A conversation with Mthokozisi Lushozi – Standard Bank Relationship Manager PBB Private Banking Eastgate Suite

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ML: What will you tell your younger self?

LM: I would tell young Lincoln that life is about lifelong learning, most of that learning is not in the classroom, it’s in daily experiences. These daily experiences will provide you with invaluable lifelong lessons – sometimes through bitter experiences, painful disappointments, horribly bad decisions, and even heartless betrayals.  Rest assured you will also learn from the mistakes of others, wise words of others, and the positive influences of all those around you.

At the end, when you measure your life, it will not be about the assets you may possess, achievements you may have made, awards conferred, wealth amassed or your standing in society – it will be about the positive difference you would have made in the lives of your wife, children, family, colleagues, comrades community and the broader society. So Young Lincoln, life is about influencing and being influenced, stand ready to be influenced and as you grow and mature, make it your life mission to become a positive influence to others.

ML: What has molded the young Mali?

LM: At just 18, I had been expelled from school, had been to jail twice, had attempted to skip the country to go into exile, was on the run from the police and had not been studying for two years. All this in pursuit of freedom and democracy for all South Africans.

I was not alone; we were an army of angry and disillusioned young people, determined to make South Africa ungovernable and the apartheid system unworkable. We were marginalized, bitter and destructive. We were labeled the lost generation or the marginalized youth. 

But my late father, Wellington Mzwandile Mali, refused to give me up for lost. He had a passion for education. He dreamed that I would overcome my difficulties and grow up to be a responsible and successful member of society. He never lost faith in me.

My father has been the most significant influence in my young life. He molded me in 5 key respects : 

  •  He touched each person profoundly and deeply personally. This is because he had the profound gift of listening carefully to each and all, without judging,  based on status or wealth. This quality was the converse of the great communicator that he was, a man who impregnated profound lessons that endeared him to his friends, colleagues, children and family.
  • He was passionate about lifelong learning and development and challenged me to invest in continuous learning and self development; 
  • My father always believed in and practiced ubuntu – he recognised, at all times – the humanity equality and the value of each person. He accepted their humanity without condition. He trusted and respected each person for who they were, not for what they have done or not done. That is why my father would talk and relate to in the same way to kings and commoners; the wealthy and poor; relatives and strangers; the young and the old; business executives and peasants and supporter and critic.
  • My father taught the value of wealth – he argued that wealth is when you have more assets than liabilities. To him in life your assets were all the people who loved or cared about you because of the positive difference you made in their lives – be they colleagues, friends, loved ones or family members. Your liabilities were all the people you hurt, disappointed and to whom you had a negative effect. Wealth then to him is if in life you end up always having more assets than liabilities – then you are wealthy.
  • My father did not leave a will, as he had no material riches to bequeath, but he left me a rich legacy of sacrifice, service, humility, contribution, leadership, honesty, integrity, commitment, discipline, decisiveness, courage, trustworthiness, reliability and a remarkable reputation for standing up for his beliefs, principles, values and the truth regardless of personal consequences.

As I grew up I did not fully appreciate the lessons I was learning from such a leadership giant; I did not understand the many lectures he gave; nor did I fully grasp the significance of the examples he shared nor did I connect the dots on the behaviors he displayed. As I grew older, I now know the tremendous impact he has had on me and how he molded me to who I am today. 

ML: The future of “business” is faced with so many challenges, socially, politically, economically etc. just to mention a few. The dynamics are obviously different from the time of your era, where is business going from an eagle eye?

LM: Although the crisis of confidence in business leadership in the developed world has not had as severe an impact in Africa as it has elsewhere, Africa is not an island and has also suffered as a result of the economic damage inflicted on its trading partners and the tightening of governance standards in an attempt to prevent a repeat of the damaging business practices that precipitated the crisis.

The secret to survival, for us in Africa as much as for business leaders in the rest of the world, is to adhere to robust and enduring values. We must cultivate a climate of trust that espouses those values through honest and open communication. Furthermore we must nurture a vision for our organisations that promotes both their corporate and social aspirations.

Essentially, we need to manage and seek to improve the environment in which we find ourselves. In this regard, when he addressed matters of this kind at a conference in Perth 1999, Sir Arvi Parbo, an Australian former business executive, remarked that: “Performance [in dealing with the social and political environment] must have increasing weight in the way in which managers are recruited, trained, evaluated and rewarded, because of the critical nature of these issues to the success of our enterprise. We can do our sums, be great at productions and marketing, fine-tune our cash flows – we can do all those things well but fail badly if we haven’t managed the social and political issues.” (Corporate Public Affairs, Vol 9, Number 2, 1999.)

We as leaders need to foster trust by:

  • not only talking about our ethical values, but living them – every day and in every action we take;
  • creating a climate of trust and compassion based on open communication from what we say, to how we listen, to how we act on what we learn; and
  • embracing a strong vision or purpose for our organisations that takes into consideration both the economic and the social impact of business.

This is important as never before because we need to redefine the role of business in modern society.

I have argued before that the capitalist or free market system is under siege. In recent years, business has increasingly been viewed as a major cause of social, environmental, and economic problems. Companies are widely perceived to be prospering at the expense of the broader community.

Professors Michael Porter and Richard Kramer argue that a huge part of the problem lies with the companies themselves, because they remain trapped in an outdated approach to value creation that has emerged over the past few decades. They continue to view value creation narrowly, optimising short-term financial performance while missing the most important customer needs and ignoring the broader influences that determine their long-term success.

According to 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. However, Porter and Kramer are adamant that shared value is not social responsibility, philanthropy or even sustainability, but a new way to achieve economic success. It is not only on the margins of what companies do, but at the centre of it. This sounds like a somewhat African concept, does it not?

I think that this is the direction that business should be going, it aligns with my values and beliefs. 

ML: Who and what are we missing?

LM: We have a dearth of transcended leadership across all our key sectors, be it public, private and civil service. In the words of James Kouzes and Barry Posner: “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 towards a misty image of a better future. Without leadership, there would not be the extraordinary efforts to solve existing problems and realise unimagined opportunities.” We are missing leaders, we yearn for genuine and authentic leadership. 

Unfortunately, the leadership required of all of us does not come naturally to most leaders. What comes more naturally to most leaders is to work on the strategy, analysis, processes, governance, positioning with stakeholders and measurement. Most of our leaders are technically capable of taking a fresh look at the business, making strategic calls, or investing in new businesses or getting the cost structures in shape or restore our ROE’s to market respectability.

However, most of our businesses and corporates are crying out for more fundamental transformation in terms of business model, operating model, strategy, markets and priorities. In order to drive this fundamental business shift across business units, asset classes, geographies and business lines, businesses need to change the mindsets, attitudes and behaviours of thousands of people from the top of the leadership pyramid to the bottom.

This cannot be done from the splendid isolation of corporate headquarters. It cannot be about giving a couple of eloquent speeches. It cannot be mandated, decreed or simply launched. It has to be lived. This requires the highest levels of commitment to continuous communication and engagement.

Africa’s time has arrived. Its people are ready to take their place among the community of nations. Its youth stands ready to embrace the new age. All we need now are men and women of the highest caliber to lead us into the new dawn. These are men and women drawn from the religious, cultural, academic, government, business and civil society. 

What will distinguish them is what the well known South African public intellectual and commentator Songezo Zibi described as “rational, transcendent leadership.” Such leadership is “either unburdened by the dogmas of the past or able to manage them effectively.” It is such leadership that can reach out to others, make principled compromises, build towards a greater future and always strive for broader rather than narrow interests.

ML: You have such an extravagant social life, with friend and family, how do you balance that with your work, we are told that its cold up there?

LM: I have heard about how cold it is up there, and how lonely it is up the corporate ladder. What has helped me are three important things : 

  • I have never defined myself, my relationships or my world in terms of corporate positions, this has enabled me to stay grounded, and not to be changed by promotions; 
  • I am surrounded by friends, family and colleagues who have known me for more than 20 years, they have never allowed me to think or see myself to be different or better than them because of the positions I hold in a corporate context; 
  • I have always encouraged regular 360 feedback from my colleagues and team mates about what I should start, stop or continue as a leader. This feedback has enabled me to get a sense of my blind spots and areas of development. 

These things have helped me not to feel lonely or cold at the corporate top, it’s made me not to feel any different than before nor treat people differently because of my position or status. 

In as far as my social life is concerned, again I see my work life as one component of my life, I have a much more broader life outside of work. This life has some amazing friends and family who enrich me, who contribute to my joy and happiness and are an essential part of who I am. Between my wife, Sva and my colleague Deena, we find time for Sva, my children, friends, family and community projects. The key is to be “ present” in all these environments and not be half hearted or wish I was somewhere else. 

Finally, I have always lived each day as if it’s my last, making sure that I give my absolute all to my family, colleagues, friends, and community. In that way I enjoy all those moments with my family, friends and colleagues. 

ML: How do you bounce back from setbacks?

LM: There are hard lessons I learnt growing up from my father, one of the most important was resilience. Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress. I used to feel that sometimes my father was unsympathetic, but I later realized that he was preparing me for the harsh realities of life. He was preparing me for the ability to “bounce back” from difficult experiences. This has been one of the strengths I’ve had in dealing with sometimes painful moments in my personal and professional life. 

The most difficult aspect, however, has been to try and deal with such disappointments or setbacks in a manner that does not either affect my family or my colleagues. There are times where I have to hide my pain, frustrations of sadness to my family about developments in my professional life. At the same time, I have had to make sure that my body language, mood and approach does not change towards my colleagues or teammates because of any challenges I may have in my personal space. 

ML: As one of the strongest leaders in the organization, I am sure you have also seen a few strong leaders coming up, what are you doing to develop them?

LM: I am highly committed to the development of young leaders, I see it as my personal mission to identify, guide, coach, promote and develop young talented leaders. I have been given many opportunities, at a very young age, and I was given huge responsibilities whilst I was still very young, I have followed that same approach with young people. Some of the steps I have taken in my career has personal life include : 

  • Always promoting young people to key positions ; 
  • Ensuring that young leaders are involved in key projects; 
  • Lending an ear to young leaders about their personal and professional journeys; 
  • playing a mentoring role to young leaders; and 
  • using various leadership platforms to support young leaders. 

Much more can be done and much much more should be done to help young leaders to take on greater roles across the African continent. 

ML: What are some of the thing you have had to sacrifice through your journey? Or is there success without sacrifice?

LM: When I look back in my life, I have made certain sacrifices on my journey, but I think these were necessary sacrifices for my growth and development. I thank God that I did not sacrifice my values, principles, family, identity, and sense of worth. I have sacrificed some of the following things, which are important for my journey and as lessons for other young people : 

  • I have refused to be promoted to roles I was not suited for or roles that were not going to align to my priorities and my own journey; 
  • I have sacrificed my relationships with some friends and family members on matters of principle; 
  • I have refused to change my lifestyle to suit the prevailing conspicuous consumption culture, and I have also not allowed material things and status to define me, my relationships and my outlook in life; 
  • I have also lost some dear friends and comrades because of my stance on the importance of ethics in the government, corporates and state-owned enterprises. 

As indicated earlier, all these were important sacrifices, these sacrifices have allowed me to find and stay on my True North. 

ML: Lastly, Please, share best piece of advice with young leaders…

LM: I am inspired by these words, “ Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.” I hope and pray that many young leaders will not allow positions to go to their heads; will not miss the little yet important opportunities to make a difference in those they meet on a daily basis and will never be tempted to abuse corporate resources for personal gain or for the benefit of their friends and family. I wish that young leaders will not be defined by their titles and status, and finally that they will treat everyone with the same dignity and respect regardless of their position in life, race, gender or status. 

ML: ( concluding thoughts ) Wow, It is indeed evident that you have played your part from a tender age, at the time, the struggle was for liberation to have right of choice, you have been molded to be a true leader by your father, your wife (Sva), Deena and other leaders, They have done justice in creating a solid concrete leader (Indlela Ibuzwa Kwabaphambili). Thank you for enabling us young leaders. Our future challenges are different, we talking (AI) artificial intelligence, different new ground dynamics and continually learning work and live together. But as the Late Tata Nelson Mandela once said “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” I THANK YOU!