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Saturday, 01 March 2014 12:45

How to become a better leader

How to become a better leader

 Many of us in business – and in life – play leadership roles. But what should leaders be doing? And how can you become a better leader? Eleanor Scott shares her advice.



The first step to becoming a better leader is to have a clear understanding of what a leader embodies. My definition of a leader is: “A person out in front - influencing and paving the way for others to first follow, and then imitate.”


Author, speaker and pastor John Maxwell puts this another way. He says: “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”


If we break this down and start with ‘knowing the way’, it is obvious that leaders need to know the way to some ‘new’ destination. One of the key characteristics of a leader is vision. They need to have a picture of the future that’s different from the present and the past. In short – a picture of what you are working towards but don’t yet have.


For this picture to be compelling enough to stimulate changed thinking and behaviour it needs to embrace all your senses and answer these questions: “What does this future look like, sound like and feel like?” What will I be saying when this picture is realized and what will others be saying to me. For example, if your goal is to “get fit in 2014”, think about what this means to you. What do you look like when you are fit, how much do you weigh, what can you do (actions) when you are fit. How will you feel when you are fit – what emotions will you have, what will you hear people saying to you and about you when you are fit and most important - what will you be saying to yourself?


The next step toward realizing your vision as a leader is to think about where you are now and then determine for yourself what the gap is between where you are now and where you want to be within a certain time-frame. This will help you decide what actions you need to take in order to get you to this new future. Work out specific, measurable, actions that will be relevant to you in order to achieve your desired outcome within your time-frame. To return to our fitness example, it could be committing to running two kilometres every day for the next month.


Leaders also possess the ability to demonstrate and model the behaviour required to get to their vision – showing the way for others to imitate and follow. As mentioned earlier leaders lead others towards a defined ‘new’ destination (vision) and if they don’t have vision and purpose for their own lives they will not effectively lead others towards their desired vision. In essence – you cannot give what you do not have.


Another essential characteristic for effective leadership is above average communication skills, not just speaking but rather receiving and giving feedback in light of where you are going – your vision.

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Published in Leadership
Friday, 31 January 2014 12:11

It's a three-door problem

It's a three-door problem

The magazine Parade had a column ‘Ask Marilyn’ by the person with the highest recorded IQ (according to the Guinness Book of Records), Marilyn vos Savant. In 1990 Craig Whitaker of Columbia wrote in with a question that is known as the ‘Monty Hall’ problem.


The Monty Hall problem is as follows: Supposing you are on a TV game show and the programme host shows you three closed doors, behind two of which are goats, and the remaining door has a car hidden behind it. Your goal is obviously to win the car and you are then invited to choose a door. Having chosen a door, the show’s host then opens one of the remaining two doors, revealing a goat. Without knowing what is behind your door, you are then asked this question: “Do you want to stick with your choice or change (to the remaining door)?” Stick or change: that is the option you are presented with in your quest to win the car.

 “We don’t have a ‘talent problem’; we have a leadership problem.”

At this point the vast majority of people choose to stick believing that it makes little difference, as after all, there is now a 50:50 chance of winning the car.


What would you do and why at this point?

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Published in Leadership
Tuesday, 08 October 2013 10:13

Power plays in the boardroom

Power plays in the boardroom

Directors need to acknowledge the role politics and intuition play in the boardroom. Only by doing this, can they avoid a repetition of the scenario that led to the global financial crisis. Without challenging discussion and robust debate in the boardroom, directors are setting themselves up to fail.

Published in Leadership
Science, politics and intuition needed for effective board performance

Proficient, high-calibre directors are the essential elements of a high-performance board that can successfully navigate the current complex volatile business and economic environment.


“This demands not just the technical or scientific attributes of traditional business school competencies, but includes a mix of politics and intuition,” according to Dr Douglas Board, author of ‘Choosing Leaders’ and advisor on board services to Amrop Landelahni.

Published in Leadership
Monday, 08 April 2013 10:07

Can your C-Suite Tweet?

Can your C-Suite Tweet?

South African CEOs and MDs can no longer get away with not being digitally savvy: a new survey shows more than 90% of companies expect their head honchos to be up to date with the latest advances in the digital and social media space, as the online environment becomes more critical to sustaining a successful business.


According to Jack Hammer Executive Headhunters, which polled firms in the traditionally conservative financial services, engineering, FMCG and manufacturing sectors, nearly all assume that the Head of the organisation will at least have an understanding of the importance of digital technology for the company, even if they personally do not engage in online or social media.


“Your CEO might not tweet or even have a Facebook account,” says Debbie Goodman-Bhyat of Jack Hammer, “but he or she must be far-sighted enough to see the potential benefit of these channels for the business. Obviously some industries are more likely to engage with such media but the days of ignoring the online space as ‘irrelevant to our core business and customers’ or ‘for the youngsters’ are over. As more and more South Africans get connected to the Internet and share information, so there are more and more chances for a company’s reputation and market share to be made – or broken.”


She strongly cautions against handing over your company’s digital presence to “a junior who seems to know they’re doing because they spend all day on their iPhone.


“You wouldn’t make someone straight out of school with Matric maths your CFO, so don’t fall into the same trap when it comes to your social media. There are numerous brands which had to put expensive PR campaigns in place to win back customers because an inexperienced person was at the helm of their social media accounts. There are seasoned professionals who are intimately familiar with the opportunities and challenges of the online environment - and they should be recruited into your strategic communications mix.


“Before hiring someone to drive your social media strategy (either internally or as an outsourced agency partner), make sure you’ve cut through the digital jargon, and have fully understood the individual’s background, their track record with similar initiatives in the past, and the impact, scope and cost of the project or strategy they are recommending – the same fundamentals you would use for any other strategic hire”, cautions Goodman-Bhyat.


“It’s quite easy to get swept up with the hype of new media and to feel compelled to participate in costly digital campaigns purely because ‘everyone else is doing it’. Just as a traditional Marketing Executive is expected to demonstrate a business case and tracking measures for marketing expenditure, so too the Online Strategist should have the skills and experience to do the same.”


Goodman-Bhyat says executives need to see digital media as “word of mouth… on steroids. News of great customer service or a poor product can spread within seconds and reach some of your most desirable clients and consumers. Many local companies have been burnt because they underestimated the power of social media. What you and your team took years to build up could be harmed within minutes if you don’t have a comprehensive digital media strategy and competent manager in place.”


And while reducing their business insights into 140 characters may be intimidating to some MBA graduates who run million-dollar multinationals, she points out that more and more CEOs and MDs are taking the plunge – and building up loyal followings at the same time.


“Visionaries like Bill Gates (Microsoft), Richard Branson (Virgin), Jack Welch (General Electric) and Martha Stewart (Martha Stewart Living) all maintain lively Twitter profiles. Even Zwelinzima Vavi, the secretary-general of Cosatu, has taken to the twittersphere.


“Modern consumers expect to have two-way conversations with brands via Facebook, blogs, forums, Twitter and even YouTube. As the head of the brand, you need to ensure that your team is empowered to harness these channels. With CEOs and MDs getting younger – the Jack Hammer Executive Report for 2012/13 shows that the youngest South African Top40 company CEO is only 41 - the time when PAs printed out emails and took down dictated responses to them is truly past!”


International surveys show that consumers who engage with brands digitally spend more than those who don’t. Research by The Economist Intelligence Unit shows that at least two-thirds of the organisations achieving the highest returns reported that their C-suites are “active advocates” of social media.


“Think of it as another way of getting more people to be loyal to your brand – the more loyalty, the better your bottom line,” says Goodman-Bhyat.

Published in Online
Wednesday, 31 October 2012 00:00

Leaders need to take charge of communication

Leaders need to take charge of communication

Much is written about the importance of leadership within an organisation – how essential it is to the sustainability and growth of a company – and what makes a good leader.  CEOs and directors attend countless courses on leadership, strategy and innovation, and how to lead their companies boldly in the 21st Century.

Yet as a leader, do you actively share your vision and company strategy with staff?  I’m not referring to sharing with the board of directors or the Exco – they already know this because they were involved in the development of the strategy. I mean REALLY sharing with ALL levels of staff within the organisation, all the way down to the receptionist.  Without sharing this vision – without communicating it and obtaining buy-in from all staff– you will merely be trying to steer a large ship without the help of a crew.

Your company may employ an internal communication specialist whose job it is to develop and execute creative internal communication strategies. But it’s not their job to set the tone for communication within a company, or to decide how much or how little is shared. That is your job.

It’s time internal communications was elevated to grander status. Company leaders need to recognise that staff want to know what’s going on at a more strategic level so that they can help deliver on the strategy.  Indeed, being involved at this level makes staff feel that they are being included in something important; and it motivates them to want to work towards the achievement of the firm’s vision and goals.  Not communicating the company strategy and other key information is a missed opportunity to influence and energise employees.

“Internal communication,” says Rona Fairhead, CEO of The Financial Times Group, “is about making people feel part of an organisation – rather than cogs inside a big machine who don’t really know what they’re moving towards.”

Internal communication provides clarity of purpose to everyone within the organisation.  It assists with managing change or transformation – and if you already have a strong internal communications programme, it will be so much easier to tap into it in times of real need.

Keep it personal

One of the keys to successful internal communication is authenticity, to “keep it personal”.  Today, employees have increased access to information and communicators need to break through a lot of “noise” to connect with and engage them. As a leader, there are many ways to communicate creatively and personally with staff, whether you roll up your sleeves and sit on the desk, with 20 or 30 people at a time, or whether you email everyone once a quarter.  Staff want to feel as though they have a personal relationship with you.

As a leader you also have a responsibility to ensure your leadership team shoulders their share of the communication mantle.  Steve Jobs was almost fanatical in his insistence that the different “parts” of Apple work together. He did not even like calling the parts of his company “divisions” (marketing division, finance divison, etc).  He believed this led to actual division within the company because if staff were not forced to share with each other then they would not work together for the common good of the entire company and all its products.

Fostering trust

One of the positive spinoffs of good communication is that it fosters trust.  If you tell me something of value or importance I believe you trust me with that information.  It’s the same for leadership: share the good things with staff when times are good because this is when you will build the trust that will be needed in hard times, when you really need your people to trust you.

Yet, internal communication is not only about sharing good news.  It’s important to be open and honest with staff and to talk about the “bad news” too.  The captain of a ship HAS to share bad news with the crew so that they can help steer the ship away from danger.  The same applies to the leader of a company.

It works both ways

Internal communication is not only about the CEO or the leadership communicating downwards to the staff.  If you are serious about communication in your organisation you should establish channels for staff to communicate openly with you and other leadership executives.  In fact if there is a culture of trust within the company, this is just as important as the top-down communication.

Published in Leadership
Monday, 15 October 2012 00:00

Be a People’s Boss

Be a People’s Boss

It remains an interesting fact that the term “bossy” means to order people around when in fact; it should refer to empowering, up-skilling and retaining individuals. Being a good boss is about so much more than acting as an authoritarian figure, and getting your employees to love you is about showing them the love in return.


This Bosses' Day we chat to leading comprehensive staffing solutions company, Kelly’s Managing Director, Graham Bentley about how to be a boss that inspires, leads with purpose and grows people into the best they can be: “One thing I always bear in mind is that it truly is an honour and not a right to be a boss. Take the task of guiding people to reach their full potential seriously and you won’t just be a good leader, you’ll be a great one.”


Be Superior at Being a Superior

Bentley offers the following tips and hints to those wishing to up their game in the leadership stakes:

  1. Workers Help Managers Succeed: Realise the true value and worth of teamwork and remain constantly aware of the fact that when your bottom line looks good it’s down to the hard work of your employees
  2. No Boss is an Island: Trust your staff to do the job and do it well. No one appreciates a micro-manager. Delegate and then give your team members the space they need to prove themselves
  3. Empower Decision-Making: Conduct the training necessary to empower your employees to make decisions. Champion the art of decision-making so that your division can operate efficiently in your absence
  4. Tighten Up Your Listening Skills: Make sure your team members feel valued and heard. While time may be money, taking a few minutes to listen to what your employees have to say is a worthwhile investment
  5. Be Grateful: Take any and every opportunity to express your appreciation for your staff.


Be a People’s Person

“When you’re a boss, your job at the end of the day is about people. Always place yourself in the position of your subordinate and remember what it was like to have dreams of occupying a higher rung on the corporate ladder. Have realistic expectations that are clearly expressed, remember that your staff members have lives outside the workplace and always share the credit for a job well done. This is what makes a good boss great,” concludes Bentley.


While this Bosses Day is about giving thanks to superiors, why not give thanks to your people. Be a people’s boss!


Continue to climb the corporate ladder with Kelly – http://www.kelly.co.za/">www.kelly.co.za and ">


Published in Leadership
Thursday, 20 September 2012 09:58

Inspiring leadership in tough times

Kevin Gaskell

There are many experiences that have shaped me and made me the person that I am today. I was fortunate to serve as an officer in the Royal Navy for almost 9 years). What I learnt from that experience, among other things, was to never underestimate the need and the value of mature leadership.

Leadership is not about sitting in an ivory tower, telling everyone what to do. It’s about being a source of direction and inspiration. For many of us, the recession re-emphasised this principle. It’s easy to lead complacently when the going is good, but when we’re faced with tough times we realise how important a strong leader is – at every level of the organisation.

Richard Branson has always been somebody whom I have greatly admired – mostly because I share his philosophy surrounding his employees. He once made a statement regarding the success of Virgin: “We firstly give top priorities to the interests of our staff, then our customers, third to our shareholders. This is not only a reflection of the importance of our people; it is also the most positive way of fitting together these three priorities.”
I realised this once again when my team and I sat down to draft a SWOT analysis. One of the “weaknesses” in the organisation that came as a surprise was...well, me. Customers had become so used to coming to me with all their queries that it was working to the detriment of our organisation. In short, it had become the Rick Show.

I’m glad that we’re changing that. Not only because I hope to leave a legacy – an organisation that can exist with or without me – but because there should never be just one pivotal person in the organisation. There should be many. Every single person, in my mind, should feel and act as if they are the heart of the company.

At the recent AIGS Progress Africa Conference, Kevin Gaskell (who has had the privilege of being the CEO of top UK companies like BMW and Porsche) shared his story about giving an employee the opportunity to take the reins. As his company car, Kevin had a top of the range stretch 7 series BMW, complete with chauffeur . Over time, Kevin got to know John, his chauffeur, quite well and discovered that he was dyslexic. He had difficulty reading and writing, but was incredibly logical and well-organised. He would arrive at appointments on the minute. He would plan for contingencies. He would even take time to wash the car after a long journey before pulling into a client’s parking lot. It was clear that John had an amazing talent for planning.

One morning, Kevin explained to John a task he had been given, involving the launch of two premium cars to over 400 VIPs within one morning. The VIPs – which included the press, partners, buyers, directors – were to have a breakfast at BMW cooked by a celebrity chef, followed by a viewing in the show trading centre. He had to admit that he had no idea of how to pull off this event, being that the trading centre was over 2km away, the route from the BMW offices was entirely uncovered, and that weather forecast for the launch day was for rain! Kevin was envisioning soaking wet and miserable VIPs battling their way across to the trading centre in the pouring rain. But John simply listened and said, “Leave it to me.”

I can’t say what prompted Kevin to hand the most important event of his career over to a virtually illiterate chauffeur, but he did.

“It was a thing of beauty,” Kevin said. “One week later, I came out and there were 200 of our staff members standing outside. John had organised a dress rehearsal. There were six security guards standing at each of the six doors, dressed in suits, with MI5 ear pieces. I looked around the corner and spotted a row of stretch 7 series BMWs. At that point, John gave the signal...the first four cars pulled up and the security guards escorted four people inside with a branded umbrella held over their heads. When they left, the next car pulled up. And the next, and the next...John had organised 24 stretch 7 series BMWs. To this day, I don’t know where he got them. But within 15 minutes, all 200 people had seen the cars. He pulled it off. The staff stood on the balconies of the building and cheered. It was brilliant, profound.”

That is the culture of enthusiasm and ownership I want to adopt in my company. I don’t want my employees to think of their roles as set, I want to employ their creativity and potential. Being a leader does not mean that you have to do everything yourself. Trust your staff – let them be leaders in their fields. I encourage everyone at AIGS to “live the brand”, acting as company advocates and ultimately impacting positively on corporate profitability.

I believe that the difference between companies who continuously succeed and those who flounder can be traced back to a level of personal responsibility held by the staff. If your employees feel like they matter, changes in strategy can be successful, inspiring more motivation, and more success. At the end of the day, the A-Z experience of working with your employees to bring the best out of them, could be your strongest competitive advantage.
You’d be surprised at what one person can do. The torch relay for the London Olympics is a good example. As the precursor to the biggest sporting event in the world, this torch has to go through the hands of 8000 carriers, across 1000 cities, in just 70 days. It is being broadcast live, to millions of people. Can you imagine the logistics involved? The investment? Yet that relay is organised by just one person.

It’s incredible. Perhaps even more incredible considering that that one person who is in charge was once a just humble chauffeur, working for BMW.

Published in Leadership
Wednesday, 15 August 2012 12:17

How to nurture your emerging leaders

How to nurture your emerging leaders

Among companies today, one of the greatest challenges is the demand on senior leadership to develop emerging talent into effective leaders within a two to five year period. This must be achieved, despite the fact that the type of skills and acumen that is required would ordinarily take seven to fifteen years to develop. The challenge is especially great in fields like engineering, where technical experience is critical for senior leadership. However, younger generations are less likely to stay the distance in order to build strong leadership capability within one organisation.

So what is the best approach to talent management?

Talent management at its most effective looks first to the business strategy of the organisation, and asks certain questions. For example, given our business life cycle stage, what skills and capabilities do we need in the business to ensure that we meet our business goals and priorities for the next five to ten years?

Only once these questions have been answered, is it then appropriate to identify what capabilities your emerging talent needs to carry in order to attain these goals. If these capabilities are immature, then a developmental plan to grow them is an imperative.

Too often, talent is assessed and elevated based on past performance and potential. But it's critical to look at elements of personal aspiration and engagement as well.

We are usually so quick to focus on the technical and business skills necessary for leadership, and yet we all too often neglect the interpersonal and personal skills that often make or break the leader. Adaptability, responsibility, ownership, resilience and effective communication skills become key qualities to develop for success.

However, remember that there is no 'rubber stamp' solution for a group of emerging talent in your organisation. Rather, one needs to personalise the developmental plans for each individual. This is more costly, yet will in the long term yield better results for your initiative. Learning and engagement opportunities will exist both within the business and in the classroom. On-the-job learning through stretch assignments and rotation are important. But so too are the formal training programmes and developmental conversations that happen in mentorship and coaching sessions.

At the same time though, the effective development of talent cannot happen in isolation or have its focus on one or two candidates. Rather, the development of a strategic team and their joint effectiveness will most definitely yield better results and minimise business risk. The whole team needs to understand the direction and purpose of the business strategy. They need to share the values of the business and practice working together.

The role and attitude of leaders exiting the business is key, as they must look for opportunities to open doors and create visibility for the emerging leaders. Their willingness to embrace this role is the pivotal point that can make or break your programme.

Storytelling is an essential tool for exiting leaders to teach the emerging leaders how to lead the organisation. The new talent needs to learn how to ask powerful questions, and to extract key learning and principles from the organisational stories and anecdotes that are told in the organisation.

Often, the emerging leaders have proven themselves technically in the business. They may also be good managers of others. The gap usually lies in the knowledge and application of that knowledge in leading a business. The learning curve for these leaders is steep. They need to shift their point of reference significantly to embrace the intricacies of managing an organisation.

No initiative is foolproof - economies rise and fall, offers are made outside your organisation, people explore entrepreneurship and more. So it is important to have a strategy for handling an emerging leader if they derail. But don't let the derailment of one individual impact the overall effectiveness of your talent initiative. Learn from the experience and get back on the path to success...you need these leaders to excel.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012 15:20

New Economy Leadership

New Economy Leadership

Inspiring changes take place in organisations that embrace a culture of coaching: relationships improve, creativity flourishes and organisational resilience and capacity soar.

Today’s business climate compels companies to ask employees to do more with less, creating additional responsibilities that elevate stress levels. An effective way to ease this anxiety and create an environment conducive to managing workload is to develop the coaching abilities of managers. Coaching in the workplace spurs organisations to achieve their specific business results and visibly demonstrates commitment to employee growth and career development. In pursuit of results, it says that knowledge alone is not enough. Additional skills to teach and motivate are also needed.

It makes sense that executives are required to coach as part of their key performance indicators (KPIs) and to them it should become second nature.

Coaching’s focus is on a personal disposition to deliver on skills that already reside in the individual: the improvement of existing skills and the development of new ones. It’s also about facilitating optimal performance. While coaching demands dexterity and time, it is indispensable to the kind of employee development that achieves long term results, “which is why it is fundamental that managers address skills development consistently.

When managers are unable to coach, it’s generally because they don’t yet understand its value or long term importance; they do not have coaching skills or; they lack the necessary time. Usually, it’s a combination of all three. Specialising in coaching and talent management, have five steps in transforming managers into coaches:

Evangelise the concept of coaching: It is unlikely that a culture of coaching will flourish if it is forced on managers who are already swamped and don’t grasp its relevance. To build a case for coaching, the longer term benefits in terms of efficiency, time and performance need to be taken into account. When key resources and top talent are operating optimally, it reduces demand made on executives. Part of successful leadership is the ability to inspire, motivate and grow those around you. If managers can see that successful leaders are also accomplished coaches, being an effective coach gains personal relevance.

Clear outcomes and deliverables are critical: Any coaching relationship or progress that is not outcomes driven is a futile exercise. Outcomes need to be measurable and benchmarked with sensory-based evidence and indicators.

Developing coaching skills: Coaching is a skill that may not come naturally to some, especially managers previously rewarded for getting tasks done on their own or through a directive approach. While it is accepted that coaching should ideally be facilitated by an external and independent professional party, organisations are becoming aware that the use of basic coaching skills are an ideal management tool. Classic management styles of command and control have become archaic. There is an increasing awareness and demand for new economy style management for which coaching is a catalytic tool. Fundamental coaching skills – the ability to listen, question, build rapport and constructively feedback, empathy, supportive encouragement and accountability are often not explicitly taught but are all skills that can be enhanced. Basic coaching skills can be taught and rewarded as the most appropriate management style in an organisation. This means being alert to moments when coaching opportunities arise, and implies allocating these moments time as well as actively creating them, such as delegating tasks whose success requires the intervention of coaching.

Engage a coach yourself: Experience is the best teacher and it’s unlikely that managers will effectively use coaching as a skill if they haven’t personally experienced transformation through coaching themselves. It is now accepted as best business practice that executives personally access coaching from time to time themselves. It is also an example of how managers can provide this valuable service for others. Organisations that have skilled coaches within their workforce should consider hiring external coaches to work with key executives.

Recognise those who embrace coaching as a core leadership skill: Managers who manifest strong coaching skills are likely to become an organisations' most effective leaders. By placing these people in key roles and crediting these assignments – at least partially – to their coaching ability, sends the message that coaching is a crucial skill if you’re aiming at being a successful manager.

Published in Skills Development

The SA Leader Magazine

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In the July issue

To become a great leader, you must become a great communicator

Is South Africa ready for Big Data?

How to choose the right leadership coach



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