The Importance of Leadership

In the late 60’s and early 70’s of the last century, my wife and I led a numbers of Camps for Scripture Union in the Vumba Mountains and each camp involved about 60 boys in forms 1 and 2. The site was magnificent – a grassy knoll above a deep valley that was covered in jungle and had a beautiful clean stream at the bottom. We had many happy camps on the site and I am sure they were life changing experiences for the boys.

On one such camp, we followed our usual routine – divide the boys into teams and then get the teams to play games against each other on a roster. After two days it was clear, we had one team which had by error been made up of all the smaller boys and as a consequence they were being hammered at every game and were totally dispirited. At the Officers meeting that night, I took an outstanding young student officer aside and told him to take this team in hand, the alternative was to break them up and reform the teams. Angus was tall, athletic and good looking and in addition he was an exceptional leader and communicator. He took those kids in hand and by the end of camp 5 days later, they were beating everyone. The motivation was stunning to watch. Leadership.

Many years later, I watched the Republican Party Convention in the States on TV in a hotel room in Europe. George Bush Senior was the candidate and when it came for him to make his acceptance speech; he brought his whole family onto the stage in front of thousands of supporters. As I watched I suddenly realized that the small boy standing next the President to be, was a mongoloid child and he held his Grandfathers hand and participated in that huge event with no sense that he was different. He waved to the crowd as if he was the next candidate of the Party.

I have worked with children with severe problems and I know what it takes to bring up a child like that with that sort of self worth and dignity, it’s not easy. Right there, I said to myself, if I was an American, I would vote for George Bush just on the strength of watching that special relationship between the man who was going to become the most powerful leader in the World and a small child with a handicap he did not know he had. In a family, that’s leadership. My own Grandfather was a personal friend of Jan Smuts in South Africa and went right through the Second World War with him. When they were beaten in the elections in 1948 and the Nationalists came to power, he told me that one day the Afrikaners would wake up to what they were doing, realize that it was wrong and then put it right.

In the 70’s I was selected to represent the Churches in what was then known as Rhodesia, at a meeting of the Christian leadership of Africa in Nairobi. We travelled with the South African delegation and on arrival in Nairobi we were smuggled into the country without our passports being stamped as the Government did not want to acknowledge our presence.

The leader of the South African Church delegation was an elderly white Afrikaner who was a Professor at the University of Stellenbosch. When the Pan African Christian Leadership Assembly was nearing its conclusion, he was given the podium in front of some 5000 delegates. It was a moment when time stood still for me and my thousands of brothers from all over Africa. Here, in front of us, was a true representative of the Afrikaners who had given Apartheid to South Africa. He began speaking and said he had come to ask forgiveness for what his people had done to South Africa. While he spoke the tears rolled down his face and he wept. I can tell you he was not alone.

I now appreciate that that was the start of the South African miracle – years later, the President of South Africa, another Afrikaner, unbanned the ANC and Nelson Mandela began his walk to freedom. Unbelievably in 1994, a new Constitution was passed and Mandela – once one of the most feared ANC Leaders became President without a shot being fired. Most do not know that the process started in the Church when a Reformed Church Pastor unburdened himself in front of Africa and said sorry. That’s the kind of leadership that changes the world.

Being the CEO of a major business organisation is a fantastic experience especially when it is at a time of transition and crisis. Two years before our Independence, I was walking back from a meeting with the CEO of the Group I was working for – the largest business Group in this country and he asked me as I walked through the Foyer of our building, “would you be prepared to take over the Dairibord?”. This was one of the four main business units in the Group and was quite a large organisation with 3 500 employees and a turnover of many millions of dollars. I was 38 years old and had no hesitation – who would?

The civil war was raging, all white men were required to serve in the armed forces except in special circumstances and we were under international UN sponsored sanctions (real sanctions). It was a tough assignment. All white management, political change was coming and we all knew it. I not only had to maintain morale, keep the team together but to run the business and prepare for the dramatic political changes that were coming.

I called my team together and told them that we had one main assignment and that was to keep the organisation going and to maintain stability in the midst of change. I said “I want you to rattle the milk bottles outside every house, every morning, without fail”. At the time we ran an extraordinary system for a third world country in that we delivered fresh milk to every home in the urban areas every day throughout the year.

That team responded and we went to work and during the last years of the Civil War when oil depots were burning and military deaths were being reported every day (my Chief Engineer lost both his sons), we kept the Dairibord running profitably, we delivered milk every day, every morning, without fail and in doing so I hope we made a small contribution to giving ordinary people a sense that the world was sane.

On one occasion a large Bridge over the River Save was attacked by Zanla Guerilla’s and the small unit protecting the bridge had quite a rough time. They were still in their trenches at six in the morning, when they heard a Dairibord vendor ring his bell for attention and down the road came the vendor on his bicycle offering fresh dairy products. The young soldiers could not believe their eyes. A business is run by a team, it’s never a solo game and today I still relish the chance I had to lead such a team into the daily battle of business and win. At the heart of every successful business is a small team of leaders, working together every day to stay in business, it is not about race, sex, appearances, education or strength, it’s just leadership.

When leaders fail, we all suffer and that is the case for my poor, broken land, Zimbabwe. I wish it were not so but it is the reality and the human suffering that has resulted breaks my heart. But all it takes, in a fantastic little country like this, is a change at the top and this is inevitable, thanks to time. When it does, we will show the world how it is done and perhaps in Africa, show how leadership, real leadership can transform a country and allow it to prosper again.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 27th May 2017