Send me as a leader


Over the last two months since President Cyril Ramaphosa has first been elected as ANC president, and then president of the country, we have seen more leadership at a national level than in the previous ten years. Significant changes were implemented over a short period of time. The corrupt Gupta family has been exposed, together with their corrupt ministers who have now been fired from the cabinet. Furthermore, these corrupt ministers have now been replaced by ethical ministers such as Pravin Gordhan and Nhlanhla Nene. Likewise, three of the most corrupt state-owned enterprises, the SABC, SAA and Eskom now have new ethical boards. Thus, there is a new era of enlightened and ethical leadership under the leadership of Cyril Ramaphosa.

The transition to new political leadership at a national level, in addition to the corporate scandals at Steinhoff and KPMG amplifies the importance of ethical and effective leadership in South Africa. Once again, corporate scandals and state capture remind us of the fact that everything rises or falls on leadership. The biggest opportunity and risk in future is leadership. There is renewed optimism that things will improve in South Africa.

At business level, it is only two years until the year 2020. Already there are many opportunities for leaders to start creating the 2020 workplace – a work environment that will be different to what we are used to today. Whether it is technology, the fourth industrial revolution, new stakeholder relations models, youth empowerment or robotics – it is evident that things will be different. Having said that, amidst the chaos, uncertainty and turbulent environment, traditional values such as respect, diversity, honesty and integrity remain intact.

If there is one thing we have learned about corporate and governmental success and failure over the last thirty years it is that organisational performance, whether private or public sector depends on leadership. Governmental performance depends on leadership. There is a direct correlation between sustainable economic growth and competitiveness in the world, and the quality of a country’s leadership. While some economies may achieve short term growth with mediocre leadership, it is simply not sustainable. The best companies, best industries and the best countries have the best leaders. Therefore, the best bulwark against corporate and national governance disasters is good leadership.

Thus, companies should invest more in leadership development. While senior leadership development should indeed be prioritised, all leaders—middle managers and supervisors alike should be developed. In addition, we need more leaders who do not necessarily have the title of a manager, but who provide leadership with the quality of their work. The best scientists, product developers, IT specialists and other experts also need to be developed as leaders. Brilliant ideas, concepts and experiments bring us nowhere if the right decision-makers are not influenced to buy and champion great ideas.

Too many organisations and too many countries have under-performed because of poor leadership. Hence, poor leadership is the biggest risk in organisations. They cost their organisations millions, and they cause damage to society at large. The appointment of poor leaders cannot be perpetuated. Now is the time to appoint leaders with the greatest potential and then to develop them continuously in realising their potential for the benefit of their organisations, its people and other stakeholders, and society at large. Sadly, though, while President Ramaphosa’s new cabinet consist of some good ethical leaders, questions are asked about the credibility and integrity of some of the new ministers and members of cabinet. Surely, in business this is also the reality, although it is unlikely and unthinkable that at most companies half of all the board members would be corrupt. Even corporate scandals are caused by a handful of directors who manipulate the organisation, its people, stakeholders and its systems to commit fraud, corruption and other unethical business practices.

Sooner or later national governments will realise that competitiveness, economic growth, political stability and prosperous societies depend on the quality of its human capital. Poor government policy and ineffective implementation of national strategies will not produce an adequately supply of human capital. It is imperative that all obstacles to the provision, development and optimisation of human capital be removed. While some leading companies have made excellent progress in developing corporate talent management strategies, the public sector needs to come to the party by developing similar talent management strategies.

This article highlights the fact that leadership is simultaneously the biggest risk and opportunity in future. Many recent examples of government and corporate scandals and failures, including the failure of small businesses, clearly demonstrate this reality. On the positive side, leadership is also the biggest opportunity in business. If we appoint and develop the best possible leaders to move our organisations towards the 2020 workplace, we are setting our organisations up for future success. It is in this spirit that the South African leadership standard has been developed to protect organisations against leadership failures, and to guide leaders on the leadership practices necessary to ensure the success of leaders and their organisations. The quest for good leadership has become the most important factor in driving business success.

The launch of the South African leadership standard in 2017 was a historic moment for our country—it is a significant milestone in which local leaders have committed to guide one another towards leadership excellence. The development of the leadership standard will be remembered as the moment South African leaders decided to prioritise leadership as their biggest risk and opportunity—a milestone that is likely to sustain organisations and ensure a brighter future for South Africa, its organisations and all its stakeholders.

The new optimism in the country as a result of President Ramaphosa’s advent to the highest office in the land, presents South Africans with a new opportunity to position leadership in all spheres of society as the key to our success. As leaders we have to serve the people and make a difference to our stakeholders. As Ramaphosa quoted Hugh Masikela, let us all say as leaders and citizens: Send me.

Marius Meyer is CEO of the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP).

Marius Meyer

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This edition

Issue 58