I am a Leader. I am a Person. The story of Themba.

This is the story of Themba, a managing director and self-made man. This blog is the first part in a series of 2.

Themba’s Family Dynamics

Themba is a managing director at a construction company. He started working there when he was 20 years old. Themba had completed his matric (grade 12) certificate two years earlier. His parents couldn’t afford to take him to university. His father, James, had been in exile for most of his young life. Themba was brought up by his mother and grandmother. James came back from exile being an angry and bitter man. He could not find work even though he had sacrificed his youth and family for the struggle. He turned to alcohol in order to deal with the anger he felt towards his country.
James was sometimes abusive towards Themba and his mother. Themba developed anger and hatred towards his father and the struggle. Even though he had good matric results, Themba couldn’t secure a bursary. After two years of searching, he found a temporal job as a clerk at a construction company. His mother, Thandi, encouraged him to work very hard. She believed that if he worked diligently the boss may put in a good word for him and he can get a bursary. Themba didn’t get the bursary he was hoping for, but was appointed permanently as an administrator.

Hard work pays

Themba was dedicated to his work. He moved up through the ranks because of his experience.  In his promotions, Themba was never appointed to lead anyone. He was a brilliant specialist. He decided to further his studies and registered for a degree in Business Management. He passed his degree with a distinction. Then, he registered and completed an MBA. His employer rewarded him with a promotion to a Senior Specialist position. After 3 years in his new position and helping the company to increase its revenue, Themba was again promoted.  This time he was promoted to a leadership position.
Themba was thrilled at the prospect of earning more money. However, he was anxious to lead people. His HR director never spoke to him about the competencies required to lead people. He just knew through his studies that he needed to know how to manage and lead. He has always been an introvert and didn’t know if he can be able to talk to people. He shared his frustrations with his wife, Kate. Kate was a manager in an Accounting firm. She had experience in leading people. She therefore understood her husband’s feelings.

Role of HR and OD

Kate was fortunate because her company had an active HR and Organisation Development division. The HR director was well-respected in the company. She was up to date with environmental and HR changes in the industry. Hence, she contributed effectively to the company’s strategic direction. The company had good Talent, Performance Management, Coaching and Mentoring strategies and frameworks in place. Kate was properly trained and prepared to transition from one position to the next. The company had a leadership philosophy which was frequently communicated to all the leaders. Leaders were also held accountable for living the company’s values through the implementation of 360° evaluations.  Employee Engagement surveys were conducted annually. Line Managers were held accountable for the debriefing of the EE results, as well as the implementations of suggestions from employees. The company also made sure that all employees knew and understood the company’s vision and priorities.
Some leaders and HR practitioners were trained as Internal Coaches. Most managers and employees would, depending on the results of their talent discussions and needs, be allocated an internal or external Coach and Mentor.
Kate shared all the interventions that her company had implemented with Themba. She advised him to talk to his HR director, Mr. Ngozi, to seek for help. Themba was envious about all the interventions that were being implemented in his wife’s company. However, he was doubtful about his CEO and Mr. Ngozi buying into and implementing these interventions. Like him, his CEO and Mr. Ngozi have never worked for any other company. They have been promoted through the ranks because of their experience. They were only interested in results, and didn’t care about the employees.

Putting up a front

On the first date as the new managing director, Themba made an appointment to see Mr. Ngozi.  Mr. Ngozi was very happy to have found someone to fill the position. During their discussion, Themba realized that if he shared his fears with Mr. Ngozi, he will be regarded as weak. It might give an impression that he was not the right person for the position. He therefore kept quiet and decided to just go along with it.
Themba had another dilemma. His team members were once his peers. So they knew each other’s strengths and shortcomings. They would sometimes manipulate him and take advantage of their friendship. In order to deal with this challenge, Themba became aggressive. He would bark orders; shout at his team if they didn’t behave as expected. He put a wall around himself to hide his feelings of inadequacy.

Is it worth it?

Then, Themba started to neglect his family. Most of his time he spent at work. When Kate confronted him, he was defensive. He also became aggressive towards Kate and the kids. He saw himself behaving the same way as his father did. He began to hate himself. Themba felt overwhelmed but didn’t know what to do. His world was crumbling down in and around him. He was unhappy but pretended that he had everything under control.
One day Kate received a call from Themba’s HR director. Themba had suffered a breakdown. He had shouted and swore at his team, peers and everyone in the company. Themba had told Mr. Ngozi that Mr. Ngozi was useless. He had failed to implement all the interventions that were implemented in Kate’s company.
So, when Kate came to pick up her husband, Mr. Ngozi asked her to explain what Themba had said. Kate’s only said “Remember to treat your employees as total human beings!”
If you were the HR director, what would be your next step?