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My 10 top leaders: How they inspired me to achieve excellence

During my HR career spanning 23 years, I have made key transitions from practitioner, to academic, to consultant, to manager, to board member to head of SABPP.  I have met thousands of people during this time.    Reflecting on this experience, I decided to honour the leaders who inspired me the most, with the hope that this might inspire other leaders or followers to become leaders.  While I may not have reported directly to all of them, I worked with them in different capacities, in teams, alliances, meetings, committees, conferences, projects and assignments.  Some of them may not even know how much I learned from them, but they enriched my life and my own experience as a professional and leader.

  1. Leon Fourie was my supervisor at my first job as a Management Training Officer at the South African Navy. I walked into a tough environment as a youngster with textbook knowledge but little experience, and yet I was tasked to train management skills for supervisors who were all between 20 and 30 years older than me.  Leon supported and trusted me to overcome this fear and mentored me to rise to the occasion.
  2. Heinz Schenk was the Executive Director for the Department of Human Resource Management at Technikon SA (now part of the merged University of South Africa). He provided brilliant leadership to me as a young academic so that I could establish myself in the higher education sector.
  3. Nicky Morgan was Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Technikon SA. He was a great strategist obsessed with good governance and management.  When I published my first book he wrote me a letter congratulating me and encouraged me to continue publishing my work.
  4. Theo Veldsman was the Chairperson at the Department of Industrial Psychology and People Management at the University of Johannesburg. Theo is a prolific author, speaker, academic and consultant. He is a master in conceptual thinking, strategy, change management and organisational development.
  5. Elizabeth Dhlamini-Kumalo was the Chairperson of the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP) when she appointed me as CEO in 2011. Her support and guidance in helping me to conceptualise and deliver on a new strategy called HR Voice has been so successful and sustainable that we immediately achieved a 129% membership growth.
  6. Michael Glensor was the Vice-Chairperson at SABPP during the same time (from 2011). He always encouraged me to continue delivering excellence, even during the most difficult times. Today he is still a great mentor and source of guidance and inspiration whenever I need him.
  7. Robin Probart, President of the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD), later to be changed to the African Society of Talent Development was the leader who “globalised” me. Being part of ASTD, he helped me to develop a global mindset, and travelling with him to Europe and America on an annual basis, not only exposed me to top thought leaders and practitioners globally, but also assisted me to find a global voice. Sadly, Robin passed away a few years ago, but his legacy is alive in my life every day. Robin was the best networker I ever knew and thanks to his mentoring he passed some of his networking skills on to me.
  8. Pearl Maphoshe is HR Executive at PicknPay, and I have to confess that she is my favourite HR Director! From aligning business strategy and HR to dealing with the strategic, tactical, operational, compliance issues, including implementing best practices, Pearl has been a source of inspiration and knowledge for me.  What impresses me most is her ability to reduce her whole HR strategy to a one-pager.  This is the type of approach line managers can relate to in a tough business environment in which busy and over-worked line managers do not have the time to read pages of HR documents.
  9. Siphiwe Moyo is the current chairperson of SABPP. As a full-time motivational speaker he knows everything about inspiration and motivation and is therefore a natural source of inspiration. He has an incredible ability to chair a meeting and ensure that the agenda is worked through in a focused manner without exceeding the time limit. As a conference programme director he achieves the perfect balance between managing the programme in a serious, business-like manner and adding a sense of humour and energy to the programme.
  10. Shirley Zinn is one of the top five most respected people in the field of HR Management in South Africa. As Chairperson of the HR Group of Executives’ Global Network, Shirley is an excellent facilitator of group discussions. Her ability to deal with complex issues, including simplifying them is a unique leadership skill.

Of course there are hundreds of other people who also influenced my career, and I will still write about them.  But looking at the list above, it almost runs as a group of Whose Who in HR in South Africa.  Clearly, I was blessed to work with them and more importantly to learn from them, and I am most certainly a better professional because of their influence in my life.  While these ten individuals had a profound impact on my career, I am going to multiply their influence by passing my learning and knowledge on to the next generation. Now that we are in the process of developing South Africa’s first leadership standard, I want to dedicate the leadership standard to all of them.  Let us make a success of the leadership standard to honour my top ten leaders and to extend their influence to thousands of other people, and thereby leave a legacy for the next generation of young HR professionals entering, growing and excelling in the HR profession.

Marius Meyer is CEO of the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP) and author of more than 500 articles and 21 books. He is the project leader of the Leadership Standard Journey. Follow all the action on google or hashtag #LeadershipStandard.

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