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Leadership Musical Chairs

By Carol Butcher

South Africa is experiencing a season of leadership musical chairs. We’ve recently seen many changes in leadership in entities such as KPMG South Africa, Eskom, and earlier this week, President Zuma re-shuffled his Cabinet for the second time in seven months, and the twelfth time in eight years. This magnitude of change is tantamount to constantly navigating white waters.

Changes in leadership in large professional firms, state owned enterprises and government always have ramifications in terms of reputation and how these entities are perceived by a wide range of stakeholders.

Removing all politics from the equation, and assessing the President’s role and respective CEO’s role one soon realises that politicians, leaders and CEOs in both the private and public sector would do well to embrace best practice in the talent management space.

One needs to accept that it is always senior leadership’s prerogative to change the management team. Sometimes leadership’s hand is forced by circumstances that impact negatively on an organisation, and at other times, the decision is strategic and may or may not include consultation. However, as rule of thumb, talent management gurus would always encourage consultation as buy-in eases implementation.

Burning questions should always include: “Is this change really necessary, has the best, most qualified person been appointed, and what will the impact be on the share price, the market, and in the case of Cabinet re-shuffles, the currency, Rating agency perceptions, relations with other political parties and the impact on the electorate?”

Sometimes change is inevitable and imperative. The challenge is that there is always the danger of making too many changes and changes too often. Change in leadership inevitably impacts on the organisational culture. A case in point is the SABC. South Africa has had three Ministers of Communication this year – the Board has also changed. One can only hope that the new Minister, partners with talent management experts and challenge management experts to build a stable SABC with a clear vision that everyone can buy into. The same can be said for leadership of the Energy portfolio and of course, Eskom.

Change is always disruptive – new brooms sweep clean and there is always a period of bedding-down and tweaks and changes to policy can slow-down service delivery. This begs the question, which is particularly pertinent for government Ministers: “How can one know whether a strategy is effective and whether a Minister is delivering if portfolios constantly chop and change?” Minister Hlengiwe Mkhize, Minister David Mahlobo and Minister Ayanda Dlodlo only served in their previous portfolios for a period of seven months. This is far too short a time-frame for any leader in government or the private sector to prove their worth and the value that they can add in terms of delivery.

Leaders in both the political and business arena would benefit from implementing the following talent management practices:

  • Always appoint the best talent with the requisite skills and experience
  • Have clear Key Performance Areas
  • Have a strong Performance Management systems in place with an annual performance review in place
  • Provide the necessary support to ensure high performance
  • Make leaders accountable for performance
  • Have a very clear Code of Ethics and culture of Transparency
  • Ensure that good governance practices are in place
  • Ensure that leaders provide the entity with a compelling vision that everyone can buy into


With these talent management practices in place, there would be far less churn in leadership in South Africa.

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Carol has nineteen years’ experience as a professional writer, editor and case study writer. Her writing experience includes a stint as the resident Case Study Writer at the Wits Business School.


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