As a continent that is still developing, too often Africa finds herself struggling with a serious lack of leadership in all tiers of business.

    In colonial times many large, overseas-based corporations, when setting up shop in African countries, also sent along well-equipped personnel. This human capital not only brought with them innovation but vast amounts of experience, in the hopes of guaranteeing their employers’ success on the ‘dark continent’. Before long industries such as banking, mining and technology boomed, driving local economies forward.

    When colonisation ended and many countries found their freedom, old regimes were thrown out and new ones came into play. Many African-based industry leaders returned to their home countries or, over time, retired.

    As a continent that is still developing, too often Africa finds herself struggling with a serious lack of leadership in all tiers of business. In colonial times many large,

    As new governments were ushered in, new business leaders emerged. Some of these were fortunate enough to have learned from the old guard, while others were self-taught. Regardless, what followed was a crippling lack of mentorship.

    A winning strategy

    Economic studies prove that mentorship programmes increase motivation in the spheres of any business. As a result, there is increased efficiency and effectiveness in operations as mentors support and guide up-and-coming talent in the workplace.

    For example, international businessman Richard Branson, CEO of Virgin Enterprises, established successful mentorship programmes to groom young entrepreneurs. His academies offer workshops around the world, and he has also written a series of books on how to run a successful business (read Screw It, Let’s Do It,, R126). His initiative has seen the progress of many young entrepreneurs within the corporate world.

    It’s fair to state that in developing nations, a lack of mentorship will result in stunted growth in Africa industries. The absence of guidance from the older generation leaves inexperienced entrepreneurs to make poor decisions, which in turn leads to bad investments and sometime even criminal activities. Businessmen such as Kenny Kunene, whose book The Hustler’s Bible (written by his partner Gayton McKenzie) teaches how to swindle your way to the top, lead a poor example.

    In another example of lack of mentorship, young and inexperienced third-world businessmen try to apply the economic policies of first-world countries to their local industries, because they appear to be a winning recipe. Ultimately these fail because the economies of first and third world countries do not operate on the same principles.

    When considering the rise of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Africa, it is evident that the continent has a spirit of entrepreneurship. But mentorship could be the key that takes many of these SMEs to the next level.

    Roots in society

    Historically, African fathers taught young boys how to hunt or grow crops and the same applied to young women and their mothers. These traditions ensured the sustainability of communities as knowledge was passed down through generations. The lessons taught more than just how to feed your family, they also contained themes promoting ethics and values, such as giving back to the community and fair play.

    Socially, and especially in South Africa, there is a shortage of father figures to steer the younger generation into manhood, into men of integrity who understand what is socially acceptable behaviour. These father figures not only guide the next generation, but also provide encouragement and instil confidence in young adults – just as their own forefathers did for them.

    Likewise, this concept applies to the political sphere, which has seen a new wave of political actors that have taken over from the postcolonial leaders symbolised by the likes of Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki.

    One would assume that these respectable leaders would take it upon themselves to mentor new political players such as Julius Malema in order to maintain and ensure the progress of the nation. However, South Africa has seen a downward spiral in the way that political affairs have been handled since the new government came into effect.

    Should we blame the older leaders who appeared to manage affairs correctly in their own time, for failing to teach the Julius Malemas of SA how to perform?

    Trying to understand this deficiency in leadership leaves more questions than answers. Is the older generation too selfish to safeguard the future of the ones that follow because they have already acquired their wealth? Is there resentment for the so-called “born frees” because they were not involved in the Struggle? Do they not remember that it is their unspoken duty to guarantee that the successful structures they built are maintained for future generations to come?

    A popular business philosophy is that success is not determined by how much wealth you acquire, rather by the increase in positive influence you have over others. The African continent would develop into a better-sustained population if there was a diffusion of knowledge and expertise from the older to the younger generation.

    Knowledge is power

    The success of any socio-eco-political sector is dependent on the free-flow of knowledge and insights. The more information an individual can exploit the better equipped they are in engaging with situations. However, this knowledge is only acquired over time and needs to trickle down the corporate and social ladders to ensure a cycle of sustainability.

    Although times are changing, the cogs around which businesses and society turn remain constant. It should be considered an unwritten law for the old to become shepherds of the young.