Philip Jennings, general secretary of UNI Global Union, believes that leadership has seen a complete breakdown of trust, and that this is something to be concerned about.
“People do not seem to be speaking for the day-to-day concerns that people have. To be a leader, there has to be some legitimacy in who you are and how you’re trying to go about your goals, and we’ve seen a distortion of some of these key values, of trust, of honesty,” Jennings told CNBCafrica.com.
“People want to trust their leaders, they want to believe in their leaders. They want an understanding that they’re honest but we’re not seeing that. When you look at the context of leadership – you are the leader of a business at the moment where you are not trusted, where the level of inequality has broken all records and where not everybody is sharing in the wealth.”
THE GROWING GAP BETWEEN LEADERS AND THOSE THAT THEY LEAD
According to the 2013 Edelman Trust Barometer, which measures the state of trust around the world by exploring it in institutions, industries and through leaders, less than one fifth of the general public believes business leaders and government officials will tell the truth when confronted with a difficult issue.
This can especially be seen in the recent strike activity in South Africa’s platinum mining sector with around 100,000 workers downing tools over wages.
“Business leadership, the people at the head of big businesses that are earning remarkable sums of money, that are making a huge chasm between them and the ordinary working man and woman, should give you pause for reflection about how sustainable it is. The message being sent is there’s a lack of trust and a lack of sharing of values, and for political legitimacy and economic legitimacy, you need this trust,” Jennings explained.
“It is clear that if you have a leadership, which is about taking advantage of tax breaks, taking advantage of weak boards, taking advantage of a political lobbying process which means you’re always playing with a ‘following win’, I don’t think that’s the kind of leadership which is acceptable in the modern environment, but it’s the kind of leadership we have seen.”
THE INEQUALITY TREND
Jennings added that the business community has to take a good look at itself in terms of the economic and societal trend of inequality that it faces.
“Every business leader, particularly in the South African sense, should look at the distribution of wealth in the country and ask, ‘Is this sustainable?’ South Africa continues to be one of the most unequal countries on the planet. Therefore there has to be a sense of ’How can we, as business leaders, try and change some of the value systems which help to bridge this gap’,” he said.
“That’s why you’re seeing so much frustration on the ground in South Africa about this disconnection between the values of leadership at the top and the concerns of ordinary working people who can’t make ends meet.”
LEADERSHIP FROM AN ‘AFRICA’ PERSPECTIVE
The quest for strong leadership is an issue that affects not only South Africa but Africa as a whole. Angel Jones, chief executive and founder of Homecoming Revolution, believes that when it comes to business leadership in Africa, it’s all about relationships.
“The idea of being able to relate to people on the human side is more important than on the professional side. The development of Africa’s success has two factors: one is youth development, the second is great leadership, and you cannot have one without the other. You need leaders to stimulate the youth,” she indicated.
NECESSARY LEADERSHIP SKILLS
Jones maintained that among the many skills that are needed, leaders in Africa also need to be realistic about the continent.
“It’s about not thinking you can do it all yourself, it’s about surrounding yourself with people who are cleverer than you, it’s about inspiring and rewarding and sharing the glory, and allowing those around you to succeed. The very important thing is having a focus and a vision, that everybody understands what the vision is and having a strict sense of meritocracy,” she said.
“The expectation of leadership is to have clarity of goals. There are hard and soft dimensions to leadership and what is required. The hard areas are the goals that you set, the means that you have, the tools that you have available and the people that you are with – you require the hard side of leadership and the softer skills to move towards the accomplishments of those goals,” Jennings added.
FACING AND DEALING WITH THE BIG ISSUES
He also believes that the business community should not turn its back on the big, societal issues facing the country.
“We face a very unstable environment in terms of financial stability, profit development, competition, therefore it requires not just the ability to deal with the day-to-day concerns that you have but also to have a vision of how you see these broader economic and competitive trends and how you can adjust the mechanics of the business to deal with those,” Jennings said.
“This business of motivating the workforce, of investing in the workforce is key and to recognise that the instabilities that you face as a business are exactly those concerns that working people have as well. They should also be playing a role to ensure, outside the individual business, in the community and in the economic priorities of the nation as a whole, how well equipped the nation [is] to deal with the instabilities that everybody faces.”