Leadership Platform: Development through top leaders!
First published in The Star Newspaper
Copyright © Adriaan Groenewald
Used with permission of the author:
Author: Adriaan Groenewald
Leadership Coach and Author
26 July 2007
Newly added interviews
The Leadership Platform is a vehicle through which the power of the media and effective events are leveraged to develop ‘profitable’ leaders. We mobilize individuals that are at the peak of their powers and facilitate their sharing of leadership and life wisdom and experience. One of the most worthwhile investments we can make in the future of South Africa is to proactively develop leaders. We just cannot leave this critical responsibility up to MBA programmes only! If we want to develop future leaders they need to be exposed to top leaders! For this reason we invite top leaders to join us on the Leadership Platform.
List of leaders interviewed
- Binedell, Nick, Prof. - Director - Gordon Institute of Business (GIBS)
- Harris, Paul - CEO - Firstrand Limited Group
- Kast, Ingrid- CEO- D A V Professional Placement Group - and colleagues
- Letele, Nolo - CEO - MultiChoice South Africa
- Mokgosi, Thoko - CEO - Hewlett–Packard
- Novick, Gidon - Joint CEO - kulula.com
- Zille, Helen - Leader - The Democratic Alliance
Leadership and Life Lessons from Gidon Novick
Joint CEO - kulula.com
Start every day with a mission
He is not an ordinary Accountant, or certainly does not fit the description of that perception of Accountants being boring and conservative. He wakes up every morning with a mission in mind – be it to beat a friend at golf that happens to be a scratch; be it to elevate his regular swimming activity from exercise only to some challenge above the ordinary; or be it to make kulula.com bigger and better.
In essence the man is intense at what ever he does! He is simply not at ease with an ‘ordinary’ life. He admits it can be difficult for those around him, including his family as he expects things to be done sooner rather than later. However, it may be this very quality that contributes towards him and his business having the edge in a very competitive environment!
There are entrepreneurial leaders (someone who started a business and grew it successfully), organisational leaders (someone who built a successful career within an organisation), and then there are pioneering leaders - individuals who have pioneered a certain product or service in the market place.
Successful people have failed
Novick is certainly the latter, combined with entrepreneurial leadership! He believes in a statement that “people who are successful have failed more often”. He has pulled this belief through to the culture of the business, so they simply are not fearful of failure! They keep trying new things, exploring, like real pioneers! He says “when things feel scary you may well be on to a good thing”.
He and kulula.com changed the way people travel in South Africa, making it affordable for ‘ordinary’ economically active South Africans to fly all over this magnificent country! The percentage of South Africans traveling by air 6 years ago was 4% and has now more than doubled to almost 9%!
The kulula.com brand stands for qualities like simplicity, ease, honesty, trust and affordability. Although Novick may be an intense person one senses these very qualities in him – he seems like a simple man; there is an ease about him; feedback indicates he is honest and can be trusted during negotiations and business dealings.
Over and above these qualities they took a conscious decision that the kulula.com brand had to counter the serious, stressful and challenging environment South Africans find themselves in. So they decided to position the brand as one where customers can relax and experience fun and humor. According to Novick this culture is really a function of the type of people they have in their team. They encourage staff to have fun while interacting with customers and according to him they do it brilliantly!
This culture is effective when one considers that consumers out there are bombarded by advertising from all angles. At kulula.com however they simply try to bring a little fun into the customers experience and are noticed in this way.
Watch out for the ‘ego-demon’
I quoted Brand Pretorius who said that “good leaders disintegrate their egos and build their characters”. Novick liked this quote and agreed with it fully by responding as follows: “Just shows what a smart guy he is and no surprise how successful he has been. It is not about you but a much bigger group of people”.
I asked him how one disintegrates one’s ego because when kulula.com was launched they/he was all over the news and it was easy to fall into the trap of thinking it is all about ‘me’. He says “it is easy to let it get to your head so the trick is to be conscious of it. Your ego is like this little demon that can take over. Be mindful of it as it pops up every now and then, especially when things go well, your name is in the papers and you think you are a hero – just be aware of it.”
Of course the ‘ego demon’ is not just prone to whispering in the ears of the perceived ‘high and mighty’ but anyone that tastes some form of positional power or success. Recently an attendant at a petrol station filled my tank up with petrol instead of diesel. The manager was called and in the end I sat chatting to him for a couple of hours while the petrol was being filtered out.
He was a 30 yr old (young) man and clearly very talented – a real people's person. While visiting together he described how he had tasted success very early in his life. He managed people and was married to a great wife who spoiled him. However the power and influence seemed to come too early as it went to his head, or he listened to the ‘ego demon’.
One decision and experience after the other took him on a downward spiral and a detour of a couple of years that humbled him and brought him back to earth. He is now ready to move on, but he could have been further ahead in his life if he was more aware of the ‘ego demon’.
Leadership is not about you and your power
Understand that leadership is not about you and your power but about others and helping them reach their potential! As Novick states it - “leadership is not about leading people but about learning and making excellent leaders of those around you”.
In essence leadership is all about the principle of multiplication – multiplying whatever is placed under your care, be it a division, business or talents and abilities of people. Ironically this sometimes means you have to get out of the way rather than trying to be in front and wanting the spotlight on you!
Novick says it this way: “Every single day I am amazed at the potential in people that is unrealized. I see that in the people around us just becoming so much more than what they thought they could become and that is to me the primary role of a leader…. We regard everybody in our business as leaders and they have to work with the people around them to get that potential and explore that potential and bring it to life. That makes not only a powerful organisation but it unleashes power and happiness in people when they can be the best that they can”.
Leadership is about vision and obstacles
A way to do this is to focus on helping your people understand clearly what the vision is; where the organisation and division is going; to communicate this all the time. Then Novick says the leader is to “make the way clear and eliminate the barriers and obstacles that people have.… Some of those barriers are difficult and sometimes they are self-imposed – not believing that he/she can do the job. It is really about removing the barriers constantly and then allowing people to do their job – let them get on with it”.
When all is said and done leadership is about two things:
- Getting people and the organisation to move towards some destination, aspirations, and vision and
- Constantly removing barriers, obstacles, challenges, and problems so that the movement can occur.
Novick understands this as a relatively young leader, which means one can expect even greater things from this South African Pioneering leader!
Summary of leadership and life lessons
- Wake up every morning with a mission in mind
- Ask yourself if you are an entrepreneurial, organizational or pioneering leader
- “People who are successful have failed more often”
- “When things feel scary you may well be on to a good thing”
- Live the qualities that your brand stand for
- “Good leaders disintegrate their egos and build their characters”
- “It is not about you but a much bigger group of people”
- “Your ego is like this little demon that can take over”
- The 'ego demon' is not just prone to whispering in the ears of the perceived 'high and mighty' but anyone that tastes some form of positional power or success
- Leadership is not about you and your power but about others and helping them reach their potential
- In essence leadership is all about the principle of multiplication – multiplying whatever is placed under your care, be it a division, business or talents and abilities of people
- Regard everyone in your business as leaders
- Set the vision and clear the path
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Leadership and Life Lessons from Nolo Letele
CEO - MultiChoice South Africa
Make the choice to know yourself
How many leaders do you know that has the confidence to admit openly that they are scared, terrified or nervous? Nolo Letele is one of those leaders. You may not personally know many as in some circles it is seen as a weakness, which in my view it is more often than not a strength.
Right off the bat I asked him how he felt about the new competitors breathing down his neck; those organisations that were recently awarded licences in the pay TV space? He did not go into the standard, almost programmed response most leaders offer that competition is good for the market; it keeps us on our toes; etc. His first words were childlike and honest: “No, I am terrified!” Thereafter he explained further that he/they “felt like a sportsman just waiting to get into the ring and get on with it. We have been waiting for competition for so long and now it is finally happening. The adrenaline is pumping and we have been getting ready for a long time; we are up for it.”
Letele had the blessing of qualifying as an Engineer overseas. But, like most leaders worth their salt he had the hardships that shaped his character. He grew up without a father, who passed away before he was one year old and his mother was only 29. Understandably, she had a nervous breakdown at the time, but she recovered from it. She got up again and leaned on her successes, which was that of being one of the few graduate woman teachers in her time. So, in Letele’s words “she just ran…” two sons and all. In fact she ran so fast that they never stayed in one place for longer than two years.
Letele sees his childhood days as an experience that assisted him in becoming very adaptable and acquiring excellent people skills.
While in high school Letele expressed a desire to his mother that he wanted to study overseas. So, his mother, being the ‘runner’ she was wrote to Prof Tucker, her late husbands mentor in London when he did his Doctorate. She then scraped around, saved and managed to buy a one way ticket worth R205 for her son. Letele flew over and met with the professor who courageously went into 7 Oaks passing his hat around collecting Letele’s high school fees. He completed high school and went on to university to qualify as an engineer, which qualification he put to good use in Lesotho as a black man would not be allowed to operate in South Africa at the time.
As is the case with most leaders I meet, they have several talents and areas in which they excel, not only business. Letele is no exception as he is also a musician of note that plays the piano and harmonica and early in his career was tempted to do it professionally. His PA shared with me an experience where MultiChoice employees were driving back from a company event late one night, tired and probably irritated. Letele got up in the bus and started playing the harmonica, which according to her had such a soothing and relaxing effect on staff. Imagine one’s CEO doing that?
Become comfortable with yourself!
It came out so strongly in my pre-interviews that he is a simple, honest, open and completely approachable person that is secure within himself – very comfortable with himself. This is most certainly his strength as a leader!
Several individuals told me that they just don’t feel threatened by Letele, a sign of a person that is comfortable with himself. Another sign is displaying a sense of humour, which is another characteristic that he possesses. I experienced it while visiting with him before the show. He says: “In life I inject an enormous amount of humour, because that’s who I am, and that takes away a lot of the stress….”
What other signs may follow a leader that feels secure inside; that radiates a quiet internal confidence as apposed to an external facade? He / she will not motivate by fear but communicate by persuading or ‘selling’ the message where at all possible.
This seems to be Letele’s style or approach. He explains that when a leader takes on such an approach “both parties come away with conviction about a shared and common goal. For me I find that works much better because the relationship is good”.
Internal confidence will differentiate you!
To sidetrack for a moment, but still on the topic of radiating internal confidence, I recently sat on an adjudication panel for Accenture where they asked us to find 30 high potential ‘future leaders’. If you know their culture you will also know that they employ really sharp, intelligent and well qualified young individuals, so the task was really exceptionally difficult yet highly motivational and stimulating. I was excited about the future of our country with so many bright young minds around!
But, let me tell you what I believe was the differentiating factor in several cases between one bright mind compared to another? It was the collective sense from the panel of the internal confidence of individuals, which often surfaced not during their prepared presentation but during spontaneous replies following unexpected questions from the panel! In some cases it was clear that that internal confidence was the result of overcoming hardships, like loosing both one’s parents while studying or admitting that one has made mistakes in one’s life. But in other instances it developed because that young person clearly took time to get to know him or herself!
After this experience and interviewing Letele I was reminded that the best investment you can make into your future as a leader is to get to know yourself; get to know your strengths and weaknesses; be comfortable and open about them and clear about what you are doing to build on the strengths and improve or provide back-up support for the weaknesses.
You future leaders out there, learn to appreciate adversity and invest time in getting to know yourself!
Letele is comfortable enough with himself to the point where he would call in one of his team members and openly and honestly ask: “What am I doing wrong with the team? What can I do better?” He may receive some excellent feedback there and then, or not. But, such an action allows for a direct report to, even subconsciously build the confidence or feeling that he / she can comfortably approach his / her leader in the future about something that he / she perceives to be ‘out of place’ in the team.
Not many leaders ask for such blunt feedback! Many would call you in and almost in a clandestine manner ask your opinion about other team members, making you believe that they trust you more than the others and that they would never do the same behind your back. Watch out for this!
Not that it is necessarily wrong to ask the opinion of one leader about another. But, it should be done with pure motives, sincerely, in an environment where there is a culture of existing respect and openness and where the leader allows for him to be scrutinised as are the other team members. If not done in such an environment the culture becomes one of fear, dirty politics and even hostility!
Combine external success with internal significance
I discussed with Letele and my panel how one gets to the point of feeling comfortable with oneself – internal confidence. Letele felt that achievement played a role. When you achieve your confidence increases. He added that one should not neglect the spiritual component, not necessarily in the sense of Bible punching or attending church specifically, but being ‘centered’ and comfortable inside about one’s spiritual values.
Sean Donnelly’s commented that sometimes one needs to fix something in one’s life that is ‘bugging’ one, before one will feel comfortable inside – clear the conscience.
Grant Ashfield felt strongly about knowing oneself in order to feel comfortable with oneself: “The first thing is knowing yourself – we can’t escape ourselves…look in the mirror and ask ‘who am I; what is my life all about; what are the basic principles that guide my life’? We can’t escape that…We can have external success, but do we have internal significance?”
Donnelly added: “The challenge people have in feeling comfortable with themselves is they compare themselves with other people…Don’t do that as there will always be someone better…Know yourself; be yourself;…do your best!”
Practically, you can get to know yourself by writing in a journal regularly – your thoughts, feelings, desires, and so on. Ashfield mentioned that something practical to get to know yourself is to “surround yourself with people you trust and can give you honest feedback…”
Let me just state for the record that all the above must not create the impression that great leadership is just about being ‘nice’ and knowing oneself. In Letele’s case he has little patience for non-performance, and has had tough conversations with some reports, even letting some go. But the trust he has with his team allows for strenuous targets to be set and then he ensures follow through on those.
Letele’s final leadership advice was that gut feel is incredibly important; make room for it; unpack it but be sure to apply it!
Summary of Leadership & life lessons
- Work hard at feeling comfortable with yourself by: getting to know yourself – strengths and weaknesses; achieving without comparing yourself to others; developing a spiritual anchor of what principles guide your life (internal significance); writing in a journal; ensuring your conscience is clean; making adversity your friend.
- Point 1 will help you become a simple, honest, open, completely approachable, secure person. You will radiate an internal confidence and not become easily threatened by for example asking for open feedback.
- Be tough on performance and follow through on commitments.
- Understand that gut feel is incredibly important; make room for it; unpack it but be sure to apply it.
Leadership and Life Lessons from Thoko Mkogosi
CEO - Hewlett-Packard
Giving of yourself! - If you give you get
A few weeks ago I found myself next to the grave of a young cousin that I was very fond of. He passed away tragically less than a year after he completed Matric. He was an excellent rugby player and very fond of the sport, so it was rather apt that his schools entire Rugby First Team was there as well.
While it may have been like other funerals, there were some moments that I savored from the occasion. The one was my aunt, the mother of my cousin and his three brothers who somehow managed to still give of herself, even though it would be seen as normal practice for someone in her position to sit back and receive love, support, caring, which she did of course. But, she somehow managed to have the strength within her to go up to those young, tough rugby players and give each one of them a warm hug. To some it may have seemed like she was simply saying thank you to them for being there, but I could sense, and I believe those on the receiving end could sense that they received something that went beyond a simple thank you – ‘strength’ passing on from one to another! This is leadership!
Someone said of Thoko Mokgosi that, like my aunt, even in times of personal pain she manages to give of herself, and believe me she has experienced her share of pain. One example is the passing away of her first husband at a relatively young age. She was left with two young children and describes the period in her life as one of “the worst experiences that I never wish on anybody. When it happened I never thought I would live to see the next day. It was so difficult to even see beyond a day. It got better and better with the support I had around me.” She learned that support structures are important and that we cannot go through life alone.
The core attitude or belief underpinning her attribute of giving is that “if you give you get”. When she grew up her mom always said: “If you open up your hand and give, then there is room for someone else to put something in it so that you can get”.
Even when asking her what it means to be the Businesswoman of the Year she turns it away from herself and explains that the title brings more goodwill her way and she needs to “use that positively to actually influence and contribute even more to our country”. A great leader “seeketh not her own!”
Let your demeanor and attitude stand out
In approximately 1995 Mokgosi went for a job interview at Telkom. The post would require her to work with mostly white Afrikaans speaking males that were more technically skillful than she was. Imagine this situation in 1995, not now in 2007! Add the fact that when she went for the interview she was eight months pregnant.
I had an interesting discussion with the man who employed her. Of course he had some resistance amongst his colleagues for selecting her! Mokgosi believes, and she is also correct, that she was employed because they were not looking for an Engineer but a business person, a marketer that could help grow the business, and so on. But, in speaking to Ben he said her “demeanor and attitude to life just stood out above all the other candidates”.
So, here was someone who seemed to have everything going against her, in the corporate landscape at the time – young, black, woman, technically inferior (was not an engineer) and eight months pregnant, yet the situation turned her way. It happened because of her attitude to life and the courage of another leader that remained true to his "instincts" or feelings, which ultimately is a higher form of integrity! Mokgosi says “he gave me an opportunity and for that I am eternally grateful because I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t started there”.
One’s attitude and demeanor makes it easier for others to open doors to opportunities. She now believes in opening doors for other people, who in turn will hopefully do the same for others! This is called multiplication, a principle touched on in last week’s article.
What is Mokgosi’s attitude in life? She believes “life is about challenges and what makes you stand out is how you handle those challenges … I always try and see some positives in every bad situation.” She teaches principles to those around her like "At the end of the day, all you have is your soul" and "life is a God given gift". Mokgosi explains further: “I always say that whatever happens to you, you are in control of who you are, your soul, even if bad things happen to you, and people do bad things to you sometimes, but they cannot touch your soul unless you allow them to.”
Learn to trust your intuition, your gut
Back in her Telkom days there were times that she would go home and say to her husband that she was fed up and she would cry and say she was not going back there. But, she learned some hard life and leadership lessons, like needing to "do one’s time" before gaining the respect of colleagues and staff, and trusting one’s intuition.
On her first day she called a staff meeting to introduce herself to her predominantly white male and clever audience. She explains: “I walked in and everybody ignored me while chatting in Afrikaans about their business. I instinctively acted by taking an empty glass and a teaspoon and banging the glass. Everybody heard that. When they looked at me I introduced myself in Zulu, so they stopped and listened, of course thinking it was odd. When I had everyone’s attention I simply announced that I was going to my office and that when they were ready for me they could come and call me. I went out. Believe me, as I went out I thought to myself ‘what have I done’. I realized that if they didn’t call me back I was doomed and I had to resign because they would never respect me. I was in the office for about ten minutes, which felt like a lifetime. Someone then came and called me so I went back in, introduced myself and we set a few ground rules about how we should behave in meetings, etc. It could really have gone wrong!” There were times in her career where such instinctive actions did go wrong, but most of the times she got it right.
Sean Donnelly, CEO Moditure believes that this kind of behaviour “illustrates a new generation of leader and the new currency of leadership, which has to do with intuition, and it does not mean they are soft and push overs…” Nicola Tyler CEO Business Results Group added: “Trusting your gut is a process of experience in testing it out. So how do you get to know whether you are making the right decision is not until you actually make one. Often we would act out of an intuitive response and then only in hindsight be able to assess whether it was the right response or not”.
Inspire by connecting with values, spirit, soul
I asked Mokgosi if she believed she was an inspiring leader. Her clever response was that she is the wrong one to ask and that her staff would be in a position to say. But, she seemed more of an "in the background" inspiring leader, as opposed to "in the forefront" or "in the public eye".
I asked my panel to describe an inspiring leader. Tyler commented: “…Inspiring is perhaps more related to your own set of values and you will determine who inspires you. So if you have a set of values that I am inspired by, then I might find you inspiring”. Donnelly added that “there is nothing boring to the right audience…. At the root of the word inspiring is the word spirit, so when the leader stands up there and communicates, something touches you, your spirit, your soul”.
Several individuals I spoke to mentioned that Mokgosi managed to hold on to her femininity while climbing the tough corporate ladder. So I asked her if this was important to her; was it something that should be important to other woman? “I would like to think that it is important to everybody to remember who you are, not even considering the gender issue for the moment. If you try to be someone else it is not sustainable… Woman should not try to be like men. But even as woman we are all different. All human beings are different. You should just be yourself”.
Mokgosi’s final tip to leaders is “focus on winning the war, but understand that you lose some battles in the process. But, ensure that those battles you lose are not the strategic ones. It is okay to allow yourself to lose here and there. Don’t get hung up on winning everything. Focus on ensuring that you win that war. Whatever your objective is stay focused on that”.
Summary of Leadership & life lessons
- Leaders manage to pass on "strength" that helps others to cope and get through difficult times
- A great leader "seeketh not her own" even in times of personal pain
- Your attitude and demeanor communicates more powerfully than your mouth or even your qualifications
- Remain true to your "instincts" or feelings, which ultimately is a higher form of integrity
- Make the best of opportunities and in turn give others opportunities
- Life is about challenges and what makes you stand out is how you handle those challenges. See some positives in every bad situation
- What ever happens to you, you are in control of who you are, your soul
- To earn respect you often have to "do your time"
- Learn to trust your intuition, your gut
- To be inspiring you must connect with your audiences' values, spirit, soul
- Be yourself
- Focus on winning the war; reaching your objective. Do not get hung up on winning every battle
Leadership and life lessons from Helen Zille
Leader - The Democratic Alliance
Leader of the Democratic Alliance!
Several individuals who heard about my up and coming interview with Helen Zille compared her to Margaret Thatcher, the Iron lady from Britain. Well, while I can understand to some degree why they would do that, after meeting her for an hour before the show and then interviewing her I suggest, as a somewhat informed person, that you erase most of that perception from your mind.
Her parents raised her to take responsibility very seriously; to learn to defer gratification – not to do what you feel like doing but doing what needs to be done. In her own words: “I’ve never asked myself whether I feel like doing something or whether it is not more expedient to do A rather than B. If something has to be done it has to be done”. Combine such an outlook and value system with the ability to work extremely hard and to act tough when required, and then throw in the factor of being a woman, and it could be easy to fall into the trap of drawing comparisons with Margaret Thatcher.
In a nutshell though I would summarise Zille as someone that was raised and almost programmed to act on a sense of justice, doing what’s right, who wants to, has to, and feel’s compelled to make the world a better place, driving towards solutions that improve people’s plight.
While preparing for the interview an attribute that stood out very clearly was that of empathy. She feels for people and the conditions under which they suffer. This empathy drives Helen to action; almost triggers something inside her that she herself can’t control. She moves into gear, like a robot on a mission, to create movement, change, and improvement! Energy comes from somewhere inside her and she bites into the problem like a bulldog and does not let go. I am even willing to stick my neck out and state that ‘winning votes’ hardly crosses her mind when she is in this mode, if this is at all possible for a politician.
Zille believes that “diagnosing a problem is the key to solving it”. One cannot find the desired solution when the problem was diagnosed incorrectly in the first place. She believes many people make this mistake and it often is the “fundamental mistake that is made in policy formulation in SA and also in interventions. People define the problem incorrectly and then, like the age old example of a doctor that does a heart transplant instead of taking out the appendix, they implement the wrong solution”. She further believes that when one diagnoses a problem, especially when it is a big one, the next step is to break it up into smaller components that can be solved.
One of the greatest quotes I heard of late is by Dr. Gary Hamel and it says: “The future begins not at the core but at the fringe”. Great leaders don’t just manage from the core, or they don’t simply remain in secure territory, the way things have always been done. They move out to where the fringe is, where there is a clearer view of the real and often daunting challenge. When they have the challenge clearly defined they come up with pioneering, innovative, ground breaking ways to overcome the challenge. This takes courage and fearlessness, because the solution is almost always unpopular and controversial! One thing I believe is that if the DA wants to make a significant impact in South African politics, Zille will most probably have to be a ‘fringe’ leader. So I asked her what she is. Her answer: “…‘fringe’ leaders are people who think ahead and look back from a vantage point of ten or twenty years into the future. They say that on the basis of that perspective what will have been the right decision now? So you are not thinking from the core where you happen to be now but you are thinking from a very different perspective, looking back over history as you think and anticipate it may unfold, and say what will have been the right decision today. That is why I got so involved in the Black Sash and other organisations many years ago. It certainly wasn’t core then but very fringe … The hallmark of a leader is to decide what the problem is, what you have to do about it, pointing in a direction and then being decisive and having the courage to do it…”
When Zille moves out to the fringe of South African politics the real leadership challenge she sees “is to overcome race and ethnicity as a mobilising factor. We have to get to the politics of shared values, shared policies, trumping identity. At the moment it is the other way around… We will never grow as a party if we can’t get support from black people, and we can only get support from black people when they feel we are articulating their ideas and their values, which we are in many instances, but the power of race holds people in to voting in a certain direction. It is as if certain parties own certain people on the basis of their race and ethnicity. Unless we can crack that we are going to have permanent built-in majorities and minorities in SA. We will never have a viable democracy because we can only have a proper democracy when government can change hands through the ballot box”.
Interestingly enough she says such a challenge has never been overcome in any other country with deep ethnic divisions. So, what is the DA leader going to do? To try and buck the trend, Zille is bringing some of the world experts on the matter to SA next year; individuals that have studied the phenomena and specific challenges that have been identified. A conference will be held and this issue will be placed on the agenda of South Africans. She believes “there are no silver bullets here. We have to keep on keeping on, showing people that we care and that we are absolutely committed and that our policies are best for all South Africans”.
Talking more about her leadership style she says “the issue is not having one style but having good enough judgment to know what is appropriate in different situations. That is the key test of a leader – to have the discretion and the judgement to know what is appropriate in complex situations and move forward to a new level. This can only be developed over time and with experience and with good capacity to reflect on your mistakes – to understand what went wrong and why, and then to be able to draw on that experience in the next situation.”
Like many leaders she works on her weaknesses, like for example being untidy, which leads to often having to look for things. She diagnosed this issue and realised that a reason could be that she always moves forward and never looks backwards. When she has done something she moves on to the next thing and does not look back long enough to ‘file’ the paper component of the situation, which can lead to problems in the future.
Despite her incredibly pressured schedule, which she is comfortable with, she seems to have a sense of gratitude about life. Her Mayoral Bodyguard asked her fairly late one evening, following a hectic day how she was doing and her answer was something along the lines of: “I am very happy and blessed”. I asked Zille to explain this answer: “I suppose I do feel blessed because so many things are right in my life. I have an extraordinary husband; I have two wonderful children; I have a dry home that does not leak when it rains; I have extraordinary colleagues; I have an excellent team in the Mayoral office and in parliament; I have a family who really cares for me and I have good friends. So I feel deeply blessed all the time”.
When all is said and done, is Zille the leader that is going to change the face of politics in South Africa? Is she going to be the one to change the up to now unbreakable pattern of voting across traditional, racial, ethnic lines? Is this the leader that can combat the ANC strength of possibly being able to change traditions or voting patterns through creating icons like Cyril Ramaphosa, Tokyo Sexwale, Trevor Manuel, Matthews Phoza for whom many white people will vote? Is she what SA needs right now?
Could I vote for her? Yes! Will I vote for her? I will have to wait and see… Could I vote for Matthews Phoza or Trevor Manuel? Yes! Will I vote for them? I will have to wait and see… I guess the scale is balanced! Give me more reason to tip it one way or the other!
Summary of Leadership & life lessons
- Learn to defer gratification – not to do what you feel like doing but doing what needs to be done
- Allow empathy to become a spark to action
- Take time to diagnose a problem accurately, and then break it up into smaller components that can be solved, then be decisive and have the courage to do it
- “The future begins not at the core but at the fringe” – As the leader, move out to where the fringe is, where there is a clearer view of the real and often daunting challenge and then come up with pioneering, innovative, ground breaking ways to overcome the challenge.
- To help you think ‘fringe’, think ahead and look back from a vantage point of ten or twenty years into the future
- Keep on keeping on
- Reflect on your mistakes – to understand what went wrong and why, and then draw on that experience in the next situation. This will assist you to acquire good judgement that is so critical in leadership
- Develop a sense of gratitude in life
Leadership and life lessons fromIngrid Kast
Head of Internal Recruitment: Technical Divisions
Andrea van Olst
Manager: Technical Operations
A Pledge to Your Country!
A Pledge to Your Country!
“I pledge my loyalty and devotion
to the flag of South Africa .
My heart belongs to the
magnificent people for which it stands.
My soul to the inspiring beauty of our land.
I promise to stand up for this nation,
to care for its diverse languages and cultures.
With all my heart, wisdom and courage
I will support South Africa's freedom,
her justice, peace and progress;
so that she may increase in beauty and prosperity
and become the nation that I dream of.”
What you have just read is the product of a united effort from staff of the current Deloitte/FM Top Company to Work For in SA – DAV Professional Placement Group! When I heard for the first time that they had come up with a pledge I thought it would be towards their company, so when I read this it touched me even more because it is in fact towards our country.
I further discovered that once a month at a company meeting, which is held weekly, they read the pledge. I decided to go and watch this as a simple spectator. Let me tell you, it was an unforgettable experience! The reading of the pledge by three staff members in front of the entire company, with quiet and reverent music in the back ground was just one of the activities that blew me away entirely!
I thought to myself that they are truly ahead of the pack, which they should be as they are the top company to work for. Most organisations struggle just to make ends meet and here they are, finding the time and energy to develop a pledge to their country! It inspired me so much that I decided to invite the CEO Ingrid Kast and three of her colleagues to join me on the Leadership Platform.
I explored why they did it? Kast, also the founder of DAV explained: “The idea came up when one of our Directors returned from a Jamaican holiday. She could not stop talking about their ‘giving’ personalities and she picked up that this was not just one or two Jamaicans but that they were all so giving. She noticed that they approached all the tourists in this giving manner and then realised that in fact this seemed to be the norm in the way that they treated their fellow citizens as well. It was as though each Jamaican formed part of a puzzle whereby each person had something to give – piece by piece - and that each person was a piece of this generous nation.
Our director then came across the Jamaican pledge, and I quote: ‘I pledge my love, my loyalty and skills in the service of Jamaica and my fellow citizens. I promise to work diligently and to help build a prosperous and peaceful nation.’
When our director shared this with all our staff at our weekly company meeting – everyone at DAV was so touched by the spirit of Jamaica and it was then that we realised that Jamaica has a pledge, America has a pledge but that as South Africans we don’t have one.”
Ingrid further explained that often when we South Africans speak about our country we discuss all those negative elements like crime, poverty, HIV Aids, and so on. In certain circles the option of emigrating is a standard item for discussion on the social agenda. As Sean Donnelly (CEO Moditure Group) one of my panel members said: “I am worried about the culture we are developing as a nation; it’s quite a negative, aggressive, brutal one. Our brand that we are developing is kind of violent and around crime. It needs to start changing before it is too late!”
There are such remarkable angles to this land – magnificent people; inspiring beauty; diverse languages and cultures; freedom; peace and in many instances unexpected progress!
What difference can a pledge really make? Do we need one as a country, especially as we move closer towards 2010? What role can a pledge play if a leader utilises it effectively?
I opened the lines to ask for some views from listeners. The lines lit up like I haven’t seen it do for a while! The following is a summary of some listener comments: “… It is absolutely amazing to hear that pledge. In local government, of which I am a City Councillor in JHB, we have got a policy that is called ‘Batopile’, which means putting the customer first …I think a pledge of that kind would certainly give new meaning to the policy of ‘Batopile’ in the City of JHB.”
Another caller commented that “Ingrid is doing a fantastic job … Personally I think it is a wonderful pledge …”
Yet another listener said that it was a “heroic pledge and I think we are all innately heroic. I think it is something all South Africans should try and participate in … In the run up to 2010 it would certainly bond us.”
Peter (a caller contributing to the show) thought it is a magnificent idea and that “the value lies in formulating the pledge. It should be done at every level in an organisation – government, private sector…”
Someone referred to their past school days at a well known Boys School in Pretoria where they had a code of honour that had a profound impact on his life. They even signed a document in which they committed to certain behaviour. Many years later he can still remember those commitments.
The point came out strongly that having a pledge is one thing, but there should be plans that support or substantiates how and what one is going to do to live up to the pledge.
Another principle for successful implementation of a pledge is that all or most parties should feel that they own the pledge. My wise father’s definition of ownership is ‘mental and emotional possession’. People must feel that it is their own – they own it logically (mentally) and they own it with their hearts (passionate commitment)! As with an organisational vision and mission, placing the words on the wall is not enough. Employees have to feel that it is theirs!
Kast’s final comment about the pledge concept was: “I would love it if everybody felt encouraged to think in terms of creating a pledge and be so proud in terms of who we are in South Africa, what we have achieved and where we are going to.”
Grant Ashfield, one of my other panel members from Leadership Works during the show,made an interesting comment: “The document itself is not that important, but it’s the dialogue that comes before that, the way we find one another through the discussion that ultimately manifests in the pledge. That’s the real value for me”.
Sean Donnelly (CEO Moditure) added that “a pledge is actually a physical thing you do, you pledge, which is a verb”. Another very powerful underlying principle of a pledge according to Ashfield is also that one focuses on giving rather than taking. He further suggested that one should actually have four pledges – a pledge to ourselves – “we have talents and abilities that we allow to lie dormant for whatever reason”; a pledge to our families – “a family is the basic structure of our society and holds society together”; a pledge to our country; and a pledge to our organisation where “we spend one third of our adult lives”.
As for me, I am happy to accept the DAV Pledge as my own, when it comes to my country! Why don’t you take ownership of initiating a ‘Pledge Movement’ inside your organisation? I challenge you to be a leader by courageously approaching your ‘powers that be’ about creating your organisations own pledge towards our country! You may even work from the DAV Pledge that is on the leadershipplatform.com website. What the heck, your organisation may even accept the pledge as is!
If you work for a Government Department, take on this challenge and make a positive difference! You can do it! Someone has to, so it may as well be you!
Now, one more thing – read the DAV Pledge again before you go on your merry way. Feel inspired and follow the example of the Top Company to Work For! Join our national pledge competition! Remember that a good leader is always a good follower!
A Pledge to Your Country!
“I pledge my loyalty and devotion
to the flag of South Africa.
My heart belongs to the
magnificent people for which it stands.
My soul to the inspiring beauty of our land.
I promise to stand up for this nation,
to care for its diverse languages and cultures.
With all my heart, wisdom and courage
I will support South Africa's freedom,
her justice, peace and progress;
so that she may increase in beauty and prosperity
and become the nation that I dream of.”
Summary of Leadership & life lessons
Consider developing four pledges –
- A pledge to yourself
- A pledge to your family
- A pledge to your country
- A pledge to your organization
- Ensure that you have believable plans in place that assist in living up to the pledge
- All or most parties should feel that they own the pledge. Ownership can be defined as “mental and emotional possession”
- Remember that when it comes to a pledge it is not the document that is so important but it’s the dialogue that comes before that, the way we find one another through the discussion that ultimately manifests in the pledge
- Yet a pledge is actually a physical thing you do, you pledge, which is a verb
- Remember that a good leader is always a good follower! Now follow the example of the Top Company to Work For!
Leadership and life lessons from Paul Harris
CEO - Firstrand Limited Group
Liberating one’s people
Although he says he cannot remember it, the story is told that Paul was voted by his fellow matrics as the student most likely to succeed in life. Boy oh boy, were they right! Today he is a shareholder and CEO of First Rand Limited, an organisation with a Market Cap of more than 140 billion! Successful? I would think so! However, although society at large may judge Paul by the size of his bank balance, the title behind his name and even by the 34 000 people he has working “under” him, he judges himself and those that work with him by “how many people they liberate rather than how many people they control”.
The essential leadership principle of needing to empower (liberate) those around one is truly part and parcel of Paul Harris’ leadership philosophy and certainly the organisation's! He further says that in First Rand they “believe in accountability struggles not power struggles. In power struggles you want to dictate things to people who know that what you are doing is wrong, but will do it anyhow because you are the boss. In a case where you liberate people and let them take accountability those people will put energy into the system and not take the energy out of the system.” Ask yourself to what extent those around you are doing what must be done in your way as opposed to doing what needs to be done in their way? Coaching a Financial Manager yesterday she told me how one of her staff wanted to do something in his way and she simply told him to ‘go for it’! She was liberating him rather than controlling him!
Although Paul attributes the remarkable success of First Rand Limited to him and his partners being at the right place, at the right time, their business philosophy of striving to create an environment for people to manage their divisions or business units as if it’s their own, is probably the greatest contributor to their success. An illustration that epitomizes this philosophy is when a reluctant Michael Pfaff was offered the job of leading Rand Merchant Bank, Paul said the following to him: “We appoint you to do what you want to do with the business, not what we want you to do”. Once again, can one only say this to someone that is about to be appointed as CEO of a major organization? This statement can easily be adapted to: “We appoint you to run this department in your way, as if it is yours and you need to tell us how you intend on contributing to the region’s targets.” In fact, go so far as asking staff what they need from you in order to feel liberated.
Even when I discusses the expansion of First Rand from a strategic angle Paul’s answer was steeped in the liberation theory. I asked him if his greatest strategic challenge was that of international expansion: “We believe in de-centralised models… If some of our business units believe that their growth comes from doing business internationally, we would encourage it. We have 160 profit centers thinking of how to grow and that’s good enough for me.”
Lessons from the crime saga
I asked Paul what he learned from the ‘run-in’ with Government and perhaps other stakeholders a couple of months ago, from a leadership context: “I think the first thing is that if you want to make a statement, and it is something you feel strongly about, you have to be prepared to stick your neck out, and if you are not, invariably you won’t get the message across. So you have to have some courage. The second lesson is that you don’t want a win/lose situation, you want a win/win situation. You don’t want one party or group of people to feel offended and feel like they have lost…, but sometimes one must personally be prepared to be the loser by taking it on the nose.” Because of this attitude he eventually backed off and the campaign came to a sudden end. Do you have opportunities within your work environment to make statements about something you feel strongly about? Think it through and make sure your motive is a win-win one and then have the courage to say it boldly and as tactfully as possible. You will be surprised at the positive reaction! But, if the reaction is not as positive as you may have hoped for then ‘take it on the nose’ and move on!
Did you act somewhat impulsively and not consult widely enough in this instance, I asked Paul? His answer highlighted another possible leadership lesson: “If you consulted widely enough with business as a whole you probably would agree that air should remain free, but you are never going to agree on anything that is remotely contentious. Why not? Because everybody has so much vested interest. So, individual companies have got the right to stand up and say things that they believe in, and they don’t have to go and consult with everybody …. Do they need to talk internally? Obviously they do … but if there is something that could potentially expose them to reputational risk then they should consult more widely outside the organisation.”
Minister Charles Nqakhula told me the learning point was that “we need to speak to each other more as South Africans”. Paul agreed with this conclusion but added that “we need to trust each other; we should trust the motives are genuinely in the interest of the country. Another thing around leadership is that we should support issues, not people – I can agree with you today and disagree with you on something else tomorrow. That type of environment is a productive environment.”
Guarding against mediocrity
When Rene Otto, now CEO Channel Life set up Outsurance several years ago he sat down with Paul who then proceeded to counsel him about guarding against mediocrity. Rene was slightly taken aback by the comment, but the way Paul described it resulted in this principle staying with Rene up until today, and he has quoted Paul many times since. He said one has to guard against mediocrity for two reasons:
- mediocre people are boring, and
- mediocrity casts a shadow.
I asked Paul to expand on point two and he explained as follows: “If you have a mediocre person at the top of the organisation think of it as closest to the sun, it will cast a big shadow… If you have a mediocre person at the bottom of the company, it casts a very small shadow. If you get the wrong person high up in the organisation, it casts a shadow and they will surround themselves with other mediocre people.” Ask yourself what kind of shadow are you casting – mediocrity or excellence?
Summary of leadership & life lessons
- Judge yourself by how many people you liberate rather than how many people you control
- Focus on accountability struggles and not power struggles - Create an environment for people to manage their divisions or business units as if it’s their own
- Have the courage to make a statement about something you feel strongly about
- Strive towards win/win situations. You don’t want one party or group of people to feel offended and feel like they have lost…, but sometimes one must personally be prepared to be the loser by taking it on the nose
- Individual companies have got the right to stand up and say things that they believe in without consulting with everybody, but they need to counsel internally. However, if there is something that could potentially expose them to reputational risk then they should consult more widely outside the organisation
- Support issues, not people
- Mediocrity casts a shadow – guard against it
Leadership and life lessons fromProf. Nick Binedell
Director - Gordon Institute of Business (GIBS)
Managerial skills, entrepreneurial abilities and understanding people the key to successful leadership in SA
Nick Binedell – well travelled; well qualified; well respected; well connected; and a man that passionately loves this country and truly wants to make a difference! This must be why I like him! His purpose: “To energise and motivate people to unleash their potential”.
He believes that “to be successful you have to know who you are and understand yourself well enough to understand other people properly; you have to be comfortable with yourself; you have to have the insights into your own behaviour by listening to feedback!” Some authors refer to this concept as the ‘mirror’.
We had Dr. Kwame Amuah on the show some time back. He is the son-in-law of Mr.Nelson Mandela and a successful business man in his own right. He quoted someone in saying that the first law of leadership is: “Know thyself”. I cannot agree with this more and the principle blends well with Nick’s advice!
According to Nick you need at least three broad skills to be a successful leader in SA:
- themanagerial skill, which is often quite boring – drawing up the budget; the financial knowledge of the business; operational knowledge - knowing the business inside out and making sure people do what they say they are going to do – the skill of ‘getting things done’. It is so easy to get carried away with the vision and the strategy, the sexier stuff;
- entrepreneurial abilities – being able to spot the gap, to see what others haven’t seen; having the better insight and reacting faster than anybody else, and to understand it in a realistic way – realism is a very important part of being a good entrepreneur. We talk about dreaming, but then there is the realism;
- understanding other people in a realistic and useful way - culturally, ethnically, in gender terms, generationally. This is going to be a huge attribute of leaders. We are going to experience far more change in the next ten years than the last, coupled with this country’s history, multi-culturism and cultural dynamism… Nick adds: ”In the excitement of leading you have to be open to that, together with the social idea that you are right for the time you’re in – that’s a critical quality of a leader”.
As you read this article I challenge you to consider whether you believe you are “right for the time you’re in”? Are you made for this new South Africa? It is no coincidence that you are here, I believe! Find your place within this remarkable country!
The earlier 3 points Nick mentioned were in my mind perhaps the ‘bricks’ needed for someone to build leadership capacity in SA, but what about the ‘cement’, the finer skills, the ‘inbetweeners’? His view is that every organisation has different realities, and every person brings different ‘inbetweeners’, but some key one’s are:
- "the ability to look a bit over the horizon; to always think about what is next and try and anticipate that as best you can;
- to be outside the organisation, to step outside your own reality and look at your organisation coldly, objectively, from the outside and ask some questions;
- being the product or the customer … bringing that quality of understanding consumers, like Raymond Ackerman and others. This is a quality that most entrepreneurs understand.”
Transfer leadership skills through direct experience, formal training and quality contact
It is rather easy to talk about such leadership skills, but how does one transfer it to future leaders? Nick believes most of it is done through direct experience where you are in a job and you have a task to do - you learn by what works and what does not work. The other way is the more formal side through Business Schools where they can fast track some of the experience.
I made the point that one of the best ways of transferring leadership capability specifically, is surely to organize productive contact between a future leader and a current great leader. We do this on the Leadership Platform show and with our mentoring competition and monthly leadership chats (see leadershipplatform.com). I was impressed with an up and coming conference that GIBS and Leadership Works are organising for 10 July. On the day there will be a session where about 20 top CEO’s will each work with a smaller group of people for a few hours on sharing their personal leadership habits. As Nick says “a lot of effective leadership habits are personal, idiosyncratic and true to that individual; so we asked them to come and share their best practices because we now need to dig beyond the broad theory into the real practices of effective leadership”.
Well, how is Nick doing on the issue of preparing his next level at GIBS for that time when he – the heart beat, the founder, the man with the vision, leaves? “… One of the things I was worried about in the early days was the difference between an organisation and an institution. In an institution there is a set of practices, a culture that isn’t about the person that is the leader; it goes beyond that… Today the depth of management at GIBS is strong – there are a lot of younger faculty members at the school for example who I think share the same broad ideas that those of us who were there at the beginning share, and they are coming through the system… I think it is an institution and even if I got hit by a bus the place would fly.”
Leaders must be involved in political life
Nick often says “we can get SA right”. I asked him to describe this ‘right SA’: “It has to deal with this question of poverty. You cannot live in a democracy where one in three people are as poor as some South Africans are; we have to unleash the entrepreneurial spirit and continue to do that – this country has a remarkable history of entrepreneurship; we have to have good government – the state makes or breaks the nation and politics drives economics in an emerging country, and in this country there is no doubt about that. One thing that worries me is that the middle class may not be sufficiently involved in political life, which is a great danger to business in SA. Our fate rests on the quality of leadership in the state and therefore we need to engage more; to not be involved in political life is a dangerous dynamic in this country. We tend to talk of politics in a specific way – ‘them’ and ‘they’. We have a mutual interest between business and government, between politics and economics, and great nations marry that interest in a powerful way.”
Never stop asking questions
One of the best lessons he learned from another business leader was to ‘never stop asking questions’. Nick tells how in his early days he “worked with a remarkable man Simon Dockerty and he was an extraordinary listener; he always asked questions of people outside their portfolio. As a consequence he built a team that reinforced each other instead of running in silo’s. The questioning and digging in to find out what’s behind what they say is a great way to understand the business and Simon practiced that magnificently!”
Prof Nick Binedell, all I can say is go, go and go! You are a valuable asset to South Africa! Don’t get hit by a bus! If you do though I am sure GIBS will run, but I doubt it will be ready to fly yet. They and the country still need you!
Summary of Leadership & life lessons
- Be comfortable with yourself - have the insights into your own behaviour by listening to feedback – “Know thyself”.
- Acquire and develop your managerial skills,entrepreneurial abilities and learn to understand other people in a realistic and useful way - culturally, ethnically, in gender terms, generationally.
- It is no coincidence that you are here in SA! Find your place within this remarkable country!
Point 2 are the ‘bricks’, so acquire the ‘cement’ or ‘inbetweeners’:
- looking over the horizon into the future;
- stepping outside your organisation and viewing it objectively;
- really understanding the product and customers; and so on.
- Good institutions are made by leadership.
Transferring leadership can be done in three ways:
- Direct experience;
- Formal approach;
- Bringing about quality contact between top leaders and future leaders.
- Create an institution with aset of practices, a culture that isn’t about the leader.
- Our fate as a nation rests on the quality of leadership in the state and therefore we need to engage more.
- Never stop asking questions of people!
Visit www.leadershipplatform.com to:
- View the panel discussion atter the Thoko Mokgosi interview
- View the panel discussion after the Helen Zille interview.
- Participate in our National Pledge Competition!
- View comments from our expert panel members on the Ingrid Kast, DAV, interview – Sean Donnelly CEO Moditure and Grant Ashfield – Leadership Works.
- View our expert panel analysis of the Paul Harris interview by Professor Gustav Puth (Independent Leadership & Strategy Advisor) and Athol Williams (MD Taurus & Associates).
- View our expert panel analysis of the Prof Nick Binedell interview by Sean Donnelly (CEO Moditure Group) and Prof Shirley Zinn (HR Director Nedbank and President IPM).
Visit www.leadershipplatform.com to:
- Order CD’sand/or DVD’s of Leadership Platform programmes.
- Contribute with questions. We interview great, interesting and successful leaders on our weekly radio show (Classic FM 102.7 every Thursday 7pm) that also broadcasts weekly on Summit DStv Friday mornings 8am and Mon afternoons 1pm. We would like you to put forward questions that we can ask these leaders.
- Attend ourmonthly Leadership Chats where we facilitate a discussion between a top leader and a small audience at a smart venue.
- Find out about exciting seminars and leadership events for rapid personal growth and movement!
Adriaan Groenewald is the presenter of the Leadership Platform Radio Show, which broadcasts on Classic FM 102.7 every Thursday evening between 19:00 and 20:00 and on Summit DSTV twice the following week. He is also co-author of the 'CEO Leadership Handbook', the author of a weekly full page article in the Star Workplace and Executive Director of Moditure Group. Adriaan has interviewed on and off air top leaders like Paul Harris, Charles Nqakhula, Mark Lamberti, Phuthuma Nhleko, Gill Marcus, Mbazima Shilowa, Tony Leon, Wendy Lucas-Bull, Thoko Mokgosi, Adrian Gore, Herman Mashaba, Patrick Lekota, Russell Loubser, Ian Cockerill, Alan Knott-Craig, and many others. In 2005 Adriaan was one of the 8 Judges on the prestigious Boss of the Year panel. On the sporting front Adriaan proved his discipline and drive by achieving his junior provincial colours and later on a second Dan Black Belt in Karate. Hecompleted a Bachelor degree in Psychology as well as diplomas in various other fields of interest, including a Post Graduate Diploma in Strategic Marketing from the University of Hull in the UK. He has also studied business on a Masters Degree level.Because of his leadership abilities he was appointed as a manager in an international organisation within two years, despite competition from several individuals that had been in the organisation for many more years. He was then head hunted by an international consulting firm where he consulted, trained and coached nationally & internationally in organisations such as Vodacom, Standard & Poors, Investec, HP, Huntsman Petrochemicals, and so on. Subsequently he has consulted in many other organizations such as Nestle, Siemens, SABC, Standard Bank. Adriaan has published articles in CEO Magazine, Management Today, Leadership Magazine, Succeed Magazine, Journal of Marketing, Argus, Star Newspaper, Business Day, and Sunday Times.