The-Power-Of-Relationships-Alex-And-Renias-Walk

The Power of Relationships

Renias Mhlongo and Alex van den Heever are from two completely different worlds.

Over 25 years they have built a relationship of deep respect and mutual reward.

I listened to their story this week. It moved me and it got me thinking.

Alex is of 14th generation Afrikaans heritage. His great great grandfather introduced Afrikaans into the Cape Colony in the late 1800’s. Renias is an 18th generation Shangaan. His family was painfully evicted from the Kruger National Park in the 1960’s.

It is unlikely they would ever have met.

But Alex went to work at Londolozi Game Reserve as a safari guide. He was paired with Renias, who was by then a seasoned and experienced wildlife tracker.

Alex was 19. He was enthusiastic but inexperienced.

He needed Renias.

He needed to learn from him to be any good at his job. But he was also curious. He wanted to learn about Renias’ culture and the Shangaan way of life.

His interest was genuine.

Renias was skeptical in the beginning. Alex was not the first guide he had worked with. There had been many over the years. He admits to losing faith that white people would want to learn about an African culture.

Early on an experience shaped their relationship. It built trust and confidence.

They were tracking a mother leopard together in a donga. She had cubs and charged them fiercely. Alex tripped and fell in the commotion and for a while was in great danger. Renias took control. He became the protector and got Alex out without harm.

This cemented something essential in their relationship.

Alex learnt that Renias could be trusted.

The-Power-Of-Relationships-Alex-And-Renias

 

In time, Renias invited Alex to stay at his home in Dixie, Mpumalanga.

Dixie is a small Shangaan community of 400 people on the edge of the Kruger National Park. Like every other village in the area it has no running water and electricity. The houses are made of mud walls excavated from termite mounds.

Alex turned him down.

Not once, but many times. He admits to being afraid, unsure of this step into the unknown. Renias too had concerns. He was unsure what the community would think. Bringing a white person into Dixie was not common at the time.

Together they were breaking new ground.

In the end they both took a risk.

What followed sealed their relationship. Renias not only opened his house. He opened his heart. He moved out of the main bedroom so Alex could sleep in comfort. He arranged for the Londolozi chef to cook a gourmet meal for him. A steaming hot bath was prepared in a community with no running water.

In Alex’s words, “The spirit of hospitality was extreme. It was the ultimate form of giving.”

Deep into the night they sat around the fire.

Under bright shining stars they opened up to each other. They spoke about what mattered to them. What was troubling them. A spirit of empathy entered their relationship and they began to identify at a deep level with each other.

Many adventures followed. All are beautifully told.

Notable to me was that Renias began teaching Alex Shangaan or Tsonga. To learn someone’s language is to enter a rich new world of meaning and relationship. Alex was an eager student. He persevered and now speaks Shangaan fluently.

The benefits of their relationship began to flow.

They loved their work and being together.

In turn their guests loved being with them.

Their personal chemistry was energizing. Guests spoke highly of them. Many would return, year after year. Not only to be in that special place again. But to see Alex and Renias, with whom they had formed a deep bond.

Perhaps the greatest fruit from their relationship is the Tracker Academy.

Founded by Mrs Gaynor Rupert, they started it to train disadvantaged rural people in the ancient art of tracking.

For the past 10 years, 136 unskilled, unemployed people have had their lives changed by the Academy. 94% of them now have full time employment in the safari / ecotourism industry.

The story of Renias and Alex is inspiring and simple.

They took a risk. They got to understand each other’s life circumstances. This built empathy, which led to trust and respect. Benefits flowed for both of them and others that have been rich and long lasting.

It’s a wonderful legacy. A legacy which flows from the Power of Relationships.

Please comment below. We love to hear from you!

Setting Goals, Building Trust and Catching Buffalos

This is the final video in the series. Ian and I have been talking about the process of building a high performing team.

In the beginning it starts with decisions the leader must make around team membership and size. The qualities and skills of the people on the team define what kind of team it will become.

To be high performing you need people who are hungry. People who want to achieve and who have the discipline and endurance to actually carry out the tasks required for success.

But as Patrick Lencioni writes, they must also be humble and smart.

This means they are open to learning from others, place the team above themselves and show good judgment when dealing with people. Leaders of high performing teams are both wise and courageous with team selection.

They know this is their most important task.

When it comes to team size, between 5 and 10 is the ideal number. Too big and you lose the ability to meet often, to go deep into issues and to be agile and responsive.

Clear Goals and Trust are the next big building blocks.

We talk about these in the video and once again we turn to lions to bring lessons back into business. In particular we draw our biggest insights from those lion prides who pursue big, dangerous quarry like the African Cape Buffalo.

Goals create focus and they concentrate effort. Skilled and committed people concentrating their effort on a few big things leads to breakthroughs.

But often in teams there is the temptation to have too many goals.

I come across teams with as many as 10 or 15 priorities. Our adage is too many priorities mean none at all. By clear we mean the few vital things the team must achieve with excellence or nothing else it achieves will really matter.

Trust relates to team members’ confidence to speak up, to disagree, to own up and to be vulnerable.

Despite being so obvious and widely spoken about, many teams still struggle with both of these concepts.
Not only have most teams not clarified the few vital things, but there is also not the level of trust in place to have the kind of open, free-flowing, often heated and spirited debate, so necessary for making decisions that generate commitment.

This mixture of goal confusion, ambiguity and low trust is a proven recipe for mediocrity and low morale. The exact opposite of high performance one is trying to create.

High performing teams have mastered this challenge. Not only can people accurately describe the goal, they can also describe in detail their part in achieving it too. And they are not afraid to speak up, to disagree when it’s required and to encourage others to speak out too.

Not that they are disagreeable, quite the contrary.

It’s that they are so committed to the team and so badly want the best for the business that they are slightly paranoid that something important will be missed.

Building a high performing team is easier than it seems.

It does not require a new theory or great intellectual insights. But it does ask for courage from the leader and a real commitment from the whole team to doing something special and in the process avoiding the well-worn path of playing it safe and mediocrity.

We hope that you will enjoy this short video … as much as we enjoyed making it.

We also always love hearing from you.

What question would you like answered when it comes to building a great business culture, leading an organisation, or setting up and sustaining winning teams? No question is too big or too small. We will do our best to answer all of them in a meaningful way or at least to point you in the right direction.

Please comment below. We would love to hear from you!

To view the full series, and for more articles and resources, please visit www.leadershipworks.co.za or www.ianthomas.net.

Or you can follow us on our travels on Instagram @grant.ashfield | @ian_s_thomas.