Wednesday, 09 September 2015 13:41

The Importance of Leadership

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I have just completed reading two books on the Second World War. The first was by an American soldier who spent 4 years in a Japanese prisoner of war camp and the second was an overview of the War from both the Soviet and Allied perspective. Last week the world remembered the day when the Americans dropped two nuclear devices on Japanese Cities and before that Remembrance Day services were held all over Europe to commemorate the end of the War in Europe.

The impression both books left me with was the magnitude of mankind’s stupidity and cruelty. Led by dictators in Germany, Japan and the Soviet Union and managed by diplomatic and military leaders who set out to achieve what their masters told them to do. The “civilized” countries of the World attacked each other in an orgy of violence and self-destruction that left tens of millions dead and many more homeless, destitute and hungry.

It took a shameful suicide in a bunker in Berlin and the nuclear attacks on Japan, wiping out hundreds of thousands of ordinary people, to bring the carnage to an end. Good leadership played a key role both during and after the conflagration. Churchill in the United Kingdom stood alone in the World against the tyranny of Fascism until America was forced by the attack on Pearl Harbor to enter the war. After that American leadership played a key role in first containing and then defeating the Germans and the Japanese.

Good or bad, it was leaders who determined what happened and then failed to manage the outcome which had to be decided by force of arms like an ancient battle between two tribes.

In the aftermath of the War, the world witnessed a generation of leaders who put together reconstruction programmes and a new World order that heralded 70 years of unparalleled prosperity and relative peace. Again leadership was the key. In America there was an awakening to the fact that they could no longer sit on the sidelines of global affairs pursuing isolationist policies. They plunged into the post War era with vigor and determination. The United Nations was formed and the Breton Woods Institutions of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund were established and funded.

In Germany, operating under a military government, the US funded Marshal Plan provided the German people the resources for reconstruction. Even today, that programme is viewed as one of the greatest achievements of post War history and it laid the foundations of a democratic, dynamic and flourishing Germany that today leads Europe.

In post War Japan another remarkable transformation took place, also under military leadership when an American General, Macarthur, took the dramatic steps required to restore Japanese dignity in defeat and then went on to lay the foundations of a new democratic State and modern economy that has lifted Japan out of the horror of the War into world leadership as a democratic State with an economy that has changed the world we live in.

It all started in Japan when the General ordered his allied troops to eat only what was available for the Japanese people and he protected and restored the dignity of the Emperor. Instead of reparations, the USA provided the resources for reconstruction and development while insisting that the country, without abandoning its culture and rich traditions, adopt democracy and a new Constitution that protected human rights and created a free market economy.

When you compare the performance of leadership in and after the Second World War with the leadership during and after the First World War, there is no comparison. The First created the conditions for the Second, the Second has given us perhaps the longest single period of growth and development and human progress in history.

In Europe, a remarkable coterie of leaders emerged who took the initiative to establish what has become the largest trading block in the world in the form of the European Union. The original 7 national leaders who decided among themselves that they would build a system that would make it impossible for Europe to ever go to war against itself again initiated this. Today the Union covers virtually the whole of Europe and the specter of European leaders meeting to resolve problems is now a common feature of world affairs.

Leadership in all spheres of life is the critical factor that determines success or failure, progress or decline, freedom and dignity or suppression and control.

In business leaders who had a vision of what they might achieve have transformed the world and then single-mindedly pursued the vision with all their might. Rhodes was such a man, dying at 49, leaving an empire of over 70 companies and 5 countries that owed their existence to his vision and vitality. He left a legacy that still broods over southern Africa and even the world, through Oxford and the Rhodes Scholarships.

Then there are men and women who created General Motors, Ford and Toyota, Gates in a garage with some friends creating the internet and computer revolution, Jobs and Apple inspiring a whole generation of geeks to do amazing things. The people who put man into Space and the political leaders who made it possible by allocating the huge resources that were needed. This all requires leadership and without it, nothing is achieved.

The failure of leadership in business is dealt with by the collapse of the enterprise unless it is State funded. Failure of leadership in the national or political sphere is much more difficult to deal with. A recent study of post Independence States which came to sovereignty over their affairs since 1950, shows the worst performing State in the world, is Zimbabwe. This is based on GDP growth since Independence and Zimbabwe, alone in the world of developing nations has shown virtually no growth since 1980.

Of course GDP growth by itself is not everything. Zimbabwe has changed enormously following Independence – our people have their dignity and pride and run their own affairs. The public administration has been transformed and the ownership of much of the private sector has changed hands. Great strides have been made in empowerment. But these gains have all been submerged by the failure to grow the economy and increase opportunity.

One third of our population – perhaps its more these days, has fled the country seeking greener pastures. At Independence 90 percent of what you saw on the shelves was made in the country, today the majority is imported. At Independence we were self sufficient in most things, especially food and were major exporters into world markets of beef, maize and tobacco – now we are major importers of all that we eat.

The only difference between Zimbabwe and Botswana, or Namibia or Kenya or Ghana or Singapore, is leadership. The only thing that can get Zimbabwe out of the hole we are in is new leadership. How we get there is the key issue in determining whether things get better or worse.

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