by Marius Meyer


Setting the leadership standard for South Africa


The previous week we were all inspired by the CEO of Business Leadership South Africa, Bonang Mohale when we publicly committed business leaders in ridding the country from fraud and corruption, and to transform companies in developing black leaders as top managers. I am inspired by this commitment, and with the South African leadership project I want to support Business Leadership South Africa in a tangible way. Bonang has given us hope that business will come to the party in creating a better country for all its people in which the common good supersedes narrow self-interest.

When we consider the current problems in organisations and society in general, it is evident that we face a leadership vacuum in business, government and society. While we can indeed be proud of pockets of excellence in both the private and public sectors, the reality is that leadership excellence remains exceptions and not the norm.

Given the leadership crisis, I asked myself: What is the solution? How did we get into this mess in the first place? How come that leaders have no insight into their lack of leadership? How come that leaders do not have a conscious at all? How does a leader go to bed at night, knowing full well that s(h)e did not add any value as a leader during the day? How is it possible that leaders don’t care at all?

The solution to the leadership crisis is a leadership standard. The objective of the leadership standard journey is ultimately to create a set of leadership standards for the country. It aims to inform stakeholders and clearly position their role in the leadership landscape, as well as to motivate people in business and government, and civil society with the knowledge and power to take action.

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 leadership behaviour. In fact, the standard must be so strong that barriers to entry must be raised significantly and leadership development must be compulsory for all leaders. For example, if you are unethical, you do not quality for leadership. The King IV Code on Corporate Governance for South Africa starts with the premise that board members as leaders of the governing body must be ethical and effective. This principle assumes that unethical and ineffective leaders should not be on governing bodies. How can you direct an organisation into the future if you are driven by self-interest, greed and other unethical and destructive leadership thinking and not the greater common good in terms of the stakeholders of the organisation?

The right leadership practice will enable the right staff and stakeholder behaviour, thereby leading teams, organisations and the nation towards success. Leadership is the first in a list of key people practices that managers need to master for proper governance and performance. Once the leadership standard is in place, other people management standards can follow. These people management standards should cover guidelines on how to manage people such as teamwork, delegation, dealing with conflict and ethics management.

I am inviting leaders to join me for a national conversation on leadership on 14 September in Kyalami, Johannesburg. But this will not be a talk shop, but a leadership factory or shop – a place of action. We will create a common understanding of the leadership we desire to become a winning nation. If we continue to be unsuccessful in our leadership journey, our current problems of unemployment, poverty, inequality and zero economic growth will simply be perpetuated. Thus, the leadership standard project is a leadership factory and we will then share it with the nation in getting their buy-in and support.

An opportunity is created to reach a common understanding of 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.

And surely we want to set ourselves up for success and prevent further leadership failures. From here, we can identify specific actions to improve leadership at all spheres in South Africa. The country calls on leaders to share, develop and create the leaders they want to see. If the sustainability of organisations is our aim, we should only have leaders who are interested in sustainability. And if we cannot trust our leaders to sustain our organisations, our future is already at stake. Within an organisation, especially those with multiple sites, inconsistencies in leadership and people management practices occur.

Poor leadership is holding back the development of the South Africa we want to see, in fact without leadership, we will not be successful in achieving the goals of the National Development Plan (NDP), with only twelve years to go. We cannot accelerate NDP implementation if we don’t accelerate leadership development. Therefore, we need commitment to bring forth action and lead with a standard of excellence in leadership.

An explicit standard and approach is needed to utilise the knowledge of South Africa’s good leaders and to replicate and build on their successes. Good leadership should become the norm and not the exception, hence the need for a leadership standard that spans across industries, sectors and spheres of society. Exceptional leadership is needed to take organisations, industries and South Africa as a country forward.

It has been said so many times that we get the leaders we deserve. We elect and appoint leaders and while leaders are failing, followers are failing, organisations are failing and society is failing. We are failing because we don’t have a clear picture on what good leadership is about. In the absence of an explicit leadership standard, we are risking our future by following leaders who are good at making a lot of noise and misleading us into a very uncertain and unstable future, thus going nowhere slowly with outdated and empty slogans and little action before we regress into our eventual demise. We need leaders who can provide us with hope, direction and inspiration towards a bright future (not a mediocre or better future). We need excellence, not mediocrity. Conventional wisdom will not take us anywhere, we need fundamental change and transformation into a new world that does not exist currently. The sky is not the limit, it is the beginning.

Against the backdrop of the leadership crisis, the development of a national leadership standard will assist in mobilising and developing authentic leaders to rise to the occasion with clear guidelines for leadership practice. An honest conversation will form the foundation, followed by focused collaboration and action. As authentic leaders we will recognise our shortcomings and get help, but individually and collectively commit to improve our leadership based on a clear standard of action. The standard will be developed in a collaborative manner and formally launched at the 5th Annual HR Standards conference on 26 October.

In the light of the above explanation about the need for a national leadership standard, it is clear that a formal approach is needed to commence with this important initiative to formalise a national approach to first set leadership standards, and then to develop the country’s leadership talent in a focused manner. It is the intention of this project to move away from the current approach of leaders being appointed without leadership skills, but rather to encourage, develop and replicate good leadership behaviour and practices.

The leadership standard journey starts on 14 September 2017, but it will continue through the different phases and milestones of the process until pockets of excellence are replicated to multiply leadership success stories.

We owe it to ourselves and the next generation to have the best possible people in leadership positions – as school principals, rectors of colleges and universities, entrepreneurs, business leaders, student leaders, government departments leaders, municipal leaders, political leaders, community leaders, heads of non-profit organisations or any other entities. The leadership standard will be the legacy of South African leaders, and inspire us to greater heights and tangible actions. This article is a call for action in raising the bar for leaders by setting a leadership standard for South Africa. Let us thrive as leaders and set the tone for creating a thriving South Africa. Please join me in making a contribution to this exciting initiative. We need leaders with a leadership voice and commitment to leadership action. Become involved and follow all the action on hashtags #leadershipstandard and #leadersmustrise

Marius Meyer is CEO of the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP) and author of more than 500 articles and 21 books.

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Issue 412


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