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The ultimate test of self awareness as a leader

South Africa can be a challenging place to do business but it’s also an inspiring and exciting one – its unique challenges offer unique opportunities. Business leaders have the chance to shape our country’s future.

In this blog article we explore thought leadership and practices that will assist business leaders in making a positive contribution to the South Africa we leave to future generations.




By Danie Eksteen - This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Jonathan Jansen is one of my favourite South Africans and one of the thinking elders I listen to. He is a living example of a principled servant leader who challenges the issues in our country and in us individually – he exposes what we would rather pretend were not there and we listen because we know he is right. In a recent article in a local daily newspaper he writes about the types of leadership needed to lead a deeply ‘wounded’ country whose value system has been eroded. (He acknowledges that this ‘does not mean we do not have several people pretending to be leaders or who carry the formal title of leader’.)

Amongst the four types of leadership he mentions there was one that made me do a double take: ‘Broken Leadership’. What?! I’ve read lots about leadership but I don’t recall seeing brokenness as a lauded quality... I guess that’s what thought leaders do – make you think. It’s only when he states the opposite, namely self-righteous leadership (he calls it self-assured), that the penny drops. Jansen is talking about brokenness as a litmus test for self-awareness (the foundation of the Strategic Human Capital Consulting Learning Leaders Level 1 workshop). ‘Brokenness in leadership starts with the notion that we are all imperfect, and unless I can see my own brokenness I cannot deal with anyone else’s,’ says Jansen. Self-righteous leaders think they are always right and they see others’ brokenness with 20/20 clarity.

Jansen says it is this self-righteousness that lands us in trouble, but that the broken SA leader realises that ‘we are all, black and white, suffering from post-traumatic stress and, in our complex past, there were no grounds for self-righteousness’. ‘I firmly believe that we got into this mess together and that the only way out of it is together,’ he says. He says Broken Leaders show ‘uncommon grace’ and he uses as example Reverend Ross Andersen who, when he met the APLA cadres responsible for the St James church massacre in which 11 congregation members were killed, said to them: ‘I want to tell you that I am sorry for my role in apartheid’....

The other three categories of leadership needed in SA, listed by Jansen, are:

  • Authoritative leadership, which is very different to authoritarian leadership, i.e. not bullying and abusing for our own benefit but consulting broadly and then taking clear and decisive action.
  • Ethical leadership, i.e. a core set of beliefs about what is right and wrong that guides our own lives, our business and our country / government.
  • Exemplary leadership, i.e. walking the talk (of things like broken leadership) and not just preaching it.


In the aftermath of the most recent outpouring of disgust against calls for the nationalisation of mines by the leader of the ANC Youth League one of the most interesting commentaries I read was that of Itumeleng Mahabane, a regular contributor to Business Day. In the commentary Mahabane explores his position (you can say self-righteousness) as a ‘high earner and therefore someone with much to lose if we continue down the current degenerative path, or worse, veer in the direction of the youth league.’ Not making excuses for the skills that have allowed him to achieve (others may say: “I have earned it”), he realises that his situation ‘and that of a minority like him, is an island of obscene privilege in an unacceptable sea of shameful destitution and disgusting inequality.’ Mahabane continues: ‘What we do not have is the moral high ground to be outraged about the prospective loss of our privilege without appreciating the injustice of the status quo.’

He does not shy away from criticising government for not taking responsibility and lacking authoritative leadership (the words Jansen would have used) but, he challenges himself (as capitalist) that by merely arguing for maintaining the status quo solutions and consequent structural problems, ‘we will remain anxious while one populist [leader] after another raises his fist’ passionately against the economic justices of our capitalist system (read: Malema is not the problem).

Mahabane argues that ‘If we are to shift to a different path of accumulation, which is not the optimal path of wealth maximisation for those of us who are privileged, but is a path in which we are allowed incremental consolidation of our wealth with more equitable distribution of the country’s economic development’, we require structural intervention on both the demand and supply side.’ (read: let’s redefine capitalism together.)


Political correctness that pretends to respect another’s differentness is paper thin and every now and then it explodes publically and as a nation we collectively cringe. You only have to look at the reader comments on any contentious story published on local news websites, where anonymity allows those commenting to discard the need for political correctness, to see the level of intolerance around – it’s frightening.

Jansen says: ‘I am sick and tired of people calling each other by names such as coloured or white or black. The first thing we should recognise is our common humanity, not the accident of genetics that has determined the amount of melanin in our skins.’ (At SHC we like to refer to this as learning to see others’ hearts!)

We cannot agree more – if colour is the first thing I see, I need political correctness. But it is only when I see the humanity in others that things can start changing. To do that, however, I need to make the time to get close enough to see beyond another’s colour, race, tribe, ethnicity etc.

Some of the most gratifying work we have done at Strategic Human Capital Consulting is facilitating Diversity Workshops, which create opportunities for people to see each others’ humanity / hearts. The virtual glass barriers (or glasses), that are such obvious remnants of our past, shatter once people have the opportunity, in a safe environment, to share each others’ stories and histories of hurt and joy. New foundations for empathy, understanding and real relationship are created once people have cried and laughed together. Things change once we have been confronted with each other’s humanity and brokenness on an open warts-and-all basis. Our Diversity Workshops consistently elicit comments such as ‘I never realised that black / white people have the same issues and challenges as we have’, and ‘I have always seen you around, thought you very professional (read: politically correct), but I never realised you have such a beautiful heart’. The critical part of this change is that it challenges everyone’s self-righteousness and creates soil beautifully toiled for real new beginnings.

If you’d like more info on how Strategic Human Capital Consulting’s Diversity Workshops can positively impact your business, contact us or take a look at the case study Diversity: Transforming Diverse Groups at


  • Living among a walking wounded, South Africa is in desperate need of ethical leadership if there is to be successful social change, Jonathan Jansen, Cape Argus
  • League is the spawn of SA’s economic plight, Itumeleng Mahabane, Business Day

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