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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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Personal sustainability an imperative for leaders

Much has been said and written about sustainability in these pages and elsewhere. Most of this activity has been directed at what we need to do ensure the sustainability of our Planet (and that is really critical!), a lot is aimed at organisations, but very little is aimed at the individual.

This is somewhat strange since the primary reason why we are so interested in environmental sustainability is to ensure our own survival as a species.

In the organisational domain the notion of the Triple Bottom Line is well-established. It is being applied quite rigorously throughout the world to help organisations to create platforms that optimise their long term place in the market place, ensure that they contribute positively to the society of which they are part, and attempt to leave the environment richer for their existence. These are challenging objectives.

How then does this impact the individual and what should people be doing to work on their own sustainability and resilience?
These are searching questions and perhaps the use of a personal Triple Bottom Line may assist in this process.
The three elements are: Your personality; Your skills, experience, knowledge and wisdom; Your network.
We take all of these to work every day. They are all important and none more important than the others.

Too few people actually make a practice of thinking about what they should focus on and consequently almost no attention is paid to how one can maximise and integrate the three elements of one’s own Triple Bottom Line. Generally we allow these to interplay with each other at the sub-conscious level and almost no attention is paid to enhancing their collective impact.
Very few people actually really consider the impact of their personality or even attempt to consider how to seriously deploy their personalities to good effect and for long term impact; and very few have any idea how to mine their network or even where to begin. This is strange because these two on their own have the capacity to completely differentiate one’s offerings to the marketplace. This is what makes you, uniquely you! So why not use them consciously and to positive effect?!
Let us consider each of them independently……

• You have your parents to thank for your personality. Yes, there is some environmental impact but if you consider the fact that your personality is pretty much set by the age of 7 or 8 what happens through the rest of your walk through the Valley of Life merely cements how others experience you. So we do become more set in our ways because we have had reflected back at us who we are from our earliest years. Yes, our behaviour can and does change in reaction to our environment, the most extreme of these changes is found in pathological conditions such as Bipolar, schizophrenia and the like but these are not the norm although they are relatively quite prevalent in our society. You are who you are. But do you make the effort to consider how your personality can help and how the stronger elements of your personality can assist you to become increasingly resilient? It is essential that you do because the conscious deployment of your personality is undoubtedly the strongest tool you have in the Game of Life.

• The second element is all that we have learnt in our Life’s Journey. This includes our education, our experience and the wisdom that we have imbibed at the University of Life. No-one else has exactly the same range of experiences that you have. No-one else has the same mix experienced in the same sequence. In a way this is your unique experiential DNA. What is it? How do characterise it? What are its strongest and most enduring elements? What is the most marketable mix of your Experiential DNA? How do you deploy your Experiential DNA to maximum effect?

• Thirdly, and perhaps the most neglected, is your Personal Network. Do you know what it is? Do you know where it reaches to? Do you know how to mine your network to get the best out of it? Do you know how to deploy your network in a way the works positively for you in the long term? You need to answer these questions because it is true that you can reach anyone in the world through your Personal Network. Reaching them is only part of the challenge; learning how persuade them to help you is the other part.

Each of these elements, on its own, is useful and important.

But it is the Collective Impact that is most powerful. It is essential to understand each in its own right. It is critical to understand how they each feed on and influence the other two. But most critical is to understand how you can create and use this interplay between the three elements in ways that increase, consciously, your uniqueness and personal impact. One way to do this is to create your own Board of Mentors; 3 or 4 people you trust to give you frank feedback in meetings with all present. This feedback will help you to fully understand who you are and what your unique brand represents. This will enable you to use your Personal Brand consciously and with focus.

These lessons are particularly important for leaders since one of the most important things they have to do is to learn to act consistently. They cannot do this until they fully grasp the impact of their own Triple Bottom Line.

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corporate wellness – a leadership imperative

Organisational Wellness: A Leadership Imperative
This article was planned well before the release of the research report on the state of the wellness of South Africans. The report is a terrifying indictment on the leadership at all levels in our country and not only the political leadership.
Wellness refers not only to the physical health of individuals but rather to their overall sense of well-being. Of course physical health is an important aspect of this but wellness includes things such as a sense of self-worth, hope and a sense of feeling valued.
I spend much time in a variety of organisations, both public and private. It has become abundantly clear to me that leaders do not fully comprehend the impact their leadership and decisions have on the people in their organisations, individually and collectively, and that these extend beyond the boundaries of their organisation.
When one considers that of the economically active population some 60 % work in the formal sector and when one further considers that each of these people has dependents or close family that will feel the impact of their wellness or otherwise, there is no doubt that leaders have a responsibility way beyond the purview of only their own organisation.
What you do as a leader has an impact on the wellness of our country!
So what are the key issues that will impact on your employees’ sense of wellbeing?
• Leadership is crucial. Leaders set the tone, they drive strategy, they guide and direct management, they are custodians of the corporate culture. Ultimately wellness is a key result of the quality of their leadership behaviour.
• The Organisational Structure plays its role. A great deal of how people inside the organisation interact with each other depends on how the organisation is structured and managed. If the organisation is set up to allow easy communication, the elimination of bureaucracy and red tape, and there is a genuine desire to liberate people to be the best that they can be then wellness will be positively supported and enhanced.
• Organisational Processes and Culture will have massive impact on the way people feel about themselves and others. An oppressive, bullying culture will make people fearful, immobilised and scared to take risk. The converse will be true: In an open nurturing culture people are encouraged to speak their mind and to step out of their comfort zones to experience new things and new ways of doing old things
• Support Systems employed by the organisation to help people must be top-class as this will send a message about whether the organisation really cares for it people and other significant stakeholders or whether its concern is for the enrichment only of its shareholders. In the latter organisation the approach to governance will be one where compliance is the watchword, while in the Olympic Class organisation the focus is for the organisation and all people to reach the very pinnacle of performance poossible.
The consequences of not paying attention to the overall wellness of the organisation and all its people are severely damaging.
At the very least the unwell organisation will have demotivated people and teams uneasy within themselves and suspicious of the motives of others; stress levels will be high; symptoms such absenteeism, presenteeism, late-coming, high labour turnover and labour unrest will prevail.
Of course productivity will take a dive. It will be a constant battle for management to achieve the targets and budgets that have been set. Most of the effort will be focussed on managing the downside, instead of focussing and directing the energy to enable and support achievements at the highest level. One of the most important elements of a well organisation is that there is strong sense of empowerment at all levels. Empowerment is a key element in allowing people to have sense of control over their lives which will also result in reduced stress levels.
The organisational members all have tentacles into the communities of which they are a part. If they go out into the community in a good frame of mind and feeling well they will impart this to their community. The converse is also true. Organisations and their leaders should therefore be abundantly aware of this and the consequent impact that the organisation has on our society and its state of wellness.
So what should leaders be doing to promote wellness at every level?
• Be visible and accessible – walk and talk the talk
• Ensure that your organisation is effectively managed
• Cultivate an empowering culture
• Promote teams and teamwork
• Introduce effective, accessible support systems and make sure they work
• Ensure that your strategies are clear, compelling and well communicated
• Engage and include wherever you can. Make sure that people feel that their viewpoint and contribution really counts no matter how modest it may be.
These strategies are important for all of us, in every organisation of which we are part, no matter what the size of it is. If we make sure that every organisation in our country promotes holistic wellness for individuals, groups and teams we will have a vibrant and healthy country too!

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Eternal Values build organisational success

We read a great deal these days about risk and governance and ethics and the like. All these concepts are related, of course. They all have their own peculiar nature and nuance. They are all important if we wish to build sound values-driven organisations.

Too often these concepts are ignored by organisational leaders who, instead, have a desire to be seen to be complying with the laws and regulations that govern their particular business or organisational purpose. This is as much true for government at all levels as it is for commercial and industrial companies.

Sadly this approach only deals with the results or consequences of organisational behaviour. It is unlikely to create an environment where the type of behaviour required for the organisation to be fully sustainable and resilient will ever be realised in a permanent fashion. This is because it depends on policing to ensure compliance.

In the final analysis sustainability, or organisational resilience if you will, depends entirely on the creation of the type of culture and value system that prizes ethics and high morality as the critical value drivers in the business. Zero tolerance of unacceptable behaviour depends almost in its entirety on behavioural consistency and this can only happen if behaviour is driven by a value system that rewards this kind of behaviour.

Unfortunately we have too many examples of very public figure who do not demonstrate that they hold these types of values dear and therefore set an unfortunate example of behavioural inconsistency which, at best, serve only to confuse those which they purport to lead.

If we, as a nation, are truly committed to building a world-class country that produces world leaders, world-class products, world beating sportsmen and –women then we must start to model ourselves on world-class values that will drive the type of behaviour that will get us there.
There are many global organisations in this country from which we can learn a great deal. There is much that South African organisations can teach their counterparts from other parts of the world. We
must learn to be bold in our ability to partner with those from whom we can learn much.

In order to do this we need to develop a culture that has at its very core strong ethical values; a determination to be the very best that we can be; shun any suggestion that we are on the look-out for hand-outs of any kind; that we stand proud as a nation of doers and achievers. As a nation we do demonstrate from time to time that we are capable of this. Just look at our transition to the new South Africa, to the 1995 and 2007 Rugby World Cups; 2010 Soccer World Cup, and others. We can do this. We know we can, and so does the world.

In fact, in many quarters we are more or less expected to perform way above our actual weight division.

Perhaps we should emphasise what we are saying here. All the laws and regulations in the world will not help us to be the best that we can be. We of all nations should know that.

We are at a watershed in our country’s history. We have to be brave and tackle the important task of building our country based on eternal values; we have to learn from the lessons of the past and from the lessons of others; we need to form partnerships with countries and nations that want the same things we do based on the same value sets; we must develop our future leaders to be committed to entrenching these eternal values; those in the public sector must value the opportunity to really serve the citizens who after all pay their salaries; those in the private sector must take hands with those in the public sector to ensure that we build an environment which liberates private enterprise and encourages entrepreneurs; and in every organisation we need to encourage leaders to work really hard at building a culture that truly values talent and develops it to be the very best that it can be.

All of this for the good of all; for the future; for our country; for our children!

Tony Frost
tony@siroccostrategy.com

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