In a discussion on good leadership amongst a group of executives, one of those present raised the point that he had been to school with Markus Jooste, and that already at that stage of life, Markus had demonstrated his popularity and his ability to lead, by getting his school mates to follow him. The conclusion was that this made Jooste a good leader.


But there was divided opinion and the discussion really boiled down to what defines good when applied to a leader.


And certainly the ability to get people to follow was seen as an essential characteristic, but it was agreed that to be good there had to be more substance than that: more than charisma, persuasion, presence or just plain bullying.


First of all, it was agreed that there had to be an objective, something that the leader wanted to achieve, and that this achievement had to be made attractive to those being led. Markus Jooste’s schoolmate was quick to point out that Jooste had certainly managed to do this: he had built Steinhoff into a corporate colossus, made money for many (including himself) and had created opportunity for many more in terms of employment and career and, yes, he had satisfied the needs of consumers: he sold a lot of people a good night’s sleep.


Well, for a while: it all turned into a bit of a nightmare for some. One could say they invested in beds and lost their house.


Which led to the observation that the other requirement of a good leader was to achieve the stated objective in a sustainable way and to do so in a socially acceptable manner.


That of course led to a lot of argument: socially acceptable to who? But in the end socially acceptable was found to be, well, acceptable as a criterion of good leadership on the basis that whatever society passed judgement on the leader had the right to describe him or her as good or bad.


So there will always be some subjectivity: those on the winning side will praise the leader as good; those on the losing side as good-for-nothing.


Getting back to Markus Jooste it was agreed, on the whole, that he had the ability to lead, he set an objective, persuaded others to follow and share that objective, and for a while he achieved – but not sustainably. And also, on the balance of public opinion, the way he achieved was unacceptable.


To demonstrate the point Markus Jooste was compared to a business leader who was considered to have ticked all the boxes: Bill Gates. In fact, Bill Gates goes beyond the criteria mentioned by further appropriating goodwill from society through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


So a good leader can be defined as someone who inspires sustainable success achieved in a socially acceptable manner.