The South African Leadership Standard: Reflecting for improvement by Penny Abbott & Marius Meyer

The South African Leadership Standard: It all starts with vision by Penny Abbott & Marius Meyer
October 10, 2017
The South African Leadership Standard: Living the values by Penny Abbott & Marius Meyer
October 11, 2017
For decades commentators and the media have been fascinated with the behaviour and performance of leaders.  In addition, academics have studied leadership behaviour and performance and concluded that the best leaders are successful given their absolute focus on the right things in taking their organisations and their people to a new level of excellence.  However, leaders (like all of us) are human, and they are (like all of us) not immune to human error.  The reality is that society expect leaders not to make mistakes, but as humans they will make mistakes.  The question arises: Why do good leaders make big mistakes? 


Let us look at typical mistakes leaders make:

  • Leaders sometimes assume that past success guarantees future success and they therefore continue with what worked for them in the past, and this inability to adapt results in failures.
  • Sometimes leaders are selective when listening the advice of others, and implementing the wrong advice at the wrong time leads to mistakes which in worse case scenarios may be irreversible.
  • The business world has become more complex and it simply not easy to make the right decisions when different alternatives are presented.
  • Some leaders struggle to make important transitions in their careers, such as from a CFO to a CEO, or form a regional manager to a head office manager, and the inability to make this transition successfully, stifles the performance of the leader.
  • Leaders are distracted by new trends and developments, and some of these trends may be premature or under-developed, thus when the leader invests in projects too early, it often backfires when the market is not ready for such products or services.
  • Leaders are responsible for managing risks, but then when they ignore or neglect a risk despite the warning signs, this may have a disastrous effect on the organisation.
  • Poor judgment results in poor decision-making with adverse impact on the organisation.
  • When leaders forget to be humble and become ego-driven, usually as a result of massive success over a certain period, leaders set themselves up for failure.
  • Sometimes leaders neglect their own development when they think that they have arrived at the top of the department or organisation.
  • A lack of honest reflection and commitment to continuous improvement has been the downfall of many leaders.
  • When leaders focus too much on themselves and not enough on their teams, leaders are at greater risk if making mistakes when inputs from team members are not utilised.
  • With so many deadlines and priorities, leaders make mistakes when they cannot cope with all the priorities or when they fail in their duty to sort particular priorities out.
  • Most leaders work extremely hard, and may become overwhelmed with competing demands and priorities, neglecting their wellness may result in errors in judgment, usually when they are at the most vulnerable.



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Even good leaders as normal human beings make mistakes. But society expects them not to make mistakes and will therefore criticise leaders for these mistakes.  Siphiwe Moyo, Chairperson of SABPP says that leaders will be criticised, but that they must be able to deal with this criticism.  Making mistakes is part of leadership, but rising to the occasion and correcting mistakes is what separates good from average leaders.  Moreover, learning from mistakes is a unique opportunity for self-correction, but requires insight, wisdom and an openness to reflect and commit to improvement. However, when leaders make serious mistakes affecting the reputation and sustainability of the organisation, such as a corporate scandal, boards and other stakeholders should take a stand and may even decide to remove and replace the leader with one who is fit for office.


Marius Meyer is CEO of SABPP, author for Talent Talks and Vice-Chairperson of the Unisa Talent Advisory Board.