SARS Commissioner Edward Kieswetter’s six rules for effective leadership

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Financial Minds: Edward Kieswetter

SARS Commissioner Edward Kieswetter’s six rules for effective leadership

Dec 10, 2023 | Strategy & Leadership

I don’t think there’s a silver bullet when it comes to leadership; I think it’s situational as it depends on where you are. Some leaders are great at leading change, others are great at maintaining high performance. Some leaders are good in structured bureaucracies, others are good in agile entrepreneurial cultures. I don’t think there is a universal X Factor that fits across all situations. I do think, however, that there is a common trend that every leader should exhibit, regardless of the context the one is.

Great leaders have a higher purpose. They also hold two apparently paradoxical attributes. On the one hand, the fearless resolve to achieve something great and on the other, the genuine humility that they can’t do it on their own. Good leaders genuinely seek to serve their stakeholders. They have an obsession to do the best they can for the people whom they purport to serve. I call that a service orientation or the service obsession.

Lastly, I think the greatest leaders invest in people. They are concerned about their growth and do not seek to just extract their labour but to invest in them.  It is an exchange where you give me your time, your brilliance, your endeavour and I give you the opportunity to become the best version of yourself, and by the way, I also give you a pay check. For me, those are things that make up the universal essence of great leadership.

A strategy must tell a simple story. The simple test is that it must be understood by both an 85-year-old grandmother and a 10-year-old boy. A good strategy is a compelling story that inspires people. Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt by telling them about the promise of a land of milk and honey in a way that enthused them about the future. I have a set of commandments that I believe are essential to stewardship.  They are the six I’s – Intent, Inspiration, Impact, Influence, Insight and Interdependency.

Good leaders communicate strategic intent with clarity,’ Edward begins breaking down his hexagonal hypothesis. ‘They have something they are prepared to die for- a passion which they are prepared to pursue with fearless resolve. There is nothing more soul-destroying than having to follow a leader who either has no clear intent, or is unable to communicate it with clarity. This does not refer simply to hollow rhetoric and platitudes that we so often hear from leaders on ‘soap boxes’. At the core of this intent, is to be clear where we stand and what we stand for, what we wish to achieve, and whose interests we intend to serve.

A leader does not act alone. Although they often have to step ahead, they must acknowledge that they achieve with and through people. Central to this is how a leader influences followership. They need not resort to coercive or unethical means to do this. The root word of inspire is in fact “in spirit”. In other words, inspiring leaders are those able to connect to people at the highest or spiritual sense of who they are. They help people feel better about themselves and keep them hopeful, even when they despair. They keep a positive goal alive and rally their followers to excellence.

Leaders should have a genuine concern for impact. They should not stick mindlessly to their intent but should balance that with impact because it is the outcome that matters. Wittingly or otherwise, we have a significant impact through our work on the lives of people. A leader must have a heightened sense of mindfulness and concern. A steward leader always has the desire that their impact is positive and makes a meaningful difference to people.

Fourth, we need to influence disbelievers. Among the Israelites, disbelief creeped in about the mission and some wanted to go back to Egypt. Even today we hear people saying we were better off under apartheid or during the days of state capture. Not everyone is always supportive of the leader, and s/he needs to accept the responsibility to take everyone along, even those who may initially resist. Through positive example, demonstrable leadership and constant persuasion, the steward leader would seek to influence the disbelievers who then may often become their most ardent supporters.

The goal of an organisation does not remain clear to all the people all the time. When the journey becomes tough or when there is unforeseen adversity or a change in environment,  even the willing followers may lose heart. Leaders need to accept this and ensure that they themselves never become despondent, but continually provide additional insight that removes doubt, encourages recommitment and instils the belief that the goal is achievable. 

Having a group of people come together to do a task does not automatically turn them into a high performing team. Building such a team requires a conscious effort and a steward leader helps everyone believe in their own abilities and appreciate the contribution of others. By embracing the diversity that each individual brings along, and getting others to value that, the steward leader nurtures interdependence and builds a great team where members look out for each other as they pursue individual and collective success.

This article is an extract from the book THE CEO X FACTOR – available here https://www.takealot.com/the-ceo-x-factor/PLID92980382

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