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Chair of the Future

Accelerator of change

Welcome to the first edition of the Chair of the Future – South Africa. This report forms part of an international series of reports and is based on 31 interviews with Chairs and non-executive directors (NEDs) of leading companies operating in South Africa.

While organisations prepare for known and unknown risks, dealing with so-called black swan events, that push uncertainty to new heights, is the true test of leadership. While certain changes to the role of boards and Chairs had already started to emerge prior to the pandemic, COVID-19 has acted as an accelerator of change impacting on board agendas and shifting priorities to areas previously regarded as ‘less important’.

We see the emergence of several key themes which are influencing the board agenda and changing the role and skills requirements of Chairs in the future.

Becoming more hands-on

Many Chairs feel that they have to become more hands-on, in order to support the organisation’s efforts to navigate the ever-changing business and technology landscape.

More time-consuming and demanding

The move towards being more hands-on and the need for more frequent engagements with the rest of the board and the executive team, is reflected in the time Chairs allocate to fulfilling their role.

Open lines of communication

Effective, clear, and timely communication between the Board and the executive team plays a fundamental role in navigating uncertainty and its impact on business, the economy and society.

Creating diversity – the right thing to do

In the past meeting diversity requirements was often seen as a ‘cumbersome tick-box exercise’; however, diversity has developed into a business imperative in recent years and is regarded by many the ‘right thing to do’.

Responsibility to society

Given the high level of inequality in the country, balancing financial and environmental, social and governance (ESG) objectives is a very pressing issue in South Africa.

Moving wellbeing into the spotlight

While staff wellbeing and mental health had been items on corporate agendas, the pandemic served as an eye-opener for many and brought mental and physical wellbeing of staff, executive teams and the board into thespotlight.

Technical skills are not good enough anymore

Chairs of the Future will require a blend of skills that combines strong technical expertise with exceptional interpersonal and leadership skills.
How will the role of a future Chair look like?

Our research reveals, that there are five dimensions of the Chair of the Future. These dimensions cannot be viewed in isolation from each other, as they are interlinked and interdependent. Given this interconnectedness of the five dimensions and the common touchpoints between them, Chairs of the Future will increasingly become accelerators of change that embrace diversity.

As organisations evolve and adapt to an ever-changing environment, the role of the Chair will continue to evolve, too. Chairs will increasingly have to ask themselves:

  • What role will our organisation play in society?
  • What skills will we need to play a meaningful role in society?
  • How will we ensure and maintain the quality of our talent pipeline?
  • How are we going to measure our impact on society, environment, planet?
  • How will we strengthen our transparency reporting?