Leadership is Changing – Are Business Schools Keeping Abreast?

How will you as a leader work with diverse opinions and address possible assaults on values in global and globalising organisations? – asks Prof Theo Veldsman Two internationally recognised thought leaders teamed up with over 80 contributors to produ

How will you as a leader work with diverse opinions and address possible assaults on values in global and globalising organisations? – asks Prof Theo Veldsman

Two internationally recognised thought leaders teamed up with over 80 contributors to produce the most comprehensive and ‘biggest’ business leadership book ever published in South Africa, entitled ‘Leadership – Perspectives from the Front Line’.

With 89 contributors, 56 chapters, over 1000 pages and featuring a foreword from advocate Thuli Madonsela in hard cover, the book addresses leadership from every possible angle.

At a breakfast at Henley Africa, Theo Veldsman and Andrew Johnson, co-editors of the book, said research has shown that the primary reason for leadership failure is a lack of contextual perspective. This is where the book is different to the thousands of other leadership books available.

It offers a unique Strategic Leadership Value Chain perspective, given the premise that leadership is a critical organisational capability. Using the Value Chain perspective, the book provides future-directed, cutting-edge thinking about leadership from multiple angles. It provides a comprehensive synthesises of the latest insights from SA’s top leaders and leadership experts – offering readers practical tools they can implement immediately. The book offers both theory-informed practice, and practice-informed theoretical insights.

The editors argue that future leaders will need to address the challenge of leading in a vastly different global world with people disappearing into their own digital, e-suburbs, constituted and re-enforced by the social media narrowing their perceptions. Information flows are within groups that close down or limit perceptions of the bigger world. The challenge to future leaders is how to reach people in their digitised, siloed worlds.

“Search engines now prescribe what people should and should not see, contributing to moulding opinions. In these digital groups, opposing opinions are criticised and even attacked. Digitisation is creating opinions in groups where other opinions are not tolerated. Future leaders will have challenges within their own organisations on how groups with different opinions can co-exist,” says Dr Johnson.

The editors believe there will be dramatic changes in professions where legal, medical and even scientific advice and decisions will be made by decision-making algorithms and artificial intelligence (AI). How do we incorporate ethics and morality into these algorithms and AI? Also ethical leadership?

“How will you as a leader work with diverse opinions and address possible assaults on values in global and globalising organisations? Research indicates that, for example, ‘integrity’ has different meaning, and levels of importance, across different cultures and countries. How will leaders manage the challenge of high performance/ high cohesive teams and organisations with increasing cultural diversity and values as we become more interconnected globally,” asks Prof Veldsman.

The editors argue that in many organisations people increasingly feel alienated because of the growing distrust of leadership and the threat of displacement because of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. “They are angry and frustrated and are looking for a leader to be their saviour. In a similar vain, leaders will need to respond to the effect that digitisation will have on full-time and part-time staff, the latter becoming a higher proportion of the workforce, and the increasing number of jobs that will be lost as a result of technological innovative disruption,” he says.

The editors argue that for leaders to become more future-fit, they will need to become more intelligent, mature, ethical and authentic, apart from being competent at what they do. Five intelligences are required: intra- and interpersonal intelligence (including emotional intelligence); systemic intelligence (seeing the big picture and patterns); ideation intelligence (conceiving barrier busting dreams); action intelligence (getting things done); and contextual (including cultural intelligence) (engaging with the right set of glasses with the world). Leaders will need to have greater personal maturity in seeking to leave lasting, worthy legacies, and in serving the greater, common good beyond ‘me’ agenda’s.

Dr Johnson says that future leaders will need to be humble and not always take the lead. They will need to acknowledge that they don’t always know the answers and will need to ask for advice from others. The need for distributed (or shared) leadership going into the future will be critical in addressing the future’s wicked challenges, issues and problems.

Central to future-fit leadership will be the core leadership capability of ‘Skillful Improvisation’. This is the ability to have the capability respond appropriately with agility to the leadership demands, challenges and requirements to ever-changing situations and contexts by selecting, individually and collectively, applying JIT, and fit-for-purpose capabilities from a range of available capabilities. Analogous to a jazz band, if one player (a leader) makes a mistake, the other musicians immediately improvise and build on the mistake which in the final instance is then not a mistake but an improvisation.

Players (namely leadership) don’t stop playing to criticise their co-musician and start all over again. The band continues. Most often the audience is oblivious to the mistake. This ‘Skillful Improvisation’ is what will be needed in future business: improvising the tune and music jointly, as a leadership community, as the context unfolds.

The editors caution that it does not matter how well prepared we are, there will always be challenges, known and unknown. How one responds is the crucial consideration. One may not have the solution in one’s bag of skills. Strong leaders admit to their weaknesses and are strong enough to allow co-leaders to complement them in these areas. Also, future leadership challenges, demands and requirements will be too overwhelming for a single leader to address. The need for distributed leadership in future will become mission-critical.

Prof Veldsman argues that universities and business schools will need to adopt a new research paradigm if they are to remain relevant in the new world of tomorrow, dominated by complex, unpredictable, ambiguous and chaotic situations.

“There is a threat that academic institutions are becoming increasingly redundant. Their current verification research paradigm, that takes forever to build and validate theories, are too slow for this world. Instead, a falsification research paradigm by doing action research research must rather be adopted: a theory is assumed true, until proven false through its use in practice.”

“Universities and business schools need to be out there in real time on the ground with front-line research based on real-world observations, and not disappear into their research, ivory towers, making infrequent appearances after long intervals. By then the world has moved on.”

Jon Foster-Pedley, dean of Henley Business School Africa, says: “We agree whole-heatedly. Henley as a business school has in recent years focused on these issues. The key aspect of our programmes, ranging from our MBA to executive education offerings, is to instil a sense of community in our students, emphasising the need for humble leaders and for business people to look outside profit-only perspectives and see where their communities can be supported and assisted.”

“Our focus is to be on the ground and educate students about what is happening in the real world where they can immediately apply what they have learnt in their specific business environment.”

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