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Updated 15 Oct 2019


Brand Pretorius: The heart of great leadership

Lessons from Brand Pretorius on being an aspiring leader. 


17 November 2014  Share  0 comments  Print


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Gallup’s 2013 State of the Global Workforce Report has become the go-to statistic bemoaning employee engagement around the world, but specifically in South Africa, where only 9% of employees say they are engaged at work.

More worryingly, as much as 46% say they are actively disengaged. Actively disengaged people aren’t just not engaged – they’re practically sabotaging your business.

“Who should be blamed for these statistics?” asks Brand Pretorius, an industry captain and the leader responsible for turning Toyota into a market share front runner in South Africa, turning McCarthy around after it was declared technically insolvent.

“Should we be blaming the workers? Do we believe they’re all lazy? Or is this problem more systemic of the quality of leadership at the helm of many industries?”

Pretorius believes we need to compare offices and departments that do well from those that don’t, because the reality is that it’s not the employees who differ, but the leaders.

Leaders who love their people

“There’s a simple story that illustrates my point,” he says.

“Shortly after I joined the McCarthy Group in 2002, I realised that our new vehicle market was in trouble, and so I allocated a day to visiting McCarthy Nissan dealerships. I arrived at the first dealership at 7 am in the morning, and couldn’t find the dealer principle.

"After walking around, I finally found him in his office. I walked in and introduced myself. He didn’t offer me tea, and there were no pleasantries - just complaints: Sales were down 40%; Nissan was in trouble; we didn’t have a passenger car range. Within ten minutes I was completely depressed.

"I then asked if I could walk through the dealership to meet its people. He reluctantly agreed, and then marched me through the building, explaining the layout, complaining some more, and requesting new equipment. When we returned to his office and I looked over his numbers, there was red ink everywhere.

“From there I travelled to McCarthy Germiston. At the time the dealership wasn’t in a very nice part of Germiston, and if anything I was expecting even more doom and gloom. I was wrong.  

"This time, the dealer principle waited for me in the parking lot. ‘Brand, it’s so wonderful to have you here, I can’t wait to introduce you to my winning team,’ he said, shaking my hand. As we walked through the dealership, it was clear that he knew everyone’s names, and what was happening in their lives.

"Everywhere I looked there were bright smiles and eyes. The team was brimming with excitement, pride and passion. It was a really inspirational visit. The numbers were also good. This dealership was not in a good location, and yet the team was making it work.”

The inspirational vs the autocratic

For Pretorius, everything rises and falls on leadership. “These two dealerships belonged to the same group, franchise (Nissan), and business,” he says.

“The only difference was an autocratic manager versus an inspirational leader.”

Pretorius believes that millions of team members are disengaged because they are completely uninspired by their leaders. Here are his three tips for becoming a leader that people want to follow:

  1. Understand the difference between managing people and leading people. Teams are generally over managed and under led. Both functions are critically important. Management is for effective execution, leadership is for vision. Leaders are obsessed with creating a better tomorrow for the good of all. Managers look at today. Leaders focus on people, managers on processes. Leaders do the right things in terms of direction, strategy, principles, values. Managers do things right.
  2. Don’t lead by autopilot or emulating someone who’s values are not your own. You need to develop your own leadership approach. First-time bosses tend to emulate their bosses. That’s their frame of reference, but it seldom works. You need to find your own style. When I first became a leader, I emulated a ruthless boss, when I should have been emulating my mother – she raised four boys without ever raising her voice. She set high standards, but we never wanted to disappoint her, and so she earned our love and trust. Leadership has nothing to do with power and authority – it’s all about influence, and influence needs to be earned. I saw this with my own family. My father was the head. My mother was the heart. And she had infinitely more influence. Autocratic leadership leads to reluctant compliance, with no real energy and inspiration.
  3. Be a servant. Before you can ask for a hand you need to touch a heart. Care for your people and be willing to serve the, and you’ll engage their minds and their hearts.
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