by Marius Meyer


Why do we need a leadership standard?

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When the sustainability of institutions is at threat because of poor leadership, it is evident that something must be done to improve leadership in organisations.  Even when organisations were led by great leaders, often when these leaders resign or retire, it may be difficult to sustain the performance of the organisation, especially if these leaders are succeeded by leaders who are less competent. The credibility and reputation of organisations will then be adversely affected.  Conversely, good leaders may turn things around in organisations that are struggling because of the damage done by their leaders in the past.  For instance, the Chairperson of the SABC Khanyisile Kweyama has done an excellent job as Interim chair of the SABPP Board to fix the corporate governance mistakes of the previous board and top management.

The reality is that organisational success depends on the quality of its leaders. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true, and that is that poor leaders cause the demise and/or destruction of their organisations.  Thus, companies need competent leaders. However, there are too many examples of poor leadership around us in different types of organisations. These leaders not only frustrate employees, they also frustrate their customers, suppliers and other stakeholders of the organisation. 

The leadership crisis in organisations manifests at two levels, i.e. horisontally and vertically.  Horisontally, different leaders behave inconsistently.  For example, you may have an excellent Production Manager, but a poor Supply Chain Manager, or vice versa.  Employees are observing inconsistent leadership behaviour, and it affects the quality of products and services produced by the company. At a vertical level, leaders as top managers, middle managers and front-end supervisors also follow different leadership styles, approaches and models, with the result that inconsistent leadership behaviour is prevalent throughout the organisation, so much so that even when the CEO has a good vision and strategy in place for the organisation, the different levels of management and staff fail to execute the vision. In other words, it does not help us too much to have good blueprints, but not enough footprints of people executing the strategy correctly on a daily basis.

So, if the leadership crisis is the problem, what is the solution?  A ‘hands-off’ approach to leadership issues is no longer an option. Leaders need a framework with a clear standard on what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.  Leaders require clear guidelines on what good leadership practice is all about. The right leadership behaviour will enable the right staff and stakeholder behaviour, thereby leading organisations towards success. 

Over the last five years, the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP) has been at the forefront of developing national human resource (HR) standards. These standards are used by companies to develop a consistent set of HR practices aligned to business strategy.  Inevitably, with SABPP having raised the bar on HR practice, attention is drawn by many stakeholders to the parallel need to raise the bar on the people management skills and behaviours of organisations’ leaders and line managers, and the SABPP has been requested to address this issue. Many of the HR Directors implementing the HR Standards have commented on the lack of leadership and people management skills of their management teams, which are seen as a major obstacle to implementing the HR Standards successfully within their organisations.

Something must be done, and it starts with the collaboration between the SABPP, Talent Talks (Africa’s talent management platform) and Wits University to drive excellence in leadership as one of the key people practices. The SABPP sees leadership as the first in a list of key people management practices that managers need to master for proper governance and performance. Once the leadership standard is in place, other people management standards can follow.

As partners in developing this unique Leadership Indaba, a stakeholder engagement opportunity is created in the form of a leadership standards summit to reach a common understanding on the demands of leadership which can serve two important functions:

  • To present to leaders in simple terms what is expected of them; and
  • To form the basis from which to understand current failures of leadership in many sectors.

From here, we can identify actions to improve leadership in South Africa. The country calls on leaders to share, develop and create the change they want to see.  Thus, we need to create a network of leaders across industries – leaders who are committed to improve their own leadership, and to build and develop other leaders to excel in their leadership practice.

The Leadership Standard Summit, in partnership with Talent Talks and Wits Enterprise aims to bring the importance of leadership to the forefront of South African society by highlighting its pivotal role in determining its economic future. If we can get leadership right in all spheres of society, we can create the type of country we all want to see.  Most importantly, we need to create dynamic leaders who are able to unlock and develop South Africa’s talent so that we can improve our performance in all areas of economic and social activity and impact.

The objective of the summit is ultimately to create a set of leadership standards for the country. It aims to inform stakeholders and debate their role in the leadership landscape, as well as to motivate people in business and government with the power to take action.

This is not a leadership conference but rather the start of a leadership journey, by creating a national leadership standard to guide all leaders in their daily leadership practice, conduct and behaviour.   It will tackle the issues of vision, ethics, governance, responsibility, accountability, purpose, trust, decision-making and influence, and the duty of businesses and associations to create a united platform  to support leaders who can take the country on a new course and give people tangible direction and hope for the future. 

The first full-day event will be held at the Theatre on the Track, Kyalami, on 14 September 2017 followed by a second on 26 October.  The outputs of the first session will be launched at the second session, thereby ensuring a sustainable journey of short, medium and long term impact taking us to 2018 towards the 2020 workplace and beyond. 

In the light of the above, it is evident that the time for the development of a leadership standard has arrived.  It is an honour to be part of this process, and I invite other leaders and their organisations to join me on this exciting journey of developing the world’s first national leadership standard. Yes, as South Africans we are used to many failures and it hurts every time when we experience a new failure or scandal.  But now is the time to create positive energy in turning things around – in positioning leadership at all levels of society as the solution to our problems.  With sound leadership we will be able to deal with our problems and even new crises as they emerge, but turning these hardships into opportunities of improving ourselves, our organisations and our country will be the ultimate test of our strength as leaders.  

Marius Meyer is CEO of the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP) and author of 21 books for Juta, Van Schaik, Lexis-Nexis, Knowledge Resources and more than 300 articles for magazines such as HR Future, HR Voice, Talent Talks and Achiever Magazine.  Leaders will receive daily updates on progress with the development of the Leadership Standard, they can use the hashtag #LeadershipStandard and follow SABPP on twitter @SABPP1 or Talent Talks on @talenttalksnet  or by visiting the website

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