“State of the Nation” (this month’s cover story) is nobly intended to provide readers with a survival guide on how to face up to and overcome a wide range of so-called “challenges” faced by the IT channel in South Africa today.

As described by my esteemed Editor in his background brief to the cover story, the industry – along with the entire national economy – is up against an official recession, political upheaval and sluggish global economic conditions. In addition, a dramatic slowdown in government spending; reluctance among corporates to pursue routine refresh rates and lead in the adoption of “bleeding edge” solutions, as well as rapid and constant change on the technology front based on trends such as digital transformation and the Internet of Things, are compounding matters.

Despite this rather daunting and frightening scenario, the ability to successfully conduct profitable and sustainable business regardless of the trading environment need not be a terribly complex issue.

Careful and detailed planning inspired by strategic leadership is all that it takes to face up to and overcome whatever the challenges may be.

After all, besides the normal generally accepted economic pendulum that that is characterised by “boom” or “bust” cycles in any economy, let it not be forgotten that the added phenomena of “feast or famine” – particularly in the IT industry – has been around for as long as the industry itself.

How often in the past, regardless of how harsh the economic and trading conditions may have been, have we seen embarrassing riches being created on the back of some or other “breakthrough” or “Gee Whiz” technology. At the other extreme, the industry has witnessed some spectacular failures in the face of economic circumstances far less daunting than current conditions.

Although not readily available, there is no doubt whatsoever that business success case studies taken from past economic and political crisis periods would prove that organisations – regardless if their size – were “captained” by individuals with unrivalled strategic leadership qualities.

While there are a wide range of theories and so-called personal development coaching or training modules that claim to teach leadership as a subject or competence, there are no formal recognised professional qualifications that attest to the true competence of an individual as an inspirational leader.

It is universally recognised that the qualities of truly great leaders are defined and encompassed in the military – and not only among those who serve as officers but also down to the lowest ranks.

Leading experts point out that classical planning processes and leadership techniques employed by the military are, quite literally, the deciding factor between life and death and that their real-time functionality is geared to be infinitely faster, more effective and conducted under more extreme conditions than is ever required in business.

In the military, which is currently a hugely popular reference point for private sector corporate management all over the world, true leadership is defined as embracing acute situational awareness, intuition, highly participative team-work and the use of specific “collaborative dialogue” techniques and planning processes designed to inspire innovative, creative and lateral thinking.

At this point it is worth quoting the legendary British military commander, Field Marshal Viscount William Slim. Slim saw active service in both the First and Second world wars and was wounded in action three times. He was also the 13th Governor-General of Australia.

He described leadership as the ability to demonstrate and live by a code if unselfishness. He then goes on to say:

“Unselfishness … means simply this – you will put first the honour and interests of your country and your regiment; next you will put the safety, well being and comfort of your men; and last – and last all the time – you will put your own interest, your own safety, your own comfort.”

It therefore goes without saying that if the quality of leadership can be defined as the deciding factor between life and death on the battlefield or success or failure in business, then “South Africa Inc” is in really big trouble and a whole lot of organisations that are beholden to “state-sponsored” largesse are also doomed to abject failure – regardless of the economic climate.