The power of visionary leadership

The primary task of every leader should be the creation of vision.

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The 10th of December 2015 saw the biggest political event of 2015 in South Africa. This is the day on which president Zuma made a decision to remove a well-respected Minister of Finance, (Nhlanhla Nene) and replaced him with a relatively unknown David van Rooyen. A decision which saw the markets reacting negatively due to falling investor confidence and the Rand's value plummeting to just below R16.

Most interesting, was the outrage from ordinary citizens and some political leaders. The drastic removal of Nene, who was known to be efficient and excellent in his job (even by Zuma's own admission) re-affirmed Zuma's perceived leadership style of being authoritarian and undemocratic, as he is known to not listen and take advice. The DA referred to his actions as reckless and irrational . Disgruntled citizens took to social media, labelling Zuma as an incompetent leader who puts his and his close allies' interests before those of his party and the country. They called for Zuma to step down as president. #Zumamustfall began to trend.

Four days later, Zuma succumbed to pressure by moving Van Rooyen out of the finance ministry and bringing back the former head of that ministry, Pravin Gordhan to re-assure investors, restore the markets, bring calm and undo the damage that he (Zuma) had done.

Although I did study Political Science in my undergraduate degree, I am neither a political scientist/analyst nor a journalist. Therefore, I am not interested in analysing the political aspect of Nene's fall and the ethical or moral impact of Zuma's decision.

As a leadership practitioner, what I am interested in is the leadership aspect of this matter, with specific reference to #Zumamustfall. The question is : now that Zuma has put Gordhan back in charge of the finance ministry and he (Gordhan) delivered a powerful and confident speech that saw the Rand regaining its strength and investors being reassured, will #Zumamustfall be forgotten? I believe not. The falling of Nene has done nothing but strengthen the anti-Zuma movement. In just three days after he was fired, a petition to sack Zuma as president got 100 000 signatures and marches were being planned. Several political journalists see this state of affairs as the beginning of the end of Zuma.

Throughout this debacle, the ANC leadership has remained quite on this matter.  The silence of Gwede Mantashe and Cyril Ramaphosa, in particular, was deafening. This silence is seen by others as a threat to the ANC, as its members are beginning to question their leadership and wonder if the ANC is still worthy of their support. Opposition parties are taking advantage of the situation by portraying the ANC as a useless party whose days as the ruling party are numbered.

The big question is: is the ANC at a risk of loosing power, as a consequence of Zuma's alleged incompetence? I believe not, because Zuma is an individual. When people vote a government into power, they vote for a party, and not for an individual.

Since 1994, the ANC has been kept into power by winning the majority of the SA vote, which is made up of people that were oppressed under the apartheid government. In 1994, when these oppressed masses got their first rights to vote, they had a choice to put any party into power. But it was the ANC that they chose to lead the country. Why the ANC? The answer is Visionary Leadership.

At the forefront of the ANC election campaign leading to the 1994 elections was Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. During the campaigning period, political leaders put their best feet forward to gain votes. They used various strategies to achieve this, but it was Mandela's message that stood out and caught the attention of voters. He differentiated his campaign by embarking on a Visionary strategy, which was based on genuine commitment and driven by ultimate passion and authenticity. He created a vision for South Africa. A vision of a democratic society, in which all South Africans of all races, religion and creed would live together in harmony. A vision of a South Africa in which all citizens would have equal rights and privileges. What  made it easy for Mandela to get quick follower buy-in and gain trust, was when he stated that this vision is an ideal for which he was prepared to die.

Mandela promised a better life for all South Africans. This visionary message was the essence of his campaign. For the majority of the voters, who did not have access to running water, electricity, proper sanitation, housing, health and education facilities; this was the magic word. A better life is what they were yearning for. Fast forward to 2015, some progress has been made to improve the lives of citizens. However, others (still in the majority) are yet to see a better life.  They live in hope that things will improve, eventually. Even two years after the death of Mandela, they are still clinging onto the vision that he created 21 years ago. The challenge is that, they are unable to separate Mandela from the ANC. For them, the ANC is the party that got them political freedom and that will get them a better life. It is the party that they feel they should remain loyal to, despite their unhappiness with Zuma. It is the party that Mandela belonged to and led. Their belief is that voting for any other party, particularly a party that is deemed to be white-dominated or previously white-led, will bring apartheid back and shatter their hopes of a better life that was envisioned by Mandela.

Contrary to popular belief, it is not only the poor majority that remain loyal to the ANC. Although some black middle class have either become apolitical or moved to opposition parties, a large number of them remain ANC members. They believe that the ANC is the party that made it possibly for them to live in upmarket surburbs, drive big cars, get good jobs and send their kids to expensive private schools. For this, their loyalty to the movement stand unshaken. There is simply no alternative party for them to support. This is not surprising, as Mandela sold his vision of a better life for all as the vision of the ANC. Given this belief, it is safe to say that the ANC will continue to govern the country for a very long time. The power that the ANC has in gaining the majority vote lies in the vision that Mandela created.

The key leadership lesson here , which I have dedicated a whole chapter in my book to and which I always emphasize in my leadership workshops with would-be and current leaders; is 'embrace visionary leadership'. The primary task of every leader should be the creation of vision.

Visionary leadership encompasses the abilities to deem the current practices as inadequate, to generate ideas for new strategies and to communicate possibilities in an inspiring way to others. If this is done properly, it incites long-term loyalty and trust in followers. Mandela, being a great leader that he was, did exactly that. He created a sustainable form of loyalty in ANC followers, who happen to be the majority of the South African voting population. Even if Zuma falls, another ANC leader will lead the country. Whether a new ANC leader will make South Africa rise again, is something nobody is sure of. One thing is for sure, though. The visionary leadership of Mandela has created strong member loyalty that has the power to keep the ANC in power for a while, unless a major revolution happens. That, right there, is the power of visionary leadership.

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