I would like to share some thoughts with you this morning on leadership and on how everyone – not just leaders – can make a difference.
All the human beings who have ever been born have made a difference of some kind. They make a difference to their parents and their families. As they mature they make a difference to their friends and their communities. All people – created as they are – in the image of God – make a difference of some kind, however small or apparently insignificant that difference may be.
Nevertheless, it is true that the scale of the difference that we make depends to a large degree on the leadership positions that we attain. The reality is that the higher we climb on the leadership ladder, the greater the potential is that we will be able to make a difference – for good or for bad.
From the perspective that I have gained during my long career in law, politics and civil society I have been able to identify the following requirements for leadership.
The first requirement of leadership – and of really being able to make a difference – is actually to become a leader. The world is full of brilliant people who have all the right solutions to the problems of the world. However, if they don’t have the ability to turn their ideas into reality they remain spectators and armchair commentators in the great game of life. Becoming a leader isn’t an easy process.
A very small number of people are born to leadership. Others achieve leadership. And others have leadership thrust upon them.
In my case, it could be said that, in part, I was born into a long tradition of political service and leadership. My father was a senior cabinet minister and President of the Senate. My uncle, JG Strydom, was Prime Minister.
In other respects, I achieved leadership. I served long apprenticeships as a student leader; as a leader in various civil society organisations; as a back-bencher in Parliament; as a cabinet minister and as a senior office-bearer in my party.
However, despite my family background and despite my long preparation for leadership, there was a sense in which leadership was thrust upon one. This occurred at a remarkable caucus meeting of my political party on the morning of 2 February 1989. Without the slightest prior warning we received a message from my predecessor, President PW Botha, announcing his decision after a serious stroke to step down as party leader. We decided there and then to elect a new leader. I won the subsequent caucus election by a very narrow margin: if only five more members of our caucus had voted for my colleague Barend du Plessis I would never have become President and would not have been able to play the leadership role that I subsequently played. How things would have turned out if Barend du Plessis had become President – neither I nor anyone else can say: except that, to a greater or lesser extent, they would have been different.
The fact that I was elected leader of the National Party enabled me to make a difference.