Leadership Blunders Masterclass: Zille/Ramphele

Women are said to be harder on other women. That is true. Unfairly so. That is because women are in the minority in leadership positions so they tend to put superwomen expectations on themselves and other women. Therefore when the few brave women put themselves up for leadership positions, they have to be acutely aware of the scrutiny that they will draw which should influence the differences in the way they handle things as opposed to how men would as their imperfections are better tolerated which give them a pass in many instances. It is unjust, but it is our reality. As a strategy advisor, leadership expert and a woman, the Helen Zille and Maphela Ramphele saga has made an impression on me on intellectual and gender levels. As a passionate champion of women in leadership listening to both individuals explaining what has transpired is very unfortunate. The matter is not about throwing stones or not being empathic to mistakes that can happen to any of us, male or female. However basic leadership and strategy blunders were made that are going to be fodder for case studies in business schools and for leadership scholars for years to come. This disagreement has also further brought to the fore the stereotypical perceptions of women as leaders, simultaneously the ruthless under belly of race issues that still grip our country.

The stereotypical view of men and women that has informed decades of research and leadership theory says that females and males have different leadership styles.  This catastrophe has highlighted that many stereotypes held about women leaders are misleading and that each woman is infact unique. The stereotype of women as leaders is that they have stronger interpersonal and relational skills that make them empathetic and effective. They are generally perceived as more democratic with their leadership styles involving sharing information, shapers of consensus, deliver on promises, are socially sensitive and are good listeners. Women leaders are said to have a greater competence in planning, better at prioritising and at multi-tasking. Clearly the responses of the Agang members to their leader agreeing to be the Presidential candidate of the DA indicate that that none of stereotypes came into play. Helen Zille admitted that she was rushed to make the announcement through a press conference based on agreed to verbal principles influenced by 40 years of personal friendship between the two leaders. The lack of proper planning is planning to fail. The rushed nature of the statement on the ‘merger’ bore the seeds of its destruction because the devil is always in the details.

Zille’s admission that Ramphele hastened the revelation of her Presidential candidacy spotlights another stereotype that one should not mix business and friendship. As an entrepreneur, an African and a woman in a country that needs to transform its economic landscape, I have mixed the two with carefully selected friends to achieve business goals based on their work and personal ethics, professionalism and expertise which enhanced my corporate brand and delivery to clients. The focus should not be the categories assigned to relationships, but rather the values, principles and ethics of the people involved in any transaction – business or political – as long as good governance principles are adhered to. What seems to have come to pass between these two women is that a new context was presented to their friendship which they had never experienced previously which in turn revealed qualities that were dormant, but remained untested. Situations have a way of revealing our true character and latent qualities. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The ultimate measure of a (wo) man is not where (s)he stands in moments of comfort, but where (s)he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

Choosing a party to vote for in South Africa is still a matter of ideological and historical affiliations. DA and Agang have been pushing into the nation’s consciousness the focus on personal character traits and qualities of the leaders of parties as critical in making choices amongst parties. This shift in focus has highlighted their personal integrity, credibility and trust to engender confidence and respect from the constituencies that they lead. Leaders like any other human beings can make well-meaning yet disastrous decisions that can create crises. It is important to be accountable and to take responsibility if you are at fault as a leader. Both women have courageously apologised for having erred in attempting this risky alliance. How the two women handle this calamity is under the microscope that is revealing their true characters. The disaster will pass overtime, but it is the traits and reasoning of the leaders playing out in the media that will be the ultimate decider. Leadership is the ability to connect with people in order to influence them to understand and agree about what needs to be done and how to do it. The results of the National Elections will prove to the nation who has the true hallmarks of leadership.


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