Effective leadership within South Africa : a study of the perceptions, experiences and practices of effective leadership within South African organisations.
The notion of leadership has taxed the minds of philosophers, politicians, the military, religious thinkers and business for thousands of years. It is recognised that those who have the ability to influence the hearts, minds and behaviours of people, hold uncommon power and have the ability to change history. Generations in different parts of the world face different challenges which demand profound leadership; South Africa is no exception (Meyer & Boninelli, 2004). Despite the volume of literature that exists, clarity and understanding of leadership has not always followed and leadership, as a concept, continues to present major challenges to • practitioners and researchers. In particular: there are almost as many different definitions of leadership as there are people who have tried to define it; there are a number of theories that attempt to explain the nature of leadership; some of these theories achieve this by explaining leadership in terms of basic events or processes (psychological reductionism); each of the theories possess a different focus (leadership as a 'property' , leadership as a ' process' or leadership as a combination of 'property' and 'process' elements); many of the leadership theories have been developed and tested using specific population samples (American/European) and, as the requirements of leaders change to meet evolving business demands, so new concepts and theories emerge thereby creating additional confusion around which theory offers the best understanding. In addition to the challenges associated with leadership literature, a further challenge relates to the link between leadership theory, reality and the extent to which the theories adequately reflect leadership in practice. The aim of the research study is to address these challenges by: reviewing the leadership literature available and extracting the patterns that emerge with regards to effective leadership; determining what effective leadership looks like in a South African context by examining the perceptions, experiences and practices of effective South African leadership and investigating the extent to which the theoretical patterns identified reflect effective leadership practices in South African organisations. With regards to the findings, a number of patterns emerged from the literature review. In addition, a number of key leadership themes emerged from the discussions with the sample group. Themes such as Driving Results, Strategic Thinking, Leading Others and Delivering through People emerged as key capabilities that define effective leadership within a South African context. In reviewing the findings, the perceptions, experiences and practices of South African leadership appears to support the theoretical patterns identified, thereby suggesting that American and European leadership literature can be applied and does reflect effective leadership practices within a South African context. The implications of this include: these theories can be utilised to identify, develop and implement development interventions aimed at maximising leadership capability and effective leadership in the US/Europe appears to be the same as effective leadership in South Africa. In addition, the findings suggest that South African organisations (like their US/European counterparts) have responded to changes in traditional operating models (as a result of growing urbanisation; the explosion in information and communication technologies; the emergence of 'e-commerce' and increasing globalisation and consolidation of businesses) and the subsequent shift in leadership requirements, by producing leaders who are demonstrating the same skills, behaviours and capabilities associated with US/European leadership. The implication of this is that, despite the social, political and economic conditions that marred the South African landscape pre-1994 (the legacy of apartheid and the impact of industrial action, sanctions and international isolation), leadership within South Africa has, over the past 10 years, managed to transcend these environmental factors and evolve in the same manner as leadership in other parts of the world. With regard to these findings, it is important, however, to recognise that the size of the sample (10) and the organisations represented in this study (established corporate organisations employing over 500 hundred employees) may limit the extent to which the leadership capabilities identified offer a true reflection of South African leadership. Research with a larger sample and wider organisation representation (e.g. the small to medium enterprise sector. start up businesses, entrepreneurial enterprises) would allow a more comprehensive list of effective leadership skills and behaviours to be identified and thereby provide a more accurate reflection of South African leadership. In addition, it may lead to the identification of different leadership capabilities which do not match the patterns to emerge from the literature.