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

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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 in South Africa 

As an eighteen year old democracy with eleven official languages, four major race groups and forty six years of apartheid, South Africa today is a complex society in need of a very special brand of leadership. It is a diverse society with many different histories, cultures, customs, beliefs and philosophical frames of reference. From a leadership perspective some of the complexity, frustrations, challenges and strengths can be seen in the following:

In the political and public service domain the many stories of corruption reflect very negatively on the current leadership. Abuse of power for personal gain is diametrically opposed to the principles of leadership and currently it undermines the credibility of those who are supposed to serve the people of the country. It would appear that the spirit of materialism and personal gain replaced the spirit of ubuntu (sharing and community), once the struggle for political freedom was over. Perhaps it is a case of ‘the family’ that does not need to stand together for the liberation cause as in the past. Indeed, it is now a new nation that needs to stand together for a new cause. To strengthen cohesion in the nation and make progress in transformation , the articulation of a compelling vision for all by the country’s leader(s) and show of moral character is more important than anything else. Hard work and improved competence will follow if people are convinced that the country is moving in the right direction and its leadership can be trusted. In its absence people fall back on old race-based positions and much needed positive energy is lost.    

Not only in politics, but in leadership in general, there are lessons to be learned about the need to balance the strive and ambition for power and control, with the openness and adaptability to new scenarios and the role of an enabler. Can the freedom fighter change his line of thinking from the struggle-to-get-to-power-mindset to a developmental, entrepreneurial, open and collaborating one? Can he distinguish between legitimate expectations of what newly found freedom offers in opportunities to develop and lay the right foundation for future generations, and the temptations of, at last, being in power?

The test for leaders is to adapt quickly to new and very different challenges as new chapters in the history of the country, a sector of society, an industry or an organisation unfolds. It often requires much more than tactical shifts. It requires re-envisioning the future from a different platform. In the leader’s mind it can mean an almost complete break from many of his ideas, sentiments and ways of doing things in the past. In the interconnected 21st century world  the combination of adaptability and adhering to high standards of execution is critical.   

Anyone with a little bit of experience or interest in South Africa knows that inequality is an immense challenge. With the description ‘ticking time-bombs’ for the upwelling frustrations and anger of ordinary people about their living conditions, courageous and decisive leadership is needed. Nothing is as important to the sense of self-worth of an individual as to be able to contribute to society. Job creation and entrepreneurship is crucial for the country’s prospects. The good news is the undeniable steeliness and competitiveness in so many South Africans of all races. The number of young South Africans who desperately want to move on with new paradigms of thinking, who are less politically minded and more innovative and industrious, are growing in numbers. For them leadership is not the position and the route to success not their connections, but what they see in themselves and the opportunities that excite them. They are aware of Africa as a growth market and South Africa as the gateway to Africa.   

The environment for entrepreneurs and small business owners is far from ideal. Compliance costs in small busi­nesses is far too high and the procedures required to start a business far too many and cumbersome. The initiatives to stimulate entrepreneurship and self-leadership are however increasing as do the inspirational success stories of the previously disadvantaged. The challenge to the new generation of leaders is to overcome the many obstacles, not wait on government to make life easier and make full use of own networks and sources of knowledge and guidance. To capitalise on its remarkable success of making a peaceful transition to a new dispensation, South Africans need to unlock their leadership ability from the bottom up with 21st century opportunities and visions in mind.

- Gerhard van Rensburg

See other writings by Gerhard      



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