Brand Pretorius: The five characteristics of good leaders

21 April 2015 | Opinion

Brand Pretorius’s name has become synonymous with effective leadership.

After 22 years at Toyota, Pretorius moved to McCarthy’s motor division, before being promoted to chief executive officer of the holding company, McCarthy Retail Limited. At the time, McCarthy had been declared technically insolvent. It was battling a crippling share price fall from R21 to 18c per share and a debt of R1.5-billion, which it owed to eight banks. Pretorius, however, has been credited with turning McCarthy around, enabling it to evolve into the organisation it is today.

“I didn’t read the books on leadership challenges, I experienced these challenges first-hand,” Pretorius said at Tshikululu’s recent Serious Social Investing Conference, where he was invited to speak on the characteristics of a good leader.

According to Pretorius, the following are five of the most important characteristics.

“Good leaders,” he said, “have the right mindset when it comes to leading organisations and leading people. What is the right mindset? The right mindset involves regarding leadership as a responsibility and not as a right. Good leaders know that they have to earn the privilege to lead, and that that privilege needs to be earned on a perpetual basis.”

The second characteristic of a good leader according to Pretorius consists of an appropriate leadership philosophy or approach. “Good leaders are obsessed with their objective to make tomorrow better than today. They have the courage to provide direction, the courage to go first.

“They base their philosophy on faith and passion and people and purpose. They aren’t autocratic and transactional; they are visionary and transformational.”

The third characteristic of good leaders is the ability to set the right example 24/7. “The moral compass of good leaders points true north, they have a high level of emotional intelligence and lead with integrity.

“Leadership has nothing to do with position, power and authority; it’s got everything to do with influence, and influence has to be earned.

Pretorius said the fourth characteristic of good leaders is the ability to achieve: “In the tough world of business, you have to live the values, but you also have to deliver the numbers.”

The final characteristic is perhaps one of the most important. “Good leaders have a higher purpose. They subscribe to the philosophy of conscious capitalism. They connect with and are aware of the overwhelming needs of the rest of South Africa.

“For them, leadership is not just about accumulating more wealth or becoming more powerful and more influential. The good leaders that I admire want to make a difference; they want to move from success to significance. They want their legacy to be characterised by wisdom and contribution and character.”

Pretorius’s final words were directed at the audience. “These leaders are not out there somewhere. They are here, in this room. I am looking at you. The fact that you are here tells me that you are all committed to the creation of a better future for South Africa and its people. You are willing to serve. You are here to realise our national mission of a better life for all.”

Brand published his book, In the Driving Seat – Lessons in Leadership, in February 2013. It was the most popular business biography in South Africa in 2013 and has been reprinted five times.