Private sector should be clear about leadership

Debbie Goodman-Bhyat, CEO of Jack Hammer, rated one of South Africa’s top three executive search firms says, although it may seem obvious that companies want to appoint ethical leadership with integrity, the reality is that this requirement does not always translate into a specific, measurable brief. “Without fail, during the briefing stage, the ask will be for someone with ‘leadership qualities’. But hiring managers or nomination committees seldom investigate what this actually means, assuming that everyone will have a uniform view of what a leader is and is not”.

There is also an underlying assumption that included in the ‘leadership qualities’ package are implicit traits such as honesty, integrity, and ethics. “Yet both locally and globally, we see organisations appointing leaders who ultimately fail to meet even the minimum expectations on these criteria,” Goodman-Bhyat says. “There can be no doubt that unethical leadership almost inevitably costs companies dearly. We have ample and regular examples close to home, of the disastrous effects of problematic leadership on companies, where share prices tank, directors duck and doors are permanently closed”.

Goodman-Bhyat goes further to say that companies must get more specific about what they want in a leader, taking into consideration not only the idealised vision but also the reality on the ground, the commercial imperatives and the multiple, complex stakeholders and deliverables. “Particularly in 2016, the net is tightening on unethical leadership and there will be even less room to manoeuvre in the future, given the viral immediacy of unfolding scandals.

“At the same time, there rests a responsibility on existing leadership structures to think hard and carefully about what exactly the vision is for the company and its culture, and to go beyond the vague generalisations of seeking people with ‘great leadership qualities’.”

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