A conversation with David Mondo

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Acting Head of Personal and Business Banking, Standard Bank Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

DM:   What is key for a leader: personal achievement or achieving the organisation’s strategic goals?

LM:   It’s achieving personal goals by achieving the organisations’ strategic goals. Most corporate leaders grow up with success being defined as the attainment of personal goals. As they achieve these goals, they are rewarded and recognised handsomely in both financial and non-financial ways. As they grow and prosper, they are then rewarded with a promotion into a leadership role.

At this juncture, the emphasis changes to a greater focus on the attainment of organisational goals. This transition is very deliberate, yet delicate. It is necessary to guide the more junior leaders through this transition.

I have had to deal with new managers or leaders who still focus on attaining personal goals at the expense of organisational goals. They become bad managers, micromanage their staff, undermine the individuality of their staff and sometimes even compete with their staff. We have to provide counselling and guidance, showing these young leaders the importance of the change in focus and emphasis.

I have also dealt with managers or leaders who focus exclusively on organisational outcomes and neglect personal goals, ambition and learning and development needs.

As a leader, you need to know that the most important priority is to attain the organisation’s goals, but that you must also ensure that you and the teams under your leadership attain personal goals. However, you cannot attain personal goals at the expense of the team and organisational goals.

Over time, as your personal goals, values and priorities become closely aligned with those of the organisation, it becomes much easier to navigate between personal and organisational goals. When these are aligned, your words and deeds become more consistent and your team is able to work towards an organisational goal seamlessly.

DM:   Should an organisation rely on managers or leaders for its success?

LM:   I think that the distinction between leaders and managers is sometimes exaggerated. In the academic literature, a big distinction is made between leaders and managers, but in the real world of work, the lines between the roles are somewhat blurred. 

My philosophy is that leadership is a choice; it’s not the preserve of a few. I have seen brilliant leadership attributes and behaviours from some of the youngest, most junior members of teams and have observed the total absence of leadership or an abdication of responsibility on the part of people occupying some of the most powerful senior leadership roles.

I therefore believe that success comes from deliberately inculcating a culture of leadership and responsibility at all levels, with the focus and emphasis increasing with the seniority of the roles and the scope of responsibilities.

All of your staff will assume leadership and responsibility in their sphere of influence and responsibility. In the organisational hierarchy, your team leaders and junior managers are the first layer of management. A leadership culture that endures will see a smooth transition from staff (who are closest to the work and to customers) to team leaders and junior managers (who are closest to staff) to the rest of the management/leadership team (who may be closest to regulators, shareholders and other stakeholders).

To avoid stereotypes and binary thinking about leaders and managers, it is important to state the following categorically:

  • A manager who masters the detailed, technical work of his or her portfolio fails in his or her leadership responsibilities if he or she does not paint a vision for staff, does not mobilise and engage staff and does not inspire teams towards greater organisational goals.
  • A leader who has an engaging personality, who inspires his or her staff, and who mobilises teams very well, cannot escape accountability for failure to attend to basic management disciplines such as budgeting, financial management, risk management, talent management and corporate governance. 

Finally, all the people in an organisation need to work towards clearly defined organisational goals. Those in managerial and leadership roles need to lead themselves and others towards organisational success.

DM:   Is integrity a key value for a leader? Why is integrity a challenge for many African politicians?

LM:   Integrity is the fulcrum upon which ethical and principled leadership rests. As we consider various critical leadership traits, there are some that can be developed over time, but integrity is a prerequisite for leadership.

It is also true, however, that different types of people assume leadership roles. Some leaders have the very best intentions and ideas when they take up leadership roles, but become corrupt and unethical because they are seduced by the power, perks and prestige of high office. There are also leaders who see public office or high corporate office as an opportunity to amass wealth, to enrich themselves and their family and friends and an invitation to use corporate or public resources for personal use.

As I guide and counsel many young leaders, I’m always reminded of the cautious words of Prof Bill George: “Before anyone takes on a leadership role, they should ask themselves, ‘Why do I want to lead?’ and ‘What’s the purpose of my leadership?’ These questions are simple to ask, but finding the real answers may take decades. If the honest answers are power, prestige, and money, such leaders are at risk of relying on external gratification for fulfilment. There is nothing wrong with desiring these outward symbols as long as they are combined with a deeper desire to serve something greater than oneself.”

Leaders motivated by narrow, selfish interests easily succumb to greed, to negative influences and to vices. This leads them to use their position of trust for personal gain or enrichment.

This leads to corruption, embezzlement of funds, fraud, collusion, price fixing and the use of public, community or corporate resources for personal gain.

Leadership integrity is increasingly in the spotlight, with huge scandals in both the corporate and the public sector, and in both the developed and the developing world.

In the case of Africa, we need new leaders, who will lead with honesty and integrity across the political and economic spheres so that we can reach our true potential. 

DM:   Why do you think many young leaders seem to be intent on getting more and more degrees or certifications?

LM:   As a general rule, I am firm believer in lifelong learning and development. As the world keeps changing at an alarming rate, it is vital for all our young people, and especially those in corporates or in the public sector, to equip themselves with skills and knowledge. These skills will stand them in good stead in a digitised future.

In addition to this, there is a war for talent, and in such a fiercely competitive environment, it’s important to give yourself an edge over other potential candidates.

I must caution, however, that qualifications and certifications, without diligence, hard work, professionalism and dedication, are no guarantee of success. Qualifications must be an addition to, not a substitute for, these necessary attributes. 

DM:   Are certifications and degrees (such as the MBA) the only ways to access leadership positions in global business?

LM:   Global companies are searching for talented individuals to take up leadership roles, either based at their headquarters or in the countries in which they operate.

These roles will help organisations to deal with changing consumer demands, rapid technological development, increasing regulation, stakeholder management and the complexity of managing with global consistency matched by local relevance and responsiveness

For managers to work in such environments – to balance such competing needs and to achieve success – they need to do the following:

  • Work in multi-disciplinary teams across geographies; 
  • Manage teams across functional and geographic boundaries; 
  • Work in reporting lines within each country, region, or head office; 
  • Manage multi-year programmes; 
  • Make decisions about strategic investments; 
  • Make important hiring decisions for key personnel; and 
  • Implement key IT projects.

In order to effectively take up these tasks, managers need to improve their knowledge, business skills and commercial acumen across a number of disciplines such as finance, strategy, human resources, marketing, operations, technology, sales, risk, etc.

I have found that MBAs and other executive education programmes give managers a broader general management lens and perspective. Managers who equip themselves with these skills and competencies improve their chances of promotion, of being part of key projects and of taking on roles in other parts of Africa and the world. If they combine these skills with diligence, professionalism, emotional intelligence (EQ), hard work and dedication, ever better career opportunities become available.

 DM: Many academics talk about transformational leadership. What’s your view on this concept?

LM:   All of us have been exposed to various theories and definitions of leadership. Transformational leadership is one of those. The one that resonates the most with me, that inspires me daily, and that I ultimately hope to achieve and sustain, is Kouzes and Posner’s. It is very simple, yet deeply profound in its implications:

“Each leader or potential leader has to place the people at the centre, be responsive to their needs, respectful of their wishes and accountable to them. This requires us as leaders to be selfless in our contribution, inclusive in our decisions, humble in our behaviour and inspiring in our actions. If we do this, our joy will not be in how exalted we may be; how elevated our positions are, how much wealth we can amass, and how much power we can have … it must come from a deeper and special place, where others benefit, grow, or prosper because of our actions … that’s true leadership.”

This definition not only captures the exemplary behaviours I believe should be expected of leaders, but also the pure motives they must have. It sets a standard whereby leaders can benchmark themselves and, most importantly, whereby followers can judge their leaders.

It is not a new approach to leadership; it is an approach that has worked and changed the world for the better since time immemorial. I hope one day to fulfill these leadership obligations and reach the summit of what I regard as the Mount Everest for all leaders.

My journey continues…

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