The South African Leadership Standard: It all starts with vision
by Penny Abbott & Marius Meyer
Last week we introduced to you the framework of the South African leadership standard developed by SABPP. Today we start a series of articles unpacking the five elements of the leadership standard. The first element is vision. Leadership starts with vision. The leader must first be able to articulate a vision for the organisation, business unit, department, section or team. The vision represents the dream of the leader, in other words what the leader would like to see happening with the future of the organisation. Vision is the ability to see (or forecast) the future and then to covert the vision to strategy and plans.
Sim Tshabalala, CEO of Standard Bank says that “a leader is a dealer in hope – somebody who can look at the future and get other people there with him or her.” That is where leadership starts – a clear vision for the organisation and its people. Sadly, though, some leaders lack vision to the detriment of their organisation, its stakeholders and society at large. Leaders are not people who maintain the status quo, but people who create a new organisation with a new perspective on where the organisation needs to go. However, in practice some leaders struggle with the following aspects of vision:
- A lack of vision to see into the future and to provide a clear vision and direction for the organisation;
- Simply maintaining the past or status quo by presenting the same (outdated) vision for the future;
- Not adapting the vision according to changes in the environment;
- A too complex or too theoretical vision lacking inspiration, simplicity and focus;
- Good individual vision(s), but a lack of a collective vision for all leaders in the organisation (resulting in infighting, hidden or different and sometimes conflicting agendas, turf battles or people going in different directions);
- A lack of stakeholder engagement before the vision is drafted;
- Inconsistent philosophies, approaches, practices and styles of leadership;
- An inability to inspire focus and to provide direction despite turmoil and challenges in the environment;
- Inflexibility and rigid thinking and action when the leader does not adapt or align the vision to changing circumstances;
- An insufficient focus on the bigger picture where society is going, resulting in the organisation becoming irrelevant or obsolete;
- A strong vision in the mind of the leader, but not shared by others;
- A good vision losing impact because it is not communicated, and therefore not actively supported with a clear and effective implementation plan;
- An unbalanced vision driving only one or a few of the six capitals, thus adversely affecting the credibility, reputation and sustainability of the organisation;
- Misalignment between vision, culture, strategy and plans resulting in execution gaps.
Against the backdrop of the above problems experienced regarding a lack of vision in many organisations, the South African leadership standard addresses all these areas. The outcome statement below is followed by fundamental requirements for good practice. Thirdly, while the standard provides direction and consistency, it also encourages flexibility in the application context by posing some key questions for leaders and their teams. Leaders in different organisations may have different answers to these questions, but answering them will provide an explicit focus on the leadership stance of the leadership team pertaining to their vision.
Leadership Standard Element 1
1.1 OUTCOME STATEMENT
The collective leadership of the organisation has a strong, simple message of the chosen future for the organisation which clearly conveys a purpose which inspires stakeholders and enables the organisation to find its way through uncertainties as they unfold in the future, presenting new opportunities and threats.
Individual leaders live this message and make it real for their teams.
1.2 FUNDAMENTAL REQUIREMENTS FOR GOOD PRACTICE
- ACTIVE CITIZENSHIP
- ENDURING AND FLEXIBLE
- COMMUNICATED WIDELY
1.2.1 The vision is appropriate to the organisation’s South African context and will contribute to the national vision as stated in the Constitution: “to achieve a better quality of life for all citizens and to free the potential of each person”. The need for job creation and alleviation of poverty and inequality is front of mind in deciding on the organisation’s chosen future. The vision demonstrates the active citizenship of the organisation.
1.2.2 The vision is enduring but flexible to changing circumstances. The vision is active in bridging the present and the future.
1.2.3 The vision is ethical, realistic and practical and clearly shows how the organisation will contribute positively to sustainability of all six capitals (financial, manufactured, intellectual, human, social and natural).
1.2.4 The process of defining the vision includes as many stakeholder groupings as is appropriate so that differing interests are taken into account and balanced.
1.2.5 The vision is widely communicated and stakeholders are helped to understand the context and application of the vision.
1.3 KEY QUESTIONS
1.3.1 What is the most effective consultation process with stakeholders to ensure positive relationships and engagement with the vision?
1.3.2 Have we checked that our organisation culture will support the vision and if it is not aligned, what will we do about it?
1.3.3 What are the best ways to convey the message of the vision to stakeholders?
1.3.4 How will we know that everyone in the organisation is aligned in working towards the vision?
1.3.5 How will we keep the vision alive and inspiring for our people?
1.3.6 How will we ensure that our vision continues to be relevant to our changing context?
Source: © SABPP (2017) South African Leadership Standard. Johannesburg
In conclusion, the South African leadership standard starts with vision. Leaders must be able to provide vision to their people and organisations, communicate the vision and ensure that it remains relevant according to changes in the environment. Failure to do so results in an ineffective and underperforming organisation losing focus at best, and the demise of the organisation in worst case scenarios. Mastering the art of instilling an inspiring and clearly articulated vision is therefore the first element of the South African leadership standard setting the tone for the other leadership standard elements.
Penny Abbott is Research and Policy Advisor for SABPP, and Marius Meyer is CEO of SABPP. They are the convenors for the development and launch of the South African leadership standard. Comments about the leadership standard can be send to firstname.lastname@example.org