“A boss has the title, a leader has the people.” – Simon Sinek

As human beings, we have an innate desire to be guided and led. In our childhood, leadership is provided through parenting and our immediate family, offering a space in which we can explore our personal growth in a safe and nurturing environment. As we grow, we start looking beyond that bubble for leaders who can further inspire us to fulfill our potential, whilst still offering that sense of security. Leaders are those individuals who can help us identify our purpose and achieve our full potential.

Leadership qualities

In 2008,Tom Rath and Barry Conchie co-authored a book named ‘Strengths Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow’. The landmark Gallup 30-year research project identified three key elements of effective leadership: knowing your strengths and investing in others’ strengths, getting people with the right strengths on your team, and understanding and meeting the four basic needs of your followers, namely trust, compassion, stability and hope.

It therefore clearly appears that the best leaders are not necessarily the ones holding traditional leadership qualifications such as MBAs, but rather, individuals with high emotional intelligence who hold skills which were traditionally defined as ‘soft’.

Within society, people typically turned towards the political class for leadership and inspiration. Leadership was also provided by religious figures and activists. Fast forward to the21st century, and it becomes increasingly clear that this is no longer the case.

Business more trusted than government

The Edelman trust barometer, a survey of 33,000 respondents spread across 28 different countries, has established in no unclear terms that trust in politicians and other institutions is on the decline. The study, which is published annually, consistently shows that it is business which primarily holds the people’s trust. Business is also now seen as the only institution which is both competent and ethical. The study has also established business – that is the employer – as a ‘mainstay of trust’

With trust comes responsibility

When leaders are trusted by their followers, they take on added responsibility. And responsibility is expressed when leaders conform to a set of fundamental values:

  1. Accountability: Leaders should be accountable for the impacts of their decisions on society, the economy and the environment. A leader should accept appropriate scrutiny and also accept a duty to respond to this scrutiny.
  2. Transparency: Leaders should be transparent in their decisions and activities and should disclose in a clear, accurate and complete manner, and to a reasonable and sufficient degree, the policies, decisions and activities for which they are responsible.
  3. Ethical Behaviour: Leadership decisions should be based on the values of honesty, equity and integrity.
  4. Consideration for stakeholders’ needs: Leaders should respect, consider and respond to the interests of wider stakeholders and not limit their decisions on the basis of the interests of its owners, members, customers or constituents.
  5. Respect for the rule of Law: Leaders should accept the supremacy of law and respect the fact that no individual or organisation shoud stand above the law. This implies that leaders should take steps to be aware of applicable laws and regulations, and to inform those within the organisation of their obligation to observe and to implement those measures.
  6. Respect for international norms of behaviour: In situations where the law or its implementation does not provide for adequate environmental or social safeguards, a leader should look at international norms of behaviour and strive to abide by those norms, whist also considering legitimate opportunities and channels to seek to influence relevant authorities to remedy any such shortcomings.

The world is experiencing a leadership vacuum, and businesses have a unique opportunity to fill this void and shape a better future. Will business leaders turn out to be the leaders people want and need?

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