Who will put the long-awaited shaft in SA’s hockey stick?

Business

Who will put the long-awaited shaft in SA’s hockey stick?

Patience needed to see out the slow growth that precedes the inflection point for exponential growth

Mark Barnes


There can be little worse than a weak leader with strong executive powers. I’ve never really understood the concept of a presidential pardon, the notion that the president can grant pardon from further justice to any person either alleged or even found guilty of a crime. If the case merits clemency then surely due legal process should be enabled, or required to deal with it.
Donald Trump occasionally, it seems, ponders the possibility of having to pardon himself – how ridiculous is that? Why doesn’t he instead just not commit the offence now for which he will be required to be pardoned later?
It further seems that leaders of world powers, empowered with extensive executive power, cannot ever decide that a decision or course of action is simply wrong, a mistake, and that it should be reversed or stopped in its tracks. Trump’s determination to build the wall, and Theresa May’s determination to proceed with Brexit, are nothing less than the stubborn pursuit of an obvious earlier error, by a person or a population, that would best be abandoned.
You’ll lose more face determinedly sticking with a mistake than you will admitting it and moving on. We all know that.
The debate about the extent of authority spans all structures of leadership from the rigidity of military command to the style required to succeed with a startup. In recent times it seems that the focus has moved away from what must be done towards second-guessing what the incumbent leader is going to do.
The world seems preoccupied with questions like: What is Trump going to do about this issue or that person (not the role, the person)? What will happen after Angela Merkel (when the real issues are trade wars, Brexit and the decline of the China growth years)? Will Xi Jinping be able to adapt the $15-trillion success story that is China to avoid fights and continue growth in partnerships rather than the winner-loser conflicts of the past?
Who is going to be in charge in Britain, with MPs, both Labour and Conservative, quitting their parties in protest? How is Macron going to cope with his anti-everything population? And, as ever, what is Putin up to? We have our own questions too.
The typically early lead-up to the 2020 elections in the US is already more about personalities than purposes. We seem no different in the lead-up to ours.
What should come first? The mission or the commander, the strategy or the CEO? While they are inevitably interlinked, we surely must agree where we are going before we agree who is best to take us there.
The harder the forward journey, the clearer the route needs to be and the stronger the leader is required to be – to take us there, to execute on the mandate, no matter the headwinds encountered. Clarity of purpose is paramount to provide a matrix against which all executive decisions can be pretested and post-judged – no pardons required.
The more scarce the resources, the longer the deliberations need to be to reach consensus, to take risk, and to be given time.
Hockey stick economics is fine so long as there is buy-in, patience and predictability during the initial dip and slow growth period that precedes that point of inflection which gives rise to exponential growth.
There are tough times ahead, globally and locally – debt crises, trade wars, population growth, spread of poverty, legacy technology replacement, climate change … you choose your list.
These challenges are not going to be resolved by the coalitions they have spawned in the name of political survival. They will only be resolved by powerful mandates given to ruling parties with leaders of fortitude and resolve. We must have the strength to reach escape velocity – conventional wisdom and friendly coalitions won’t get us there.
It remains only to choose and empower the executive authority that will take us there against many odds, not least of which is popularity. If the basis of selection is merit and fit for purpose, we’ll elect the right team.
Once we do that, though, we should stop whining in the galleries, and let them get on with it, without interference, however bitter the pill or strong the headwind, until that long-awaited shaft of the hockey stick finally arrives.
• Mark Barnes is CEO of the Post Office.

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