A conversation with Chad Tshabalala – Standard Bank Branch Manager Melrose Arch


CT: My leader, thank you so much for affording me the opportunity to be part of your leadership conversations.

LM: Thank you My Leader, I look forward to this engagement, I’m sure it will enrich many young leaders.

CT: You have been an inspiration to many of us, I for one look up to you and certainly want to emulate you as I embark on my corporate journey.

LM: I am a product of the generosity of many that guided, moulded and inspired my generation. These selfless people have so much of themselves to see us succeed. They passed on the baton to us to do the same and more to those who come after us. I am simply trying to emulate their fine example, so that I can pass on this tradition to you and other young leaders. You represent our best hope for the future and we trust that you will take this baton, run faster and further us, and pass it on to our children.

CT: I read a book by Siya Mapoko titled “The Best Advice I Ever Got”. He interviewed CEO’s about the most sentimental advices they got which have shaped their leadership styles and value systems. If you may please share the best advice you ever got and how it has shaped you to be the kind of leader you are today.

LM: One of the most significant lessons and advice I received was from my late father, which was, “ Treat everyone with dignity and respect regardless of their age, culture, race, gender, religion, nationality or status in life”. I watched my father being a magnet to so many people, from all walks of life, I observed how much he made everyone to feel appreciated and listened to his conversations on these matters. What was most remarkable was his consistency, authenticity and approachability – he walked the talk. I have tried to emulate his example, and the more I’ve matured, the more I fully appreciated his ever green lesson and advice. May I never disappoint him.

CT: Leaders are human too… What are some of the mistakes, small or big, at work or at home, that you have observed or done that could be a learning for new young leaders to be weary of and avoid?

LM: One of the saddest experiences that I have observed, and that looks like a growing trend, is the advent of toxic leaders. Many of there leaders will do everything to achieve results, mostly at the expense of people’s lives, health, and family life, These type of leaders exhibit the following toxic traits ;

* unwillingness to take feedback,

* lying or inconsistency,

* cliquishness,

* autocracy,

* manipulation,

* intimidation,

* bullying, and

* narcissism.

These toxic leader can – if allowed to run rampant for long enough – destroy organisational structures over time and bring down an entire organisation. They also leave people as nervous wrecks, broken spirits, and they contribute to failed marriages, dysfunctional relationships, mental illness, suicides and miscarriages.

A lot of organisations look away, mostly because these are regarded as talented leaders, or high performing leaders or earmarked for greater things. The harsh reality is that this is too high a price for organisations, and many find a broken organisation when such leaders leave.

This is aptly captured by Liz Wiseman, “ Some leaders seemed to drain intelligence and capability out of the people around them. Their focus on their intelligence and their resolve to be the smartest person in the room had a diminishing effect on everyone else. For them to look smart, other people had to end up looking dumb”

Wiseman adds , “ We have all worked with these black holes. They create a vortex that sucks energy out of everyone and everything around them. When they walk into the room, the shared IQ drops and the length of the meeting doubles”

Wiseman concludes, “ in countless settings, these leaders were idea killers and energy destroyers. Other people’s ideas suffocated and died in their presence and the flow of intelligence came to an abrupt halt around them. Around these leaders, intelligence flowed only one way: from them to others.”

I hope young leaders will not see these toxic leaders as role models, we must continue to speak out and oppose these leaders and expose their destructive and immoral acts.

CT: I have a perception that we are trying so hard to empower women , however we have not invested enough in dialogues with men to help them understand the vision behind women empowerment. Tradition, culture and societal norms in male child upbringing has still to a certain degree remained constant. Hence gender based violence, single parenting, child headed homes, male corporate insecurities (men having challenges being led by women)… What are your views on men and women empowerment?

LM: Our sad history of racial and gender discrimination provides a backdrop to the current policies on gender equality and empowerment. South Africa’s Constitutional Court has often affirmed that redress measures do not constitute an exception to the equality guarantee in Section 9 of the Bill of Rights. Instead, the implementation of robust redress measures is required to achieve equality as guaranteed by Section 9 of the Constitution. There is therefore a historical, constitutional and more importantly a business rationale for the empowerment of women in the workplace . Organisations have embarked on various programmes to redress gender imbalances in the workplace and to ensure that our workplaces reflect the demographics of the economically active population and broader population of the country. In addition to the redress policies, organisations have also set up gender based targets to be achieved at junior, middle and senior management, executive management and board level. All these are what I call the “ hardware issues” if change and transformation. Although these maybe be daunting, and require hardwork, passion, dedication and commitment- the hardest task us in the “ software issues” or culture around diversity. The questions you have raised deal with key issues on the software of change. Let me address a few of those :

  • This process of change is characterized by high levels of frustrations and expectations from women, who feel that despite the hype, great policies and the rhetoric from the leaders, the pace of change has been slow and needs to be accelerated. This is true, we have to do much more to drive and promote women empowerment and leadership in our corporates, we have to go beyond lip service to real and genuine transformation of our workplaces.
  • This process of change is starting to create some anxiety and uncertainty among some young men in our organisations. Some of this is understandable for young men who have just joined the workplace – many of them have grown up in a democratic era, they do not have as deep an appreciation of the history, context and reality of patriarchy and the advantages it gave them and the hurdles it placed in front of women progress. Managers and leaders failed to give this important context and you start to see a growing resentment.
  • One of our greatest blindspots, as men, is our unconscious biases against women, these may manifest themselves in crude or subtle ways. Some of these prejudices, biases and sexist attitudes are born from our culture, our upbringing, our macho image, and general socialization. We require a concerted effort, from parenting, to our education system, to changes in our culture and traditions to address these very dangerous tendencies;
  • Social media also provides a backdrop to our personal and corporate lives; social media also can bring out the worst battles between genders. If you read some of the material on gender wars, you have some of the most arcebic,  passionate, and divisive stereotypes, cartooning and lampooning of women by men, and also of men by women. This is fertile ground for more conflict, backlash and acrimony- now just imagine each of these people bringing the same attitude, mindset and animosity into the workplace – you have a recipe for a dysfunctional team and a divided organisation.
  • Lastly and most importantly, this is a leadership challenge, in the words of James M Kouzes,

“ Change is the province of leaders. It is the work of leaders to inspire people to do things differently, to struggle against uncertain odds, and to persevere toward a misty image of a better future.”

Chad, it’s our responsibility to create gender harmony in our teams, to inspire and support women to take on more leadership responsibilities whilst motivating men to work and succeed in a more gender conscious and sensitive environment. In such an environment, the very best talent, women and men, will shine through and lead diverse teams.

I have experienced this in my career, I look back with pride on the amazing women and male leaders I’ve been blessed to work with. I have fond memories championing women development and empowerment in Zambia in 2001. We appointed a dynamic group of women leaders to be on an extended Executive Commitee and be part of the leadership of the STANBIC bank in Zambia. This was understandably very difficult for many male leaders because of deep seated cultural values, practices and traditions. In the end, we prevailed, and these awesome leaders became part of our leadership team:

  • Chanda Charity Lumpa
  • Gwen Mwaba –
  • Yande Mothoa
  • Stella Mutale Mapipo
  • Jackie Mutale

All these leaders went on to achieve great things in their personal and professional career. Those were pioneering times, I fear that in 2019, our progress has not been as great as it could be, me must accelerate the pace of women empowerment and leadership, for the sake of our continent and our precious daughters.

CT: When it comes to the workforce, Millennials are labelled as individuals who spend too much time on social media and technology. “Banking is not just banking to us, it’s a lifestyle”. How do you see the future of banking in the hands of Millennials? How can we make it better and remain relevant for Millennials and the next generations to come?

LM: I think we sometimes forget Chad that each generation does not fully understand the next, it looks through its lens and not with their lands. In our generation, technology was a foreign object, we got to learn about it, and adjusted our lives to it, the young people of today have grown up with technology, they know of no other life other than technology. Our challenge is that we expect them to conform to our world instead of accepting their world as it is, and using their creativity and different perspectives to help us understand them and the services and goods they will require in the future. Let me tell a story to illustrate this:

Two years ago I met young graduates in my team, after welcoming them, i inquiried why they never banked with us. They told me that banks were outdated in their thinking and were not coming with solutions that met their needs. I then challenged them to work together, across business units and academic disciplines to come up with a solution for young people. I gave them an executive to support them, and critically, a seasoned banker, with an awesome outlook to guide them on the journey. They came back with an amazing solution:

– They created a lifestyle app, and not a banking app;

– They created a platform which can be used by schools or universities to interact with their students, families and teachers and lecturers;

– they built the platform around the lifestyle of students and young people

– they used the latest technologies of AI, robotics and data analytics

– The platform is customizable to different clients

This was only possible because we created a conducive environment for young people to innovate, and be creative.

CT: How do you think business can become the “go-to partner” of society and government in creating a better South Africa?

LM: South Africa remains one of the most unequal countries in the world, with the largest part of the population suffering from unemployment, poverty and under-development. Overlay this with racial, gender and youth dynamics, then you have a huge challenge facing us. If the people in the Middle East had a case to be aggrieved, or if the people of Britain voted against the status quo, or if the anger and frustration propelled Trump to power in the USA, how much resentment, anger and a brewing frustration do we individually and collectively think there is in South Africa? The tough question we have to ask ourselves is, do we, as those who are in fortunate positions of economic and political power, understand this, are we able to see the warning lights, do we have the finger on the pulse of our staff, customers and society?

Regardless of who is to blame, the current South African socio-economic trajectory will have disastrous consequences for both the current government (ruling party); the corporate and commercial sector and for the population as a whole (rich and poor). It is not sustainable. Everybody understands that, but few genuinely appreciate it. Our long-term interests as people, parents, leaders, and stewards of such large corporates are at risk unless we start to take urgent and bold steps to lead the process of addressing some of the most urgent socio-economic challenges.

According to Professors Porter and Kramer, the solution lies in the principle of what they term “shared value”, which involves creating economic value in a way that also creates value for society by addressing its needs and challenges. It requires business to reconnect company success with social progress.

It is important to understand that shared value is not social responsibility – philanthropy or even sustainability, its a bold new way to achieve economic success. It is not only on the margins of what companies do, but at the centre of it.

In my own organisation, our Group CEO addressed a seminal letter to all our staff and stakeholders on how the organisation will position itself with regard to society:

“ … transformation is a commercial imperative for the Group. South Africa’s extremely high level of inequality creates grave risks to the quality of our politics, to the strength of our institutions and to the stability of our society. These worsen South Africa’s business environment and our country risk ratings which, in turn, damage our prospects for faster and more inclusive growth in South Africa and throughout the continent.”

Sim concludes by enjoining all of us at Standard Bank – and, indeed, all South Africans – “ to continue to work hard to transform our economy and our society. Our Constitution binds us to do this; our South African patriotism and our commitment to Africa demand it; and our interest in the profitability of our group and in the well-being of our fellow South Africans, our friends and families compels it.”

The private sector, civil society and the public sector has to partner to address many of South Africa’s intractable problems together, no single sector can succeed in this, it requires collective leadership and accountability.

CT: In a country where unemployment is rife it is evident that being self-employed is often the best solution. However most SME’s fail to survive. What are your views behind the reasons for failing?

LM: SME are critical for Africa’s renewal, they can drive the renewal, promote economic growth, open job opportunities and compete in markets beyond their shores. It does however take a special person, passion, resilience, an undying spirit, dedication and a burning desire to suceeed as an entrepreneur. Although so many business fail, it is also true that some of the best entrepreneurs bounced back from failure to register amazing success. There are, however, many business that fail at that critical first stage of business for a number of reasons. Some key ones include :

  • Lack of experience.
  • Insufficient capital (money)
  • Poor location.
  • Cash flow challenges
  • lack of market
  • Poor inventory management.
  • Over-investment in fixed assets.
  • Poor credit arrangements.
  • access to finance
  • Personal use of business funds.
  • failure to handle unexpected growth.
  • poor leadership that results in loss of staff
  • lack of non financial support
  • poor financial management, including failure to pay taxes or suppliers

It is important for entrepreneurs to keep learning from both the successes and failures of others and to craft their own personal pathway to success.

CT: You are a phenomenal leader, your daughter, Lihle, once made a comment: *“I think my dad might be superman”*. Hahaha…. You are a true inspiration to many. How does it make you feel to know that you have done so much good that even your own daughter thinks you have supernatural powers?

LM: It takes a village to raise a child. I come from a rich tradition of leaders, my father, my uncles, and other cousins – they were first,  leaders at home, later in our family and then in the community and society. My father used to tell me about the profound influence his father, Khobo Mali, his uncles, Dan Qeqe and Aaron Mali had on him and the love his older brother had for him when he lost his father. In my own life, I benefited from the love and leadership of my father, my uncle Ray Mali, My Brother Xolisa Mali and many other influential people from teachers, coaches, priests and liberation struggle heroes.

I have sought to give my own children unconditional love, to believe in their unique attributes, and I have tried to raise them to be fiercely independent, assertive, ambitious, caring, loving and proud of their identity. There is a special bond between fathers and daughters, Lihle is my princess, my oldest daughter, I’ve watch her grow from a headstrong young child to a beautiful, accomplished, independent, professional and driven young lady. She has also given me the right lens through which I can relate to young people, to understand their world and to be respectful of their wishes.

As for the warm and kind words on my impact on others, I would like to use the words I used at Rhodes University when accepting the Old Rhodian Award for leadership,

“ In accepting this award, which “ is specifically intended to acknowledge Old Rhodians as role models”, I pledge to continue my work of grooming and developing young leaders throughout our beloved continent. To give true meaning to this award, to be deserving of being counted among its recipients, and to continue this important work, I need to assume the difficult task of role modeling. In accepting this difficult task, I have to embraced the harsh reality that leadership is not only what I do, but also fundamentally who I am as a person. To be an effective and influential role model, I have to always ensure that there is alignment between who I am and what I do as a leader”

I went on to say, “ It will not be easy, as I’m not a god or saint, but a mere mortal with flaws and contradictions. Sometimes I will fail, disappoint, and not be up to the required standard, but I will not give up, I will strive to always be, “ The Man in the Arena” identified by Theodore Roosevelt in his seminal speech in Sorbonne in 1910.”

I concluded my comments, which will sum up my answer to your profound question Chad,

“ Maybe that one day, in my old age, bruised by life’s journey, I would be sitting on my stoep on a farm, watching my grandchildren play, reflect on this momentous day at Rhodes University. Maybe only then, would I be comfortable to be called, a worthy “Distinguished Old Rhodian”. Until then, I owe this University a huge debt, a debt that cannot only be repaid through living up to the honor, prestige and tradition of this wonderful award. My leadership journey continues…”

CT: Thank you for allowing me the platform to engage with you on this platform. I am honoured.

LM: I have enjoyed this conversation My Leader, I wish you the very best in your personal and professional journey.