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The power of purpose: leadership insights from some of SA’s top business minds

The power of purpose:  leadership insights from some of SA’s top business minds
10-11-23 / Lindi Monyae

The power of purpose: leadership insights from some of SA’s top business minds

In the dynamic landscape of modern business, purposeful leadership has emerged as a cornerstone for organisational success and sustainability.

Recent research by EY revealed that companies driven by a sense of purpose are more innovative and resilient, demonstrating enhanced employee engagement and customer loyalty. Purpose acts as a guiding star, illuminating the path through complex, volatile, and ambiguous environments, ensuring that every stride taken aligns with the organisation’s core values and objectives.

It underlined the message of an earlier landmark Harvard Business Review study which found that purposeful leadership fosters an environment where employees feel valued, leading to increased job satisfaction, enhanced morale, and higher productivity. Leaders who articulate and embody a clear purpose inspire teams, driving innovation and performance. So much so, in fact, that 9 out of 10 employees surveyed said they were willing to trade a percentage of their lifetime earnings for greater meaning at work.

But how relevant are these insights to South Africa? Do they apply to the unique challenges and opportunities facing us here? Several of the country’s most inspirational and impactful business leaders gathered recently for the Liberty Leading Edge Symposium to explore these questions. The results were both instructive and encouraging.

The expertly curated line up of speakers and panellists ranged from energetic entrepreneurs helping solve some of our country’s most pressing problems to far-sighted thought leaders. In exploring this year’s theme, “Leading with Purpose”, they quickly drilled down beyond buzzwords to solid, actionable insights.

And “action” is certainly a word that comes to mind when you listen to Miles Kubheka. This serial entrepreneur rose to prominence when he boldly founded Vuyo’s, a restaurant with the same name and branding as a fictional restaurant portrayed in a famous TV ad campaign. His subsequent start-ups are creating opportunities for budding township chefs and providing food and other daily staples to consumers in flexible, affordable package sizes.

Miles is driven by the desire to help create companies that matter in the world, the very essence of purpose. And to achieve this he is a firm believer that entrepreneurial mind-sets can be fostered within an organisation. He encourages companies to build a culture that supports employees to become “intrepreneurs”, people who behave like an entrepreneur whilst being employed.

Bringing out the best in employees was also a key message from Lincoln Mali. An experienced banker with over 20 years in the industry, he is now the CEO of Lesaka Technologies, a leading provider of secure and affordable transaction channels between formal business and under-banked individuals.

Lincoln believes successful leaders recognise and embrace the fact that their customers and employees are first and foremost human beings with frailties and fears, with hopes and dreams. They treat them as people, not as unfeeling robots, or a means to an end. To do this you can’t be what he calls a hippo, a leader with tiny ears and a huge mouth. You need to truly listen to your staff and customers. This approach isn’t a tick box exercise, it requires genuine empathy and love.

Marketer, author and entrepreneur, GG Alcock, underlined how vitally important it is for leaders to look beyond the “doom and gloom” narratives dominating the headlines. In “excavating this silence”, he says, we gain an insight into the true potential of vibrant, often invisible aspects our economy. These multi-billion-rand opportunities range from a brisk market in backroom rentals, to a thriving trade in “chicken dust”, to house-proud homeowners decking out their homes in artistic ceilings and Louis Vuitton-patterned chrome roof gutters.

Tapping into this wellspring, GG argues, requires business leaders to “speak the language” of these customers, something that goes beyond mere linguistics. It requires taking the time to listen to, understand and deeply respect the hopes and aspirations of this vast market.

Writer, economist and entrepreneur Trudi Makhaya brought a dose of reality to the discussion. She noted that despite numerous business success stories, South Africa’s economy had significantly under-performed compared to the phenomenal growth of similarly sized countries like South Korea and Malaysia.

The good news is that Trudi believes there are concrete steps our political and business leaders can take to help the county regain its “mojo” and reach its true economic potential. Key to this will be unlocking the country’s human capital and putting significantly more people to work. This will require encouraging local production and beneficiation, accelerated and more meaningful involvement of the business sector in infrastructure development, and fully seizing the myriad opportunities offered by the green transition.

Former top banker and innovation thought-leader, Colin Iles, rounded off the speaker list with an exciting glimpse into the future of business leadership in a world of exponential growth in technologies like robotics, gene editing and artificial intelligence.

In such an environment, purpose is closely tied to problem solving, with an emphasis on doing this at scale. This, says Colin, requires leaders who have the curiosity and courage to embrace novel ideas and technologies, those with a willingness to fail on the path to success. To achieve this, these leaders will need to identify and champion employees with a similar mindset.

Those who attended the event left with a deep appreciation for the role we as individuals can play, how the choices we make either strengthen or weaken the organisations and society of which we are a part. As leaders, it’s up to us to face our problems – personal, organisational, and societal – and to own the solutions.

The woes of our economy and our growing digital reality influence our context and pace of life. These economic facts and realities often feel like constraining impacts on our business plans and lives, yet there are opportunities and gains to be made.

There is value to be harnessed from what looks like downward trends like loadshedding and “cloud in the sky” technologies. They are not going away so we might as well embrace the change and opportunity they bring.

Approaching each day with a purposeful attitude is a journey with many challenges. It requires being authentic, deliberate and constantly mindful of our intentions and goals. But given the direct correlation between being purposeful about our own lives and successfully guiding an organisation, it’s well worth the effort.

*Lindi Monyae is Head of Liberty Corporate Benefits.

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