Lot Ndlovu was the chief executive of Peoples Bank – a division of the Nedbank Group. He was president of the Black Management Forum from 1995 to 1999. On his retirement from the BMF, Ndlovu made a significant donation towards the establishment of a bursary scheme to assist poor yet deserving students. The BMF then established the Lot Ndlovu Bursary Scheme. Ndlovu was awarded the Order of the Baobab in Silver posthumously for his excellent contribution to transformation and the development of black commerce in the country.

As we passed another August since the untimely death of Maduke Lot Ndlovu

in 2013, I couldn’t help but think of his stoic adherence to his values no matter what the risks and costs were. His clearly developed point of view, authoritative articulation and effective decision-making, though limited, contributed to a more ethical world for himself and the rest of us. 

This thought brought the quote to mind: “The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those who speak it.”

We are indeed living in a time of moral decline. Publicly we are confronted by reports of government leaders acting against the welfare of their constituencies. What responsibility do countries assume for contributing to climate change? 

Our health, safety and best interests are sacrificed at the altar of higher profit margins. Where is the consequence management for those responsible for the risks posed by technology on society? At a personal level, how much privacy must we give to our children on the internet, the risk imposed by virtual transactions and the increasing levels of misconduct at home and at work?

How do we give voice to our values in an environment that seems to have so many shades of grey without a clear right or wrong solution, causing an unprecedented multitude who waver at effective-decision making.

The blurb for Susan Liautaud’s The Power of Ethics states, “With concentrated power structures rapid advances in technology, and insufficient regulation to protect citizens and consumers, ethics are harder to understand than ever.” The Power of Ethics shows how “ethics can be used to create a sea change of sound decisions that can ripple outward to our families, communities, workplaces and the wider world – offering unprecedented opportunity for good.”  

In an unprecedented statement, former president Thabo Mbeki openly declares that the ANC has the habit of using lies to achieve its objectives, and he then poses a question: How can you use lies as the basis for your platform? 

So much power is concentrated in the hands of the ANC as the governing party and the quality of high-level policy-making is a key issue not only with regard to government action but also in major corporations, whose decisions equally affect large segments of society.

In executing their duties, decision-makers are expected to anticipate and circumvent the complexities of decision-making in the multi-actor, multi-interest environment that characterises most issues that require top-level consideration. Government authorities as artificers of policy decisions need to deal with practical and values-based complexities. 

According to psychosocial research on group thinking, the esprit de corps that prevails in close-knit organisations has the unintended consequence of seeking quick and painless unanimity on the issues that the organisation has to confront. 

This produces an obsequiousness that suppresses personal doubts, silences dissenters, neglects ethical issues and contains baseless optimism. This distorted view of reality renders organisations vulnerable to unsustainable decisions. It is in such environments where you would hear Ndlovu say: “Never let the end justify the means, rather let the means be justifiable to achieve a just end.”

Paul ’t Hart, commenting on the dangers of herd instincts in decision-making says “groupthink” is not only prompted through “amiability induced” internalisation of group norms and opinions, but also through mere compliance (“public agreement on the part of individual group members not accompanied by private acceptance of prevailing perspective”). 

But “groupthink” is not only prompted through “amiability induced” internalisation of group norms and opinions, but also through mere compliance (“public agreement on the part of individual group members not accompanied by private acceptance of prevailing perspective”). But ethical conduct depends on individual conviction to have intentional integrity no matter how distorted prevailing norms might be. Lot’s value-based responses remain something to emulate.

At the level of the individual one has to find clarity for blurry ethical questions and adopt a process that enhances ethical decision-making. One has to develop a framework that evaluates the underlying influences that drive virtually every ethical choice we face. Guided by one’s values, emerge with a clear point of view, speak with authority, make effective decisions and contribute to a more ethical world. 

Ndlovu’s strong values always came through when ethical decision-making seemed murky and downrightly grey. I once enquired of him as to whether I should accept a lucrative directorship from a company whose products were harmful to humanity. His answer was: “Why don’t you seek a financial advisory role with the mafia? You will not harm anyone directly.”

As corporates prioritise profits over human lives, governments act against the interests of their constituencies, pandemics threaten the sacred right to personal agency, where are the organisations and individuals who stand on principle though the heavens fall and are true to duty as a needle to a pole? 

There is no question that by unflappably giving voice to his values, Lot Ndlovu closed a number of potential doors of opportunities. I suppose my mentor had imbibed the wisdom of Albert Einstein’s words: “Do not try to become a person of success but try to become a person of value.” 

Becoming of value helps you earn that a sense of purpose is directional on what else you need for your life; it keeps honesty, diligence, equality or empathy towards others as the core values that you should abide by. Parth Verma said, “Though achieving success is necessary yet if a person does not have values his actions and success do not hold much importance. Rather than simply aiming for a target, aim to be the person who inspires others.”

In this wilderness of means and ends, where many organisations and individuals seem to have lost their values, I sorely miss Ndlovu’s values based approach to decision-making.

Author

  • Willie Thabe is the chief executive of Integritas Capital, a private equity firm and managing executive of Angavu Ethical Solutions. He was chief executive of the Black Management Forum Investment Company for eight years and has a master's in applied ethics for professionals from Wits.

READ NEXT

Willie Thabe

Willie Thabe is the chief executive of Integritas Capital, a private equity firm and managing executive of Angavu Ethical Solutions. He was chief executive of the Black Management Forum Investment Company...

Comment on this Story