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A Leading Question

Stuart White

Working as I do with various companies and different people in the area of leadership recruitment, it is interesting to see the many differing approaches to selecting leaders. The questions asked at interviews to identify potential can vary greatly from one organisation to another so in many instances what Company A thinks is important will differ massively from Company B.

There are some companies which take a generic view of leadership and stick with measuring the same safe competencies but I really wonder in this very complex business world if that is good enough anymore? But how do we know what skills and abilities truly add up to leadership?

The fact is that even the leadership experts can’t seem to agree what leadership is or looks like. There is still no single accepted definition and if you appreciate that popular books on the subject only started to appear about a hundred years ago I guess you can consider it a relatively new and emerging field.

Of course, today the internet is full of articles on good, bad, indifferent, shared, distributive, situational, participative leadership – you name it and it is there but the irony is that the more words there are on the subject the more  elusive it is to pin down.

According to Manfried Kets de Vries of INSEAD “When we plunge into the organisational literature on leadership we quickly become lost in a labyrinth: there are endless definitions, countless articles and never-ending polemics. As far as leadership studies go, it seems that more and more has been studied about less and less, to end up ironically with a group of researchers who studies everything and nothing. It prompted one wit to say recently that reading the current world literature on leadership is rather like going through the Parisian telephone directory while trying to read it in Chinese.”

A friend of mine wrote an article recently where she pointed out that Robert Mugabe had been awarded many honorary doctorate degrees from some of the world’s best universities and a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II, only to have these all revoked some years later. Was Mugabe once a good leader (in the early 1980s when he was lauded for his actions) and then morphed into a bad leader or was he always the same type of leader whose context changed?

You see, to measure leadership without context is limiting. Cometh the moment, cometh the man but what happens when the moment passes? Context can be, time, place, culture, world view etc. Leadership can look different depending on the context in which it is measured.

Will leadership look different now and in the future? Is African leadership viewed the same as Western or Eastern depending who the judge is? What is good and bad is in the eyes of the beholder at a specific place, situation and moment in time? The context will greatly influence how leadership is viewed.

Try a command and control style in an interactive setting such as a Kgotla meeting or a slow, open-debate approach during a period of extreme crisis. Both would be inappropriate, ineffective and unpopular, not because of how they are conducted but because of when and where – they are out of time and out of context.

When it comes to defining if leadership is good or bad, the subject of morals comes into play but surely this is also contextual? When South African president Jacob Zuma was criticised for his justification of unprotected sex outside of his marriage or sanctioning spending millions of taxpayers’ money on his personal residence this appears to have had little impact on his leadership reputation. Yet similar behaviours elsewhere in the world would be considered ethically and morally wrong and would not be tolerated.

So if good leadership is associated with morals what is in the bad mix? In her book ‘Bad Leadership’, Barbara Kellerman identifies it in seven adjectival forms: incompetent, rigid, intemperate, callous, corrupt, insular and evil; but again this will be interpreted differently depending on place and time.

I guess in its simplest terms what is leadership but that which we do that makes people follow, because leaders don’t exist without followers? As de Vries and Elizabeth Laurent-Treacy say; “Without followers, a leader’s journey is solitary and unproductive. If the conductor of an orchestra lifts his or her baton and none of the musicians responds, there is no music.”

So what should we be measuring in the leadership interview?  Well it is matching what followers are likely to respond to within the culture of the company and in extant contemporary contextual terms.   A democratic leader as head of the army will not be effective, just as an autocrat in a kibbutz would soon be asked to leave.  Which would make selection fairly simple if not for one slight problem – who’s going to tell the client they’re running a dictatorship or a hippy, dippy commune? In business, as in life, the truth often hurts.

‏STUART WHITE is the Managing Director of HRMC and they can be reached on 395 1640 or at

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Economic Resurgence Options: Is Export-Led Growth Tenable For Botswana?

22nd September 2020

The world in which we live is a criminally unequal one. In his iconic 1945 allegorical novella,  Animal Farm, a satire on the facetiousness  of the then Soviet Empire’s crackbrained experiment with a command economy, the legendary George Orwell in my view hit the nail squarely on the head when he said all animals were equal but some animals were more equal than others.

That’s the never-ending dichotomy of the so-called First World and its polar opposite, the so-called Third World as Orwell’s cleverly-couched diatribe applies as much to the tread-of-the-mill laissez faire economics of our day as it did to Marxist-Leninist Russia a generation back.

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Victory is Won

22nd September 2020

Israelites take Canaan under General Joshua

Even as the Nation of Israeli braced to militarily take possession of the Promised Land, General, its top three senior citizens, namely Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, were not destined to share in this god-conferred bequest. All three died before the lottery was won.

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Finance Bills: What are they about?

22nd September 2020

Financial Reporting (Amendment) Bill, 2020 and Accountants (Amendment) Bill, 2020 were expeditiously passed by parliament on Thursday.

What are these two Bills really about?  The Bills are essentially about professional values that are applicable to auditors and accountants in their practice. The Bills seeks to basically enhance existing laws to ensure more uprightness, fairness, professional proficiency, due care, expertise and or professional technical standards.

The Financial Reporting Act, 2010 (FRA) establishes the Botswana Accountancy Oversight Authority (BAOA), as the country’s independent regulator of the accounting and auditing profession. BAOA is responsible for the oversight and registration of audit firms and certified auditors of public interest entities.

In the same vein, there is the Accountants Act, 2010 establishing the Botswana Institute of Chartered Accountants (BICA) which is responsible for the registration and regulation of the accounting and auditing profession. This consequently infers that some auditors have to register first with BICA as certified auditors, and also with BAOA as certified auditors of public bodies. So, the Bills sought to avert the duplication.

According to Minister Matsheka, the duplication of efforts in the regulation of auditors, which is done by both BICA and BAOA, creates a substantial gap on oversight of certified auditors in Botswana, as the two entities have different review procedures. He contends that the enforcement of sanctions becomes problematic and, thus, leads to offenders going Scot-Free, and audit quality standards also continue to plunge.

The Financial Reporting (Amendment) Bill, 2020, in the view of the Minister, brings the oversight and regulation of all auditors in Botswana under the jurisdiction of the Accountancy Oversight Authority and that Bringing all auditors within one roof, under the supervision of BAOA would therefore reinforce their oversight and significantly enhance accountability.

He also pointed that the Bill broadens the current mandate of the Authority by redefining public interest entities to include public bodies, defined as boards, tribunals, commissions, councils, committees, other body corporate or unincorporated established under any enactment.

This covers any company in which government has an equity shareholding. In order to enable the process of instituting fitting sanctions against violation of its provisions, the Bill clearly lays down acts and lapses that constitute professional misconduct.

This Bill further strengthens the sanctions for breach of the Act by public interest entities, officers, firms, and certified auditors. Reinforcing the law with respect to such sanctions will act as an effective deterrent for breach of the Act.

The Accountants Bill also strengthens the current mandate of the Institute by making it obligatory for those who provide accountancy services in Botswana to register with the Institute, and for all employers to hire accountants who are registered with the Institute.

The Minister reasons that in line with the spirit of citizen empowerment, this Bill proposes reservation of at least 50% of the Council membership for citizens. This, he says, is to empower citizens and ensure that citizenries play an active role in the affairs of the Institute, and ultimately in the development of the accounting profession in Botswana.

The Bills come at a point when Botswana’s financial sector is in a quagmire. The country has been blacklisted by the European Union. Its international rankings on Corruption Perception Index have slightly reduced.  According to recent reports by Afro Barometer survey, perceptions of corruption in the public service have soured and so is mistrust in public institutions.

Rating agencies, Standard Poor’s and Moody’s have downgraded Botswana, albeit slightly. The reasons are that there continues to be corruption, fiscal and revenue crimes such as money laundering and general unethical governance in the country. There are still loopholes in many laws despite the enactments and amendments of more than thirty laws in the last two years.

One of the most critical aspect of enhancing transparency and accountability and general good governance, is to have a strong auditing and accounting systems. Therefore, such professions must be properly regulated to ensure that public monies are protected against white color crime. It is well known that some audit firms are highly unprincipled.

They are responsible for tax avoidance and tax evasions of some major companies. Some are responsible for fraud that has been committed. They are more loyal to money paid by clients than to ethical professional standards. They shield clients against accountability. Some companies and parastatals have collapsed or have been ruined financially despite complementary reports by auditors.

In some cases, we have seen audit firms auditing parastatals several times to almost becoming resident auditors. This is bad practice which is undesirable. Some auditors who were appointed liquidators of big companies have committee heinous crimes of corruption, imprudent management, fraud and outright recklessness without serious consequences.

There is also a need to protect whistleblowers as they have been victimized for blowing the whistle on impropriety. In fact, in some cases, audit firms have exonerated culprits who are usually corrupt corporate executives.

The accounting and auditing professions have been dominated by foreigners for a very long time. Most major auditing firms used by state entities and big private sector companies are owned by foreigners. There has to be a deliberate plan to have Batswana in this profession.

While there are many Batswana who are accountants, less are chartered accountants. There must be deliberate steps to wrestle the profession from foreigners by making citizens to be chartered.  It is also important to strengthen the Auditor General. The office is created by the constitution.

The security of tenure is clearly secured in the constitution. However, this security of tenure was undermined by the appointing authority in many instances whereby the Auditor General was appointed on a short-term contract. The office is part of the civil service and is not independent at all.

The Auditor General is placed, in terms of scale, at Permanent Secretary level and is looked at as a peer by others who think they can’t be instructed by their equivalent to comply. Some have failed to submit books of accounts for audits, e.g. for special funds without fear or respect of the office. There is need to relook this office by making it more independent and place it higher than Permanent Secretaries.

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