A conversation with Lebogang Morare – Assurance Manager Information Governance
LVM: How does one know they are a leader?
LM: This really depends on how one sees leadership- a huge majority of people still see leadership as a title held, a position occupied, or a status or an honor bestowed. People assume leadership, in this way through different forms, through elections, by birthright, through force or by being selected or appointed.
What I have realized, over time, is that these are merely leadership roles occupied, titles held, honors bestowed and promotions earned – these do not necessarily constitute leadership. Equally there are so many people with no formal leadership roles but their influence and impact on others is far greater than the formal role allows. Leadership, for me Lebo, is not a title held or position occupied, it’s rather a profound influence and impact felt. This week I lost two dear colleagues, Thys Pistorius and Peter Mtonga. They both had senior leadership roles, but everyone who came to bid them the final farewell spoke of the influence and impact they had on many of those they touched. This was not the usual funeral orations, these were real heartfelt glowing testimonies about the way they lived their lives, how they treated people, how they helped people both within the bank and outside it. They were recognized by so many as leaders due to both their behaviors, demeanor and most importantly consistent selfless actions for the benefit of others.
My sense is that real and true leaders, whether they hold a leadership role or not, fully understand and appreciate the unique responsibility that comes with leadership. They understand and appreciate that leadership is:
⁃ a calling or mission;
⁃ is about something more important than one’s own interest – it’s about a cause, a principle, or a movement;
⁃ about putting the interests of others above your own;
⁃ is about doing what is right, doing it right, against all odds, without regard to reward, praise or recognition;
⁃ is about the courage to stand up for a higher ideal, regardless of the consequences;
⁃ is about being true and constant to your values and
⁃ is about fidelity to principle.
It is also possible that sometimes a person may not realize the impact of his or her actions, at the time the action is taken. It may also be possible that a person may not realize that they are already leading and that they have such an influence on others. It may be that the impact of their actions may be much greater than how they expected;
⁃ Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat for a white passenger in a segregated bus, her action inspired millions to join the Civil Rights movement in the USA;
⁃ Lilly Ledbetter worked for Goodyear for 20 years, upon retiring she sued the company for paying her less over the years than her male coworkers. Although she lost the lawsuit, Congress subsequently passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009, changing federal law to better protect women in the workplace.
⁃ Erin Brockovich is an American was a legal clerk and environmental activist, who, despite her lack of formal education in the law, was instrumental in building and winning a case against the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) of California.
⁃ Mother Teresa was one of the 20th century’s greatest humanitarians. She founded the Order of the Missionaries of Charity, a Roman Catholic congregation of women that helped the poor, and was canonized as Saint Teresa of Calcutta in 2016.
⁃ Charlotte Maxeke, the first black South African woman to earn a university degree, championed the cause of freedom for Africans, fought for women’s emancipation and was an advocate for a better education for all children from the early 1920’s. She is the inspiration to thousands of gender activists and high achievers who have followed her courageous example.
There are also acts of courage, positions taken, stances taken by a leader, or leaders, which have a huge impact on society :
⁃ Nelson Mandela’s famous defiant speech on the dock whilst facing a possible death sentence inspired his people towards freedom;
⁃ Mahatma Ghandi’s famous salt march to the sea galvanized millions to fight for India’s independence;
⁃ Dr Martin Luther King it’s seminal “ I have a dream” speech inspired a non violent civil rights movement against discrimination in the USA.
⁃ Muhammad Ali’s stance on the war in Vietnam inspired millions to oppose the War in Vietnam.
So Lebo, whether a leader has a position or not, whether they are aware of their leadership role or not, the most important thing is the impact or influence of their actions, words, ideas, behaviors etc on others and even in history itself.
In the words of Robert Kennedy, speaking at UCT, in 1966;
“ Each time a man (or woman) stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centres of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
So Lebo, each one of us can stand for an ideal, may strike out against injustice, or act to improve the lot of others, regardless of our status or position, whether we know it or not, when we do that we are leading. Sometimes we will never realize the true impact of our actions, or how wide our influence is.
LVM: There are assigned leaders ( a leader because of a formal position) and emergent leaders( a leader because of the way people respond to them). Can you tell me a little about how you leveraged your leadership skills as an emergent leader into a more formal leadership role early in your career? What are some of the characteristics you displayed that you think helped you to stand out?
LM: I think my journey was different, it was different because I was mounded to lead from a very early age. I had already assumed leadership roles from the church, sports, student organisations and in my community by the time I was 15.
Further in high school, at university and in my early career I already had both formal leadership roles and was already an emerging Leader. Throughout this I found that my father, who was my biggest supporter and also my harshest critic was not as impressed as everyone was. Through cajoling, persuasion, arguments, debates and lots of deep conversations, I realized that he wanted me to fully appreciate the depth of responsibility and the gravity of importance of being a leader. It then dawn on me that I was merely occupying leadership roles I had been promoted to, selected for or elected for – but in my Dad’s mind, and as I also later realized, I was not leading.
This changed so much for me, I realized that God had given me certain gifts, that my parents and other influential people had prepared me well, now it was up to me to understand that :
⁃ leadership matters;
⁃ Leadership is consequential;
⁃ Leadership can influence the lives of people in the most positive way;
⁃ Leadership is about submerging your personal interests or ambitions towards the interests of those you lead; and
⁃ That an appointment, election, selection or assumption of office does not give you legitimacy, it is the consistent actions, decisions and behaviors that earn you the right to lead.
⁃ That trust is earned, loyalty is earned, and leadership itself is earned.
This realization made want to lead, lead towards a higher ideal, for noble causes and towards the betterment of others. The characteristics needed to stay that course, are the following:
⁃ selflessness ;
⁃ Courage ;
⁃ Sincerity ;
⁃ Integrity ;
⁃ Regular deep introspection and reflection;
⁃ Openness to new ideas;
⁃ Regular feedback from those you lead;
⁃ Brutal feedback from a circle of advisors who will not spare you from criticism ;
⁃ Probity and
⁃ The ability of treat everyone with dignity regardless of their status in life, race, color, religion, or country of origin.
This is a difficult, lonely and arduous path, yet it is the most fulfilling. You are never complete as a leader, you learn from your mistakes, you learn from the past and you learn from your team and other leaders.
So in a way, I have held on to the emergent leader profile and responsibilities, this is the truest sense of leadership, and I have ensured that the formal leadership roles do not change that.
My journey continues …
LVM: As a senior leader you have worked with more great leaders. What were the strongest traits and strategies you learned from the leaders and some particular things you think are more important for a young leader, like myself, to help showcase my skills to grow and develop in the current role.
LM: I have worked for Stephen Hardie, Prof SME Bengu, Bob Tucker, Sim Tshabalala, Darrel Orsmond, Craig Bond; Roy Ross; Peter Schlebusch, and Zweli Manyathi. Each and everyone of them was unique, contributed a to my development, and I learnt a lot from them. If I were to tease out the key lessons and traits that should benefit young leaders, I would say they are:
⁃ Thorough preparation, diligence and professionalism;
⁃ Humility and selflessness;
⁃ Probity, integrity and ethical conduct;
⁃ The need to have strong values and principles,
⁃ deeply held beliefs and convictions and a strong moral compass;
⁃ Proactiveness and the willingness to go the extra mile;
⁃ Respect for other people’s views, ideas, perspectives and sense of worth ;
⁃ Striving for excellence in all your endeavors;
⁃ The ability to work well with others and to understand your line manager’s style, approach and priorities; and
⁃ To be yourself, and to bring yourself to work everyday
These are the things I have enjoyed from these leaders, they trusted me, empowered me and allowed me to grow and develop. They focused on harnessing my strengths and only asked me to watch my areas of development.
I have been able to work with 2 of these leaders twice ( Zweli Manyathi and Peter Schlebusch), and I’m sure I would work with all of the others again, this is the positive impact they have had on me.
LVM: When faced with a challenge whether it be people or not meeting your strategy, what are the key things that you do or consider to overcome those challenges?
LM: I think the biggest challenge that face us as leaders is to remain calm under pressure, to create time to reflect and to assess the situation from all angles. In such situations, I have found moments to spend time thinking about the following :
⁃ am I being fair ?
⁃ Am I being objective?
⁃ Am I being dispassionate?
⁃ Are there alternative ways to resolve this problem ?
⁃ Have I sought advice and counsel from others?
The most important thing as leaders is to lead without drama, to ensure that we don’t violate organizational values or personal values in dealing with a challenging situations or with difficult people.
When dealing with these challenging one has to ensure that :
⁃ you do not allow your prejudice to cloud your judgement;
⁃ you do not abuse your position to achieve an outcome you desire;
⁃ you do not destroy people’s confidence, self worth, and reputations in pursuit of organizational outcomes;
⁃ you manage the business through the difficulties with little drama and fanfare.
If after you have looked at all these factors you make a mistake, you have to own up to it, learn from it and grow from the experience.
I have grown from each of these difficult experiences, I have learnt valuable lessons from these difficult times and I bring a different lens to these challenges because of my painful experiences.
LVM: What were the tools, considerations and thoughts when taking the next step in your career as a young leader?
LM: I have been fortunate or unfortunate that I have never applied for a job or have had to think of my career in terms of steps per se. What happened in my case was that :
⁃ I was always recommended to my employers by people who have worked with me, studied with me or knew of me;
⁃ I have been fortunate that I enjoyed my roles so much that I would not be thinking about the next role until I was asked to take up the next role;
⁃ I have been blessed to have supportive leaders who gave me opportunities and roles I thought I was not ready for;
⁃ Working and excelling in those roles became the key to move to the next roles without me thinking and bring worried about those roles.
So in many ways, my journey has been characterized by incredible good fortune, amazingly supportive leaders and staff members, in different countries and roles who supported me as I journeyed through different organisations.
In the end, in deciding about staying in an organisation, particularly the Standardbank Group, where I have now worked for close to 18 years, I stay because ;
⁃ I feel appreciated;
⁃ I feel challenged;
⁃ I am being asked to take on different responsibilities and projects on a regular basis;
⁃ I feel empowered;
⁃ I find that I’m growing;
⁃ I feel that I’m adequately compensated and rewarded for the work I do; and lastly
⁃ I love what I do, and I absolutely love the people I work with.
So I would say, in thinking about next steps, you should think about :
⁃ how well am I doing in my current role
⁃ why am I thinking of next steps, is it growth, more money, status, perks, a new environment etc
⁃ what does the next steps entail, why would I want to be there?
⁃ can I grow in my current environment or should I consider a change within the organisation or outside it;
⁃ are there fair, transparent and objective growth opportunities that would constitute next steps
All these are deeply personal decisions, and each person needs to did deep for the answers.
LVM: Looking at where you are now, would you do anything different from a leadership perspective for your growth in your role. If so what would it be and why?
LM: I think I could accelerate the growth of young people. I find that my time could be used more productively and that I could help more young people on their personal and professional journeys. I have tried to make myself more accessible and available for more deep conversations with young leaders in the bank, but feel that this is not enough. I am working on alternatives on how to reach more young people, have more conversations and to have more time to coach, guide and help young leaders.
Watch this space …
LVM: Young leaders either go too far or not far enough. What would you say is the challenge on young leaders and what role do you play to assist them?
LM: One of my saddest moments are when I see young leaders fail when I think a quiet word, a word of advice or a conversation could have turned them towards a different course. These three following factors worry me a lot :
⁃ there are a lot of young leaders who lose their way, who are seduced by their power, status, the allure of power and material riches to act in unethical ways. These range from corruption, conflicts of interests, undue influence on others; and receiving bribes and other incentives to assist other unscrupulous business people. I am spending more time doing talks with young people on ethical conduct, but I need more time and more effective communication tools to reach more young people.
⁃ I am also observing many young leaders, who were well groomed, who were well brought up becoming corporate monsters – they carry their titles like badges of honor, they are aloof, use their positions to bully and humiliate others, they are about success at all costs, they are driven by material things and are emulating the millionaires they see on tv, and some of them have lost their souls in the process;
⁃ The last group were brilliant at school, entered the workplace with great promise, achieved so much, received numerous awards, but now are despondent, they are not seen in the same light, their careers have stalled. The reason for this is that they were promoted to leadership roles, but could not grasp the fact that it was no longer about them, their individual brilliance, collecting accolades or basking in the glory or limelight – that when you lead, it’s about the team, it’s mission, it’s individuals, their fears and ambitions, and the team’s goals – they fail to make the transition.
We need to be mentors, coaches, advisors, and role models to these young leaders, to make sure that they stay the course and that they are successful in both their personal and professional lives.
LVM: What do you think are the essential qualities that made you the leader that you are?
LM: This may be the most unfair question, as it’s not easy answer that question directly about myself, it is those who know me, those I’ve worked with, those I have impacted, and those who regularly give me feedback who can attest to my qualities. What I can do is to share with you the standard by which I hold myself, it’s a standard I try and live by, everyday in my personal and professional life. This standard, set by Kouzes & Posner says;
“… Each 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 behavior 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 simple yet profound standard of true leadership clearly goes far beyond the leader’s position, and outlines a set of behaviors expected of a true leader and most importantly, the noble and pure motives that should propel such behavior.
I try and live by this standard, everyday, when I fail, I reflect, and try and to become a better person, I do not drop the standard, or lower it to accommodate my shortcomings, I have to persevere to always be up to this standard. Most importantly, it is how those I work with, those I lead, and those whose lives I touch experience me everyday that I will know if I am up to the standard requires. The qualities I require are embedded in that Standard.
LVM: I believe that Great leaders not only see interactions with team members as coaching and mentoring opportunities, but also as learning opportunities for themselves. With that said, what have you learnt from the people you have led and how did that influence your leadership skills.
I strongly believe in using my role, position or status to affirm others :
One of the hardest things for leaders to do is to use their role or power to make everybody feel comfortable, appreciated, important and worthy. This is difficult for leaders with a sense of self-importance or who thrive on positional power. The reality however, is that our titles and roles are meaningless without the support of our constituencies. In the words of Kalungu-Banda, “Great leaders do no see titles. They see human beings who happen to have certain titles in order to perform certain tasks. Leaders that touch our souls recognize and honor people simply as human beings and not the institutional tasks they perform”
I have personally found that every encounter, with every staff member, customer, supplier or stakeholder should be characterized by humility, respect and dignity, regardless of rank or position. To me the humanity of the security guard, driver, top customer, senior executive, waiter, receptionist, government minister, cleaner, or junior colleague trumps their social status. In my work, in all my travels, I found that treating each of these people with the necessary courtesy and respect re affirms their humanity; make each person feel valued and important.
Doing this consistently and visibly in a sincere manner increases human connection beyond measure. This means that we as leaders must consistently honor and treat everyone we come across with the utmost respect.
Nelson Mandela demonstrated as a “deliberate practice as well as spiritual disposition”, in that way everyone who felt the effects of his personae and position deserved and received his undivided attention for however long the interaction lasted.
In the words of Deepak Chopra, “ Leaders bring out the best in others, but successful visionaries go even further: they form lasting emotional bonds. They are the kind of leaders we hold in our hearts. When people are emotionally bonded to you, they want to have contact with you. They want to be of service and share in your vision. Deep motivation then develops. True, lasting loyalties are formed.”
Through these deep emotional bonds and thousands of visits and millions of conversations I have learnt to be more humble, sensitive, responsive, caring, empowering and inspiring. People have opened up to me about their fears and aspirations, their dreams and their ambitions; I have also been given more intimate details of illness, past horrible experiences, cultural practices and obstacles that inhibit people from growth. Sometimes I have also been given very brutal and direct feedback about my own shortcomings or impact on others, and been challenged about the direction we are taking as leaders.
All these have been important lessons and experiences in my journey to be a better person and a better leader, these are invaluable lessons from the coalface of leadership. I am
always reminded by the story of Marcus Aurelius. While ruling Rome, Marcus Aurelius was concerned he might let his power go to his head. As legend has it, Aurelius hired a servant to literally follow him around as he walked the empire’s streets. Every time a citizen bowed a knee or called out a word of praise, Marcus Aurelius instructed the servant to whisper this reminder in his ear: “You’re just a man. You’re just a man.”
We all need those voices that whisper to us, that tell us what we may not want to hear, that ensure our fidelity to principles and values and that always make sure that the role and mission is more important than the position or personal ego. My conversations with many people across the African continent are the gentle reminders I always need to tell me that, “ you are a mere mortal, you are a flawed individual, you still have lots to learn, and always remember that the goal must be greater than the role”.
LVM: If you could go back to your 20s or 30’s what would be the one thing you wish you knew about leadership and how do you think that would have contributed to your growth?
LM: The greatest lesson I have had to learnt was that in the pursuit of organizational goals my life became unbalanced. Listening to an inspiring lecture from Prof Clay Christensen at the Harvard Business School enabled me to deeply introspect and take a dispassionate look at my life – I did not like what I saw.
He challenged us to think about this profound question, “ How will you measure your life”. He told us of very successful colleagues and former classmates who had all the money in the world, had top jobs, but were leaving empty lives – some were divorced, were estranged from their children, some ended up in jail because of corporate greed, whilst others had huge health problems. He then asked the painful question, should we die, how would those we love measure our lives, how how we measure our lives – would it be about how much money we made, what projects we worked on, number of air miles we rotted up, Boards we sat on, accolades and awards we received.
Looking at my life at that time, I realized that I had given so much to my work and my organisation – but I realized that key parts of my life were not balanced:
⁃ my work/life balance
⁃ my health was unbalanced
⁃ my finances were unbalanced
⁃ my broader contribution to society was unbalanced
So I began I journey to lead myself first, to change my own life and my own lifestyle. As I reached 50, I had managed to turn my life around, to realize what truly matters, and have invested time and energy on those things that truly matter.
When I look back now, since the personal turnaround, I am now :
⁃ more present at home and more loving to my wife Sva, we have celebrated more than 20 years of marriage together ;
⁃ more closer to my children and play an even greater role in their development;
⁃ playing a greater role in the life of my broader family;
⁃ living a more healthier lifestyle, and stopped drinking alcohol and my addiction to Red Bull, and I have tried to eat well and regularly exercise;
⁃ more involved in supporting the schools and universities where I studied;
⁃ playing an even bigger role in mentoring and coaching more young leaders;
⁃ playing a bigger role in sports development in townships and rural areas; and
⁃ guiding more young leaders to see success as more than wealth and material riches, but it’s about the most important things in life.
I wish I had learnt these valuable lessons much earlier, but rather than lament the lost time, I have tried to use every moment as if it’s my last.
At the end of my career, when I sit on the stoep of a farm in the Eastern Cape, or when I leave this earth, I hope I can finally have the courage to answer Prof Clay Christensen’s deeply profound question – “ How will you measure your life?”
LVM: Firstly Mr Mali I have to applaud you for providing young leaders an opportunity not to only learn but engage with senior leaders of different calibers, geographies and various industries. Through following your blog one learns and gets to appreciate that the journey one embarks on bears fruit to someone, someday in someway.
As one aspires in being a great leader not through accolades but by the influence and impact on others, it actually raises that question of: as a young leader have i defined my purpose in the context of leadership?
My purpose is shaping nicely I must say, as through the leadership conversations blog , I am being equipped with insights and experiences that help to shape and mould my journey in the betterment of the next generation to come.
Thank you and all the best with growing this platform to greater heights.
LM: Thank you so much Lebo for those kind words, and for such a deep and engaging conversation.