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Guiding principles to understanding the future of leadership

On Wednesday, 7 May 2014, a large percentage of over thirty million eligible voters will go to the polls for national and provincial elections. In the current context of South African election procedures, the people cannot vote for leaders directly, but only for parties.

This is viewed by many as a major shortcoming in the current system. While this is the status quo, the newspapers are full of criticism against many of our current political leaders, not least the president.  Areas that have come under much scrutiny in the political leadership are a lack of moral integrity (especially that of making promises that aren’t kept), involvement in crime and corruption (impacting greatly on service delivery), and personal enrichment at the expense of the taxpayers.  And the list goes on.  

Meanwhile, we do hear of political and other leaders involved in many leadership development programmes – both locally and overseas. In the attempt to develop leaders for the future, it is often asked what we should focus on in such development processes.

The difficulty or shortcoming, to my mind, is not with the actual development programmes, but with the participants who attend these programmes. In too many organisations the people are selected to attend according to their business card titles and not their leadership potential. A senior manager, therefore, cannot attend with a first line manager even if both have the same academic qualifications. In government organisations it is even worse as people attend according to their ranking in the department – director general (DG), deputy director general (DDG); chief officer; director; deputy director, etc.  Again their academic qualifications or NQF levels will not matter.

In this article I would like to propose four guiding principles to assist those who wish to evaluate their own leadership potential and possibly that of others.

Leadership is most evident on the interpersonal level

The people with whom you work reflect your own attitude. If you are suspicious, unfriendly and condescending, you will find these unlovely traits echoed all about you.  But if you are on your best behaviour, you will bring out the best in the persons with whom you are going to spend most of your working hours (Beatrice Vincent).

Leadership is defined in many ways, but one core element in many definitions is that of influence (John Maxwell). Influence is further explained as a process. According to Ogawa and Bossert, leadership involves influence and “it is something that flows throughout an organisation, spanning levels and flowing both up and down hierarchies”.

To enable any leader to influence effectively and positively, concepts such as connect, reciprocity, warmth and networks become necessary parts of the discourse. Research by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman show that “leaders who are rated low on likability have about a one in 2 000 chance of being regarded as effective. Only after they’ve achieved likability should they focus on displaying competence, an equally critical characteristic”. 

It becomes very apparent that for leadership to be effective, personal character traits (such as sincerity, authenticity, integrity) need to be in place and interpersonal skills (such as assertiveness, communication, negotiation, problem solving) need to be developed continuously. The bottom line to all of this is that nobody’s leadership influence or effectiveness can be properly assessed until they are observed in interpersonal relationships (whether within the family, workplace or community).  

Leadership is best assessed through EQ and not IQ

We cannot tell what may happen to us in the strange medley of life. But we can decide what happens in us — how we can take it, what we do with it — and that is what really counts in the end (Joseph Fort Newton).

Daniel Goleman writes that “the most effective leaders are alike in one crucial way: They all have a high degree of … emotional intelligence.  It’s not that IQ and technical skills are irrelevant. They do matter, but mainly as “threshold capabilities”; that is, they are entry-level requirements for executive positions”.  According to him, his research and that of others clearly show that “emotional intelligence is the sine qua non of leadership”.  In evaluating the EQ of leaders, Goleman states that “the numbers are beginning to tell us a persuasive story about the link between a company’s success and the emotional intelligence of its leaders”.  The major components addressed when considering the leader’s EQ would be self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills.

It is very interesting that the research being done by academics such as Goleman have now shown that the future success of leaders is determined by both IQ and EQ, but in the ratio 20:80. This does not mean that the engineer or the medical doctor should not be fully qualified, but rather that the IQ which gets people into the workplace is not what gets people promoted. Unfortunately this requirement of a sensible ratio of IQ and EQ is not true for elected officials, as the only criterion seems to be popularity.

Leadership is always a choice – never an appointment to a position  

I neither started the project nor suggested it. I simply responded to the call of the people for a spokesman (Martin Luther King).

Stephen R Covey wrote that “this is a bold statement …: leadership is a choice, not a position. Understanding this fundamental precept of leadership is critical because it is the key to success in any undertaking of life. When you’ve got good leadership, families, businesses, schools, hospitals, communities, and governments thrive. Under poor or mediocre leadership, none of these enterprises fulfil their potential. Leadership, therefore, is everybody’s business. It is the business of choice, of making things happen, and of making a difference.” We have all encountered people in leadership positions that have never made the choice to lead. They act the part that the role expects from them very well, but they have to rely on externals such as position, authority and hierarchy to foster their success.  

Making the choice to lead also means accepting the consequences that come with the choice. The deliberate consequences of leadership includes, but is not limited to, values such as responsibility, accountability, inclusivity and being exemplary and motivational.  When leaders fail to accept these consequences they fail to lead.  

While we sometimes struggle to define leadership accurately, we are always aware when there is a lack of leadership when a situation calls for it. The South African political arena is a case in point.  There are many political leaders who hide behind the term deployed and too few who have made the choice to lead.

Personal and professional dimensions of leadership cannot be separated

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader (John Quincy Adams).

One of the major issues I encounter in the facilitation of leadership is the ease with which many feel that the private (personal) and public (professional) dimensions of their lives can be kept completely separated. I would like to contend that this is a fallacy. This dichotomous perspective of life may be valid and possible in other areas, but most certainly not in leadership. In fact, once we step up to accept our leadership role and responsibilities, we are under more scrutiny. History is full of men and women who tried the separation approach, only to discover that the world judges us more harshly when we fail in a leadership role. This has been a major bone of contention with the release of candidate lists for the upcoming elections. Questions were immediately asked regarding the inclusion of people who have been found to lack integrity in many ways.

The greatest danger in the separation approach is that of hypocrisy, which is simply the ‘do as I say, not as I do’ approach. How effectively can parents (leaders in the family) who smoke convince their children of its ill effects? How effectively can politicians (leaders in the country) who are corrupt convince the electorate of their integrity?

Prof Basil C Leonard

Prof Basil C Leonard is Associate Professor at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) and Head of the Centre for Leadership Studies. His areas of expertise include Leadership and Emotional Intelligence.

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