Human beings by nature, are attracted to those who are champions and winners in their respective field. Some of us will go to great lengths to follow every move, trend and achievement of our heroes whether being in sports, music, the arts, academia, business, or whatever interest that we are passionate about. Everybody loves a winner. I am sure that most of us will find it hard to even remember who was the bronze medallist in the marathon at the last Olympics in Beijing, which team was the runners–up in the ABSA Premier league in 2012, who was the first princess in the Miss World pageant of 2015, who was the Financial Director of Apple during Steve Job’s tenure….? Though to the individual or team it is a great achievement in own name and right, people only remember winners. The great Vince Lombardi once said ‘’ If it does not matter who wins or loses, then why do they keep score.”

South Africa is indeed a country of great potential. There was a time under the iconic leadership of Nelson Mandela, that we were undoubtedly seen as a beacon of hope in a conflict ridden and polarised world. Since the dawn of our democratic dispensation, a concerted effort was made to unlock our human capital after many years of neglect occasioned by our unfortunate past. This is to bring about a situation where everyone will enjoy optimal socio-economic prosperity. We have made some headway on quite a few fronts but if truth be told, there are still a vast array of unmet expectations and an increasing collapse of societal norms and standards. We are nowadays more renowned as a country for scoring own goals than actually winning trophies and medals on the global stage.


The release of the third instalment of the Zondo Commission’s Report recently, the chronic bouts of loadshedding this week, the collapse of services at the iconic Baragwanath Hospital where health workers had to fork out money to buy food for patients at street vendors outside the hospital to name but a few, were stark reminders of how we have deteriorated in our performance as a winning, caring and well-functioning nation.

This last Wednesday, the World Bank issued a report on Inequality in Southern Africa: An Assessment of the Southern African Customs Union (SACU). The report states that “South Africa, the largest country in SACU, is the most unequal country in the world, ranking first amongst 164 countries in the World Bank’s global poverty database.”

There are two drivers of this phenomena:

1. Apathy: Accepting the unacceptable where we have been seduced by the status quo and accepted second best as a norm. It boils down to a lack of feeling, emotion, interest and concern by the led.

2. Political correctness: This is not only on a strictly party-political level but involves a whole range of dynamics in sport, business, the church, education, health care to name but a few. We are gripped by fear and do not want to upset the applecart. Some of us are so beholden to the patronage of those in the leadership ranks that we will not risk speaking up, how wrong the leader might be.

This is not only a problem confined to the public sector but increasingly becoming pervasive in the private sector. I am sure we all have at least a few personal experiences where service providers short-changed us on delivery. We will have to engage with the organisational culture of SA Inc. as a matter of urgency and take collective stewardship to move us forward towards a world-class performance culture.


Business as usual and tinkering on the periphery will not do it for us. We will have to set clear benchmarks for accepted patterns of behaviour that will put us on a sustainable path towards a high-performance culture. Jo Anne Nelson from Aperio raises the following critical questions in this regard:

  • Do we believe that we can design our future?
  • Are we willing to let go of what we know in order to adapt and innovate?
  • Do we have clearly defined and communicated standards?
  • Do we focus on building cross-functional teams to execute strategy and break down the bureacratic silos?

I am frequently called upon to do some consulting work and have been privileged to work with high performance teams around the country. There are a few common trends I have observed in these teams:

1 Excellence: Great teams are committed to do things better on every occasion. Every initiative they embark upon, is approached with a winning mentality. They are in the business of continuous improvement.

2. Honesty: They operate in relational integrity and each one knows where they stand with each other. Failure is not fatal, and mistakes are not concealed but seen as learning opportunities.

3. Morale: The environment is supportive. There is due recognition for hard work and effort, and they never neglect an opportunity to celebrate successes how small it might be.

4. Alignment to the assignment: Each member work towards a common purpose and understand the why part of all their endeavours. There is a clear understanding about how their existence make a positive impact on broader society.

5. Credible leadership: There is a captain in the team that set the example and is a total embodiment of vision, inspiration and aspiration. The captain’s conduct engenders trust, confidence, respect and admiration.

Winners dare to be different and challenge the status quo. They realise that being average and ordinary in life is simply not an option. Life is about continuous improvement in pursuit of excellence. In moving South Africa forward to regain lost ground and also explore new vistas, will warrant a collective effort from each one of us in our respective spheres of influence. We’ve got to start living beyond our fears because growth and development involves risks. We owe it to ourselves and generations to come to make our country a winning nation again. Let’s always be mindful that in a highly competitive global environment, we do not have the luxury of time. The world only remembers winners.

Let’s go for it!

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