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Creating leadership magic : An interview with Brand Pretorius

Retired former Chief Executive of McCarthy Limited, Brand Pretorius has made it his mission in life to try to improve the quality of leadership in South Africa based on the lessons he has learnt.

“A good leader is a person who has the ability to give direction and the courage to go first. A good leader not only inspires confidence and trust, but has the ability to earn confidence and trust and respect and even inspiration. Good leaders provide direction and inspiration. They enable people to do their best. They have the ability to focus energy and effort and they bring about change,” Brand Pretorius explains.

The ‘how to’ is the difficult part: “One has to earn the privilege to inspire and influence. You can only do this through your example and your results. One has to set an example 24/7 in all dimensions of your life. Results are your ability to execute, your ability to get the job done.”

Good leaders get people to the point where they volunteer their intelligence, energy, contribution and commitment: “They do not get to that point by using by using their positional power because that is domination, not leadership. They get to that point through the sheer force of their example and their competence and their ability to get the job done.”

Pretorius is a staunch advocate of servant leadership: “People respond better to love than to fear. An effective leader not only engages the mind, but the heart. One can only engage at the rational and the emotional level provided you care and are prepared to serve. If you care, and are prepared to serve, you take your relationship with your people to a different level. All of a sudden people become more engaged, more committed, more inspired and more enthusiastic and then they deliver great results. If you want to create leadership magic, and it is not easy, you have to touch the heart before you can ask for a hand. You need to set the right example, and you do it by providing quality advice and guidance and giving direction, but also, by showing interest, coaching and caring.”

To his mind, leadership is both an art and a science; it is a multi-dimensional and daunting assignment: “If you want to ensure a high-level of engagement, create a sense of belonging, optimise commitment, then you have to accept the reality that to lead is also to serve. Great leaders are servants in the first instance. However, they do not only serve, they deliver results.”

Leaders need to deploy both the hard and the soft aspects to mobilise intelligence and energy: “The servant-part ensures a high-level of commitment, a much better quality of relationship; this is why servant leadership represents offers supplementary benefits. Because the leader cares about his or her people, people start caring about their colleagues, and their customers.”

Pretorius says leadership in South Africa currently is somewhat lacking: “I say it with sadness, we have very few inspirational role models. Many of the so-called leaders, and I do not want to even use the term leaders, are self-serving; they are not servant leaders. They tend to be egotistical, self-centred and autocratic. Many think leadership is about power and authority and self-importance and self-enrichment. Some do not behave with integrity. They do not inspire trust and confidence. They are not trustworthy. One cannot describe them as people of integrity. Integrity is the crucial currency of leadership. If there is no integrity, there is no trust. Trust is a foundational value of leadership.

Trustworthiness is a prerequisite for effective, sustainable leadership and that is why we end up in a situation from a political perspective and also in some of the businesses in South Africa where there is no hope, no direction, and no trust. There is no achievement culture. People find no meaning in their lives and work and it is like a life sentence that they have to endure.

I will not sacrifice my credibility by saying we have inspirational, effective servant-leaders in politics – perhaps we have a few, but they are exceptions rather than the rule. Even in the tough world of business there is a leadership deficit as evidenced by the results of employee engagement surveys or employee satisfaction surveys. We are not at the top of the list.”

Pretorius has learnt many valuable lessons about leadership and continues to learn. “The first lesson I learnt is that leadership is not a right, it is a responsibility. The honour and the privilege to lead, needs to be earned. A second lesson I have learnt is that leadership has nothing to do with power and position and authority; it has everything to do with influence. Good leaders are good influencers. There is no short cut. You have to earn influence. You cannot demand it.

Thirdly, if you cannot lead yourself then do not even get out of the starting blocks when it comes to leading others. There is a difference between leading people and managing people. You can plan their activities and coordinate them and organise them and control them and their behaviour will be very regimented and disciplined, but they will not be inspired. If you want to create leadership magic, people need to be motivated and inspired.

Lastly, you cannot lead by emulating someone else. You cannot lead on autopilot. You need to develop your own authentic leadership philosophy, or approach. In my case, I became a student of servant leadership. You cannot fake it; it has to come from your heart. You cannot be a tough boss, ruling by fear, and then you go to a conference, return to work and start hugging and kissing everyone. There needs to be alignment between your personality, principles and values and how you lead, or you will not have any credibility,” Pretorius concludes.

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