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by Pete Laburn
The recent death of renowned business leader Dr Anton Rupert has saddened South Africa and the business world. Here was a man of stature, real substance, who was undeniably successful by any measure. With estimated assets of USD 1.77b in 2004, Forbes business magazine ranked him in the top 500 wealthiest families in the world. But on being asked in an interview last year if he thought himself as a successful man, he answered that he would rather be remembered as a man of worth. “Successful people,� he said, “did well for themselves, whilst the people he admired did well for others�. One wonders how many other so-called business leaders live by similar values. No doubt a large number would claim this philosophy but how many would live it out each day. If you counted on your fingers the leaders you have been exposed to, or know, who actually live by this credo, would you get past one hand? I doubt it.
The root of the issue here is not that only a very few humans are genetically coded to exhibit these wonderful attributes but rather that people who really do value significance and worth higher than material success are not ‘corporate heroes’ – they don’t make it onto the corporate high fliers list – because its not what the corporate world really wants. Their obsession is with short term return to greedy shareholders, and that doesn’t permit the time, investment in people, the community and society at large, that encourages and fosters this kind of significant leadership, and men and women of worth that leave a sustainable legacy. Why are these individuals heading today’s businesses not putting significance before success? Sadly it seems that significance is about others, and success is about me. Significance is a ‘giving thing’’ whilst success is a ‘taking thing’. And any leadership guru will tell you that true leadership is 99.9% giving of yourself, your time and talents to the benefit of those who choose to follow you.

Rupert initially wanted to be a medical doctor and, as a recent newspaper tribute to him noted, he wanted to save and improve lives, not to make millions. Maybe here is another key. Could it be that great leaders first and foremost want to save and improve lives – the lives of the people in their organization or in their sphere of influence? Jack Welch is quoted as saying that if you don’t work for a boss who is passionate about your career, then get out of the job!! Is not the leader’s job primarily to be passionate about the lives of people in his/her sphere of influence, save and improve talent, capabilities and ultimately careers? I think the majority of so-called business leaders have lost sight of this – they are more interested in the millions than in saving and improving the lives of their loyal team members. Sound harsh? I don’t think so. How many business executives are in it primarily for themselves? How many business executives have ‘saving and improving lives’ on their key performance deliverables? But I bet every one has “making millions� for shareholders as a key objective, with personal material reward as the ultimate aim. I rest my case.
We have not got great business leaders because we do not grow and encourage the very behaviour, values and sense of worth that will generate these leaders. We should be drumming in ‘being significant, becoming a person of worth, connectivity and the common touch’ at every opportunity. These are the real leadership skills that matter. It is these attributes that organizations desperately need to help them successfully cope with the quantum change, transformation and challenges of the new millennium, and above all to breed a new generation of significant leaders.
Dr Rupert, thank you for your example and immense contribution. Long live your leadership legacy.
Reference: “The benevolent tycoon�, Chris Barron , SA Sunday Times , Jan 22nd 2006.

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