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Chairperson's foreword: Dr Claudelle von Eck

The Leadership dimension of the annual Corporate Governance Index (CGI) produced by the Institute of Internal Auditors South Africa, reveals that there is much room for improvement when it comes to executive teams functioning optimally in delivering the strategy in their organisations.

The CGI was designed to measure the degree to which South African organisations, in all sectors, are adhering to good governance principles. Only Chief Audit Executives (CAEs) are invited to participate in the survey as they are ideally placed to give an independent view on the state of governance in South African organisations. The Index focuses on seven dimensions, including Leadership. 

Of the respondents, only 39% strongly agreed that the executive teams in their organisations functioned optimally in delivering the strategy in their organisations. Wouldn’t it be great if we could say that a good number of those executives represented in the 39% are SBL alumni? With the SBL’s focus being firmly on developing leaders one should expect that its alumni would be in the forefront when it comes to practicing good leadership principles. If not, then we do need to do some introspection. Having received the tools at the SBL, it is up to us to ensure that we implement and practice until we have mastered the skill. The strength of the SBL brand is therefore determined by us in the field and not the marketing campaigns of the School. I sometimes wonder whether the alumni of the SBL are conscious of their responsibility to the collective in upholding the high standards of the brand. In other words, if I do not uphold the highest standards of the brand, my fellow alumni may very well find themselves judged by my actions.

So, when we do fall flat, why is that we are not functioning optimally? Perhaps some of the reasons include the following?

  • One of the obvious reasons would be competence of course, but I would hesitate to even begin to think that SBL alumni would be incompetent. However, in a fast-changing world and increasing complexities one would have to acknowledge that if alumni are not ensuring that they stay abreast through continuous professional development activities, they could very well find themselves among those who are not competent enough for the roles and responsibilities they find themselves in.
  • When those in leadership positions are more focused on self-interest than in the greater good, it is inevitable that the organisation will suffer in the process. The escalating reports on corruption and fraud do point a finger at increasing levels of self-interest. I hasten to add that this is not just a public sector phenomenon as many seem to believe. As SBL alumni we would have been taught, in a developing country like South Africa we can least afford leaders who do not understand their responsibilities which include, very definitely, custodianship which in turn calls for responsibility.
  • When leaders are unyielding and not prepared to listen to other voices, it would inevitably lead to narrow vision and power struggles which in turn curtail progress. To function optimally it is vital that the leadership team walks in tandem, while making enough room for diversity of thought. We are quite fortunate in that we live in a country with much diversity. SBL alumni should be in the forefront, advocating for diverse teams so that the organisation can benefit in the process.
  • A key issue which is becoming increasingly prevalent among executives is burnout. One of the causes for this phenomenon is the skills shortage in South Africa which contributes to those who are competent having to carry more than their fair share. It could also be the result of not delegating enough by those leaders who have unwarranted trust issues. I am sure that I do not have to remind alumni that by allowing themselves to become burnt out, they are not only being irresponsible toward themselves, but are putting the organisation at great risk too. Sometimes carrying more than your fair share is unavoidable. In those cases, it is so important to ensure that you look after your health by eating well, exercising and ensuring that you have some activity that takes you mind off the stressors in which you engage in regularly.
  • Lack of accountability can easily lead to the executive team not functioning optimally. As the old saying goes, what gets measured, gets done. We would naturally expect that the SBL alumni do not only deliver when accountability measures are in place, but will also ensure that they are accountable and report on activities even when not expected of them. Understanding the principle of ensuring that you are being held accountable is one of the signs of maturity in leadership.
  • Lack of consequences has become a challenge in our country. When there are no consequences for leaders who do not deliver, or dare to put their toes over the ethics line, it creates a culture in which optimal delivery on the strategy becomes impossible.

These are just some of the reasons why executive teams do not function optimally. There are more, of course, but these serve to start a process of self-reflection. It is important that leaders understand the impact of their inability to deliver, not only on the organisation itself, but also the broader society. True leaders understand the weight of the responsibility they carry. It is my hope that we will see an increasing number of SBL alumni who carry the torch for great leadership in our country.

By Dr Claudelle von Eck

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