This study describes the experience of senior private sector leaders who have undertaken initiatives to have a catalytic and positive social impact in South Africa. This work is conceptualised as crossing boundaries to advance the common good.
The study first looks at how business leaders can be effective in leading across boundaries to advance the common good. Then Public Integrative Leadership (Crosby and Bryson, 2010a) is compared to the initial findings to see if it adequately describes what it takes for these business leaders to be effective.
The study is important because little is known about the boundary crossing leadership work that some late-career senior business leaders embark on. It also contributes to understanding the business-society nexus through the lens of leadership studies.
Three relationships surface as crucial to manage including the relationship with government, one’s own company and multi-company partners. And these are influenced by the history and context. Managing them requires a number of capacities including high level interpersonal skills, historical insight, balancing identities and coalition building. Business leaders can draw on some of their experience in the private sector but need to learn some new capacities. Making money, therefore, is somewhat similar and somewhat different from making a difference.
The Public Integrative Leadership concept adequately described some of the shared power realities and general tactics involved. The concept insufficiently accounted for elements of own-company buy-in, conflict management, historical dynamics and leader motivation. Some avenues for further developing the concept are highlighted.