What does it take to be a good business leader?
By Anton van Heerden, Managing Director of Softline VIP.
The debate around whether you are born to be a good leader or whether you can learn to be one has been raging since the dawn of time. There is, however, no denying the fact that the success of a business is very much linked to the success of its leaders.
Anton van Heerden, Managing Director of Softline VIP, part of the Sage Group, says: “A good leader brings clarity and peace of mind to others by creating a clear vision for a business and leading people towards a common goal.”
Van Heerden says there are very specific traits a person should possess to be a good leader. “You must have the appetite for continuous self-improvement and a natural inquisitiveness or thirst for learning that will propel the team into a 'forward-thinking' and proactive mindset. In the same vein, you must also be able to learn from your mistakes.”
Having the ability to really listen to people is key for any business leader, as is the ability to connect with people on their level. “It is, however, crucial to be self-confident, but without being arrogant. Another particularly important trait is to be able to motivate people in a positive way. Act in a way that commands respect from others and then respect others as you would like them to respect you. Be consistent in your actions as it will go a long way in the prevention of confusion, and most of all, be trustworthy,” says Van Heerden.
South Africa finds itself in a rather unique situation where social pressure and political agenda often add many obstacles that business needs to overcome in order to tap into the country's leadership potential. “You literally have to become race agnostic, as it continues to be a prevalent contentious issue in the South African landscape,” says Van Heerden. “Access to quality education and training, not only formal training, is another obstacle, and the creation of an effective mentoring and coaching programme within any organisation is also something that needs to be carefully considered.”
Van Heerden says the task of getting people to play an active and solid role in the business starts by nurturing a culture of accountability. “You have to encourage people to take risks, forgive them when they make mistakes, and expect them to use their initiative and not merely follow orders. If you can get that right, you can create a culture where you will be challenged more often, for the better.”
A flat hierarchical structure often lends itself to an environment where people are free to use their initiative. “In this environment, titles are less important and people are expected to speak up. It normally coincides with a more informal culture where process and procedure do not rule supreme but where the workforce is given the freedom to operate within a framework. It does, however, require a high level of trust, with a diminishing need to closely monitor the people involved. It results in a much more output-focused culture where individuals are measured on their outputs delivered, rather than the amount of hours spent at the office,” explains Van Heerden.
There is no question that the task of creating a value system for a business squarely rests on the shoulders of the executive management team, which in essence forms the culture of the business. “It guides the collective behaviour of employees and determines the personality of the business. The business leader should be the custodian of the corporate values and should exhibit them through his/her behaviour - to walk the talk, as they say.”
Values should be the only non-negotiable thing in a business. “Your vision and goals might change over time, but your values must always remain uncompromised. A business leader should use every opportunity to nurture and grow the value system within the business. For this reason, the personal values of people employed by the company should strongly align with that of the business, as it greatly contributes in building a strong value system,” says Van Heerden.
There are a great many things to consider when it comes to building a business that is successful and visionary. “It does, however, start with the business leaders and how they choose to lead their people,” concludes Van Heerden.