November 24, 2017

Leading in Mining

By Gawie-Herholdt

  1. The challenge to lead in rapidly changing times

Recently, the focus on mining in the media has been, for the most part, fairly negative. The issues range from labour unrest, wage related strikes (see figure 1 below), union rivalry, escalating electricity costs to illegal mining – to mention a few.

It is also evident that within the South African landscape, the mining industry has changed at a rapid pace over the last two decades, with various external and internal factors contributing to this change.

Given all of this, it is understandable that the challenge to lead in this industry is significantly high. It can be argued that mining leaders who have not adapted nor pre-empted with available tactics and strategies in an effort to avoid or overcome potential challenges, will not see sustainable performance from their subordinates.

Some of the main challenges facing leaders in operations are:
Leadership which does not support strong employee engagement or a work environment where operational challenges and opportunities are owned by employees at all levels.
• Poor internal staff engagement and communication resulting in a lack of management and supervisor cohesion.

It can be argued that due to the above the most noticeable symptoms are:
• Poor staff productivity.
• High levels of staff absenteeism.
• Substandard safety performances. (Although statistics on this have notably improved in the industry the past 10 years)

2. Tactics mining leaders should consider in order to be successful

Leadership coaching should be considered when addressing these issues. Effective leadership coaching will result in a sustainable long term outcome where the ownership of the business challenges and opportunities sit with all levels of the organisation. In essence the process is one of employee engagement – where the leaders address the problems with the employees, resulting in collaborative, sustainable solutions. This should ideally be undertaken with a reputable partner company, with a proven track record in your industry (such as TowerStone).

Historically, the industry has not always had the best approach when it comes to employee engagement and the collaborative approach. Mining has always been known for its strong “tell” and “instruct” culture. The challenge posed with this approach is that it does not create ownership with staff. In this culture employees don’t need to think, as the “boss” does it for you. As long as any action is linked to the next instruction, employees tend to wait for the next instruction and not show initiative. This is not ideal for an industry with so many challenges.

A transformational leadership approach often has a positive impact on business results. This leadership style is where leaders allow their teams to be free thinking and independent, through the vehicle of coaching. They ensure a shared vision and an alignment of business goals as the teams are always engaged through regular coaching interventions. They therefore connect with their staff’s hearts and minds, driven by a strong coaching approach and the encouragement of a deeper emotional connection with the collective operational goals.

3. Looking in the mirror: “Are you ready to lead?”

The leaders in mining have to be fit for leadership and must be ready to lead with all the skills and attributes required to ensure their operations are successful. The rapidly change environment will not stop and in fact the expectation is that it will only increase. For example it is expected that in the next few years approximately 50% of the workforce will consist of staff in an age bracket of between 25 and 35. This requires a different leadership approach as this generation demonstrates a specific set of behaviours (values). They want to be involved, they want to understand the “why” behind the goals and plans and they want to be allowed to think and make a contribution at their respective levels in the organisation. They want to feel that their contribution is meaningful and that they are valued as human beings.

So in essence, the question we need asked ourselves is, do our leaders have the appropriate skills, mindset and approach to ensure staff ownership of the business challenges and opportunities at all levels in the organisation? As this is clearly one of the more sustainable answers to the challenges facing South Africa’s dynamic mining industry today.

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