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Creating fulfilment

So often we find someone or something else to blame if we feel unfulfilled or unhappy with our life, circumstances or job. It may be at times that the circumstances around us have not worked entirely in our favour, or someone has behaved unfairly towards us; but we can never, ever say that we had absoutlety no control over what happens next! We always have a choice and can always make a decision; we can always strive for a positive outcome no matter what the circumstance may be.

To a large extent this is something that leaders have a responsibility to help create: The environment and circumstances in which those that follow them feel that they have a measure of control over their lives and over the conditions in which they have to live and work. If you are able to achieve this you will have more fulfilled, more motivated and more productive followers. Basically people want work that provides meaning and they want circumstances in which they can express their talents to the full.

There are so many things that leaders can do but here are a few ideas that will help the process along:

• Be consciously in the present when you engage with those that you lead. Be focussed on the here and now and tune in intensely to what your followers are saying and expressing, verbally or otherwise. This way they will know that they have your attention and that you really value their contribution.

• Always try to keep things in perspective. Try not to make small issues bigger than they need to be. The world is big and complex enough without further complicating it by blowing things out of proportion to their importance.

• Learn to bounce back from setbacks. Do this quickly and positively. Help everyone to concentrate on where you are attempting to go, and what you are trying to achieve, rather than on the past and the recent setback. The setback is what it is and nothing can change it, but you most certainly can affect the way of the future. Make bouncing back a way of life and this will breed a culture of resilience. Part of successful bouncing back is doing so with a healthy sense of humour. Help your people always to see the lighter side of life. A sense of humour is a great stress reliever.

• Always be committed. Be passionate about what you do and show it. It is infectious and will enthuse your followers.

• Concentrate on building a strong sense of teamwork at the heart of which is a commitment to each other, and a genuine seeking out of opportunities to help and support each other.

• Play to your strengths. Understand what you are really good at and use those strengths to motivate others to do the same. Select people as far as possible that compliment your strengths so that you do not end up competing for space but rather helping each other to completely fill the available space with your collective energy and drive. Working together we will always be better than the sum of the parts.

• Be positive. Strive to look at the optimistic side of life. No-one finds negativism and pessimism attractive. Those who constantly find fault and see the downside in everything seldom attract the kind of followers that make a positive difference.

• Maintain an action orientation. In the end, no matter how much reflection and planning may be necessary, the only thing that really counts will be action. You need to show that you ‘do’ things and not only talk about doing things. Take action!

• Be kind to your people. Show them that you really care. This will be experienced, not in the big things, although these are important, but in the little things. Just by helping people along without wanting the fanfare of mass recognition will help to build a reputation as one who truly cares; someone who does things from the heart and not for public recognition. It is easier and more sustainable to be good to people and for them to experience your niceness first hand than to behave in a ruthless uncaring manner. People don’t hang around to be abused for too long! Part of doing this is to show true gratitude when it is due. Let people know that you truly appreciate whatever it is they have done to make a difference. When you do this you send a message to the whole organisation about what values are important and what behaviour should be repeated.

It is your organisation to make and mould and will be a reflection of who you are too! So what kind of legacy do you want to leave?!

Tony Frost


VUCA – It is the world we live – Get used to it!

I often wonder what the world was like before the Great War of 1914 -1918. I have read many historical books and books on history. Indeed I majored in History at University. I wonder whether people then found the world they lived in busy, unpredictable, subject to dramatic and uncertain change, confusing, noisy, and incessantly rushed?

Perhaps this was so, relative to their own histories. Life seems to me to have been more genteel and to go along at an easier pace. Even in my own lifetime the pace of living has changed exponentially and the quantity of data that floods us is simply astonishing. I read somewhere recently that we have been hit with more information in the last two and half years than in the rest of history! I don’t know if this is true and I am not sure how one would even begin to measure this but the certain fact is that we are all infinitely more connected in infinitely more ways than even our own parents could have dreamed possible.

General George W. Casey, retired U.S. Army Chief of Staff, referred to this sense of being overwhelmed by the flood of information and the speed, rapidity and unpredictable nature of change when he addressed graduate officers recently. He used the acronym, VUCA, to capture the essence of the world we live in. This concept was developed in the US Military and apparently initially used in Special Operations, whatever that may mean. VUCA stands for: Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity.

It is however a very useful way of looking at and beginning to understand the world we are in. The reality is that is our world and it is the way it is because we have made it that way. All of human ingenuity has contrived to make the world bigger and smaller at the same time; faster and slower; bigger and smaller; more accessible and significantly less accessible; simpler and infinitely more complex. It is these apparent paradoxes that create the whirl of confusion in our individual brains. The problem is that the more expert the experts become the more they have to have tunnel vision in order to grow their expertise which means in turn that they live in tighter and tighter cocoons. And to a lesser extent the same begins to happen to us dependent on our education, financial status and interests.

It is in this condition that the world’s biggest democracy, India, and South Africa face their general elections. How is it possible for people to make sense of all the conflicting messaging with which they are bombarded? It is in this environment that people seek leaders and leadership that is able to Smooth the Volatility, Reduce the Uncertainty, Decipher the Complexity, and Remove the Ambiguity. This is what the best leaders do.

Go back in history and it is evident that this is what the world’s best leaders have always done. Within the last few generations this is what Churchill did, and Roosevelt, and Gandhi, and Mandela. They had the amazing knack of making extremely difficult and complex issues seem much simpler and within touching distance of even the most humble amongst us.

It is a sad reality that there seem to be too few of these types of leaders to help us to make sense of all the complexity around us. But here is what can legitimately expect from our leaders at any level in society, in any organisation, including government:

1. They must provide us with a clear and unequivocal picture or vision of the future and we need this picture to be sufficiently inspiring for us to want to be co-creators of the future vision. Otherwise why bother?!
2. Our leaders must communicate clearly and simply to help us understand the context and issues in which we are expected to live, work, perform. This means that leaders have to stop and really listen actively to what the people they purport to lead are actually saying to them. This will create understanding which will enable them to communicate better.
3. The mission of the leader once he has created his picture of the future and properly understood the people is to clarify future relative to the present and the pathway as best he sees to get from where we are to the future we have agreed we wish to reach. One speech will not do it, nor memos, nor PowerPoint presentations. It will require being present, being mindful, reaching out, listening to reactions, explaining again and again and again. This is the only way to gain the trust of the people so that they put their trust in the hands of the leader. Once he has done this he has their heads and their hearts!
4. The final essential necessity is to ensure that everyone understands that because of the type of world we live in we need to be able to move as fast as a cheetah, change as quickly as a chimp and have the perseverance of an elephant to see things through to the very end.

This is the VUCA world; it is our world and we should demand that our leaders lead us accordingly!

Tony Frost

VUCA preparedness, anticipation, evolution and intervention

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To bee or not to bee – that is the question!

In our busy world we often rush on at warp speed and ignore or don’t even notice many of the essential tiny things upon which we and many other parts of the living world are totally dependent. It is so often that it is the really small things that are essential to our continued existence on this planet.

Too often we take these little things for granted and very seldom even give them a first thought, let alone a second one. Often we do worse than this. We have a plentiful choice of insecticides to get rid of those little crawling and flying things that irritate us. We buy them and blast away without considering the consequences of our aerial or floor level broadside.

Like Dung beetles which clean up and tidy away all the stuff left behind by the big foragers in the veld.

And then there are the little flying creatures that produce delicacies that we love and buy with relish. Honey is one of those! Industrious bees fly in their thoroughly organised and planned way to find and gather the nectar that they convert into honey, which we then harvest, bottle, buy and enjoy. But bees are much more important than just being a means of production for the creation of honey for humans.

They are critical pollinators of fruit and nut trees and other food stuffs. So critical, in fact, that in China they have had to substitute bees with human pollinators because of the mysterious devastating disease CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder) that has afflicted bees in many countries and devastated their numbers to the point where many scientists are concerned about the sustainability of bee populations. This is really bad news for humans because many of basic food sources would be threatened without the bees to provide pollination services.

But it is not all bad news. Just as some Wall Street companies are beginning to make money out of the threat posed by changing weather conditions as a result of climate change, there are now also entrepreneurs who have discovered that one can make big money out of exporting pollination services! Who would ever have thought this possible?

This is actually happening and if you were to visit the California Central Valley you would find it alive and buzzing with busy bees doing what they do best. This is, in season, the largest gathering of bees in the world.

According to Fortune magazine, 80% of the world’s almonds are grown in this valley and almond trees need to be pollinated to be able produce healthy almonds. The farmers in the valley have found that there are no more efficient pollinators than the European honey bee, hence the importation of thousands of hives for the pollination season. The farmers rent the hives at about R1600 per hive at the pinnacle of the season. This huge rise in the price of hive hire is in part driven by CCD but also because of the growing business interest in the fact that these bees are such efficient pollinators.

This is just one example of the growing interest in the services that nature delivers to us with such generosity year after year. It is absolutely certain that the interconnectedness of everything is only marginally understood. It is equally certain that we will continue to discover new connections between our own health and the health of the Planet.

While these fascinating discoveries continue to be made and the commercial opportunities that result from them are exploited, each one of us should think very carefully before we point and exterminate! We may just be killing an important link to our own health.

Tony Frost


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It’s climate change, of course!

Whenever we experience out-of-the-ordinary natural events we seek reasons and answers. When we have the flood (excuse the pun) of natural disasters and catastrophes that we have seen all over the world during the course of the last three months, then surely it is time to really face up to the reality that climate change is not some phenomenon dreamed up by impecunious scientist to fund their research! It is something much bigger and all-pervasive than that!

We would need all the space the editor allows me if we were to list all the natural disasters that have been visited on the world over the last few months but here is a flavour of perhaps the most significant:

• The driest California on record
• The wettest 4 week period at this time of year in Gauteng, with many floods in Gauteng and Limpopo
• South East Asia has had four times more rainfall than usual
• Japan has had the heaviest snowfall on record
• Southern England buried in an unprecedented wall of water
• The World Bank estimates that there will be 1 billion climate refugees in the next century
• Wall Street companies in the flood protection business are now beginning to actively benefit from the ravages of climate change
• And we all know about the Arctic Vortex that buried the US and Canada under huge blankets of snow

It is difficult to even comprehend that against the backdrop of all this evidence in the public domain that there can still be people that do not believe that climate change is happening and it is happening now. But there are some.

The most important first step in restoring our Planet’s health is to be conscious of our own contribution to the emissions that cause the unusual and dramatic climate activity being experienced all over the world. It is this consciousness that will create the awareness and curiosity critical to finding solutions to some of the most vexing questions in the world today. Your newfound curiosity will also foster an understanding that the big changes needed are mostly at governmental and large corporate level, but not exclusively. There is no doubt that the changes that are needed are at the top and bottom of the scale. In other words everyone can make a difference.

We have been given countless actions that even the most humble citizen can take to make a difference: Always use the minimum water needed; don’t water the garden at the hottest time of day, nor when the wind is blowing; try not to use spray irrigation; switch off all lights in empty rooms; use a timer on your geyser; install solar heating; don’t drive unless you have to; choose public transportation whenever possible; walk or cycle whenever possible; don’t litter; recycle as much as possible. These are just some of the messages we have heard often before.

At the top end of the scale, with elections coming, make sure that your political party has climate issues right at the top of its agenda. Apart from the health benefits that accrue to both the planet and individuals managing the nation and the businesses in a manner that has the lowest environmental impact is the most cost effective option available. Sure, it may require some initial upfront investment but in the long run it will result in massive savings. There are many real examples of this but one of my clients is saving around R50 000 per month just by installing environmentally friendly lighting in all their offices!

If we apply this approach to everything we do we will make a contribution to a much healthier planet in every way.

The future is truly in our hands!

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Life is so meaningful……if you allow it to be

It is extraordinary how many books, articles, radio and TV programmes have been generated in the recent past aimed at helping people to find meaning in their lives. It is really instructive to unpack this phenomenon and to try to understand its genesis.

I read in a recent Fortune magazine article that the amount of information generated in the last two and half years is more than in the rest of world history! That in itself is an extraordinary statistic and I believe goes some of the way to explaining why people are feeling detached and alienated from this amazing Planet upon which we live.

In a recent workshop of about 30 participants I asked who had more than one mobile phone (all of them!), who had both notebook/tablet and laptop (everyone), who had a desktop as well (half). Just imagine the overwhelming tidal wave of info that bombards all of us all the time and what amazing steps we take to make sure that it can actually happen with increasing velocity, 24/7. You begin to understand the control that “social” media has over the minds and thought processes in society when you see people on a Saturday evening out for a lovely relaxed dinner and evening of ‘social’ interaction and both people are busy almost the entire evening on their ‘smart’ phones!

How does one manage this effectively?

How does one prevent it from controlling one’s life; rather than the other way around?

Is this technology really ‘social’?

The inevitable conclusion that one must come to is that it is not all social. Indeed it is frankly anti-social, or at the very least a-social. That is the first challenge.

The second is similar, but different. The ‘social’ media does not deal with the substance of anything – it is all in sound bites or 140 characters, or the headlines. This level of superficiality cannot in any way constitute an effective form of communication. It can only share information at the most superficial, spontaneous level along with the ever-present risk of misinterpretation, as some very high profile individuals have discovered.

There is another challenge that the users of this technology have to contend with and that is that we are sucked in to becoming entirely responsive, reactive individuals. With the welter of information coming at us there is no time left for anything in-depth, of substance; it is almost impossible to live mindfully, consciously and fully in the present. We are always bombarded with the distraction of information that comes at us in a plethora of shapes and forms and growing. One of the latest toys to be launched is a PC connected to one’s eyes that one drives with the eye and content is constantly being thrust at you. In short there is no chance of escape.

This may well seem like a diatribe against technology and the constant advances it is making. It is not that. There is a great deal to recommend all the new toys and the software that drives them, but unless we learn to manage them they will drive us when it should and must be the other way around.

Living a mindful and fully conscious existence means being really present in the present and giving it your full consciousness. This means that there must be times when you switch off your mobile phone/s, your notebook, your tablet, your PC, your laptop. Unless you do this you will be distracted. You will miss a great deal, you will be the loser. And, almost as important as these may be, you will be showing disrespect to those you are with and who have a right to expect your full attention and your conscious, fully mindful presence!

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Some tips for leadership in 2014

If nothing else, 2014 is sure to be an interesting year.

There are going to be the usual challenges for leaders and then, of course, there will be some curved balls as there always are. Two things are likely to dominate especially in the first half of the year – the global economy (of which South Africa is an inextricable part although some seem to wish it otherwise) and the looming National Elections which will all but consume us all in the first quarter of this year.

The global economy seems to be showing really encouraging signs of returning to levels of health we have not seen for a long time. However the consequences of this improving health may well be somewhat uncomfortable for us in the emerging economies for some time to come yet. The much heralded tapering of the US stimulus package, the sluggish improvement in Europe and some uncertainty in China and the East will all play out strongly in our economy. Much of this is so unpredictable and it is the unpredictability which is actually what the challenge is for leaders.
It seems likely that our elections are going to be hotly contested with politicians making outlandish statements, impossible promises and fairy-tale commitments all of which will result in a stirred up nation uncertain about the future. But this is the stuff of elections all over the world; certainly not unique to South Africa. And then the elections will be over , we will know what we have to deal with for the next few years and life will return to some semblance of normality.

So how should leaders be leading in conditions like these?

1. Be very clear about where you are going and where you want to take your organisation. Interact a lot with your colleagues about this and in so doing help them to feel that it is their vision or at the very least a co-created vision of the future. Make this a vision deep into the future, not just some short term action plan.
2. Communicate this vision with all the energy and with as much regularity as you can. Always try to do this in a way that the members of your organisation know what they have to do wherever they are in the organisation to contribute to the realisation of that vision. This will give your colleagues the confidence of a future worth fighting for.
3. Listen to your colleagues. I mean really listen so that when they are talking to you they know that you fully and 100% present and concentrated on what they are saying to you. Often we are so busy or feel that we are that we don’t give our colleagues the kind of respect they deserve and that respect includes giving them our full attention when they share something with us.
4. Avoid trying to communicate by e-mail unless there is absolutely no other alternative. And don’t think you are really communicating if you use the social media either. These modes provide only for snapshot information sharing. Real communication takes place best when it is eyeball to eyeball and in a hearty exchange.
5. Don’t shy away from emotions. When the conditions are highly charged such as they are likely to be for at the least the first half of this year people will be stressed and nervous and insecure. Let them vent their emotions but let them also know that they enjoy your support and that you are there to help and guide and advise whenever and as often as necessary. Having said all of this, do not allow emotions to outweigh good rational discourse and analysis. You need both. Remember emotion and motivation are just the opposite sides of the same coin. You cannot have the one without the other!
6. Use every opportunity you can to affirm and encourage and recognise effort as much as success. It is important to remember that effort is the precursor to success and we do not want people to stop making the effort especially in the face of difficult conditions and a singular lack of success simply because they think you either don’t recognise how hard they are trying or they believe that the only thing important to you is success in your eyes. Help people over the hump of effort so that they can see that success is not far away and that it will come if they keep making the effort. Of course, the effort must be directed and guided to make sure that everyone is heading in the same direction, but after all that is your primary job as the leader!

It has often been said that leadership is not for sissies. This is true. But it is also true that you don’t need to make it lonelier than it already is. Bury yourself in the bosom of the community you lead and you will draw enormous strength from the courage, support and encouragement that you find there!

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Leadership is a very human activity!

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the man, died on 5 December. Nelson Mandela, the ideal, will live forever!

So many millions of words are going to be written and spoken about him that I feel at once humbled, and energised, by the thought of adding to the memory of his legacy.

I was one of those extraordinarily fortunate people who met Madiba. Indeed, I spent an entire day with him; just him and I. Although that is not strictly speaking true. With Madiba you were never truly alone. I guess that was one of the challenging realities of his life. He could not have had too many moments to himself after his release from Robben Island! And perhaps this was also one of the major sacrifices he made for all of us; his dedication meant that there was always someone wanting him, his time, his energy.

In his presence you felt that there was no-one else in the world more important than you at that moment. And he was so interested in everything about you, and, especially, your family. He was fascinated by South Africans, his countrymen, where they came from, what they were doing to build the nation, how they were educating themselves.

The day I met him I flew to Mthatha and then on to Qunu, to his home. It was early morning. He came out personally to meet me and welcome me. I greeted him in my very broken Xhosa. This made his expressive eyes shine! He asked me where I had learned Xhosa and when I told him that I had learned my little modicum of the language on the other side of the mountains we were facing in the west, he immediately said, “Well then you are a member of the Mthembu clan!” In that way he also drew me in close to him and to his family in such a personal and unique manner.

We can learn so much from these few simple acts – he never distanced himself from those he led; he drew them close. He never spoke down to people; he treated them as equals. He was never too busy or too important to engage with you; he made it personal and intimate.

We had a really busy day and we had much to do and there is so much I learnt about leadership that day that is worth sharing. Suffice to say he was intensely interested in the world around him. He wanted a better world for all. He was abundantly aware of our total dependence on the goods and services provided to us by a very generous Planet.

Fundamentally though, his focus was on his people and the importance of their leaders leading. This is made so clear in the latest movie about his life, ”Long Walk to Freedom”.

He had to make a speech that day to thousands who had walked, driven, and ridden many kilometres to listen to their hero.

When he stood everybody stood. Everybody cheered. Then there was quiet. Silence.

Madiba spoke. He spoke for an hour. No notes. He spoke from his heart with passion and he spoke personally to the crowd. It was almost as if he speaking to each person directly. He made it clear that he understood their needs and their suffering. He challenged the crowd. He said that they must take on the responsibility of changing their own lives and circumstances. He explained why charity would not help them in the long run. He told them to challenge their leaders to do the right thing and to fight for change for their lives. He explained that their leaders were leaders only to serve the people they were responsible for leading.

He emphasised that we must educate our children.

Perhaps the most important lessons are to be found in his sheer humanity; his ability to make himself ordinary enough for anyone to feel comfortable talking to him; his incredible humility; his wonderful capacity for not listening to the PR about him and to stay grounded and focussed.

And now at the end of an extraordinary life so well lived we are reminded that he lived and died completely in tune with the values he had held dear his whole life – consistent in purpose, honourable in execution right to the end.


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