8 Lessons for Leaders from Social Unrest in South Africa 

In Article, ASA Magazine, Leadership by admin

What can social unrest teach leaders in business? In July 2021, we experienced levels of destruction to property, and upheaval in society unseen in South Africa’s recent history. 

Looking beyond political agendas and intricate webs of deceit, we see how vulnerable communities were manipulated and used to vandalise, loot, and incite strategically planned chaos. As leaders in business, we should be asking ourselves, “how do we prevent our most vulnerable people (employees) from being manipulated?”

>> Read : Never Accept The Unacceptable

Value of an individual

The most vulnerable people in organisations are not the well-paid, cared-for C-suite Executives, Senior Managers or Managers. They are not even the supervisors or line staff that are managed and developed as part of the talent pipeline. Rather, they are those individuals who are nearly invisible in a company, people known by the tasks they complete rather than by the individual value they add. They make up the masses in number but lack the education, expertise, or skills to be treated as valuable employees. 

As a leader in business, you may not be one of the conspiring few who caused this eruption in our communities, but isn’t it time to question the role you and your organisation have in making your employees less vulnerable? Vulnerable to manipulation by outside forces like unions, competitors, media, political forces or even disgruntled family and friends. 

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Here are 8 lessons for leaders from the social unrest in South Africa that may contribute to how you help your people become more self-controlled and less susceptible to outside influences:

  1. Listen, really listen – it is not enough to ask how you are doing, what matters is how sincerely you listen. Employees are navigating some of the toughest challenges in recent history. They are balancing aspects of their lives that never needed much attention before. They are exhausted, stressed and navigating new and rapidly evolving ways of working. Resources they previously relied on, no longer exist. Unemployment is spiralling out of control and employed family members are carrying greater financial burdens. Listen to your employees to understand the growing challenges they are dealing with. Make an effort to support your employees. This does not need to strain your budgets. As creative thinkers, leaders can solve problems in unique ways. Use some of this creativity to help solve the common challenges experienced across groups of employees and make it easier for them to refocus their energy.  

  2. Work together to improve overall wellbeing – mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing matters. Inculcate a culture of wellbeing through the organisation. It is your responsibility to think about your employees as whole beings and contribute to their wellbeing.  

  3. Lift your employees as you rise in business – Business is not just about creating shareholder and owner wealth. Nor is it about creating wealth at the most senior levels of business. It is about treating your employees fairly, about remunerating effort and about creating opportunities for all employees to share in the fruits of the business. Promoting a sense of ownership for every employee is good for business.   

  4. Invest in teaching your employees how to think for themselves – Thinking skills should be nurtured and developed across all employees. This skill is taken for granted, whereas most individuals, whether in possession of a tertiary qualification or not, need to develop and master the skill of thinking for themselves. 

  5. Recognise the value of every employee – irrespective of role, education, background, or level in the business; appreciate and recognise the value that every single employee brings into the business. Communicate this and help each person see their contribution as valuable and necessary to the business. 

  6. Inculcate a culture of learning and development – education is a not a gift for the few but a treasure for the many. Create opportunities for knowledge sharing and learning and development for all. Prioritise self-management, self-leadership, and emotional intelligence learning journeys for every employee. Most organisations actively create learning and development pathways for leaders, future leaders and those lucky enough to be in the talent pipeline, but others falling outside of this do not have access to learning opportunities. These opportunities need not be through formal institutes or through formal programs but should form a part of every employee’s journey.  

  7. Lead from and instill good values – corporate values printed and pasted on walls are worthless unless these values are inculcated into every facet of the business. Employees should be trained and inspired to live the corporate values in all areas of their lives. Recent failures in business show a lack of values by leaders in business just as the recent unrest demonstrates a significant lack of values by the masterminds behind the plan. Inculcating values into the daily lives of all employees should be a priority for leaders.

  8. Wealth mattersthe gap between rich and poor needs to start closing. You may not be able to give your employees a massive pay increase, but you can help them care for and grow what they have. Wealth education is non-existent in the education system. As you grow in personal wealth, you engage and access resources, people, and companies to help you better care for your money. This helps you to grow your pot of wealth for yourself and for generations of family to follow. While most of your employees have never had someone teach them about wealth creation nor will ever be able to access the resources available to the wealthy. These employees need to be helped. Create opportunities to teach and share lessons in the value of money, in managing one’s money and in growing one’s money.

    These 8 lessons are a starting point from which all leaders could develop a plan for their employees. Rather than looking at the cost of implementing these lessons, consider the cost of doing nothing and then utilise your creativity to develop a plan within your budgetary means. If we are to change the narrative, we must hold ourselves accountable.

    Leaders in business have the power to positively influence the hearts and minds of their employees and unite in building a nation of South Africans who feel valued, seen and heard and who are less vulnerable to manipulation from outside influences pursuing their own selfish agendas.

    Education is a not a gift for the few but a treasure for the many. Create opportunities for knowledge sharing and learning and development for all.

    Usha Maharaj

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    This article was first published in the ASA Magazine, September 2021.


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    About the author:

    Usha Maharaj CA(SA) is a Speaker, Facilitator, and Brain-based Coach who thrives on helping young professionals and women shatter glass ceilings and win in all areas of their lives through her own experience in a high-performing corporate workplace. As a past director in a Big 4 audit firm and current non-executive director and female entrepreneur, Usha is your go-to-guide when you are ready to quicken the pace of your career growth and get back into the driver’s seat of your own life. She has been there; she knows the way and she actively shows the way. Usha will help you to step up and into the most confident version of yourself and discover your own success.

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