Globalisation has increased the level of competition in the world economy and for South African organisations to be in a position to compete on a sustainable basis, they need competitive advantage. The art of leadership is required to unlock these advantages by understanding the new reality, new leadership roles and skills requirements. The purpose of this study is to explore the understanding of South African executive leaders in relation to the literature in order to establish whether South African executive leaders are aware of the new reality, the new role they have to play within their organisations and whether they have the skills to do so. The exploratory nature of this topic lends itself to an inductive theory building philosophy and a qualitative research method is followed to explore the topic. Face-to-face semi-structured interviews are conducted with eleven South African executives. The sample is extracted from the population by using non-probability quota, judgemental and convenience sampling techniques. An inductive analysis is performed on the data gathered in order to obtain the required results. A clear understanding of what their competitive advantages are is lacking, which in turn is limiting on the executive’s ability to extract value from these. The new roles of leadership are understood, but not mastered due to the fact that the skills required to master these roles are known to the executives but not internalised. Recommendations are made by the researcher to enable this.