Original Research

Systemic leadership for socio-political stewardship

R. G. Taylor, S. A. Lynham
South African Journal of Business Management | Vol 44, No 1 | a150 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajbm.v44i1.150 | © 2018 R. G. Taylor, S. A. Lynham | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 05 April 2018 | Published: 30 March 2013

About the author(s)

R. G. Taylor, Leadership Centre, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
S. A. Lynham, College of Applied Human Sciences, Colorado State University, United States

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The role of business leadership in defining, and enacting, societal values and providing consolidating influences relative to change processes is increasingly being recognised. This role is best defined as one of “stewardship”, embracing the securing of social, political and economic futures. For business leadership, the increased recognition of the ability for it to influence the trajectory of change, and indeed the expectation that it should do so, brings with it a need to revisit contemporary understandings of leadership and how that leadership is best engaged so as to facilitate desirable outcomes.

This paper adopts a critical position relative to the conventional “leader, follower, situation” configurations of leadership thinking. Drawing on theory located within the knowledge domain of systems thinking and network theory, leadership is redefined at a conceptual level, hence to understand the processes by which it is enacted and experienced and how, therefore, it can be better practiced in the broader socio-political domain. Leadership is considered as an emergent phenomenon that creates definitional distinction between actors and process so as to provide new insights.

The paper includes outcomes of a research study that was conducted amongst business leadership in South Africa. The study covered the period 1984-1994, a period of considerable large scale change in South Africa, during which time lessons about leadership were learned. These lessons validate the significant potential that business leadership has for monitoring and influence beyond the immediate concerns of business itself. The assumption of the role of “steward” typified much of what emerged from that engagement, but also gave opportunity for reflections about revised theoretical frameworks for leadership practice in the 21st Century. The case material arising from this research also provides demonstration of the appropriateness of the theoretical propositions that form the conceptual basis for the paper.


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