Leadership challenges for 2014


Business leaders are set to encounter manifold challenges in 2014 in the face of headwinds buffeting the local economy, and unrest and uncertainty across the globe.

As South Africa enters its third year of a struggling economy, companies need to continue to streamline their operations and take unnecessary costs out of the business. Leaders must deliver seamless strategy execution, innovation and process excellence.

The challenge is to spot opportunities locally, and gear up to tackle fast-growing markets in other African countries and overseas.

Economic rumbles include a weakening rand, labour union turf wars, corruption, and confrontation between unions and management. Globally, there are energy deliberations, social upheaval, skilled labour deficits, youth unemployment and inequality.

South Africa is not alone. Greater specialisation and division of labour between skilled and unskilled people has widened the skills gap at a national and global level. According to a new Oxfam study, 50% of the world’s wealth is in the hands of the 85 richest individuals. Inequality is one of the main issues occupying the minds of delegates at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting taking place this week in Davos, Switzerland.

Within South Africa, there are pockets of excellence where people are doing remarkable things. The fast-tracking of green energy initiatives – supported by government – is one example. Then there’s the R9-billion Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope – the biggest, most sensitive radio telescope ever built, slated to move from “concept to concrete” this year.

In the technology space, we continue to show we can innovate with the best in the world. Space tourist Mark Shuttleworth and inventor Elon Musk come to mind. More recently, a Durban start-up has developed a mobile point-of-sale terminal that allows traders to accept card payments using their phones. And a Midrand entrepreneur is about to launch the first locally-made smartphones and tablets.

Reports indicate that, since the onset of the global financial crisis in 2008, the number of highly-skilled South Africans returning to this country has increased by close to 400 000, even once immigration figures are taken into account. Many of these are highly-skilled individuals who have taken up professional and executive positions.

While this inflow may not be enough to take up the challenge of expanding the country’s infrastructure, once the R845-billion National Infrastructure Plan gets off the ground, there is no doubt returning expatriates play a valuable role.

They return home bringing with them skills and business acumen that can enrich their South African companies, grow the economy, and generate job opportunities. They are armed with know-how and experience developed abroad and can engage in transferring skills to the local population.

What’s more, they have a global view and can play with global players. They understand the risks posed by working across borders in a challenging economic environment.

They are used to coping with fluctuating market conditions and changing economic circumstances. Although supply chains may appear seamless, global leaders are called on to manage people with diverse cultural backgrounds and different communication styles. Along with emotional intelligence, cultural intelligence becomes part of the equation so as to tap the potential that resides in diversity.

We need leaders who can meet the global challenges of competitiveness and pressures for resources by managing and retaining the best talent, building partnerships and mastering change and complexity when working across multiple geographies.

Meeting these leadership challenges requires new skills and abilities. Leaders must convey what they stand for clearly and powerfully. At the same time, they know that they will be judged on their actions, not on their words.

At this time of economic and social uncertainties, we need leaders with a strong moral compass who embrace ethical values and ensure that good governance underpins the fabric of our organisations.

Sandra Burmeister

(Credits: www.bruggemans.co.za; www.oxfam.org; www.engineeringnews.co.za; www.adcorp.co.za; www.techcentral.co.za)


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