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Leaders Make Sense out of Confusion

I always look forward to Alan Murray’s (CEO of Fortune magazine) newsletters. They are a veritable potpourri of information, wisdom and experiences. There are often jewels of advice that emanate from high-flyers that have been through the mill and occupied top spots. We can learn much from these people – about what to do; but also what not to do!
We definitely need this kind of wisdom in the time that we are living through.
In every element of our existence we are experiencing change, paradox, confusion and uncertainty of almost unprecedented proportions. Let’s take a look:
Almost everywhere you look in the world today you see turmoil and uncertainty, confusion and fear. The uncertainty is invariably about the future. The confusion is about not knowing what to do about the future. And the fear is about what that future will bring for me and my family. This has resulted in protests, emigration on a grand scale, a refugee crisis of massive proportions and wild volatility in global financial markets. South Africa is clearly not immune to all of these. As I write this Zuma has finally been recalled but what does the future hold? Who is really holding the tiller of our country?
Our society has been fractured and compartmentalised for decades. It is also going to takes decades for us to work our way into something approaching a normalised integrated people. Communities feel betrayed and let down. They feel rejected and uncared for. Poverty, unemployment, poor education, inadequate health facilities and the spectre of unacceptably high levels of crime hang over all of us. What can we do?
The Fourth Industrial revolution (4IR) is not coming. It is here! Technology is increasingly dominating our lives and our lifestyle. You no longer talk to a banker you engage with a robot and if you don’t have the right answer you go in circles (or mad, or both). It is in every piece of our lives. The change and onslaught is dramatic, discontinuous and never-ending. How do we keep up?
We hear more and more about Climate Change. We know about the drought in and around Cape Town. What about the other major environmental events that are swallowed by other “more sensational” news? News of droughts elsewhere; floods in places where floods were last seen when Noah built his Ark; and runaway fires; and earthquakes; severe snow storms; severe heat waves; and tsunamis. We could go on. Hopefully the picture is clear. These are issues of huge impact. We as individuals can feel helpless to be able to do anything meaningful to make a positive contribution to change the trajectory. But very little bit does count and it begins with your mindset.
Institutions that we have come to rely on are under threat. Some have been intentionally undermined by those of ill-repute. Some have fallen almost into a state beyond repair. With what can we substitute them and what do we do in the interim?
How can it be that the global economy and our major trading partners are all growing while we stagnate. This has much to do with the impact of Zuma and his cronies. We need a nation in which people have confidence. All our fundamentals show that things could turn quickly with the right political and economic leadership. Perhaps we are on the cusp of that happening, perhaps not.

What our country needs now more than ever is visionary, transformative, courageous leadership that provides all with clarity, a clear sense of direction and a collective consciousness which focusses on all the good that exists amongst South Africans at all levels and in all parts of society.

Back to Mr Murray:
He convened a panel of five CEOs on the challenges of leading in an age of accelerating technological transformation. The organizations they represented were diverse—from selling motorcycles (Jason Chinnock of Ducati North America), to hosting video (Susan Wojcicki of You Tube), to operating casinos (Mark Frissora of Caesars), to banking (Stephen Bird of Citi Global Consumer Banking) to training girls (Sylvia Acevedo of Girl Scouts USA.).
Yet they all sounded like they faced the same challenge—how to create cultures that can identify, adopt, and embrace rapid innovation.
He asked them the most important leadership lesson they had learned for managing rapid change. Frissora emphasized the importance of transparency, and Wojcicki echoed that by telling how she holds a management meeting each week at which any employee can ask her any question. Acevedo, noting her organization is largely made up of volunteers, talked of the importance of showing people respect. Bird said he works to create a workplace free from fear, so employees are willing to experiment and take risks. And Chinnock finished up by quoting this advice, which he said he heard just two days earlier:
“Leadership is 35% coaching, and the rest is following. You can’t have all the answers; you have to empower others to find them.”
We have leadership potential in abundance. In my work I see it every day at every level, and from all backgrounds. We need to harness this, give these people the support they need to show the courage they have to lead. If they do this they will eliminate the confusion, give real direction and make a real difference in their part of society. This would be hugely transformative!

Tony Frost

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Kids can teach us plenty!

It is something of a commentary on our society that we do all that we can to make kids stop being kids. We tell them over and over to grow up; to behave; respect authority; to behave like an adult if you want to be treated like an adult and so on. Most of these injunctions have much to recommend them on the surface. However WHEN you dig deeper and start to unpack what the eventual effect really is we may be persuaded to adopt some other tactics. The intentions are very good and are mostly aimed at helping our kids prepare themselves for the tough world they have to live in. But in the process we also ensure that they unlearn some critically important innate survival and growth behaviours.
All businesses and organisations are looking for innovative and creative people who are not frightened to explore and learn and try out new things and ideas. These are natural childhood behaviours. This is how we all learnt about the world around us without prompting, incentives or regular performance reviews. We just did it because it was the natural thing to do. And….by the way, all our friends were doing the same thing.
But parents and teachers found this behaviour a bit too disruptive so that they did their collective best to curb it. Of course some of this behaviour was simply socially unacceptable but a lot of it was what enabled humanity not only to survive but to develop and grow.
Let’s take a look at some of the most critical of these behaviours and examine which of them we should be nurtured and encouraged in our organisations today.

Perhaps the most important of these is the absence of fear of trying new things; of a sense of adventure about the world around us. We have all been there and we are what we learnt about the world then from living with this adventurous spirit. If there was something new or strange or foreign we would want to know all about IT. All those of you who have been, or are, parents will know about that age when every sentence is punctuated “But Dad, why?”, or “Mom why does it work that way?”, or “Why can’t I go there?” Why and How are big words in the pre-teen years. There is a sense of amazement and wonder at the world and desire to know everything about it. We resent being put into little boxes and our creativity and energy being stifled by others

Secondly, we are not frightened by strangers, or others, or foreigners. We learn this behaviour. Mandela famously said something like: “We are not born hating, we learn this. We are born with love in our hearts”. Kids do not know hate. They are keen to be friends with everyone. We teach them not to speak to strangers, not to accept lifts or sweets or presents or, in fact, anything from anyone we do not know. Kids naturally want to make friends and some of the biggest heartbreaks when they are little is when a friend lets them down or doesn’t want to be a friend. We get so much more done with friends who willingly collaborate than when we try to persuade strangers to do things our way. So….following the kids’ paradigm – make friends first and then have an adventure building your castle!

Kids don’t always need big expensive toys to keep them entertained. In fact oftentimes they have the most fun when they find their own entertainment often with the most basic of ‘toys’ – a rock, or a stick, or a tree, or some other everyday artefact. How often do we see more elaborate toys abandoned in favour of some of the simpler offerings? This is also a significant lesson for us in organisations. Most often the simpler the approach and the process the more successful it will be. If we follow this example then we should strive as hard as possible to make things as simple as possible.

The final element of childlike behaviour that we would do well to emulate is the way kids are enthralled with the wonderment of the small things, of beautiful things, of things new, of magic and mystery and fun. Play is such an important part of becoming human. Why is it that we encourage play to stop and for everything in life to become serious and burdensome. Why can we not make work playful and fun?! Kids often live in fantasy worlds; kids dream big dreams about the future. We should not forget to do this and then do whatever we can to translate these dreams into reality for the good of all.

We need to rejuvenate and regain our wonder and joy of the world of which we are part. We need to make sure that work is fun. We need to play so that we can become progressively more adept at dealing with the world around us and we need to work hard to make friends out of strangers!
Tony Frost

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Some Important Trends to Think About

We are, according to the pundits, living the fourth industrial revolution. The information age is rapidly becoming history and we are now in the age of Big Data, the Internet of Things and of Virtual Reality. This collective will have a profound effect on our lives, the way we live and most definitely on the world of work.
It is said that there are only three certain things in life: Death, Taxes and Change. This article is about change and preparing for the changes that we inevitably have to meet, confront and manage as we walk down this Valley called Life.
Preparing and embracing change is halfway to making it work for you instead of it becoming a bogeyman that seems like the enemy.
So where do we start?
Handling change is much more of a mental issue than a physical one.
Having said that, however it is essential that we understand that the old maxim of “A healthy mind in a healthy body” is particularly important in the context of change! So getting yourself into a routine of exercise is a very healthy and productive way to prepare yourself to deal with the pressures of change. Exercise produces the most excellent, and healthiest happiness drug, serotonin, as a by-product. So, exercise away! But please just have a health check before you start if you have not exercised vigorously for a while. You will find that as you become fitter your concentration will improve, your stamina will improve and your resilience in the phase of difficulties will improve.
Now that we have established that a fit, healthy body makes you better prepared and more resilient let us take a look at what else you could be doing to transport yourself happily into the new age that awaits us:
 Try to get into nature as often as possible, and not just for a few hours! Really clever companies are now actively learning from nature and producing products that mimic what they have found in nature. Nature has a wonderful way of reducing stress levels and creating an inner peace that is difficult if not impossible to find elsewhere. But you have to submit to the power of the natural world and this requires time. There are many ways of doing this: Visit the bush; paddle out so sea: run in the forest; cycle on open wild trails.
 Forget about the idea of retirement. And try to persuade your company to revisit their notion of retirement and retirement age. These are really outmoded concepts especially since we are living longer and with much more health than ever in the history of the world and this trend is unlikely to change. It will not necessarily mean that you continue doing what you are doing but is does mean that you are preparing yourself for another new career doing something different, meaningful and useful. You have much to offer when you reach this time of life. You undoubtedly have earned a Ph.D. at the University of Life! Surely this wisdom is worth sharing!
 Surround yourself with positive people. Dump those who are negative and can see no good in the world. These negativists and nay-sayers will make you tired and depressed. Leave them to deal with life as they see fit, but they are no good for you. Be realistic, but live with hope! Share your sense of wonder and hope with everyone. It will also help you to focus on all that is good in the world, and there is much!
 Join or create a group that embraces the changes; that works hard at learning what they mean, how best to embrace them, make them meaningful and exciting instead of daunting and scary. By immersing yourself in this circle and cycle of learning you will see all sorts of new possibilities in the world that open up new opportunities for you and the wisdom you have developed during your life.
Do not put these steps off for some future date because actually the future starts right now!

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Blonds have more fun!

How often have you heard this exclamation?!
There are a few fundamental issues relating to it that have relevance in the world of organisations and the way we relate to each other. Let us unpack it a bit.
First of all, why is this kind of comment uttered in the first place? Generally we make these kinds of comments out of envy. We feel that others have it better than we do and feel a sense of unfairness. These comments are seldom based in fact; and are most often emotion driven.
Secondly, these statements reflect our own sense of inadequacy, and sometimes, loss. We wish that we could be different, have more, be more. These are all unrealistic.
Oftentimes comments like these are nothing more than wish-fulfilment fantasies.
Be these all as they may. Perceptions are often, maybe even always, our reality.
Why is it that we always strive to be more, want more, be different?
This is the nub of the issue.
It is a huge issue inside organisations because people spend an inordinate amount of time comparing their positions to those of others in the organisation. And we do it in families too. Brothers complain that sisters have it much easier; sisters complain that brothers are spoilt. You have heard these haven’t you?
The reality has a lot to do with the brainwashing we are subjected by the media and society around us. Look at any magazine, print or electronic, and it will be trying to tell us what we should eat, drink, drive, wear, which parties we should attend and where we should have holidays. And social media exacerbates the process so much more. These in themselves are not the evil. It is what we do with them that turns them into evil.
Each of us is uniquely privileged. There is not another soul of the roughly 8 billion people on the planet who has an identical replica DNA to our own. We are truly, each of us, one of a kind. However we are also herding animals. We are gregarious. We need others to affirm who we are and to reflect back to us our unique importance. It is these elements of our togetherness that drive us to strive to be what we are not. Even amongst those animals that we recognise as natural herders, like Zebra, each Zebra is unique with its very own configuration of stripes.
One of the wonders of our world is our diversity. Why then do we do all that we can to diminish it rather than to revel in it and to learn from it so that we can all, collectively and individually, be the very best that we can be?! Why do we make very attempt to lump all of “them” together when there is really no “them” in the first place?
Imagine a rugby team with only short guys in it; or only those who 2 metres tall or taller? What kind of game would unfold? How interesting would it be? What would happen to the game itself?
Each of us has unique capabilities. The very best that we can be requires that focus on and strengthen our own uniquenesses and not try to be like others. In our modern uber-connected world this is a difficult ask! But our most important contribution; our highest recognition; the source of the most personal fulfilment and satisfaction will come from being as much our unique selves as we can possibly muster.
We need to look to ourselves to recognise our unique, one-of-kind talents and strengths that we can offer to our team, organisation, family, community and then figure out how we can deploy those to best effect by being the very best that we can be at whatever it is that we can be.
Avoid the temptation of copying others because it seems like the sexy thing to do. There is no doubt that being the best at who we are is much more sustainable and much more exciting for all concerned in the long run.
Tony Frost

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Autumn is the Season for Cleaning out the Cupboard

Like the waning and waxing of the Moon there is a time to grow and burn bright and there is a time to slow down and take things a little more quietly. These are to be found in all parts of our cosmos. It is the way of Nature; the natural rhythm of life.
Is it not strange that we resist this?
Is it not somewhat bizarre that our lives are oriented towards acquiring things often with no more of an incentive than the need to own them?
Why is it that we feel the need to be continuously on full charge going forward except for whatever leave period we allow ourselves instead of running in rhythm with the natural world?
How come organisations are so good at starting new things but not very good at getting rid of old things?
Perhaps it is the fear of losing out? Or just plain old habit? We get so used to the way things are that we don’t even consider getting rid of stuff, or changing direction.
Who knows?
So we would like to look at the possibilities of cleaning out our cupboards literally and figuratively in a way that contributes to a more positive future, and in manner which fits with the natural rhythms of the world.
There are probably only two ways of tackling this:
 Just start somewhere with anything and then keep going until you either feel exhausted or until you have exhausted all the immediately available options.
 Or consider what the end result would look like and feel like in a perfect world.
You can make up your own mind which will be the most effective in the long run although both will probably work for in the short term.
It will be much more effective however and you will enjoy better long term benefits if you take the long view from the beginning and spend some time thinking about what end result you would most like to achieve.
When you build a home it is unlikely that you will start with the roof! You would usually conceptualise the whole structure within the environment and context in which it is to be located. In the process we would decide on what sort of roof we want; what design; and what it should be made of.
The best way to tackle your organisation, your own life and indeed the cupboards and garage and storage facility is to follow the same path to the end result. What is it that you want at the end? Or put alternatively: Why do you need to clean out the cupboard?
There can be a host of answers to this question!
Many, maybe even most, organisations undertake a regular strategic review of their business and products. This is good and well. Seldom is there a conscious cleaning out. Usually it is aimed at what we can do better, more efficiently, more productively…….what can we do more of at lower cost.
What would you do if you were to start the company now knowing what you know about it and the market place it serves? What would you do differently? What would you not do at all? How would the company be configured? These are the questions that are very difficult to confront but are all very necessary for the long term viability, vigour and sustainability of the organisation.
And if get into the habit of making these clean-outs to form part of the natural rhythm of the business, of your life, you will create space to grow and be innovative instead of being burdened by the baggage of the past!
Tony Frost

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Make Time to Think

Years ago I had the pleasure and privilege of spending some time chatting with Professor Charles Handy one of the most prominent management and organisational philosophers of all time.
He is famous for many important ideas that now permeate the organisational dialogue as though it has always been there.
One that resonates particularly strongly at this time is his idea that “a company ought to be a community, a community that you belong to, like a village. Nobody owns a village. You are a member and you have rights.” This is a powerful idea and one buried deeply in the DNA of all of us. People have lived in villages for millennia while companies have only been around for a couple of centuries. Some villages have grown into cities while others have disappeared off the landscape. There are, of course, many contributing factors but the concept of the village and the villagers taking care of their own is a powerful one. One that many organisations today would do well to pay attention to.
One of the biggest dangers for people at all levels but particularly those at executive level is the trap of busy-ness. The intense focus on ‘working’ hours; the virtual requirement to work beyond normal working hours; the expectation that you should take calls and respond to emails at any hour of the day or week is just that – it is a trap. Expecting people to Work harder and harder is self-defeating. It forces people to abandon rational behaviour and put themselves, their colleagues and the company at risk. Exhausted, over-worked, burnt-out, busy people begin to make mistakes, to take short cuts and these are all the start of the steady downhill spiral.
Of course there are times when long hours and intense focus and concentration are required, but these should not be the norm because if it is then the organisation is increasingly deprived of its most powerful resource – the thinking power, innovativeness, and resourcefulness of its people. Tired people cannot perform at the top of their game for a sustained period. Just watch any sportsman or -woman and you will see this to be true.
Tim Cohen wrote an article in Financial Mail March 9 2016. He was commenting on the demise of Anglo American and quoted an Anglo insider as saying: “It’s so odd, Trahar worked hugely hard, but didn’t take enough time to just think. Nicky Oppenheimer really didn’t expend much effort, but did find time to think. In the end, the difference was immense”.
In conversations that I had with Handy he made similar comments indicating that executives in whatever business who consciously did not put time aside for thinking inevitably would be left behind and their businesses, or parts of a business, would suffer.
As a consultant I see this often. There is such a focus on delivery now that sight is lost of the future coming at us like tsunamis and at an ever-increasing speed. Often it would be much wiser to stop the train, consider the future and context and to make long term decisions that have at least the possibility of avoiding the tsunami, and maybe even the chance of harnessing its energy. Just battening down the hatches and waiting for it to pass could well leave you worse off than before its arrival!
It is all very well to just think you may well say. Random thinking is also not going to be very productive. If you add to this mix that very few of us have actually been taught to think and to use tried and tested thinking skills it becomes a little like shutting the individual in a light-tight room and switching off the lights. You can see nothing and do not have any idea of which direction to walk in.
The starting point of thinking time is to focus on an issue and to imagine the perfect end result of whatever that issue is. Once you have that perfect and ideal picture in your mind work back from there imagining again all the steps that you would have to take to get back from the future to where you are now. Do that a few times and it is highly likely that new doors of opportunity will begin to open.
So thinking time is not just random thoughts floating in your head, it is the intense use of dedicated time to think about the future and how to get there.
You can do this with your team. It makes for a wonderful team-building experience.
Imagine your company as the world leader?! What does it look like? How do we get there if we plan back from the future?
It definitely cannot happen unless you make time to think.
As Einstein said: “The height of insanity is to expect anything to be different if you repeat the things you do today again tomorrow and the day after that again and again. If you want something to be different tomorrow you have to change what you are doing today”!

Tony Frost

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Tips for Leaders for 2017

2017 will be interesting!
It is going to be a year of change, uncertainty, politicking, and opportunity.
It might be possible to say that about most years but let us consider just some of the activities that will affect us both at home and abroad.
Globally there will be change.
Trump will bring his own form of unpredictable dynamism to bear on World affairs; we have not seen even half of the impact that Brexit will have economically and politically, not only on Europe but also on our own country and its neighbours; we are in a year of elections and election fever both in our own country, on the continent and abroad.
Our economy teeters on a knife edge.
It has often been said that killing poverty will be done by the growth of small businesses and not by big corporates and certainly not by government. Indeed we have seen in our own country how government has done much to hamper and even smother business at all levels but especially small business.
But…..there are encouraging signs of positive growth. Commodity prices have been moving upwards – this is a sure sign that the big economies are starting to grow again; civil society is becoming more and more vocal and is not prepared to be quiet when politicians and others behave badly; our press remains vocal and alert; there is significant evidence to suggest that here and overseas more and more of the important work of growing the country is being devised and executed at local level while the politicians and bureaucrats in the centre fiddle. These are good signs and creative opportunities for communities and individuals to engage and grow.
So, here are some things we can do in 2017 to grow and develop ourselves, our society and our economy.

1. Fix your Mindset; Have a Clear Vision of the Future
There is little more demeaning and self-defeating than a victim mentality! When one listens to the public discourse it often seems that we South Africans are increasingly becoming whingers and the victims of politics, the economy, crime, others who do not like us (they and them), our neighbours, other countries, the police and on and on. How does this help?
If you fix your mindset and consider what you can do to change just the space around you positively, you will at the same time be helping your community, yourself and the country. You will be creating opportunities and this is what our country needs more than anything.
Have a sense of hope, spread this hope and be joyful about life. It really is worth living!

2. Be Courageous
Leadership can be lonely but does not have to be!
Courage is required to lead, certainly, but the rewards are worth the effort especially if you work hard at surrounding yourself with like-minded people who also want to make change happen in a positive way. The intrinsic essence of leadership is to take people on a journey that they would probably not have thought of themselves but become excited by the journey itself and the destination you have defined with them. It is important to constantly challenge yourself and your team to seek new, different and better outcomes that benefit most. It has often been said that the happiest people are not those who have the most money but those who focus on doing as much as they can for others.
In fact, what may be true about great wealth is that it enables one to be unhappy in comfort!

3. Make Creativity your Centrepoint
If ever there was time for innovativeness and creativity it is now and it is especially necessary in the South Africa of today.
We CANNOT leave the future to the politicians. We know they are incapable and probably also unwilling to really work hard at creating a better future for all. This has become increasingly the domain of the private sector and civil society. Even the government when it is in real trouble calls on the private sector and civil society for help. This does not mean that we should exclude the government. No, indeed the opposite is true. We must take the lead and include, engage and involve government in building a better society for all.
Just to be clear – society starts with you. You are the centrepoint of all of society that is relevant to you so do not start your journey looking to others to provide direction for the things that are important to you. Start with yourself and engage those that want to travel the journey with you and as the journey progresses involve all the relevant stakeholders in your journey to make it a success. We need successes to share!
4. Persevere!
There is no way you would be able to summit Mount Everest unless you are prepared to persevere, hang in there, keep going. Especially when the going gets rough and tough!
It is in conditions like this that leadership really counts. Leadership is about leading. It is what leaders are called to do.
As a leader your job is to make things happen.
As a leader the most important resource you have is your team and in tough times one of your most critical jobs is inculcate this attitude of persevering against all odds. This they will do more successfully and with more determination if you continually fill them with the lightness of hope.
It is the hope of reaching the summit that has kept mountaineers going when the odds seem to be totally stacked against them.

5. Spread the Love
There is too much animosity in the world. We are all too angry about too much. Some of us are angry but we are not sure what we are angry with, or at, or about.
We really need to change this mindset. Anger is a useless emotion which usually leads nowhere, other than to some negative end. Why continue with something that offers no benefit in modern society?
We all, and especially leaders need to find ways to love and to spread this sense of love and caring as widely and as vigorously as possible. We need to build a society that looks for opportunities to be of service to others. We need an attitude of abundance as this will lead to a greater propensity to share generously, of our time, expertise and resources.
6. Live and Work IN the World
The world is truly a village. But it is a village of increasing complexity which simultaneously becomes more accessible and more opaque; bigger and smaller; faster and slower; closer and further.
Without education it must feel like a world of chaos. Even with education it is often extremely difficult to understand. And yet it is our world. It is critical that we are part of it; just as it is part of us. We cannot escape from this globalised world. It is all encompassing. We can benefit and find opportunities by working hard at looking at what the world wants and needs; and avoid looking only at the needs and wants of our village, or our country.
Be sure to be a world citizen.
7. Make sure you Stand for Something
Far too many of us concentrate on being busy. It is almost as though we believe that busyness will bring its own rewards. This may be so on occasions, or for periods of time. But busyness on its own will inevitably lead to disaster. At the end of one’s life no-one will ever ask what we were busy at; instead they will talk about what we represented; what we stood for. Make sure that you are standing for important principles; important values; important ends. These are the things that make for positive change in society. Think of global icons – Mandela, Mother Theresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Desmond Tutu. All of these individuals are known way beyond their singular area of activity or interest because of what they stood for. What do you stand for?

2017 lies ahead. It will be full of twists and turns, ups and downs. It is within your power to make it a great year of change and renewal for yourself; just as the world itself will be doing this anyway!
Tony Frost