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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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Courage – a must for leaders!

One of the most neglected elements in the discussions of, and writings about, great leadership is the issue of courage.

It is this element which is mostly missing in leadership in our country and indeed in the world today. Where are the Ghandis, Churchills, Mandelas of the world today? We are lucky to have the amazing Archbishop Desmond Tutu who continues, in his advancing years, to stand up for what is right and to defy the government on important moral and ethical issues. But having said that there is a severe dearth of courage amongst those who claim to be our leaders.

One of the fundamental differentiators of great leadership is courage. Because it is so important let us unpack it a little.

Perhaps the greatest leader of all time Jesus Christ displayed the ultimate in courage by being prepared to die for his people and for the principles that are still at the heart of the Christian religion some 2000 years later. What would Christianity be today without this ultimate sacrifice?!

When Mandela was given his moment in Court he made his statement about being prepared to fight and, if necessary, to die for the principles he had espoused and which today are enshrined in the South African Constitution.

What do these two amazing examples tell us about leadership?

Firstly, leadership is not about popularity. In fact it has very little to do with popularity and many (maybe even most) politicians confuse these two. Leadership has mostly do with standing for important principles and it has to do with communicating these principles and values very clearly. It has to do with making sure that these are immutable and non-negotiable. This takes courage. It especially takes courage when the odds are stacked against you and it seems that all your friends have deserted you as was the case at the trial of Christ.

Secondly, let us look at what this thing we call courage is all about.

If you question anyone who has shown courage they will confirm that they were frightened. Even He who was able to rise from the dead showed fear in His last moments when he called on God and asked why He had been forsaken.

There is no shame in being frightened.

Courage is certainly not the absence of fear. Rather it is the recognizing, confronting, understanding and knowing that fear; even making it your friend that is the essence of courage.

Once you recognize, know and befriend it, you can begin to use the energy it will provide.

As Mandela said, “Often our greatest fear is the fear of unleashing our full potential. It is this fear that prevents us from being the best that we can be”.

One really needs to get to know oneself, to appreciate and recognize one’s talent to begin to be able to summon the courage to use this energy; to use one’s talent for all to see and experience.

It takes courage to risk this exposure, the possibility of being rejected, and then to try, and try, and try again.

Courage is the ability to see beyond the current terrifying situation to the place, the situation for which one is striving. It is courage which earns the respect of those who have placed their trust in you and it is courage which causes them to trust, respect and believe in you and what you stand for. No grandstanding, no nice speeches, no presents, no public relations strategies and no advertisements can ever replace the power of sheer courage!

Scaling the peaks of one’s own Mount Everest of fear, emotionally and physically, is arguably one of life’s most exciting, most exhilarating journeys!

And the prize is incalculable!

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Creating fulfilment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tony Frost


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tony Frost

VUCA preparedness, anticipation, evolution and intervention

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tony Frost


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It’s climate change, of course!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The future is truly in our hands!

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

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

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

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

How does one manage this effectively?

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

Is this technology really ‘social’?

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

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

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

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

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


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