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Leadership Self-Development Journey
“You are today where your thoughts have brought you.
You will be tomorrow where your thoughts take you.”
- James Allen
COMMUNICATION: The leader's ability and commitment to communicate with clarity and appropriateness is essential to his leadership effectiveness.
ORGANISATIONAL AWARENESS: Sufficient awareness of different aspects of the organisation, such as the reason for its existence, the history, structure and culture, enables the leader to align himself and his team effectively.
AUTHENTICITY: A leader cannot help others unless he shares himself openly and honestly.
SELF-MOTIVATION: The leader motivates himself with his personal vision, passion, potential and moral convictions.
PASSION: The leader does not only have to have a strong sense of responsibility, but passion for the cause.
EMPOWER: The more empowered and free people feel, the more they give to the cause. Rather than trying to control, leaders show trust in people's inherent capabilities.
DECISION MAKING: With firm and apt individual decision making together with skilful facilitation of team decisions the leader ensures momentum and backing for the direction taken.
BUILDING TEAM: It is in the development and performance of the team that the leader's effectiveness can be seen.
TECHNOLOGY AWARENESS: Understanding the potential positive and negative effects of technology in the organisation enables the leader to balance human interests with efficiency.
TREND/SYSTEMS AWARENESS: A big-picture view to spot trends early on and an understanding of the influences of systems and their relationships is needed for the strategic direction that the leader must give.
BUILDING TRUST: By being honest, open and consistent and by showing the willingness to trust the team, the leader lays a strong team foundation for the good, but especially bad times.
VISIONARY THINKING: The mental picture of a desired destination, big or small, sparks focused activities and worthwhile endeavours, which is why leaders' first task is to imagine the ideal future.
LIFE-BALANCE/RESILIENCE: To sustain his energy and ability to focus, and to set a credible example, a leader needs to have good balance between the different areas of his life and model resilience.
SELF-CONFIDENCE: To lead requires the confidence to take the first step and have others follow you.
ADAPTABILITY: Effective leadership is more a consequence of the leader's ability to adapt well to changes than a consequence of his knowledge or experience.
STRATEGIC THINKING: With the vision or goal in mind, leaders accept responsibility for the most effective way to achieve the vision or goal.
SELF-DISCIPLINE: The leader's self-discipline sets the standard and example for others without which consistent performance is not possible.
HONESTY/INTEGRITY: The leader is credible and ethical to the extent that his beliefs, values, attitude and behaviour forms an integrated whole.
CULTURAL AWARENESS: In an age of globalisation and culturally diverse workplaces, sensitivity for differences is critical to the leader's success in mobilising people as a community.
SELF-REGARD: Positive self-regard is necessary for a leader in order to accept criticism, learn from it and continue leading with confidence.
CHARACTER: Leadership involves many tests of courage, resilience and morality which make strong character indispensable.
RECOGNITION: Leaders recognise people privately and publicly out of real appreciation for their contributions as well as personal qualities.
LEADERSHIP STYLE: Different situations require different leadership styles to be effective. Good leaders are flexible and versatile in their style.
CREATIVITY/INNOVATION: Since leaders focus on potential and imagine the future to be different, they demonstrate and encourage innovative and creative thinking.
PERSEVERANCE: Leadership disappears when we give up and emerges when we choose to persevere when others would have given up.
CONNECTING WITH PEOPLE: Only by making good heart and mind connections with people can the leader hope to influence them to co-operate enthusiastically.
SELF-INITIATIVE: To be a leader is to take the initiative to make a positive difference.
BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS: Leadership is by definition action in the context of relationships. To ignore relationships contradicts leadership whereas building them enhances teamwork.
SELF-AWARENESS: Self-awareness opens the door to effective communication and the leader's ability to relate to others.
BEING SERVANT: By choosing to serve and not boss the team, the leader builds them up and collectively they grow to become better leaders in service of the organisation.
BUILDING SUPPORT: A leader must be able to build support for his ideas and direction or else fail as a leader.
INSPIRING HOPE: Nothing is as damaging to an organisation as the negative attitudes of its people. It is the leader's uppermost responsibility to inspire hope and create a positive climate.

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Trend/systems awareness
Organisational awareness
Visionary thinking
Strategic thinking
Cultural awareness
Technology awareness


Connecting with people
Building relationships
Being servant
Building support
Building team
Building trust
Leadership style
Decision making
Inspiring hope


Leadership, the mass man and the desert fathers

Without solitude we remain victims of our society and continue to be entangled in the illusions of the false self - Henri Nouwen

The mass man... he is the shell of a man... he lacks an inner self, an intimacy... a self that cannot be revoked - Jose Ortega

The more we hear disappointing news about poor or no service delivery, incompetence, lack of urgency and commitment, corruption and greed, or experience it ourselves, the more we ask: why can't there be better, more responsible and competent leaders? For a moment we might even think: like ourselves? Are our expectations of a better and more just world for all realistic? Are we guilty of imagining that somehow, somewhere, there is a reservoir of good leaders ready to take over where others are failing? Why would the replacements be different? 'Being different' is indeed key to effective leadership and a legitimate expectation of leaders. Where does the difference need to be?

Leadership is more an art than a science. It is more about heart and will than it is about mind and calculations. It is more about the depth and power of our inspiration than it is about the width and reach of our knowledge and networks. As it is with an artist, the leader also loses his creative and transforming ability if he is not inspired. From our inspiration comes our commitment, our strength and our resilience. It begs the question: where do we find and sustain inspiration?

Many, many years ago, in the 4th century, a group of people called the Desert Fathers regarded society as a shipwreck from which each single individual man had to swim for his life. These were men who believed that to let oneself drift along, passively accepting the tenets and values of what they knew as society, was purely and simply a disaster. They lived their lives in solitude and devotion to God in the Egyptian desert. Do you perhaps share their view and sometimes quietly wonder if it would not be better to leave everything behind and go and live in the Kalahari desert?

In the centuries to follow, since the time of the Desert Fathers, tradition and religion (through religious institutions) became the cornerstones and sources of inspiration to most people of the world who, typically, lived in small and intimate communities. The role of society was obviously viewed more favourably than what the Desert Fathers thought of society under Roman rule. Industrialisation, urbanisation and modernisation since the 18th century, however, turned societies, their needs and philosophies of life, upside down. Early in the 20th century Max Scheler described Western culture as 'in the midst of a moral and cultural crisis'. The root of this crisis was according to him 'a vast process of equalization that produced a homogeneous and monotonous society only superficially integrated by political and state mechanisms'. He was of the view that modern man is ceasing to be an individual and only part of the mass.

The modern man or mass man, according to the above description, clearly cannot be an inspiration to others, yet yearns for inspiration. To what extent do you think this describes our society? Don't we often, after all the excitement that mass media can create, think to ourselves: it is more of the same, only packaged differently? How often do you think to yourself 'talk, talk, talk... ' after a meeting, social gathering, sales presentation, public speech or news broadcast? How truly fruitful are all the opinions that we express, all the words we speak? Will people not often be served better by our silence than our words? How often do we really feel understood when we speak about our ideas or feelings? As Henri Nouwen says: 'Words often leave us with a sense of inner defeat. They can even create a sense of numbness and a feeling of being bogged down in swampy ground.' I also agree with him when he says that 'without solitude we remain victims of our society and continue to be entangled in the illusions of the false self.' And I believe that especially leaders, who hope to make sustained and positive differences in society, need to practice solitude.

Solitude, not in the sense that we need to get away from the rush to recharge our batteries so that we can come back to fight the competition with new vigor and dedication. If we don't want to remain victims of society and 'continue to be entangled in the illusions of the false self', it will take a lot more than the quick breakaway. If our practice of solitude does not result in our own transformation and growth, then it will do little more than helping us to cope with the world of rapid changes, constant stimulation and stress. Solitude, as the term is used here, incorporates reflecting on what is happening in our relationships and what course our life is taking. It incorporates listening to the voices of our heart, soul and conscience. And for the believer it incorporates listening to God. If you believe in God, you want Him to intervene in your life, your thoughts and actions. You want Him to inspire and transform you. We need to fashion our own desert where we can shake off our compulsions and focus on what is in our heart and spirit. We need to learn to bear our own faults and not to pay attention to others, wondering whether they are good or bad.

What appears to be so simple and easy to do, as we know, is a major challenge in our time. One reason is that silence has become a fearful thing. We get so used to noise and constant stimulation that the idea of empty space and silence scares us. In meetings we find that people close the gap of silence as soon as it appears and those who are too slow off the mark tell themselves they need to work on the ability to jump in with the next opinion/comment. People can feel itchy and nervous when it is silent. Seeking and embracing solitude, therefore, is not a common thing. Likewise, good leaders. Most of us are intimidated by the modern belief that there is no greater sin than inactivity. We are trained to use the excuse of one more phone call, one more email, one more visit, one more meeting or one more party... then I will get to the good things I need to do.

Leaders who will be able to make a difference are clearly those who also do things differently, who are prepared to live differently, develop their own views and make different choices.

- Gerhard van Rensburg


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