corruption of political and business leaders in South Africa becomes more evident, it is also becoming clear just how prepared certain people are to sell their souls for a pot of gold.
But in the midst of all the revelations, there is a deafening silence coming from two quarters.
Firstly, there is a deafening silence from the politicians and business leaders who have been, and are being, exposed. It’s interesting that, despite pretty damning evidence, there have been relatively few attempts on the part of alleged perpetrators to deny the allegations levelled at them. That could well mean that they have passed the point of actually caring about what the public thinks of them, so secure are they in the knowledge that they will not be held accountable for their actions.
It is a natural response from anyone accused of wrongdoing to protest their innocence or offer some form of explanation of their actions in an attempt to justify or defend what they’ve done. Where there have indeed been denials, they have not been very convincing. Generally speaking, when people are afraid that they will be held responsible for what they are alleged to have done, they will attempt to defend themselves or distance themselves from their alleged actions. If they consider the chances of their being held accountable fairly remote (which most of these people obviously do), they will not bother to provide explanations, denials or justifications.
That, of course, may well say something about their knowledge of our criminal justice system. They may just know something the general public doesn’t know and may consider themselves to be immune to any efforts by the justice system to bring them to book. If you were worried that action would be taken against you for what you’re alleged to have done, you would be quick to protest your innocence. But corrupt politicians and business people do not seem to feel the need to do and say anything to avoid legal action being taken against them.
Have we heard anything from the KMPG executives who left the company under a cloud? Have the McKinsey or SAP executives implicated in alleged corrupt activities offered any explanations? And what about the “too many to name” politicians implicated in corruption – have we heard much from them?
The collective silence of these people says a lot …
But apart from that, there is the deafening silence that is coming from the so-called “good guys” in the country. I use the term “guys” in a gender-neutral way, referring both to men and women.
Apart from the occasional and very welcome voices in the wilderness, like those of Magda Wierzycka (Chief Executive Officer of Sygnia), and Bonang Mohale, now CEO of Business Leadership South Africa, we have yet to see any business leaders of substance speak out or do anything that will help to effect change for the better in the country.
Why is that?
Is it that they:
1. Don’t care what happens to the country, so long as they deliver value for their shareholders and get their performance bonuses (self-interest to the point of being unpatriotic)?
2. Don’t care because they have the means to emigrate if things get much worse (again self-interest to the point of being unpatriotic)?
3. Are afraid of breaking ranks with other business leaders they respect who are remaining silent (fear of peer pressure from the old boys club)?
4. Lack the courage to speak up because it may invite bad PR, loss of contracts or worse (cowardice)?
5. Possibly have a few skeletons in their own corporate cupboard which they do not wish to have exposed (guilty conscience)?
It may be none of the above, some of the above, all of the above or a number of completely different reasons ...
The days of the “individual hero” type leader are over. We’ve entered the era of collaborative leadership – which means that, as we work together, none of us is as smart as all of us. And none of us is as strong as all of us. Think about what the “good guys” could achieve if we stood together, took collective action, not in a destructive way but in a constructive way, to change things for the better.
I think that many “good guys” are silent simply because they haven’t seen or found a movement or cause that is credible enough to have resonated sufficiently with them for them to stand up and be counted.
If you consider yourself to be a “good guy” – a man or women working and living in an ethical way, doing things with the best interests of all South Africans in mind, would you join a cause to take a stand against the corrupt and the corruption, to work with hundreds (or thousands) of other “good guys” to rebuild this country so that our society and our economy become more equal, more fair, more inclusive, more prosperous?
I’m not talking about an old-school approach of taking away from those who already have to give to those who don’t have. That’s “closed-mind thinking” that just turns more people into “have nots” and it’s not in anybody’s interests to have more “have nots”. What we need to do is engage in innovative “growth-mind thinking” that helps to turn more people into “haves” by helping to create more opportunity, more wealth and more value which benefits more and more people. The key word is “create”. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “create” as: to bring into existence, to produce or bring about by a course of action or behaviour, to produce through imaginative skill.
That’s what South Africa needs.
And the million dollar question is … Would you be prepared to be part of such a cause? Would you be prepared to join with other like-minded “good guys” to collaborate with one another in the interests of rebuilding the country?
Alan Hosking is the publisher of HR Future magazine, @HRFuturemag, and he assists leaders to lead with purpose, compassion and self-mastery.