Anyone who has not been living in a bubble will agree that the country’s mood is not at its best currently, with erratic load shedding, state capture and revelations of corruption, political fighting, crime and the cost of living, among much more, dominating airwaves, conversations and thoughts.
To be blunt, the amount of complaining in the country at the moment is almost unbearable. Frankly, it’s hard to understand why people even want to get up in the morning every day just to partake in more of the morose same.
The problem with allowing ourselves to get caught up in this pattern is that it breeds complacency, in our personal lives and at work. We need a heightened focus and sense of accountability to take responsibility for ourselves and our roles in our families, workplaces and broader society. Things are not rosy at the moment, this much is certain. However, this does not mean we throw up our hands. On the contrary, we have a duty to step up and make a positive difference.
Lesson one: build structure
This theme surfaced during three different moments in my life in the past few weeks. The first was while sitting in a car with my son who is currently writing matric. He told me that he is feeling overwhelmed by the workload of his final school year, adding that he is not sleeping enough out of the sheer struggle to keep up with school duties, homework and daily studying, which he attempted each evening once the rest was done.
I looked at him and asked him to think about a cupboard in the house that’s unstructured, where everything is just dumped. I asked him to think about trying to find something in that cupboard or to think about how the disordered state made him feel. If that cupboard is left untidy, it will gnaw at you and irritate you. Instead, if you just start creating structure you’ll start to feel better. Once the cupboard is tidy and structured, the gnawing irritation disappears and you feel a sense of accomplishment, while it’s easier to find what you need.
I explained to him that whenever I am due to present to a large or a small crowd, it is always accompanied by a degree of nerves which is good as it keeps one sharp. On the other hand, if I feel rising anxiety it is because I am uncertain, have not prepared sufficiently and do not know the subject matter well. Preparation and structure clears that paralysing feeling.
I told him that the only way he would overcome feeling overwhelmed would be to develop some structure in his day. Work out a timetable and a bedtime. Plan, and then execute. Every day. His anxiety no doubt stemmed from there being a subject or subject matter that required more preparation and work. I reminded him that knowledge does not miraculously lift from the books and settle in one’s mind miraculously. Of course, he was not happy because he was hoping for a silver bullet.
But that’s not how life works. Whether it’s matric, a big project at work, or any number of problems facing the country, the only way to get to the other side without remaining stuck in a perpetual state of anxiety and feeling overwhelmed is to build structure and a methodical process, and then execute, day in and day out. That’s how you regain control.
Lesson two: courage comes from the commitment to act
Not long after that, I was browsing through my local community Facebook group. A gentleman had posted a series of photos about litter and degradation in the area and explained how a once-lovely suburb had gone to the gutter. The comments exploded: It’s the ANC, it’s the EFF, it’s the local councillor – it is easy to get caught up in this web of moaning and apportioning blame. The anxiety and cynicism started growing as I read deeper down the long comment thread.
But then a woman, who acknowledged the sad state of affairs, asked: “What can we do to turn this around?” She offered to put together a group and set up times for the group to work through the community and clean it up. The penny dropped.
Her comment pulled me out of my negative spiral – along with hundreds, maybe thousands of others – and made me realise that complaining is easy. It is the easy route but that strength and courage come from the commitment to act.
Lesson three: Look past your immediate lane to see how your actions affect the bigger picture
Then, as if there weren’t enough lessons already in a busy few weeks, I was driving to work listening to talk radio unpacking the various aspects of state capture, and Chief Justice Raymond Zondo’s report. The callers were, to be mild, depressing. It is astounding how much negativity and anger lurks in our city and country. While we understand why we don’t have to accept being victims of this mindset. Here’s why:
State capture happened, and no doubt there are still corrupt schemes that must be uncovered. Do we throw in the towel and tell everyone who will listen that this country is a sinking ship? While driving – navigating traffic lights that weren’t working because of load shedding – I thought to myself: “Here I am, in a leadership position. I cannot allow myself to give in to this status quo of moaning. I have a moral obligation to ensure that I do my part to build this economy and that my teams do the same.”
No matter what system we operate within, the reality is that we all can make a meaningful impact and difference with what we choose to do on a day-to-day basis.
Imagine an employee showing up on a daily basis, cynical and angry that the country is sinking, refusing to care about the value of making a difference. He or she may do their job, but it will be mediocre at best. It’s not a pleasant existence.
On the other hand, this employee could appreciate the bigger picture and realise that every day he or she wakes up it is another opportunity to create a great product or deliver an amazing service, which has an impact on other businesses which become more efficient, grow, hire new people and change lives for the better. Understanding our own impact in this bigger picture is important, but, as we learnt in the first two lessons, it requires putting your hand on the plough and doing it.
There are billions of rands on balance sheets in businesses in this country that are taking a wait-and-see approach about whether or not to invest. On the other hand, there are people in hyper-local economies whose lives have been decimated and would benefit from the macro picture being one of growth and job creation. Imagine how this picture slowly shifts if every single person who is blessed to be employed realises what they can do on a daily basis to make a meaningful difference in the greater scheme of things?
How to apply these lessons in business
Altron Karabina had a spectacular year and it would be easy to become complacent. However, it is crucial that we continue to keep our sights on the difference we can make that will, in turn, benefit the economy. It is about being deliberate and accountable for the things we can control.
It’s not easy. Let’s be honest, you can’t do everything at the same time and sometimes the sheer magnitude of the task can be overwhelming. However, if you scale your business properly, and build competent leadership within various layers and divisions of a business, you can accomplish a great deal.
Like the lesson imparted to my son, it requires everyone, at every level in the organisation, to ask themselves how they can structure their priorities to move the needle in each individual part of the business to drive the next level of growth across the board.
We absolutely cannot sit and complain or point fingers. Sales didn’t sell enough? Implementation teams going to slow? Marketing not doing its job? Stop complaining and ask yourself what you have done about it. Once a problem has been identified, move on to fix it. Develop a hyper-focus on accountability.
This accountability will bring teams to the point where they execute against a structure. This, by its very nature, eradicates the feeling of being overwhelmed. It ensures each individual sees past their immediate lane or department and works toward a greater purpose. Most importantly, it creates real estate for employees to start experiencing the joy of accomplishment.
By Collin Govender, MD: Altron Karabina.