The good shepherd

The good shepherd

MASERU – THERE is a tinkle in Mahashe Chaka’s eyes as he talks about his days as a herd boy to his father’s cattle.
He talks about the time he spent in the veld as though it was yesterday. It’s not nostalgia that takes him back to those days but a realisation that in a way he is still a shepherd of sorts.

The skills he learned as a herd boy remain vital even as he now wears suits, travels the world and manage tens of highly qualified people.
The veld is the corporate world whose intricacies he has to manoeuvre with deftness. There are the subordinates whose different cultures, behaviour, strengths and weaknesses he has to manage.

There are also politicians and other superiors he has to learn to get along with for the sake of achieving his goals as the leader of the Land Administration Authority (LAA).

Chaka says such skills are not learned from management school but are imbued in you as you grow. As you climb up the corporate ladder like he has you begin to appreciate that you will never stop learning no matter how highly qualified you are.

Each task and position brings with it lessons that make you realise that life is just but a journey of learning.
Chaka’s tutelage started at home where there was his Anglican Dean father Reverend Edwin Masitha Chaka and a teacher mother ’Mateboho Jeanet Chaka. Because of his father’s work, theirs was a nomadic working class family of modest means.

The father was a disciplinarian who expected everyone to live by the rules. A jolly good fellow, as Chaka describes him, Rev Chaka wielded the stick that moulded his children and prepared them for an unpredictable world.

Chaka says he cannot describe himself as having been an overly naughty boy. He likes to portray himself as a boy who behaved like other boys of his time and age. That means there were chores forgotten and curfews missed.
But there was no way he could have deviated so much to become a perennial delinquent because he was dealing with two strong-willed parents who held the reins tightly.

There was mischief but within tolerable bounds. At school he could not let his grades slip or allow himself to be carried away in mischief because his mother was a teacher, more often than not at the same school with him.

At home he did not have too much time to indulge in tomfoolery because his father had placed a restrict regime of chores he had to accomplish after school. His responsibility was the cattle. Feed, water, milk, and there was no problem. Forget those and the old man would come after you.

In the several villages he lived were eyes that watched his every step, ready to snitch on him to his father if he got up to some monkey shines. He was the child of a well-known Anglican Dean and he had to be at his best behaviour or his father would know.
In all this he learned crucial lessons of life.

From the family he learned that a person should live by the rules, stick to his word and accept responsibility for his actions. From the village he understood that the world expects you to behave in a certain way.

Then there was the veld where he had to deal with cattle and fellow boys, some of whom would go out of their way to have some dark fun at his expense. He would get into fights and miss some cattle.

“You have to be tough because those boys in the veld would beat you. You only eat in the morning and evening. There is no lunch. You have to be tough.” That resilience has come in handy in management and life.

He says he quickly learned that there are slackers who hold back the team and some who are just out to derail progress.
“You have to be decisive in dealing with such players. They have to understand that no one can hold a team to ransom.”
“There is always a way to get things done. People here know that I am a disciplinarian and a perfectionist. You cannot come here to idle around and eat fat cakes.”

But perhaps the most valuable management lesson, in his estimation, came from dealing with the cattle. A masterful herd boy, he says, does not follow his animals to greener pastures or watering hole.

“Rather, he leads from the front. Only when he gets the animals to follow him does he lead them to the best pastures.”
The problem, as he discovered as a young boy in the veld, is that it is not easy to get the cattle to follow you.
“You have to be patient and it take months to learn that skill.”

The first step, Chaka explains, is to build a relationship with the herd.
“You have to know each cow by its name. You have to understand its habit. But more importantly they have to know and trust you as the herd boy before they allow you to lead them.”

Now as he leads a team at the LAA some 30-odd years later Chaka takes his role as Director General and Chief Executive in much the same way he did as a herd boy.

He is leading from the front to help the team deliver impeccable services to a public that has grown weary of being treated with contempt when they enter public offices.

Slowly, his team is showing people that it’s possible to get a land lease within a week instead of the years they have been accustomed to.
They are showing that it is possible to register a property in days and get a correct ground rent invoice on time. The team has proven that it was incompetence and lack of systems that made it almost impossible to get your land records when they were kept by the land department the LAA replaced in 2011.

Chaka attributes these massive changes to building a cohesive team that understands its mandate. And of course part of the credit should go to him even though he sounds reluctant to blow his own trumpet.

Like a skilled herd boy, Chaka is leading the LAA from the front.
“You have to know each team player’s name, their family and what they can do,” he says.

“They also have to know you, where you are coming from, where you are going and what you expect of them. Only then can they follow you.”
The Anglican Church, which he naturally had to attend religiously because his father was a leader, also imparted another lesson on him: the importance of planning and consistency.

“There are no surprises in the Anglican church. You know exactly what you are going to do and on which days.”
“You know when the Bishop will be there and from which section the preacher will read. It’s all about preparation.”

It is that training that informs Chaka’s loathing for impromptu meetings that have no clear agenda. In his meetings Chaka has tried to eliminate “any other business” from the agenda. “You cannot throw in an issue that you have just thought about now. We have to know where you are coming from, apply our minds to what you have said and come up with an informed response.”

The church and his parents taught him to resist the temptation to hastily pass judgment on other people.
That has helped him tiptoe through the political minefield that comes with heading an organisation that is an implementation authority of the government.

As Director General and Chief Executive, Chaka has watched ministers and governments come and go. His strategy in his interactions with political leaders has however not changed.
“Respect other people and remember that each individual is unique. Give each person their audience,” he says of his strategy.
“If you understand the needs of a person you understand your capacity to meet those needs. Don’t paint people with the same brush. Understand what they want. Some people have needs that don’t come from you.”

Chaka’s father might have loosened his reins on his six children as they grew older and he went into retirement but his influence endured. Even when he was no longer directly responsible for his children he always insisted on them keeping their end of a bargain.

In the late 1990s Chaka was to learn that once you have made a promise to the old man there was no way to back down. After a brief stint at the Centre of Accounting Studies, Chaka had moved to the United Kingdom to study accounting at the South Bank University under a government scholarship.

But politics intervened before he could finish the Honours degree. A change in government in 1994 came with a change in policy towards scholarships. They were told to come back home.

Dejected, Chaka returned home. His father who had tried to make sure he completed his studies in accounting in the UK had quickly moved to pay for his professional examinations which he was supposed to take in Botswana. Yet by that time Chaka was having a change of heart.
“Had we talked earlier I don’t think he would have paid because my heart was now in management.”
Chaka later implored his mother to plead on his behalf to his father.

“I asked her to tell him to slow down on the pressure and I would eventually finish the accounting degree when I am ready.”
His father agreed to his proposal but made him promise that he would finish his studies. Reprieved, Chaka found a job as a financial officer at Vodacom Lesotho (VCL).

Years passed as he enjoyed his independence and money.
But his father never forgot that his son had promised to finish his accounting studies.
“The old man kept reminding me of my promise and that kept it at the back of my mind.”

Shakeman Mugari & Lemohang Rakotsoane

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