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The South African Leadership Standard: Leading People

In the previous three articles we outlined the first three elements of the South African leadership standard, i.e. instilling vision, delivering value and living values.  In this article we share the fourth element and that is leading people.  Once leaders are clear on vision, product and values it is time to focus on the area requiring most of a leader’s time and that is to lead people.  This is also an area many leaders struggle with. Some leaders are great at the conceptual, thinking, product and vision aspects of leadership, while struggling with the essence of leadership – leading people. In fact, a vision may remain a pipe-dream if a leader fails to lead people towards the vision, and in particular converting the vision and strategy of the organisation into tangible actions and results.  A key priority for leaders is to empower staff in executing the vision, and in providing the necessary support to them along this journey, in particular when they encounter challenges and problems.

To be successful in leadership, a leader must have personal credibility, treat people as individuals and how fairness and respect to all staff members. As part of the process of leading people, leaders will apply a range of people skills, such as teamwork, feedback, delegation, coaching and communication. You will find the detail of the leading people element of the leadership standard below, including the five key questions for leaders and their teams. 

Leadership Standard Element 4

Individual leaders throughout the organisation inspire and empower employees and other stakeholders, giving challenge, guidance and support so that individual and collective efforts are aligned to achieve the desired results.
Individual leaders confront problems and take courageous people-centred decisions.


  • Have personal credibility
  • Treat people as individuals, showing fairness and respect

Leaders are skilled at:

  • Consultation
  • Communication
  • Assigning roles, responsibilities and tasks
  • Selecting the right people
  • Setting expectations and goals
  • Motivating individuals
  • Objectively assessing performance and causes of non-performance
  • Giving honest feedback
  • Making objective decisions on reward and recognition
  • Confronting unacceptable behaviour
  • Delegation
  • Coaching
  • Assisting with career development
  • Identifying cases of personal problems affecting work
  • Promoting collaboration and teamwork

The organisation demonstrates its belief that leaders at all levels should:

  1. have personal credibility, based on an authentic and consistent track record of making courageous, ethical decisions and the ability to admit that they don’t know in conditions of uncertainty;
  2. take trouble to understand their team members as individuals and show fairness and respect for people in all their actions and decisions.

Leaders in the organisation learn and put into practice the skills to:

  1. Consult team members appropriately and effectively on matters affecting them, creating a safe space for them to innovate and make suggestions;
  2. Communicate fully, openly and honestly with stakeholders both with good news and with bad news;
  3. Assign roles and responsibilities;
  4. Select the right people;
  5. Set clear expectations and goals for team members;
  6. Determine the best way to motivate each individual;
  7. Evaluate performance and determine root causes of non-performance;
  8. Give honest feedback on performance;
  9. Make objective decisions on positive and negative consequences of performance, including pay;
  10. Confront breaches of ethics, values, policies and operating procedures and determine appropriate action;
  11. Delegate tasks and responsibilities to empower team members;
  12. Coach team members to acquire new skills, take on new tasks and improve performance;
  13. Assist team members with their career development through objective evaluation of potential, suitable career paths and a personal development plan;
  14. Identify where a team member has a problem affecting their work and enable them to access the right assistance;
  15. Promote collaboration and teamwork within the team and with other teams.


  1. How do we ensure that leaders are acquiring and practising people management skills?
  2. How do we identify future leaders?
  3. How do we develop those future leaders?
  4. How do we measure leaders’ performance in leading people?
  5. How do we make sure we help our leaders adapt their people management skills for a future world of work?

Source:  © SABPP (2017) South African Leadership Standard. Johannesburg
In conclusion, the fourth element of the draft South African leadership standard is leading people.  The key question leaders should ask is to what extent are they effective in leading their people.  Good people skills are essential for all leaders in applying the “leading people” element of the South African leadership standard. Being aware of the requirements of leading people is the first step towards planning a systematic approach to leading people in an organisation.

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 on 26 October. Comments about the leadership standard can be send to

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