Pay attention board leaders: strong action must follow intention

For organisations across industry sectors, strong board leadership is now imperative for both success and sustainability.

Yet all too often, we have seen good intentions and espoused values squandered by a lack of clear and decisive action on the part of board leaders. This has to change, and fast.

Savvy board leaders must find a delicate but critical balance between a broad spectrum of issues and responsibilities – over and above ensuring healthy returns for shareholders. Some of the complex issues they are faced with include, but not limited to, managing environmental issues, human capital challenges, transformation, political interference and economic pressures. Also, there is often a distinct lack of experience at executive level, which draws busy board members closer to crisis management within organisations.

In the face of these complexities, it is important to look towards board leaders and role models who have backed up and supported their intentions and values with strong, decisive action.

Take Sipho Pityana, for example, who hasn’t been afraid to stand up and be accounted for. A prominent South African businessman, who sits on many high profile boards, Pityana has been outspoken about the previous government administration’s leadership and policies. In essence, he is someone that inspires accountability – and demonstrates courage in following through on his opinions and intentions. Testament to his immense credibility and influence, Pityana has been appointed co-chair of the World Economic Forum’s prestigious new Africa Regional Stewardship Board (RSB) – a multi-stakeholder group that provides strategic advice to shape the forum’s regional programme in Africa.

Another strong example can be found in Shirley Zinn, who recently stepped down from the board of Cricket South Africa. Her resignation was triggered by poor and unethical leadership within the organisation.

In light of her resignation, Zinn told media: “I serve on several boards and I live by the values, principles, practises and processes around good corporate governance. Those need to be well reflected otherwise things don’t work.”

Previous to this event, Zinn had stepped down as Shoprite’s lead independent director, two days after the Chairman’s almost 30-year stint was extended. There can be no doubt that Zinn truly does live by her values…and more board leaders should strive for this important personal and professional alignment.

Arguably, no conversation around decisive and brave leadership would be complete without the inclusion of the mighty Thuli Madonsela – who served as the Public Protector of South Africa from October 2009 to October 2016. Although quiet and unassuming, Madonsela backed up every statement she made with uncompromising and strong actions – a leadership style which was greatly needed at the time. Despite facing many enemies and ongoing hostilities in her difficult tasks, Madonsela appeared unafraid to remain true to her values, and constantly steered SA back onto a path of integrity and credibility when it mattered the most.

Finally, we can look to South African businessman and entrepreneur Adrian Gore as a leader who embodies optimism, and the ability to remain positive amidst challenging conditions.

Gore, who is the founder and CEO of South Africa’s leading medical insurer, Discovery Holdings, has remained steadfastly committed to economic growth and investment in the local context, inspiring much-needed confidence through his actions.

Looking ahead, for South Africa to emerge from its current economic and political difficulties, we need credible board leaders who are uncompromising when it comes to backing up good intentions and strong principles with swift action.

Tsholofelo Nketane is a shareholder and director 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.