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New manifesto aims to restore leadership trust.

As South Africa faces a looming leadership crisis amidst upcoming elections, trust in key institutions has reached unprecedented lows, according to various studies. In response to this alarming trend, there is a growing call for a shift towards responsible leadership to foster economic and social stability.


According to the Institute of Justice and Reconciliation's December 2023 report trust in leadership has plummeted to an all-time low. Shockingly, 80% of citizens believe that political leaders are untrustworthy, and corruption persists without any evident will among leaders to restrain or curb it.


Prof Mias de Klerk, director of the Centre for Responsible Leadership Studies (Africa) at Stellenbosch Business School says, “A lack of responsible leadership lies at the core of rising ethical, organisational, ecological and societal failures. This lack of trust in leadership is not new; the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer similarly reported a pervasive belief that leaders in government, business and the media are intentionally deceptive.”


“The erosion of trust in key institutions and their leaders undermines the legitimacy of our democracy and hampers economic growth prospects.”


In response to this crisis, the Centre for Responsible Leadership Studies at Stellenbosch Business School has released a Manifesto for Responsible Leadership for a Better World, challenging South Africa’s leaders in business, government, civil society and the media to “stress-test” and assess themselves against its principles.


Prof De Klerk said contributors to the crisis of trust in leadership included ethical failures and corruption, lack of action on climate change, and irresponsible management practices leading to high levels of employee disengagement or “quiet quitting”.


He highlights that South Africans have higher levels of trust in business than in government to solve the country’s socio-economic problems, and they expect CEOs to take a public stand on issues such as climate change, discrimination, the wealth gap, and immigration.

“This is a call on leaders to act responsibly in order to regain and build trust. Research has repeatedly confirmed that trust in leaders is the biggest contributor to workplace engagement, and high levels of employee engagement in turn drive company productivity and performance.”


“The manifesto proposes an alternative, transformative perspective on leadership that encourages leaders across business, government, the media and civil society to reflect on and debate the principles of responsible leadership and, ultimately, “step up and enact them. It encourages leaders to allow themselves to be publicly evaluated on the principles of responsible leadership.”


He says the authors envision the manifesto serving as a catalyst for a much-needed shift in leadership approach and mindset, rebuilding trust and collaboration to address societal problems and strengthening the social fabric.


The 10-point Manifesto outlines the principles of responsible leadership, urging leaders to set aside self-interest and adopt a mindset of serving stakeholders impacted by their decisions, “even those without a voice at the table”. Leaders are implored to act for the greater good, considering the impact of their decisions on long-term socio-economic and environmental sustainability.


Responsible leaders, as outlined in the manifesto act with “courageous integrity” and are accountable accepting liability for the consequences of their decisions and actions, and responsibility for the decisions and actions of their followers.


Prof De Klerk said that in the current “polycrisis” of social, political, economic and environmental issues worldwide, leaders can no longer be judged solely on individual achievements or organisational performance but rather assessed based on their meaningful impact on others and their contribution to the sustainable well-being of socio-economic and natural environments.


“There is no simplistic or quick solution,” Prof De Klerk notes. “The world embodies a complex system of competing demands and interdependencies. However, increased manifestation of responsible leadership, on all levels and in all contexts, will go a long way to improve the situation. Responsible leaders recognise the systemic complexity of the world and, although they may not have all the answers, they courageously strive to build a better world, now and for future generations.”



Leadership excellence is manifested in enduring principles of responsibility. These principles demand setting a commendable example by owning up to one’s responsibilities to:

  1. Responsibly and humbly SERVE all stakeholders impacted by one’s decisions and actions, even those without a voice at the table, and pursue a greater, common good that transcends self-interest.

  2. Accept liability for protecting and promoting all that is good and worth caring for to create a better workplace, society and world.

  3. Consider the systemic implications of decisions and actions, or the omission thereof, on others, society and the long-term sustainability of the socio-economic and ecologic elements of the planet.

  4. Actively and collaboratively ENGAGE stakeholders while ardently pursuing a benevolent future that serves the common good.

  5. Craft inspiring, deserving and shared DREAMS, propelling what must be achieved collectively to leave behind a worthy and lasting LEGACY for current and upcoming generations.

  6. Show unconditional COMMITMENT to be the best possible leader, whatever it takes, and to deliver steadfastly on what was realistically promised or agreed upon.

  7. Be trustworthy by leading with courageous INTEGRITY, consistently adhering to a clear set of ethical principles, regardless of personal consequences. 

  8. Uncompromisingly take full ACCOUNTABILITY for all one’s decisions and actions, accepting liability for the consequences of such decisions and actions, and RESPONSIBILITY for the decisions and actions of one’s followers.

  9. Earn the trust bestowed on being a leader by treating others with care, dignity, respect, compassion, and inclusivity. 

  10. ENABLE and EMPOWER others to become the best versions of who they can be.



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