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General Elections 2009
The youth vote against failure of our leaders

20 April 2009

The failures of leaders are pre-occupying South Africans as they go to the polls in record numbers this week, and with a 28 percent of the vote going to first time voters, there could be surprising upsets.

“Globally there is disillusion among the young with politicians and business leaders,” Liza van Wyk, CEO of leading training organisation, BizTech says.

“We saw young people propel the first African-American into the White House and Barack Obama is proving the wisdom of that choice.

It is young people who are experiencing the brunt of the global economic downturn; if they are studying, there is no guarantee that they will get jobs after they complete their studies and they tend to be the first to be laid off.

The errors that led to the current financial crisis were rampant greed among bankers and many corporate bosses.

"In South Africa political leaders have failed young people, educational standards are low, unemployment is high and finding the money to study is hard. A recent debate among young people on SAfm showed their maturity in assessing politics.

"One young man said, ‘Politicians claim they are consulting with us, but no-one is listening, they do what they set out to do anyhow.’ Another young person said: ‘our parents talk of the suffering of the past, but we are interested in our future.’

"Obama showed sensitivity to the complaint that politicians don’t listen. When he was in Europe recently, he said, ‘I have come not to tell, but to listen.' "

Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) statistics show that of the 23.1 million voters registered to vote, 6.4 million are young people ranging from 18 to 29 years of age, or 28 percent of the national vote, which could make the youth the most important voters in this election.

It is clear that young people are determined to make their voices heard. During the registration drive in November last year, the IEC reported that more than 3.6 million South Africans came out to register for the first time; 77.9 percent of them younger than 35.

“It’s a new world,” Van Wyk said, “and we keep getting indicators of it in our courses, while older delegates are more likely to accept what they are told, young people interrogate the reasons why and are more likely to go and check facts on the internet.

Even BMW in designing its new vehicles this year has said that the concept of ‘sheer driving pleasure will not work anymore. You have to be socially acceptable as well. That will take a complete redefinition of the brand.’ And that is what is needed to beat the global financial crisis and to reform politics: a complete change in leadership styles.

“The concept of servant leadership has gained dramatic momentum and is espoused by South Africans like Brand Pretorius of McCarthy and others. Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associations - the world’s largest hedge fund with $38,6bn in assets - gives an indication of what it means when he says, ‘I draw my conclusions then tell my team, please shoot holes in this, tell me where I am wrong.’

"He says: ‘People tend to think that my success has been because I’m a really good decision-maker. I think it is actually because I’m less confident in making decisions. I never know anything really. Everything is a probability.’

“The importance of that,” Van Wyk says, “is that Dalio and other important leaders are open to new ideas. Obama has stacked his government with many who opposed him; he recognises that effective leadership is not about ego, it is about creating workable success for the majority.

In our BizTech course, the Total Team Leader, we impress upon delegates the view of Andrew Carnegie who said: ‘Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision (and) direct individual accomplishments toward organisational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.' "

What SA politicians need to do Van Wyk says South African politicians need to build a Team South Africa: “The 2010 World Cup will help with that, but we have to remember that cohesive teams (the nation) have managers and coaches (political leaders) who provide support to team members and encourage them to support one another.

"Our Total Team Leader course carries advice every South African politician would do well to remember: For teams to be effective they must be cohesive - members (all citizens not just those of a single political party) must desire to achieve common goals and group identity. Stability, support and satisfaction are essential for cohesion.”

Van Wyk said South Africa was a nation experiencing profound stresses, not just in terms of the financial pressures affecting every country across the globe at present, but also ancillary stresses from crime, job fears and other factors.

"In the our Total Team Leader course, we talk of how in the workplace bad delegation, as an example, adds to stress and poor performance. The next president has to be very careful about who he or she puts in positions of power as cabinet members and provincial leaders.

"Token appointments and cronyism will backfire; in this harsh economic climate only the best person for the job will do, and a climate of confidence and reduced stress needs to be deliberately created.

"There are classic workplace challenges mapped in our Total Team Leader course that will come to the surface after the elections in the way the country will view the new president. In our course we called it Trouble by Turnover and we list the concerns like this:

"Each team member (citizen) will be wondering:
- How will it change the team (management of the country)?
- How will others (the global community) relate to the new person (president)?
- How will the new person (president) relate to my needs?

All that on top of the usual:
- Can the person do the job?
- How are we going to get the work done now?”

“There is another fascinating aspect that Obama was sensitive to and that we hope South Africa’s next leader takes into account: no matter who becomes president, there will be large sections of the population that will believe he or she cannot do the job.

It’s always helpful for a newcomer (no matter how many years he or she has spent in politics) to be seen to take advice from veterans.

Reading from the course notes of Total Team Leader we learn that: “Paring up new and veteran members also defends against the development of the we-they syndrome. Unless they are quickly assimilated, the newcomers are likely to band together, whether it is because they feel unwelcome or because they want to press a new agenda.

“Seeing that happen, veterans are likely to defend what they’ve so carefully built up so far.

“These elections pose interesting challenges for us. We hope whoever the new leaders are that they will impress on their administration and the nation as a whole that learning is eternal and that skills training is critical to propel this nation ahead,” Van Wyk said.