Of leadership and ethics – and how to bring your talents into capability on Board

Of leadership and ethics – and how to bring your talents into capability on Board

Whether corporate or non-governmental, large or small, any board is made up of different individuals who each bring specific talents, skills and expertise. Tsholofelo Nketane delves into what it takes to be a capable and innovative member of a board.

Across the world, 2019 has been a year in which the question of leadership and ethics has resonated in business, politics and society. World leaders are being called to account for their actions and, in South Africa alone, we have experienced disruptions and resignations in politics equalled only by a spate of CEO and board resignations in various blue chip companies.

Industry experts will tell you that there could be a number of reasons for these high profile resignations. Some of the most common causes for the disruptions are misalignment with the shareholders mandate, poor communications or lack of leadership.

Whether corporate or non-governmental, large or small, any board is made up of different individuals who each bring specific talents, skills and expertise to the table. It is essential that non-executive directors (NEDs) understand that joining a board requires more than just the required skills and expertise; ‘soft skills’ such as emotional intelligence, business and political savvy, as well as leadership and ethics are equally important.

As an international candidate whom Tuesday Consulting has placed on a South African board notes: “To qualify for placement on a board, your profile as an individual (both personal and business) must remain professional and non-political. It is important that independence is seen and perceived as objective.”

Integrity is critical to any organisation’s culture, which is why it is vital for us as executive search consultants to only introduce candidates that have gone thorough background checks.

Companies, particularly listed enterprises, are exceptionally wary of the risk of association, and will not want to take on a NED that has served on the boards of companies that have been implicated in governance issues.

At Tuesday Consulting, we assess a candidate’s talent and capability beyond technical capabilities. When placing NDEs, this means that we have to factor in the culture fit, and what a person can offer on a board beyond their trained skills. Strong principles, leadership and ethics, as well as the ability to communicate effectively. Especially during challenging times are talents that prove most effective in overcoming governance challenges.

When appointed to a board, one’s ability to be firm and stand for up for what is right is critical – even while being bullied by an outspoken chairperson or influential individuals. Speaking truth to power may have saved a number of corporate that are now facing governance issues.

We encounter challenges daily; how we approach them makes all the difference between a challenge that incapacitates – and one that offers an opportunity for growth. For a non-executive director, challenging corporate governance issues that may be detrimental to a company is not only a requisite, but it also offers an opportunity for growth. Leading with integrity requires talents and ‘soft skills’ that can be readily developed and nurtured.

Here’s how to prepare for challenging times:

  1. Know where you stand
    Our decisions and actions are based on our belief systems, knowledge and experience. Identifying and recognising the ‘triggers’ that propel you to action will help you differentiate between positive actions and outcomes, and those that are negative. A strong sense of self will also help you immediately determine whether the culture of the company you are affiliated with is the right fit for you.
  2. Honour your word
    The easiest way to build trust is to keep to your word, and the best way to do so is to avoid making promises you can’t honour. If you fail to follow through on something you’ve offered to deliver, you will lose the trust of your board. Keeping your word also reflects consistency of character, which inspires confidence.
  3. Give credit where it’s due
    One of the most damaging things a business leader can do is to claim credit for someone else’s ideas or actions – especially if that person is a subordinate. This can demoralise a team, and send ripples of toxicity through the company and the board. An effective leader builds team spirit by acknowledging the communal effort that resulted in a successful project.
  4. Communicate effectively
    Sharing good news is easy; but how well do you communicate when you know people could be adversely affected by the information you need to convey? Procrastinating, prevaricating and making excuses in an effort to protect people or avoid a confrontation will invariably do more harm than intended. No matter how bad the news, transparency and empathy will always win.
  5. Listen to learn
    Board executives may not necessarily get reliable feedback from company subordinates who are vested in holding on to their jobs, but peer reviews are vital learning tools. Be open to perspectives from your peer groups, whether in formal or informal gatherings, and recognise when your ideas or business needs some recalibration.
  6. Build a support network
    It’s hard to take a stand when your decisions have an impact on others; it’s easier to do so when you have a network of like-minded peers who have to face similar choices. Surround yourself with people – in business and your personal life – who share your values and principles, and can support your decisions when you most need it.

Tsholofelo Nketane is Director of Executive Search at Tuesday Consulting. She brings international perspective and deep insight into her areas of specialisation, including healthcare, pharmaceutical, consumer services and education, where she focuses on C-suite appointments.