Leadership is about integrity, trust, respect, courage and recognising the humanity in each other – said speakers at the recent Sunday Times Top 100 Companies Leaders on the Move tour, in association with Gautrain Management Agency.

On Friday, 6 September, delegates attending the Leaders on the Move tour were in for a big adventure. In partnership with the Gautrain Management Agency, the event took place at multiple venues in Johannesburg where guests spent time with prominent business leaders. SABC news anchor Nzinga Qunta facilitated the day which started at the Maslow Hotel. After a scrumptious breakfast, guest boarded the bus to the Johannesburg Stock Exchange to meet Janine Hills, founder and director of Vuma Reputation Management.

“Don’t lead with fear. Take risks. Believe in yourself.” – Janine Hills

Hills founded her company in 2005 when she was 39 years old. “When you start a business, don’t start too soon,” she said. “You have to earn your pips first. You have to learn how to serve.”

Hills grew up in poverty and violence in Port Elizabeth. Unable to afford university, she started her career in hospitality, where an employer showed her how to eat at a five-star restaurant. Years later, she had the opportunity to teach someone else the same skill. “We don’t understand the barriers of society,” she said. “It’s our role as leaders to help people cross barriers.”

To her, being a leader is about respect and integrity, building relationships, leading by example and learning from one another. To lead with dignity and distinction, you need to love and forgive yourself, and learn from you mistakes, she said.

It’s also about creating opportunities. “I don’t believe in employing people on their credentials, I employ people based on personality,” she said. Trust is as important. “Four years ago, I decided my business is too centred around Janine,” she said. “When you invest in people, you need to learn how to let go as a leader. A strong team is essential.” Today, joint CEOs Palesa Madumo and Tshepo Sefotlhelo are leading the business.

Hills commented on the gender-based violence and xenophobia that continue to plague South Africa: “Leaders right now need to speak out and work together. We can’t change the world but what we can change is ourselves. Violence begets violence. We have to start leading by example. When people are angry – listen.”

“We need courageous leadership,” she continued. “Our leaders need to be brave and speak up with solutions. Don’t lead with fear. Take risks. Believe in yourself.” After being inspired at the JSE, guests took the Gautrain to Midrand to meet with Jack van der Merwe, chief executive officer of the Gautrain Management Agency.

“When you become a leader, success is about growing others” – Jack van der Merwe

Van der Merwe, chief executive officer of Gautrain Management, has been in public service since 1971. He shared 48 years of wisdom with his guests. “Before you are a leader, success is about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is about growing others.”

He reflected on the state of the nation. “There are nearly as many people on social grants as those that are working. Stats SA has youth unemployment at 55.2% – the highest in the world. All our other problems are tied to this.”

To start solving problems of unemployment and inequality, we need to grow the economy. “It’s not about how we slice the cake, but how we can make it bigger,” he said. “South Africa is a magical, resilient country. We punch well above our weight. We need decisive leadership.”

Van der Merwe quoted GIBS professor Nick Binedell on the three Cs driving the global environment today: change, complexity and competition. “People who change after change, survive. Those who change with change, succeed. Those who cause change, lead. Those who don’t change will become irrelevant and fall behind,” he said. “We need an agile workforce that can adapt quickly to an ever-changing competitive landscape.”

Van der Merwe added two more Cs: collaboration and communication. “We cannot work in silos as we did in the past. We need to bring different skills together in one room.” Essential skills today are creativity, critical thinking, persuasion and lifelong learning. “Set aside one hour a day for deliberate practise of learning,” he urged.

To Van der Merwe, leadership is about teamwork, having an open mind and being willing to learn. He ascribes to Warren Buffett’s three criteria for a good investment: energy, intelligence and the most vital quality, integrity. He shared three tips from expert Conor Neill on how to live by these traits:

  1. Energy: approach big tasks – like the Gautrain – one step at a time.
  2. Intelligence: start writing down your life to accumulate intelligence.
  3. Integrity: learn to say no. Make sure your schedule and values are in sync.

For 22 years, Van der Merwe headed the iconic Gautrain Project from inception to implementation. His secret? “Success is hundreds of small, consistent, repeated good decisions.” Next, guests took the Gautrain back to Sandton to meet Bonang Mohale at Pigalle Restaurant in the Michelangelo Towers.

“Demand a place by the table … or bring your own table!” – Bonang Mohale

Mohale, former director of Business Leadership South Africa and author of Lift as You Rise, shared his thoughts on leadership before joining guests for lunch. “Anyone that feels called upon to lead is a leader,” Mohale began. “Leadership is about being genuinely obsessed with the development of three things:

  1. A compelling vision – you must be worthy of being followed.
  2. Courage – you’re taking your people to a place they’ve never been before.
  3. Integrity – submit yourself to a higher standard.”

Mohale said a leader’s best trait is her ability to hear people. “Hearing is an art. All our people want is to feel heard,” he said.

“There are two ways to know that you’ve succeeded as a leader. When people feel free to speak their minds without fear of consequences. And when they know the company will put their personal safety and wellbeing before profits,” he said. Furthermore, a good leader:

  1. Establishes trust;
  2. Encourages conflict and debate;
  3. Commits to taking action; and
  4. Creates a culture where everyone holds each other accountable.

“Good leaders talk straight, they extend trust,” he said. “They celebrate in public, but chastise in private.” He shared advice for new leaders: Be happy with yourself and live in the present moment; develop close, personal, intimate relationships with people, not things and lastly, live a balanced life – eat healthily, exercise and sleep moderately.