Servant leadership and a long-term vision key to restore trust in leadership

South Africans are losing trust in their leaders – the BMF’s Monde Ndlovu looks to his late father for inspiration


South Africans are losing trust in their leaders the BMF’s Monde Ndlovu looks to his late father for inspiration as to how we can fix that.


In conversation, Monde Ndlovu doesn’t shrink from making it clear how large his late father looms in his life.


Renowned and beloved, Maduke Lot Ndlovu was a prominent South African businessman. Outside his inner circle, he is known for serving as CEO of the People’s Bank division of Nedbank, Executive Director of Nedcor (Nedbank Group), and for reviving the fortunes of an ailing Black Management Forum (BMF) in the early 1990s. To his son – who shares his Biblical second name – Ndlovu senior is so much more. For one thing, for the young Monde, his father came to define what ‘business’ and ‘leadership’ are. It meant, he explains, a briefcase, a diary, a business suit, and of course a boardroom, where his father would occasionally have him sit in on meetings. But more than that it came to mean a level of integrity and service.

In time, Ndlovu would follow in his father’s other footsteps. He too now serves in the BMF, currently as the organisation’s head of advocacy and thought leadership. He also shares his father’s faith in the power of business training and education. Like his father Ndlovu would study at the University of South Africa, but turned to Henley Business School for his Postgraduate Diploma in Management Practice and Management and, immediately after, his international MBA.

“I’ve always had that drive to build my leadership competencies,” he says. “And in order to make a difference as a leader – which I wanted to do – and give myself the opportunities to lead, I knew that I needed to build my skills base.”

But while the battle to advance equity in the workplace is far from over, another key challenge is facing leaders in South Africa right now: people are losing their faith in them. Afrobarometer reports that South Africans no longer trust their leaders, state structures, the judiciary, the country’s broadcasters, political parties, the police, and even their traditional leaders. And if the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer is to be believed – for now – they are placing more trust in business leaders but only just.

To restore trust, South Africa needs a particular brand of leadership that will nurture true transformation in the country, insists Ndlovu. Taking a page from his father’s handbook and his business studies, he suggests aspiring leaders could consider these three leadership tenets if they want to make a real contribution to the country.

  1. Service to others comes first

While the leader is often cast in the light of the hero, Ndlovu believes that being a true leader means being committed to others. “Leadership is all about service, whether you’re the CEO of a business or the director of a public service institution – you are serving others, be it your electorate or your shareholders,” he says.


The originator of the term “servant leadership”, Robert Greenleaf, defined the servant leader as one whose aspiration to lead is rooted in a desire to serve others. What distinguishes servant leaders is the care they take to make sure other people’s priorities are being met. And to get things done they need to build trust and influence in the organisation rather than give orders.

  1. Focus on what unites rather than divides us

South Africa is famously a rainbow nation, but in recent years, many have sought to divide rather than unite us, says Ndlovu, But taking a cue from his training in spiral dynamics at Henley Business School he says, “I would encourage leaders to, rather than focus exclusively on the differences between them and those they lead, develop an appreciation of the universal value systems they share with others. Those commonalities could help to overcome the divides between South Africans in the workplace and beyond.”


The spiral dynamics model, developed by Don Beck and Chris Cowan and based on the work of psychologist Clare Graves, describes the evolutionary development of individuals, organisations and societies and has a particular resonance with South Africa, says Ndlovu. “It was a real eye-opener to discover that Dr Beck had worked with political, business and religious leaders in South Africa – Nelson Mandela included – for some two decades, well before and after the transition to democracy.”


  1. Keep your eye on the prize

Another business school concept Ndlovu shares is that of ‘cathedral thinking’ – an approach that demands a long-term vision that is committed to sustainable implementation. “This means we have to build generational leadership where values and goals are passed on from generation to generation – as my father passed his values on to me – and rebuild purposefully,” Ndlovu says.


“Just as apartheid and the harms it did were built up over time, so too must the new South Africa be rebuilt one brick at a time. We have wasted too much time and have fallen behind already, but with a commitment to a single-minded objective of a more equal and harmonious South Africa, this is what leaders – and those they lead – must commit themselves to.”

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