Let’s all fill some holes before we try to build castles
Get the election over with so we can start with the difficult decisions and hard work that has to be done
You’ve got to know when to go. AB de Villiers announced his retirement from international cricket last week, at the ripe old age of 34. Could he have added more to the game and played more for our country? Hell, yes! Will he be missed in the SA side, both ODIs and Tests? Hell, yes! Is it the best time for him to go? If he thinks so, yes.
Leave when you’re at your peak, particularly if you know it. There are a whole bunch of very good reasons for that, in sport, in business and in politics.
In sport, time takes its toll on physical competitiveness, no matter how hard you train or how talented you are. At some point the youngsters run measurably faster and have quicker reactions to those instincts that make the difference.In business, the optimal term of the chief executive is dictated by a balance of forces that make the deal fair. Beyond valuable incremental experience that you get in the hot seat, there is almost always a vested economic interest in the continued (or eventual) success of the company, through share options or other short- and long-term incentive schemes. But perhaps the most empowering right you have as a shareholder is that you can sell your shares and walk away the minute you have lost faith in the future of your investment under the current leadership. There are no selectors or voters to persuade – your choice, your right, just leave. Not so simple as the member of a team or the citizen of a country.Politics is a different matter entirely. There are, I was once told, only two rules for survival in politics. Rule 1: Get in. Rule 2: Stay in. Nowadays, there seems ample evidence, around the world, that leaders want to stay for longer, if not forever.
Most heads of state can, constitutionally, serve for a limit of two consecutive terms, ranging somewhere between four and seven years each. If you can persuade the people to keep you in charge, you’re given about 10 years to get the job done, to leave your legacy.
Of course, there’s hereditary succession, with no set term, typically linked to the lifespan of the incumbent, as is the case with the few remaining ruling monarchies and other family dynasties. I can’t see how birthright can bestow rights of rule, or in any way guarantee the basic ingredients required for the task. I’ve seen far too many apples that have fallen very far from the tree.Constitutional change is required to extend terms, but that usually requires a hefty proportion of the vote. In a state with an already dominating leader in place, that doesn’t however seem to be a problem. Xi Jinping got 99.8% support to extend his term indefinitely, and Vladimir Putin got 76.7% to vote in favour of his second consecutive, and fourth overall, term.
It’s wrong, for a whole lot of reasons, it’s wrong.
The older you get, the less likely you are to accept and adapt to change. In fact, the less likely you are to even see the need coming. Extended life expectancy serves only to exacerbate the problem.
Incumbent leaders, particularly those wishing to stay in power forever, see emerging competence and threats in their subordinates as threats, opportunities, and the temptation is to suppress new ideas, rather than embrace them. This clogging of the arteries of the organisation, or team, or country, eventually causes the organism to fail, with the leader.The real danger is that off-course leaders who will not tolerate interference inevitably lead us into destruction, otherwise averted by listening to new counsel.
Leaders do need time to implement decisions, particularly difficult ones, when you need to change course, as we do. Once a nation has established common purpose and endorsed the strategy of a new leader, a case can be made for a longer term.
The challenge is to get to the difficult stuff as soon as possible. To do that, you can’t be in election mode (for fear of breaking the second cardinal rule: Stay in).
We’re on the right track, but we’re going to have to fill some holes before we can build castles. So, let’s have the election now, get it over with, and start with the difficult decisions and hard work we all know just has to be done, if indeed there is to be a better life for all.
Mark Barnes is the CEO of the Post Office.