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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
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.
STRATEGIC THINKING: With the vision or goal in mind, leaders accept responsibility for the most effective way to achieve the vision or goal.
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.
CHARACTER: Leadership involves many tests of courage, resilience and morality which make strong character indispensable.
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.
SELF-DISCIPLINE: The leader's self-discipline sets the standard and example for others without which consistent performance is not possible.
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.
TECHNOLOGY AWARENESS: Understanding the potential positive and negative effects of technology in the organisation enables the leader to balance human interests with efficiency.
BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS: Leadership is by definition action in the context of relationships. To ignore relationships contradicts leadership whereas building them enhances teamwork.
PERSEVERANCE: Leadership disappears when we give up and emerges when we choose to persevere when others would have given up.
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.
HONESTY/INTEGRITY: The leader is credible and ethical to the extent that his beliefs, values, attitude and behaviour forms an integrated whole.
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.
SELF-CONFIDENCE: To lead requires the confidence to take the first step and have others follow you.
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.
CREATIVITY/INNOVATION: Since leaders focus on potential and imagine the future to be different, they demonstrate and encourage innovative and creative thinking.
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.
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.
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.
SELF-REGARD: Positive self-regard is necessary for a leader in order to accept criticism, learn from it and continue leading with confidence.
CONNECTING WITH PEOPLE: Only by making good heart and mind connections with people can the leader hope to influence them to co-operate enthusiastically.
BUILDING SUPPORT: A leader must be able to build support for his ideas and direction or else fail as a leader.
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.
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.
COMMUNICATION: The leader's ability and commitment to communicate with clarity and appropriateness is essential to his leadership effectiveness.
SELF-INITIATIVE: To be a leader is to take the initiative to make a positive difference.
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.
BUILDING TEAM: It is in the development and performance of the team that the leader's effectiveness can be seen.
SELF-AWARENESS: Self-awareness opens the door to effective communication and the leader's ability to relate to others.
PASSION: The leader does not only have to have a strong sense of responsibility, but passion for the cause.

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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


The Leader As Gardener

The art of the good gardener lies in his ability to learn and appreciate natural growth processes. The shift in our understanding of organisations since the days when engineers analyzed organisations as they analyzed machines for their efficiency is to understand that organisations are fundamentally living systems of human beings. As the potential for growth is in the seed, so it is present in the members of the organisation individually and collectively. However, in the same way that the gardener does not effect growth in a direct sense, for instance to command the seed to grow, the leader can only help create the right conditions for growth. Growth occurs through an interaction between the seed and its environment. It forms a self-reinforcing growth process. No amount of force from the leader can effect or accelerate the natural growth process. What the leader, as the gardener, can do is to limit the conditions that constrain growth. The gardener will focus his attention on providing adequate water, sunlight, soil nutrients, room for the roots to expand and the right temperature. The leader creates the right conditions for growth by focusing his attention on the levels of trust (allowing for innovation and creativity), shared vision, the quality of relationships and teamwork, and the strategic positioning of the organisation in relation to its environment. This way leaders don’t drive change but participate in the growth processes and mitigate the constraints on change.  

Particularly the metaphor of the gardener illustrates how leaders should be alert to the trap of seeing themselves as owners that are entitled to all kinds of privileges and freedoms. The spirit of stewardship ensures both responsibility and humility. Stewardship ultimately implies the belief that we, as human beings are not gods, but are graced with the gift of life and the opportunities to contribute in a unique way to our world with love, creativity and productiveness. The spirituality of a leader is by no means irrelevant to his influence and ability to create an environment for growth. In recent years a growing number of books and articles on the subject indicate that spirituality in the workplace and the leader’s prominent role in guiding the spiritual quality of an organisation, has become a more than a passing fad.

The art then for the leader is to create, together with others, an environment that is conducive to personal growth as well as the growth of the organisation. The organisation’s growth can be measured financially in the case of business organisations, but more importantly in the level of fulfilment that the members experience in being part of it. The financial success of a business will be one of the fruits of a well cared for ‘organisational garden’. People want to feel cared for. They need to feel that they are respected for their uniqueness and intrinsic worth as human beings. They want to feel that they belong to something where they can contribute because it makes a difference to their own lives. One of the cornerstones for such an environment would be high levels of trust.  

Building trust is hard work and takes time. It is hard work because trust is not automatically present. The ability to create trusting relationships is directly related to a person’s character quality, specifically his authenticity and transparency. The leader has to model it but also actively encourage it in his team and organisation. A threat to authenticity and transparency, and therefore to mutual trust, is an overly competitive environment where members of the organisation compete amongst themselves for recognition and acclamation. The more the leader is able to let people share in the vision and focus on the purpose, the less are the chances that people continue to focus on their personal achievements and recognition.  

An enemy to trust is assumptions about each other. High levels of trust can only be achieved through the hard work of ongoing and thorough communication. It is custom to give busy-ness as an excuse for the lack of communication but in reality we become much more ineffective and definitely pay a huge price in allowing mistrust to creep in. It is only through communication that we can check our assumptions and help others to build confidence in our trustworthiness.

Building trust also has a more positive aspect to it. It is not only to keep the destructiveness of mistrust in check. The positive side to building trust is to put your trust in others, which is to empower. When one is no longer concerned that every now and then people behave inconsistent with what they espouse and create unpleasant surprises and disappointments, it allows for positively trusting others with responsibility. From the leader’s perspective trusting and empowering others in this sense, is to put trust in a person’s competence, as it was earned by the individual, but also in his potential to learn and grow with more experience and freedom to push the boundaries.

The by-product of high levels of trust is innovation and creativity. Once trust is the rule and not the exception, the latent potential in people will be unlocked. It is the basic ingredient of a culture where people feel that they want to contribute more than what is necessary for the status quo. It creates the condition for both personal growth and team spirit. The enemy of trust is fear. In a climate of fear creativity and innovation are smothered. It is ironical that so many leaders hold on to an autocratic leadership style, favouring command and control, whilst the challenge that we are confronted with is to be creative and innovative. The excuse often is that the nature of the business or work that they do does not allow for creativity and innovation. But that was said of many work environments where the assumption later was proven wrong. Lateral thinking will always give any organisation advantage. By telling people at lower levels that they should only do and not think, an organisation is actively discouraging growth and development.

The creation of an environment for growth is hugely dependent on the leader’s ability to inspire people. This ability has to be understood as the effect of the combination of attributes as I have described it. The inspirational leader also is something of a cheer leader who can enthuse people in the way he communicates through words and body language. To be credible, his excitement about the vision has to be visible and tangible. The inspiration with which he communicates originates from the mental picture he has of better future and the belief he has in everyone’s ability to contribute to that vision. If the message from the leader is not authentic in the sense that he truly believes in it, it will be more demotivating than inspirational.

For people to have the experience that they find themselves in an environment where they can grow, they need to feel there are not only care and inspiration but also discipline and wisdom. In his book From good to great Jim Collins after extensive research identifies disciplined people, disciplined thought and disciplined action as the key to transforming a good organisation to a great one. The leader’s discipline comes from the hard work to identify the twenty percent (the Pareto principle) things that really are important in pursuit of the vision. Then to do and advocate those things consistently until it can be viewed as the norm and part of the culture of an organisation.      

Lastly leaders need to apply wisdom to the environment they lead and operate in. It relates to the ability to bring something unique and appropriate to a situation, thus optimizing the potential for growth. One way of describing wisdom is to say that after gaining knowledge, wisdom is used to meet new situations. It means to have "deep understanding", "to have keen discernment", "to have sanctified common sense", "to have the capacity for sound judgment". Most people do become wiser as they age, yet some of us are slow and reluctant learners in the art of life. Good leaders will be those who have made the commitment to consciously reflect on the lesson in life and to seek wisdom by learning from mentors and searching for spiritual truths.

-         Gerhard van Rensburg

 (Excerpt from TheLeadership Challenge in Africa)



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