A company slogan caught my eye this past weekend and got me thinking. It simply, but maybe profoundly, read: “African Solutions, International Standards”. The statement speaks to the company’s ability to provide customised solutions for turnkey projects in alignment with the prescribed international standards. In other words, the business has the ability to deliver value in the context of a strong foundation of compliance and risk management. It holds all the necessary accreditations and certifications and regularly passes audits. It aims at continuous improvement in safety, health and environmental performance. The business approaches growth in a sustainable manner – it even works with its suppliers to make sure that their respective employees are trained to meet the required standards within the industry. It is doing well.

Without any criticism levelled at this business or its slogan (as I happen to like the slogan anyway), I suggest that the human being has the ability to stretch beyond requirements and expectations to achieve the remarkable, especially in the field of “leadership”. The word “standard”, in the 12th Century, referred to a flag on a pole or a spear stuck in the ground to stand upright as a rallying point for military operations and meant “to stand fast or firm”. In the late 15th Century, the word was associated with the royal standard or authority in weights and measures and evolved into meaning “a recognised example of quality or correctness”. An industry “standard” today prescribes the minimum expectation or operational requirement as agreed by law, environmental or other industry bodies to ensure safe and sustainable processes. There seems to be an ethical and accountability ring to the meaning of the word – standing upright, being correct, living up to expectations and caring for others and the environment in the process.

Unfortunately, in business, people are often promoted to managerial posts due to their technical competence and not necessarily their leadership abilities. Perhaps companies need to consider developing Leadership Standards – an agreed document aligned to the values of the company that outlines expectations related to the behaviour of all that hold managerial positions. In order to fulfil and achieve their vision, mission and goals, all companies need a culture (human operating environment) and leaders typically mould this through their behaviour and interactions with employees. To get the desired culture and even surpass international “leadership standards”, managers need to focus on the following behaviour sets:

  1. Living the company values – setting the example in the way we relate to employees, customers, suppliers, communities and other stakeholders.
  2. Evenness – emotional intelligence is displayed in the calm management of emotions, feelings, passion, etc.
  3. Fairness – no favouritism, bias, prejudice, preferential treatment, partiality or nepotism.
  4. Respect – upholding the dignity of all, listening to ideas and displaying empathy for the human condition.
  5. Integrity – ethical dealings and “walking the talk”.
  6. Inclusivity – valuing diversity and including everyone in the design of the way ahead.
  7. Care – placing the interests of all stakeholders foremost in mind and adopting servanthood as an approach.

Adhering to the moral requirements and ethical standards for leaders implies more than just doing the bare minimum – it rather suggests a selfless approach to others and a quest to demonstrate integrity and care at the highest level, surpassing “acceptable” international standards of good management.

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