South Africa’s Leadership standard: An opportunity for leaders to excel
by Marius Meyer
Since the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP) developed the world’s first set of national HR standards to guide HR teams in applying a consistent set of HR practices aligned to the overall goals of business, the initiative has attracted interest from all over the world. This year the projects is expanded to include a leadership standard for managers. 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 redefine their role in the leadership landscape, as well as to motivate people in business, the non-profit sector and government with the knowledge and power to take positive leadership 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 performance. The current approach of “anything goes” cannot be perpetuated, especially in the light of daily leadership failures in so many organisations. The right leadership practice will enable the right staff and stakeholder behaviour, thereby leading organisations, economic sectors and the nation towards success. In addition, leaders need to tackle broader socio-economic issues such as rising unemployment, corruption and poor economic growth.
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 leadership performance, 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 is seen as a major obstacle to implementing the HR Standards successfully within their organisations.
The SABPP sees leadership as 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 will follow during 2018.
As partners in developing this unique Leadership Journey, an opportunity is created 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.
Within an organisation, especially those with multiple sites, inconsistencies in leadership and people management practices occur. This creates confusion among followers and perpetuates uncertainty and chaos. The problem is further exacerbated by the fact that leaders at different levels have different levels of competence. The different philosophies of universities, business schools and other learning providers contribute to the problem, given the fact that some institutions’ management and leadership curriculums are dominated by traditional management approaches developed during the previous century, while current and future demands require a different leadership paradigm and competence. The result is that students exiting these institutions come from different academic backgrounds based on vastly different schools of thought. In many cases, these students have to be retrained according to the needs of the organisation, and some companies even go as far to create their own corporate universities to train their own leaders.
The enormous body of research and academic writing on the topic of leadership illustrates how complex the concept of leadership can be. However, most people taking on leadership roles would like to know in simple terms what is expected of them and how they can continuously improve their leadership skills.
An explicit model 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.
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, 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 on 14 September 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 systematic 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. 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 good leadership behaviour and practices.
The leadership standard journey starts in 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. Also, a leadership network will be formed to ensure that leaders are supported by fellow leaders and leadership experts in ensuring that all leaders are set up for sustainable success. In 2018, further people management standards will be developed in support of the leadership standards. These people management standards will guide all managers to become better managers of people, thereby assisting them to unlock the potential of their people and organisations. The leadership journey has started, and we need to ensure its success in creating successful and sustainable organisations. Hence, the leadership standards journey presents an opportunity for South African leaders to develop their leadership skills and to excel as leaders of their organisations.
Marius Meyer is CEO of the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP). For more information about the #LeadershipStandard journey, visit SABPP on www.sabpp.co.za or twitter @SABPP1