Despite the fact that there is a huge demand for top leaders in South Africa who boast the ‘full package’, the pool of suitably qualified and experienced C-suite executives is relatively small, not least because the leadership skills-set of the future is more expansive than ever, a leadership expert says.
Debbie Goodman-Bhyat, CEO of IRC South Africa (Jack Hammer), which is rated as one of South Africa’s top 3 executive search firms, says while companies struggle to find the right fit for their executive positions, there are also many potential candidates vying for these posts who find that they get turned down time after time.
“There is a mismatch between what is required in the marketplace at the moment, and the skills, competencies, qualifications and track record candidates bring to the table,” she says.
Additionally, the gap is likely to widen in coming years, as the workplace continues to change dramatically in the face of both technological advances and the influx of millennials.
“For candidates and companies alike, this situation, while frustrating, also creates notable opportunity,” she says.
Goodman-Bhyat says that aspirant executives can set in place a strategy to close the gap between their existing capabilities and those skills, which will be required from leaders in the coming five to ten years. Equally, companies should start to identify promising candidates and ensure they are coached and equipped to step into top leadership roles in the near future.
“Given our insight into the current requirements for leadership, as well as our assessment of what a leader will need to look like in future, we believe that candidates who already have the right qualifications and track record foundations in place should be able to address those issues which are holding them back,” she says.
Firstly, there needs to be recognition of the fact the nature of leadership is changing. Emerging leaders can then start to develop themselves and their career paths based on this, says Goodman-Bhyat.
“The leader of the future is no longer the one who knows more or works harder while simultaneously being the delegator-in-chief. Instead, the leader becomes the facilitator-in-chief, the person who knows enough about everything and everyone, who is able to use those insights to expertly conduct the company’s symphony.”
Mark McKergow, PhD and author of Host: Six new roles of engagement for Teams, Organisations, Communities, Movements, notes that leaders of the future will be more like a host than a hero, “drawing people together around an issue or challenge, engaging them and getting results through others”.
Goodman-Bhyat explains that future executives will be required to have well-developed skills on many fronts – not just in their technical area of expertise.
“Making the shift from specialist to manager or leader is sometimes very challenging. I’ve had many conversations with top achievers who have been working in specialist roles in a range of functions, who are struggling to make the shift to the leadership level, because they have no people management or facilitation experience.
“The way to address this is to take on project roles, and to ask for opportunities to lead work streams, teams or small projects in order to build the blocks.”
She says the crux of the matter is that emerging leaders should hone their skills in a number of areas, beyond their technical field of expertise. These areas include the ability to understand and manipulate fast-flowing data, the ability to be resilient, flexible and able to quickly respond to information, and the ability to build processes highly focused on accountability and transparency.
“And then there’s the so-called ‘soft’ skills”, remarks Goodman-Bhyat.
“At every leadership conference and seminar, this question is asked: ‘How can a young leader with potential make all this happen in five years’ time?’ The insights that emerge each and every time are around the need for leaders and emerging leaders to become self-aware. To develop humility and EQ. To enhance their listening skills and put their egos aside”, she says.
“It is clear that these skills are really the ones that will matter most in the future, and which require different kinds of learning and coaching support. The leaders of the future need to seek opportunities that will help them demonstrate their competency in these areas.”
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Notwithstanding substantial gains made in the West over the past several decades to level the playing field and bring about greater equality between men and women, pay gaps persist, and in many countries, corporate leadership remains heavily dominated by men.
Having spent many years at KPMG as a partner and finally as Head of Corporate Finance, Midlands, Richard Boot currently chairs and holds directorship of various companies associated with staffing and recruitment. He is also a former board member of IRC Global Executive Search Partners.