When I was still engaged in corporates in a conventional sort of way, i would open the year with a nice wrap up of the previous year followed by a sense of what is coming in the current year and most importantly first Quarter. I always assumed every leader did this sort of thing though my experience has been some of the people i worked with/ worked for did not bother.
So, without letting out too much around my own views of the space i occupy now versus those days, i will attempt to do the same combining my official, personal, social activities and moments in between to review 2015 as well as what is to come in 2016. These will be shared over a series of posts themed #2015Reminiscence to thread the various moments together.
Enjoy as you share in my my journey.
This article is a collection of thoughts from a time in my life when I was in what I call the wilderness period which I happened to also share on micro blogging site, Twitter and Facebook social media platforms. Excuse the apparent editorial poetic justice taken, this was a “dream” broken into single thoughts congested into 140 characters at a time.
Its a call for a moment to pause and ponder. To stop and think hard about the South Africa of our dreams. A South Africa of Biko, of Hani and many other heroes that died for the country to become such, a colourful nation. Its a call for us to think hard. It is not a prophesy, neither is it an indication of political preference. I hope you enjoy reading as much as I enjoyed “dreaming”.
As I pause (for now), I put it out there as an appeal to all proud South Africans in politics, civil society, education, health and business. That one day, the country will use its skills and talents for the betterment of its citizens regardless of political affiliation (read slates). Despite all its level of malfunction and misdirection at times, I still have a dream that one day this nation will rise to its founding creed (the freedom charter)
We all should ask ourselves: what would it take for South Africa’s young heart to start imagining and doing? For us to move away from polarization where everything is arranged according to race and or class. Where the system does not make rape something to be ashamed of but instead protecting the victims and harshly dealing with the criminals. Where well meaning men and women don’t spend time lamenting the sickness that has become our society. Where the men of our nation don’t rape their women and children and rather protect them.
In my dream, we (both public and private sectors) served a nation with pride. We saw the opportunity to serve rather than an obligation. Unemployment was lowest in the world and history and the few unemployed were fed, educated and their health taken care of. We lived the ubuntu ethics of ancient Africa. No teenage pregnancies and no abortion laws…there was no need.
In my beautiful native land we had the most sophisticated medical facilities with cancer, TB and infant mortality the lowest in the world. Under Madam Prez no woman worked worked in fear of being raped, no child knew abuse and anyone who dared to dream could thrive without fear of political favour.
South Africa’s president, Mama Prez as we affectionately called her as, epitomized integrity, statesmanship, and the true spirit of ubuntu.When my president spoke, the world stopped and took note…for she was the mouthpiece of the world and represented well.
Having a great idea, and assembling a team to bring that concept to life is the first step in creating a successful business venture. While finding a new and unique idea is rare enough; the ability to successfully execute this idea is what separates the dreamers from the entrepreneurs. However you see yourself, whatever your age may be, as soon as you make that exciting first hire, you have taken the first steps in becoming a powerful leader. When money is tight, stress levels are high, and the visions of instant success don’t happen like you thought, it’s easy to let those emotions get to you, and thereby your team. Take a breath, calm yourself down, and remind yourself of the leader you are and would like to become. Here are some key qualities that every good leader should possess, and learn to emphasize.
Whatever ethical plane you hold yourself to, when you are responsible for a team of people, its important to raise the bar even higher. Your business and its employees are a reflection of yourself, and if you make honest and ethical behavior a key value, your team will follow suit.
As we do at Onevest, the crowdfunding platform for entrepreneurs and small businesses I co-founded, try to make a list of values and core beliefs that both you and your brand represent, and post this in your office. Promote a healthy interoffice lifestyle, and encourage your team to live up to these standards. By emphasizing these standards, and displaying them yourself, you will hopefully influence the office environment into a friendly and helpful workspace.
Ability to Delegate
Finessing your brand vision is essential to creating an organized and efficient business, but if you don’t learn to trust your team with that vision, you might never progress to the next stage. Its important to remember that trusting your team with your idea is a sign of strength, not weakness. Delegating tasks to the appropriate departments is one of the most important skills you can develop as your business grows. The emails and tasks will begin to pile up, and the more you stretch yourself thin, the lower the quality of your work will become, and the less you will produce.
The key to delegation is identifying the strengths of your team, and capitalizing on them. Find out what each team member enjoys doing most. Chances are if they find that task more enjoyable, they will likely put more thought and effort behind it. This will not only prove to your team that you trust and believe in them, but will also free up your time to focus on the higher level tasks, that should not be delegated. It’s a fine balance, but one that will have a huge impact on the productivity of your business.
Knowing what you want accomplished may seem clear in your head, but if you try to explain it to someone else and are met with a blank expression, you know there is a problem. If this has been your experience, then you may want to focus on honing your communication skills. Being able to clearly and succinctly describe what you want done is extremely important. If you can’t relate your vision to your team, you won’t all be working towards the same goal.
Training new members and creating a productive work environment all depend on healthy lines of communication. Whether that stems from an open door policy to your office, or making it a point to talk to your staff on a daily basis, making yourself available to discuss interoffice issues is vital. Your team will learn to trust and depend on you, and will be less hesitant to work harder.
Sense of Humor
If your website crashes, you lose that major client, or your funding dries up, guiding your team through the process without panicking is as challenging as it is important. Morale is linked to productivity, and it’s your job as the team leader to instill a positive energy. That’s where your sense of humor will finally pay off. Encourage your team to laugh at the mistakes instead of crying. If you are constantly learning to find the humor in the struggles, your work environment will become a happy and healthy space, where your employees look forward to working in, rather than dreading it. Make it a point to crack jokes with your team and encourage personal discussions of weekend plans and trips. It’s these short breaks from the task at hand that help keep productivity levels high and morale even higher.
PADSTOW, UNITED KINGDOM – APRIL 21: A small d…
At Onevest, we place a huge emphasis on humor and a light atmosphere. Our office is dog friendly, and we really believe it is the small, light hearted moments in the day that help keep our work creative and fresh. One tradition that we like to do and brings the team closer is we plan a fun prank on all new employees, on their first day. It breaks the ice and immediately creates that sense of familiarity.
There may be days where the future of your brand is worrisome and things aren’t going according to plan. This is true with any business, large or small, and the most important thing is not to panic. Part of your job as a leader is to put out fires and maintain the team morale. Keep up your confidence level, and assure everyone that setbacks are natural and the important thing is to focus on the larger goal. As the leader, by staying calm and confident, you will help keep the team feeling the same. Remember, your team will take cues from you, so if you exude a level of calm damage control, your team will pick up on that feeling. The key objective is to keep everyone working and moving ahead.
If you expect your team to work hard and produce quality content, you’re going to need to lead by example. There is no greater motivation than seeing the boss down in the trenches working alongside everyone else, showing that hard work is being done on every level. By proving your commitment to the brand and your role, you will not only earn the respect of your team, but will also instill that same hardworking energy among your staff. It’s important to show your commitment not only to the work at hand, but also to your promises. If you pledged to host a holiday party, or uphold summer Fridays, keep your word. You want to create a reputation for not just working hard, but also be known as a fair leader. Once you have gained the respect of your team, they are more likely to deliver the peak amount of quality work possible.
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You want to keep your team motivated towards the continued success of the company, and keep the energy levels up. Whether that means providing snacks, coffee, relationship advice, or even just an occasional beer in the office, remember that everyone on your team is a person. Keep the office mood a fine balance between productivity and playfulness.
English: Think positive
If your team is feeling happy and upbeat, chances are they won’t mind staying that extra hour to finish a report, or devoting their best work to the brand.
Some decisions will not always be so clear-cut. You may be forced at times to deviate from your set course and make an on the fly decision. This is where your creativity will prove to be vital. It is during these critical situations that your team will look to you for guidance and you may be forced to make a quick decision. As a leader, its important to learn to think outside the box and to choose which of two bad choices is the best option. Don’t immediately choose the first or easiest possibility; sometimes its best to give these issues some thought, and even turn to your team for guidance. By utilizing all possible options before making a rash decision, you can typically reach the end conclusion you were aiming for.
When leading a team through uncharted waters, there is no roadmap on what to do. Everything is uncertain, and the higher the risk, the higher the pressure. That is where your natural intuition has to kick in. Guiding your team through the process of your day-to-day tasks can be honed down to a science. But when something unexpected occurs, or you are thrown into a new scenario, your team will look to you for guidance. Drawing on past experience is a good reflex, as is reaching out to your mentors for support. Eventually though, the tough decisions will be up to you to decide and you will need to depend on your gut instinct for answers. Learning to trust yourself is as important as your team learning to trust you.
Ability to Inspire
Creating a business often involves a bit of forecasting. Especially in the beginning stages of a startup, inspiring your team to see the vision of the successes to come is vital. Make your team feel invested in the accomplishments of the company. Whether everyone owns a piece of equity, or you operate on a bonus system, generating enthusiasm for the hard work you are all putting in is so important. Being able to inspire your team is great for focusing on the future goals, but it is also important for the current issues. When you are all mired deep in work, morale is low, and energy levels are fading, recognize that everyone needs a break now and then. Acknowledge the work that everyone has dedicated and commend the team on each of their efforts. It is your job to keep spirits up, and that begins with an appreciation for the hard work.
According to Collins et al, there are five attributes that typify a true Leader:
They are self-confident enough to set up their successors for success.
They are humble and modest.
They have “unwavering resolve.”
They display a “workmanlike diligence – more plow horse than show horse.”
They give credit to others for their success and take full responsibility for poor results.
They “attribute much of their success to ‘good luck’ rather than personal greatness.”
It is my wish that the dangerously risky task of leading humanity continues to draw on the strength that is heart leadership and all efforts will be expended to cultivate and nurture such through this medium.
Andre Malraux one said, to command is to serve, nothing more and nothing less. I am often perplexed at how much those of us in positions of influence (structurally speaking) miss the mark in terms of what the art of leadership is especially in direct comparison to those without the formal positions of influence.
As often mentioned, I am firm a believer in leadership being a state of being rather than what we do. In other words who we are comes before what we do. It is in the moments when the formal power layers have been taken off that we see the real person. Sometimes the titles we are formally given make us not be who we are and thus rob the world of an opportunity to experience the greatness we are.
One thing I have come to appreciate is that leadership begins with the heart. A heart that is consistent in allowing the leader to live steadily while moving among the team. A heart that is contrite enough to allow humility and willingness to show humanity regardless of who witnesses it. A type of heart that is courageous enough to chart the right path without shrinking from doing the right thing.
A leader should be able to communicate his/her convictions regardless of what the implications. We have many great examples of those who led with conviction (our very own Madiba, Ghandi, Marcus Garvey, Patrice Lumumba, Martin Luther King and others are often referred to in this context).
They are committed to a course regardless of how unpopular that may be. And finally they are totally captivated by what they believe in so much so that it matters not if that survives them (being ready to die for an idea that will live than live for an idea that will die).
This makes the task of leading people quite risky as we can never really tell how we are perceived by others and therefore in a manner of speaking, “putting ourselves out there” could be in actual fact providing evidence that we cannot be trusted. For instance, a politician goes on a podium and declares that they care nothing about themselves, and all they do (including running for office) is driven by a deep sense of care for the people (something we hear all the time). They maybe saying that with the hope that they are convincing beyond shadow of a doubt. Furthermore, they maybe also hope that the audience does not include individuals who know facts that prove to the contrary.
No matter how upright a leader may strive to live their life, if they are genuine, there will always be self conscious: “did anyone see me last night?” “Does anyone in this audience recognize me from university days?” “Did people really believe that I meant everything I said?” “Will they support this new direction given the track record of the leadership team?” This constant struggle on the inside is the harsh reality that most leaders have to live with everyday: And so the wondering continues, day after day.
Beyond managing people’s perceptions, leaders (and people generally) often struggle with themselves as they attempt to manage what’s inside (thoughts, values, believes) against what’s coming out (words and deeds). Sometimes the internal world of thoughts is just not palatable for general consumption. This is because often what we think is uninhibited and uncensored as “no one will know”. Being ourselves in deed and in word, unleashing the inner voice will often times compromise us publicly. In other words, in our constant struggle for self preservation and being truthful, we justify the discord that results between who we are and who we say (and or act) we are. If we are to go with Gandhi ‘s line of thought in one of his most referred to sayings, “happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony” then most leaders (and indeed people) are not happy with their lot in life.
We do however; know that most great leaders were regarded as such because of the courage they displayed in standing for their convictions. So we go on admirably quoting and attempting to walk in the footsteps of Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill and so forth often without due regard for the risks they took in standing for what society frowned upon. It is the clarity and complete mental resolute to stand by their convictions that made it easy for those in power to single them out and at times not only threaten their physical safety but often negotiate them out of their convictions.
Leadership therefore is about taking risks, by making oneself available for public scrutiny, assessment of congruence between who we say we are and who we really are. Those who choose to lead with deep understanding and appreciation of this perilous reality; knowing that leadership is never about the leader, but those they lead, are a rare breed indeed and society will continue to build monuments around their persons. What will society say about you when all is said and done?