Business leadership stakes higher than Durban July

Picking winners is not the exclusive preserve of the punters at the Durban July. Main board directors do it. Executives do it. Even junior managers early in their careers do it. But these race winners have two legs, not four, and the purse might run into billions.

That’s the difference between corporates and business leaders who are first past the post and the also-rans.

The ‘horses’ here are corporate teams trained to out-perform competitors while the ‘jockey’ is the CEO, the high-profile figure in the corporate colours who may or may not have to get the whip out to ensure his horse makes the distance.

It’s hugely important that a board pick a winner when naming its jockey. Executives and talented recruits are also making a big personal bet.

They therefore consult the form book to check a jockey’s winning prospects before joining a particular stable.

Highly qualified specialists and high potential managers know they can improve the odds of success for any horse they work with, but it takes a good jockey to ensure the work pays off. That’s why a star jockey attracts a high-performance team.

Admittedly, a little luck is sometimes required.

The jockey might get a ride after the stable has gone through a lean patch, but improvements in the business climate or new products in the pipeline could change all that.

But the stars in the business leadership stakes will tell you ‘the more I practise, the luckier I get’.

Stars have the right experience and ‘breeding’. They work hard to hone leadership skills. Over the years, they surround themselves with a winning team and turn that first big win into consistent success.

They become synonymous with the silks they wear. They live the brand mission and add shareholder value whether they’re in a sprint or an endurance race.

Picking a winner like this can ensure a board of directors achieves all its strategic objectives while executives and managers in a successful stable can secure substantial personal winnings while driving up their value within their chosen industry.

A big winner can be life changing and career enhancing.

But don’t have a ‘mare’ if you fail to pick a winner first time. Take the blinkers off, survey the field and take an objective look at the odds.

In the long term, there may be nothing wrong with staying with your current stable. Losing over one course and distance does not mean failure is forever.

A change in the business cycle or better ‘going’ following the launch of new products could lead to a dramatic change of fortune. Staying in the saddle then has a lot to be said for it.

Alternatively, the track record may show the horse and jockey are poor stayers and the odds of success are slim. In which case, you could be handicapping yourself and your long-term career prospects by hanging back while your peers overtake you.

You might then consider a punt on another horse and jockey … though you may need a talent search professional to mark your card for you.

*By Annelize van Rensburg is a director of Talent Africa, a leading South Africa-based executive search and talent management company with Africa-wide reach.