As international companies continue to invest in new markets and emerging economies, leadership has become a critical commodity. Professor Peet Venter, acting Executive Education Director of the Unisa Graduate School of Business Leadership (SBL) Centre for Business Leadership (CBL), argues that the global leaders required to take communities, countries and continents forward into the future will need a complex and broad skills set. They will also need exposure to solutions-driven thinking – so as to prepare to face the business risks and opportunities of social, political cultural and environmental trends.
With emerging markets continuing to attract comparatively high levels of international investment, local leaders are being offered new opportunities to help in the establishment of global brands – and ensure local relevance.
“In order to realise the growth these international corporations are moving to gain access to, they require deliberate and decisive leadership,” notes Venter. “Many of these leadership qualities and attributes cannot be traditionally taught or learnt from books however. They will often need to be demonstrated very practically by others, with up and coming leaders exposed to these insights and situations. This makes leader-to-leader learning imperative.”
Venter adds that in South Africa, the past couple of months have brought aspects of and views about leadership into the public space in an unprecedented way due, to a large extent, the type of conversation social media enables. “Conversations have additionally included both the public and private sectors, calling each of us to question whether there is a ‘universal’ concept or definition of leadership that our leaders need to adhere and commit to.” Various social, political, cultural and environmental issues have added to these debates – ranging from strikes to globalisation to issues of poverty and human rights.
“The ability to lead in the face of complexity and uncertainty is becoming a non-negotiable requirement for global leaders,” says Venter. “Leadership in these circumstances requires a range of distinct skills such as being flexible and responsive to change, finding original ways of solving problems, learning from mistakes and balancing shorter and longer term concerns.
“The South African global leader of tomorrow also needs to understand the inter-dependency of actions and the range of global implications that local level decisions can have. The ethical basis on which business decisions are made is additionally a very important factor.”
Venter notes that a very positive starting point for up and coming leaders to learn about themselves and their abilities is directly from their peers. “To build knowledge and skills around connectedness, leaders need opportunities to connect and engage in comparatively ‘safe’ and sanctioned environments. This includes with leaders from other industries or sectors one wouldn’t usually be exposed to within one’s usual circle of influence – which the SBL’s Centre for Business Leadership encourages. When coupled with world-class leadership development education and the exposure this enables, one can then create the ideal base from which to grow other organisational capabilities.”
As South Africa continues to grapple with leadership in all its various forms and guises, our leaders oftomorrow are increasingly being called to drive and own their own development – finding means to expose themselves to the thinking, skills and environments they can learn in and from. “Executive education can provide a means of enabling this – and additionally create a pool of peers one can grow and develop with,” says Venter. “To this end, organisations looking to enable their own long-term success need to consider holistic development of their leaders of tomorrow both within and beyond their companies.”