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New Beginnings – an essential part of sustainable leadership

New beginnings are an essential component of leadership life. Indeed leadership is about creating new beginnings over and over on a sustainable basis

It is what leaders must create in times of crisis, when things need a shake up and especially when things are going well. The last category is the most neglected because when things are going very well most people become either complacent or arrogant or both. When things are going well is precisely the time to think about making changes to position the organization effectively to catch the next wave to be even more successful.

Change doesn’t always come at one in a planned and orderly fashion! There are so many events and occurrences around us that are proof of this!
What is critical in almost every case of beginning something new is to approach it from the vantagepoint of are re-inventing oneself to make the future much better than the past and how to make these new beginnings work for us.

Beginning something new is always a little strange, sometimes even frightening.
But just imagine life without regular new beginnings! Strange they may be, but they are also the essence of life. Without these beginnings there would be nothing!
Our world began with a massive new beginning……. A great deal of energy, of excitement, of newness, wide-eyed breathless newness. A creation that must have started with the tiniest seed of an idea. It turned into something truly beyond human comprehension and absolutely awesome.
Each of us started our own lives in much the same way. Imagine for a moment back to that special time when our parents held us, tiny and helpless, in their hands for the first time and in gazed on in absolute wonderment.

Our personal beginnings can be the same. They hold the promise of so much. All journeys, no matter how they start, no matter how long or short; pleasant or dangerous start with a beginning.
We need to make our beginning events of much more substance. We need to make them into events that become platforms that can sustain continual and renewable beginnings. This is the essence of positive change.
We mustn’t be prepared to change once.
We need to learn how to enjoy constant change. In this way new beginnings become the essence of life and not life threatening.
The difficult part of dealing with new beginnings is not the new, exciting, seductive part. The difficult part is learning how to unlearn the old things; the punishing paradigms of the past; the hopeless habits; the ruinous rules. Unless we learn how to unlearn these, the possibility of exciting new beginnings remains a fantasy.
The reality for us all to understand and to accept is that without dawn there is no new day, without beginning new things we basically commit ourselves to a slow and painful process of tortuous demise.
Most of us at some time or another have lain awake at night battling to sleep. The time that takes the longest to pass are those hours between midnight and sunrise. We long for first light. It seems to take so long to come. We shut our eyes and dawn sneaks up on us so stealthily that when it arrives we find it difficult to believe that it has finally arrived.
You look away and look back and there it is.
In all its glory!
Suddenly the flooding light of a new day, a new beginning is upon us. It floods us with hope, with relief. We realize that the morning sun is the symbol of hope. It is why we awake. It is the sign of all things good in the world. It represents the spreading arms of peace. It is our connection with the dark hours of yesterday.
It is out metaphor for tomorrow.
It is Life itself.
Without new beginnings there can be little hope!

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Resilience – We all need it!

Is there anyone who would not like to be more resilient? To have that capacity to bounce back when life appears to have turned its back on you and sent you unexpected curved balls? This is not about being Bear Grills tough, but about being able to handle the interminable and myriad daily stressors that test us and our resolve. I have been thinking about this issue for some time now but was prompted to write about it by a recent article on the subject in Time magazine.

Resilience is probably one of those characteristics that we would all like to have more of. It is a characteristic particularly important for leaders in every sphere of life and especially for parents in these days of uncertainty. We need to inculcate in our children that capacity to deal with whatever comes our way in a positive and determined manner.

This is no easy task. Some people are inherently more resilient than others but all of us can learn the skills and capacity to be more resilient; and recent research supports this.

There are a few key things we need to practice to be more resilient.

Firstly, when we were still roaming the plains we lived, loved and hunted in groups. We are social beings to our core. In those days loners simply did not survive so being social and gregarious is buried very deep in our DNA. Sometimes it seems that individuals have become more important than teams. This is a big mistake. Loners are lonely and often prone to psychological issues. The encouragement of individualism at the expense of the team is the wrong way to go. It puts unnatural pressure and stress on the individual, especially the talented individual, and dangerously makes him or her believe that they are more important than the team of which they are part.

Secondly, strong social connections are a really important part of your resilience armoury. In fact the more I think about it the more convinced I become of the importance of building long-term, enduring relationships for a whole host of reasons but not least of all to be available in times of stress to help us bounce back from the dark places we have landed in.

The way you respond to stress is at the heart of building a strong set of responses that enable you to bounce back and to deal with even the most unexpected and unfair blows life sometimes throws at you. We know that we are equipped to fight, flee or freeze in the face of danger. This is your natural stress response. What we need to do is to learn how to use this energy positively so as to recognise when it kicks in and how to deploy the energy in a healthy future-focussed way.

This may well be one of the reasons for the rising interest in extreme sports and the growing popularity in exercise. Scientists have shown that fit individuals handle stress much better than unfit people.

In the Fortune Top Companies survey CEOs indicated that a conscious culture is top of mind for their organisation’s success. Research has also shown that living consciously is significantly important to deal with and rebound from stressful situations and challenges.

We always urge those that participate in our team and leadership wilderness experiences to stay in the present and to be present. This avoids the necessity for ‘catch-up’ if and when the unexpected occurs as it often does in Big 5 country! The catch-up, even if it is just a few seconds, can be as stressful (or more so) than the event itself.

Another important factor recommended by Dennis Charney and Steve Southwick in their Book: Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges is the development of a strong set of ethical values to guide daily decision-making and behaviour. It is this last point that is apparently most absent in our leaders today; in virtually all levels of society but particularly amongst our political leaders. It is the rare politician who lives by and projects a clear set of values that others find easy to follow. In leadership this is a crucial component of success. The most ethical leaders are seen to stand for something clear, important and worth supporting. Those that tell people what they want to hear and then do the opposite merely confuse those for whom they are supposed to set the standards.

So what is it that we can all do to learn in order to recover quickly and positively from life’s challenges?

Espouse a strong set of clear values; develop a positive outlook; exercise regularly and test the limits of your fitness as part of this process; face your fears head-on; support others and reach out for support from others when you need it – remember you are a social being; develop your talents and strengths to the full because they are what define you. In life self-confidence is inextricably bound up with recognising and building on our strengths. It is really worthwhile to work on developing them to the full.

There is so much that we can do to be the best we can possibly be and it is so much better to do it in the company of others for whom we care and who we know care for us. The best of resilience has much to do with living our gregarious social and inherent collective consciousness to the full!

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The Business of Leadership is Relationships

Leadership is all about getting others to do what you want them to do and love it and preferably to think that it was their idea in the first place.

There have been millions of words written and spoken about leadership; and almost as many about what the business of business really is. Managing and leading organisational behaviour is all about creating collective action. Achieving this cannot happen without positive relationships. These relationships do not simply happen by chance. The best organisations spend great time and effort on creating corporate cultures that nurture positive relationships. Google for example ensure that people stand in a queue for their lunch and only provide long tables in the canteen to make sure that people rub shoulders and share lunch with those that they may never have even seen before. All of this in order to ensure that relationships are being built throughout the business.

Great effort is invested in building relationships to create mergers and acquisitions that work.

It was Winston Churchill, I believe, who said that you should keep friends close but you need to keep your enemies even closer. He also said that war always ends with talk and relationship-building. Why it that we don’t do this before the war is starts to prevent it from happening in the first place? I have paraphrased here, I know. But the lessons are clear.

The average organisation has multiple relationships but, obviously, some are more important to the business than others. These relationships do not depend on the business but rather on the people in it. The propensity to create and engage in building relationships will be nurtured or discouraged by the culture and leadership on the business.

If there is a deep understanding of the importance of relationships and the dependence of these on the culture and leadership then relationships will flourish. This will apply whether the relationships are with critical customers, employees or the trade unions.

The other critical aspect is to make sure that the people are properly equipped to understand the social dynamics and benefits of relationship-building.

These may seem to some to be small unimportant things; or worse that this warm and fuzzy stuff makes no contribution to the bottom line. This at best is confused thinking; and at worst cynicism of the most dangerous kind.

In our own country one need only look at Marikana (and other tragedies) to see the disastrous effects of ignoring, intentionally or unintentionally, the hard work of building positive relationships. And make no mistake, it is hard work. Good relationships do not just magically fall from the sky although we dream or even imagine that this could happen. It takes focussed, conscious and intentional work to make it happen.

All the world’s best organisations (and one would hope that this includes governments) claim loudly that people are their most important asset. It would be great to be able to believe this but unfortunately the reality paints a somewhat different picture. If this were so there would be much greater attention paid to the importance of people in getting things done and objectives achieved, instead of treating the employees as commodities to be bought and sold at will. There would be a much greater focus on treating them like the assets they truly are. Without people the organisation simply fails to exist. Without people the organisation is an organisation in name only. It requires at least one employee to open the door each morning; it requires an employee to switch on the computer; to operate the factory machine; to answer the telephone; to lead and manage the company and so on.

If employees were truly assets they would appear on the other side of the balance sheet and not be treated as costs but rather as investments. The appropriate amount would be spent on maintenance and development of these investments and a great deal of effort would be put into communicating effectively with them to ensure the very best return on investment.

This same attitude and approach should be shown to the other critical group of people – the clients. Without these two on board at the 100% level the business/organisation will always perform at the sub-optimal level.

Relationships are built on a give-and-take from both parties and not as one wag put it when describing his relationship with his erstwhile wife, “I give and she takes!”

The best relationships are about envisaging and building the future together using the skills, wisdom and expertise of both parties to make the picture bigger and brighter for all. This is where the work is. It takes courage and risk-taking. It needs both parties to be prepared to share and expose their vulnerabilities to and to figure out together how they can make the future the very best that it can be for everyone.

This is the true essence of making the future together!


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Wisdom is not for sale!

There is no business school or philosophy programme that offers a course in wisdom. In fact defining wisdom is itself something of a challenge.
Sometimes you will hear adults describing a child as having wisdom beyond his years without really being able to define what it is that makes them say that.
Wisdom is a little like riding a bicycle. You can spend days in lectures about the mechanics of the bicycle, its aerodynamics, the physiology of cycle exercise, the psychology of cycling, the biomechanics of the sport, handling a bicycle, and so on.
The reality though is that none of this will give you the ability to actually ride the bicycle.
In order to be able to ride one has to hoist one’s bottom onto the saddle, put your feet on the pedals, hold the handle grips and launch forth, often to fall off almost immediately. This will continue until one has mastered the art and wisdom of balance. This is something that no-one can teach one. It comes from studying at the University of Falling Off a Bicycle until you learn not to.
If you ask someone to describe balance they find it almost impossible to do so. They find it even more difficult to teach one how to balance.
Wisdom is the same. You cannot categorise, nor codify wisdom. It comes with experience, from exposing oneself to life’s trials, tribulations, challenges, joys, upsets, elations, sadnesses and successes.
What we can do though is to speed up the process of acquiring wisdom. The best way to do this is to provide the young with mentors. One of the biggest, most important, negative consequences of the dissolution of the extended family is the fact that the very young at best only have intermittent access to grandparents, aunts and uncles who, in the past would have given them the mentoring that is so valuable in the maturation process.
Today the young pretty much have to find their own way in life. A life that is hugely complex, is often ugly and one which abounds with many very visible poor role models.
This is where those that have lived life and are in their sunset period can play a massively important role in our society. They can take on the role of mentoring young people. They can provide a safe environment in which young people can explore their ideas and receive guidance on some of the most important and challenging issues they are confronted with every day.
We can bring the sunshine they so need in their lives. We can give them hope. We can build positive attitudes. We can help them acquire the most important skills they need to find their way on their journey through the valley of life. We can show them how the right values are much more important than great wealth, or fancy clothes and cars. We can show them how to really love life.
In short we have it in us to build a nation!
Tony Frost

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People Make Strategy Work!

We are often called in to facilitate strategic planning sessions.

Of course we are happy to do this but this is not our primary interest. We want to see the implementation of the plans not just their development. Too often I have seen brilliant strategic plans end up as nothing more than that – a brilliant, but sterile plan. I have even seen executive teams haul out last year’s plan, put together at great cost because the team spent a few days at a luxury resort producing it, only to find that very little planned had actually seen the light of day! This is a travesty.

The second strategy planning sin, and arguably, even more damaging is that the plan is never shared with all the people in the organisation. This virtually guarantees that nothing will happen.

Plans without people are nothing more than academic exercises.

It is people that turn a sterile plan into energy, excitement and action.

For a plan to reach full fruition part of the planning process, a large part, should be the active planning to engage all the people at all levels of the organisation in its implementation.

This is critical. It is also the most exciting part of the entire process.

When people at every level have bought into the plan and are giving passionate effect to it success is so much more likely. The enthusiasm and keenness to help is palpable.

This is why spreading the message and tactics that comprise the strategy is so important. It creates meaning for people at work. They ‘get’ the reason why it is a great idea to be friendly and helpful; they understand in detail why their personal role is important; they appreciate that the work that they do is valued and valuable; they understand that they do make a difference.

One of my major clients recently discovered the importance of this at first hand, and quite dramatically. We were debating why the executive team should be trusted by the people. We decided to run a very simple test – we asked the Financial Director, there and then, to go and ask the receptionist what the leadership team had to do to earn the trust of the people. He went, rather nervously, and eventually returned. He explained that he had first to ask the lady her name so that he could engage in conversation with her. Her response to his question was that no-one would trust the executive if the only way they communicated with everyone was via e-mail and on PowerPoint presentations! They want personal face-to-face communication. They want to know the executive team.

What a wake-up call! People all over the world want visible personal leadership. They want leadership that shares with them honestly what is occurring in the organisation and what they can do to help to make it the very best that it can possibly be. Most people want to be part of a team and they want to contribute to its success.

They just need to be told how and why! Simple as that.

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Making Sense out of Chaos

We live in a world where the flow of data grows faster and more intense with each passing day. This flow is of such intensity, it travels so fast, is always immediately accessible and available, and there is so much of it that it is almost impossible for the mere mortal to make real sense out of it without some help. The media attempts, or purports, to assist with this. Often, though, instead of making more sense of it the result is more confusion. Why this is the case is clearly open for conjecture but perhaps it is because the media has to sell its wares to survive and the reality is that it is easier to sell sensation than cold and sober assessment of the facts and a calm analysis and presentation of the potential cause and consequences of a particular event or trends of circumstances. Be that as it may. What does the leader do to make meaning out of the world for those that he leads? The question is simple; the answer, somewhat more complicated. Let us assume that the leader’s intentions are good and honourable. We all know that this is not the case with all leaders. We have some real and current examples of where leaders have manipulated, distorted, managed, controlled and filtered information to their own selfish ends. Inevitably, though, the truth will out and those leaders have discovered that theirs was not the wisest route to take. Let us unpack the development of information flow from mere data to the achievement of wisdom. The sheer quantum of stuff that arrives can be somewhat overwhelming. Most of what assails our ears and eyes is really just that- stuff. This is data that is mostly meaningless without an adequate context. It adds little value to our lives and mostly we either just ignore it or discard it after the most cursory glance. It is only when this data gains some context that it becomes meaningful and turns into information. Information has some use but it is only when we begin to really use the information that becomes knowledge and therefore capable of adding value to our lives. Ii is only after experimenting with the knowledge, failing to use it successfully, trying again, finding new ways of applying it and internalising it to make it inescapably part of who we are, part of our personal brand, that we finally arrive at a point where it is recognisable as wisdom. There is no way to teach wisdom. It can only be learnt at the University of Life and after a great deal of churning. This is the knowledge journey that leaders need to understand in order to be able to apply their minds as to how they can assist those that they lead to deal effectively with the information overload to which we are all subjected. Let us summarise the causes of the overload: The sheer weight of apparently meaningless data projected at us each minute of every day; the pressure to respond to everything is compelling; the inability of many people to be able to prioritise creates massive time pressures which cannot easily be resolved; there is an expectation on behalf of the sender that a response will be almost instantaneous; the social pressure to empty the inbox everyday is huge; the pressure to join an increasing number of social and other networking sites is tremendous; the pressure to acquire newer technology which allows even more instantaneous connections grows by the day! What is the leader to do? It is critical that he is sure of himself and what he stands for. He must create a very clear value system that makes understanding what he stands for clear and unequivocal. He must prioritise and spend his time on important issues, which is not the same as spending his time on urgent issues. He must create a framework and context that ensures that people know what the boundaries are. He must be visible. He must engage. This means being out and about and amongst the people he leads. This is not easy to do via cyber technology. The great Steve Jobs was big on his townhall meetings precisely because he recognised the power of personal contact. He must humanise his organisation. There is so much else in the world that causes the dehumanisation of organisations. If he does this successfully he will have created a prism for all those that he leads to filter the information deluge. This will empower them to use that which is useful and to discard the meaningless and uselessly time-consuming He will have created the power of focus!

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Leadership is a Journey!

Leadership is a Journey

In a discussion with Greg Faasen who runs an excellent business focussing on teamwork and leadership he made two very telling points:

  1. Leadership and the skills associated with leadership are a constantly evolving journey for those in leadership positions whether they like it or not, and;
  2. No team game has ever been won by an individual.

I am sure there will immediately be comments particularly about the second point like:”Ja, but what about Pat Lambie’s last minute 55 meter kick that helped the Springboks to beat the All Blacks for the first time in ages?”

There is only one sensible retort to comments like that: Was it not a huge team effort that ensured that the Springboks were within winning distance in those last few moments? Of course! And it required focussed attention from every individual in the team for all of a gruelling and intense 80 minutes to make sure that that indeed was the case.

The fact that we need to internalise is that no player has ever won or lost a team game. It requires the whole team for this to happen.

And let us examine the first point. Leadership is always a journey. This same game of rugby has taught us that over and over. As have all other forms of human activity.

Last week the Springboks were heroes. They had just beaten the World’s number 1 team. This week they have learned that leadership is tough and every week, every day it requires those in leadership positions to actively learn new skills. When you are striving to beat the World’s number 1 team you require a particular mind-set and determination. When you are learning to live with the reality of what you have achieved you will require a different mind-set and determination. Our Springboks were outstanding on the first count; they obviously still have much to learn on the second count.

There are two really important learning points from this example:

  1. When you are leader you need to remember that leadership is an extremely fragile condition. It is not a right; there are no guarantees; you do not own the position, and you are merely the custodian until you hand the baton to someone else. You had better learn to learn every minute of the day if you wish to maintain and improve your leadership position. You have very limited control over the position because it does not belong to you. It belongs to those that you lead and therefore crucial to your longevity in the position is the integrity with which you lead and the trust that you have earned from those that believe in you while doing so.
  2. Absolutely essential to cementing your position as leader is your ability to knit the group of individuals into a close-knit team who see themselves first and foremost as a team and only secondly as individuals with special and diverse skills, experience and knowledge. They need to understand that this combination of capabilities and competencies really only have value and currency if they are applied in a focussed and intentional way for the good and well-being of the team. Outside of that context they will have currency but of diminished importance. Consider the Pat Lambie example again. Would he have had the opportunity to be hero if he had been playing for another team? How long would it

take for him to earn the confidence of his new team mates to be given similar opportunities. Obviously the more talented the individual the quicker the opportunities would be given. However, there are plenty of examples, too, where talented individuals have not been able to find their rhythm, to earn their place in the confidence of the team, and to perform at the same level when they move from one team to another.

Leadership and teamwork are so closely dependent on each other that it does not make sense to separate them except to analyse the needs and activities of both to better understand what it is we need to do to make both perform more effectively.

Leaders have a crucial role to play in every element of our lives and especially in the life of the team of which they are a part. They only are a part of the team; they are not the team. Many leaders forget this.

The team can only be effective if their sole focus is on the needs and objectives of the team and not on the wants and desires of an individual, no matter how talented he or she may be. More teams have fallen apart because of the influence of one selfish individual than one would care to think about!


Tony Frost



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