7 Chronic Business Dilemmas

7 Chronic Business Dilemmas

There are 7 chronic dilemmas that persistently plague organisations.

Working together these dilemmas cause harm. They turn the organisation inward … into doing business with itself.

This is not a good place to be.

If the purpose of a business is to create and keep a customer, these dilemmas obstruct this purpose.

That’s why healthy organisations (and their leaders) obsess about confronting them.

So what are the 7 chronic business dilemmas?

  1. Lack of clarity about the ‘vital few’.

Real progress depends on narrowing focus not on increasing the number of objectives.

Getting to the ‘vital few’ means making trade-offs. It means making choices about where to allocate time, energy and resources. It’s the failure to do so that leads to too many priorities.

And too many priorities always means none at all.

  1. Dysfunction in the top team.

This is the root cause of ‘too many priorities’.

As an executive you belong to two teams. The Executive and the team you lead. The Executive should be the first team. The job of this team is to act in the best interests of the whole organisation.

Critically, this includes making trade-off’s and limiting the number of priorities.

  1. The wrong people in the key seats.

What should the key metric of the Executive be?

It’s the percentage of the right people in the key seats on the bus. This should be the obsession of the first team. It also means getting the wrong people off the bus, or into positions better suited to their abilities. This seldom happens.

In general, senior leaders would far rather tolerate poor performance or bad behaviour than do anything about it.

  1. Confusion about how to make a difference.

A major cause of employee disengagement is a lack of purpose or meaning in the work.

This is a consequence of the above. To overcome this every person needs to be able to answer two simple questions:

  • “How does what I do fit with what matters most to the organisation?” and,
  • “What do I need to do today?”

Knowing the answers and being well supported really does make the difference.

  1. The busyness trap

Being uncertain of how to make a difference leads to the busyness trap.

In the absence of clarity people make themselves busy. Busyness creates activity and activity generates complexity. The more complex things become the quicker the business starts doing business with itself. Over time the enterprise loses its ability to adapt and respond.

Inevitably mediocrity rears its ugly head.

  1. The unequal distribution of work.

What happens next is that fewer people start doing the real work.

Tasks, responsibilities and workloads become unfairly divided. This in turn leads to burnout, resentment and the loss of key talent. It’s a crazy outcome.

A few people disproportionately stressed out, while more and more people check out and become disengaged.

  1. Misaligned reward and recognition systems.

Recognition systems that prioritise ‘short-termism’ and individual performance over teamwork are frequently the norm.

This happens even when the company values state otherwise. This leads to cynicism, demotivation and negative, destructive internal competition.

Precisely the outcomes every organisation is looking to avoid.

How then are these things allowed to happen? What gives them life and longevity?

A major cause is absentee leadership.

By this I mean leaders who are psychologically absent. Who are unable, or sometimes even unwilling, to embrace the true calling of their title.

As Patrick Lencioni outlines in The Motive, leadership is not a reward for having arrived. It is a responsibility that comes with a burden.

The leader’s burden is to confront these dilemmas (not add to them).

To tackle them head on and to use their position and authority to dismantle them. To put the business on the path to becoming healthy, so that ultimately it can fulfil its one and only true purpose … to create and keep a customer.

Does your business suffer from any of these dilemmas?

We’d love to hear from you. Please write to me or comment below.


Change just this 1 thing in 2024

Get your Executive Team to work better together.

This 1 thing will have the biggest impact on your organisation’s performance this year.


The team at the top has a unique role to play.

It’s job is to set the pace, raise the standards and to narrow the focus. No one else can do this. It must also set the cultural tone and be a source of hope and inspiration.

If the team is not working well together it cannot perform these vital functions.

This has big implications. Dysfunction at the top magnifies across the entire organisation.

If …

  • the organisation has too many priorities,
  • behavioural standards are unclear
  • there’s confusion about major decisions

… everyone feels the pain.

So, how can you tell if your team is set to work well together this year?

Below are 10 questions to reflect on. Use them to pinpoint where change is required.

We’ve been lucky to work with many Executive Teams over the past two decades.

Executive Team at work

These traits come from direct observations of these teams in action.

The 10 questions

  1. Are all the seats on your team occupied by the right people?
  2. Is your team focussed or do you suffer from too many goals and priorities?
  3. Do your team’s goals concentrate energy and inspire commitment?
  4. Does each executive feel personally committed to the team agenda? Does their individual agenda support that of the team?
  5. Do your team members have their ego in check?
  6. Does the team respect the leader and do members of the team trust one another?
  7. Is membership on your team defined by contribution, performance and adhering to high standards?
  8. Does your executive culture ensure that everyone speaks up? Do team members weigh in even when they disagree?
  9. Does everyone support a decision when it’s made … even if disagreement is still in the air?
  10. Are your team meetings impactful and interesting?

Download the 10 Questions poster here

Extra Resources: Watch The Teamwork Trifecta below- 3 things to get right when building a great team.

In conclusion … 

Many organisations suffer because their top team is not working well together. This should not be the case.

Building a great team is not complicated. Nor does it need a new theory. It does however require willingness and commitment … and the desire to get to work and create change.

Changing this 1 thing will make a material impact on the performance of your organisation this year.

And you’ll be surprised at how many people will thank you for it!

We love hearing from you.

Please comment below. 

Leadership qualities that matter most

Discover What Leadership Qualities Matter Most

We recently worked with a well-known company in Asia.

They have a proud history of innovation and product design. The business is successful, yet the CEO is concerned.

Silos, complacency and bureaucracy are slowing them down. People are working hard but they are not working together.

The business is slowly turning inward.

They are starting to do business with themselves.

The customer is no longer front and centre.

This worries the CEO.

The company built its success on creativity, focus, bold moves and the discipline of delivery. As it grew this got lost along the way.

To give us an outside-in view we invited the CEO of a technology start-up to speak to the Executive Team. This tech business is three years old.

It’s growing rapidly and disrupting an established industry.

Rocket growth

They are winning new clients from larger companies who are finding it hard to change.

Her core advice was, “start by picking the right leaders. This is the key.”

She then described the 4 vital qualities she looks for in the leaders in her organisation.

  1. A track record of triumphing over adversity.

“There is probably always a valid excuse for every failure. We look for people who overcome those valid excuses” she explained. “Change is tough and adversity is a constant companion. People must be able to get back quickly onto their feet after a setback and try again.”

  1. No politics, no bureaucracy, no poison.

“These are the real obstacles,” she said. “I look for people who are totally collaborative. Not culture breakers. People who get the short-term numbers but damage the organisation in the long run.”

  1. A desire to contribute and make a difference.

“People must be driven by the difference they can make in the world. When personal gain is the first thing on people’s minds it’s difficult to unlock and scale the power of teamwork.”

  1. Listening is vital.

“Leaders must walk the line between telling and listening,” she said. “Find out what’s really going on. Put tools in place for listening. Skip levels. Know what needs to be done on the ground.” She cautioned; “If people are not heard and obstacles not removed they stop caring and lose their desire to make a difference.”

Her closing words struck a chord …

“Everyone’s intelligent. Nowadays that’s a given. But we are trying to get to the future faster than our competition and they have far greater resources than we do. All four of these qualities are necessary, above intelligence, so we can innovate and stay ahead.”

Watch the 4 Vital Leadership Qualities video above

I was struck by her clarity and conviction.

How has the CEO responded?

It’s still early days. But he’s hard at work rebuilding the top team.

The contribution of the Tech CEO was extremely valuable. It was a timely reminder of something obvious yet often overlooked.

The people at the top have an oversized influence

They set the pace and the tone. They create hope and confidence.

Or they don’t!

And so, getting the right people in the key seats has become his number 1 priority. Skills are important but personal qualities even more so.

The next step will be to build cohesion and create clarity.

Moulding the team and setting laser sharp priorities (that meet customer needs) is so important right now. So too is aligning resources and energy.

But it always starts with the right people. Especially at the top.

So choose your leaders wisely. The qualities they possess and how they behave really matters.

How about your business?

What leadership qualities does your business need to succeed?

  • Do you hire for these?
  • Do you develop for these?
  • Do you reward for these?
  • Would you fire for these?

Please let us know by commenting below. We love hearing from you. 

If you want to get your top team fired up in the new year contact me to find out how: grant@leadershipworks.co.za

Is your team on the way down?

Is Your Team On The Way Up or the Way Down?

How the Mighty Fall is one of my most treasured business books.  It’s a Jim Collins classic.

The central idea is that companies (even great ones) can and do fall.

The book emerged from his curiosity. How did those who were once invincible, slip from dominance to irrelevance?

It’s an intriguing idea. You’re strong today. Gone (or irrelevant) tomorrow.

Collins calls it the ‘silent creep of impending doom’. He likens it to a disease like cancer. A disease that begins to grow on the inside while you still look strong and healthy on the outside.

The difference he concludes is that organisational decline, unlike cancer, is largely self-inflicted.

It’s something we do to ourselves!

This book is preventative medicine for leaders. It’s why I can never read it often enough.

How the Mighty Fall book cover

It reminds me that vigilance (Collins calls it Productive Paranoia) is one of a leaders most valuable attributes.

He identifies 5 Stages of Decline. The early stages are hard to detect but easier to cure. The latter stages are the opposite. Easier to detect but much harder to cure.

(Click here to learn more about the 5 Stages).

Stage 3 interests me the most – the Denial of Risk and Peril.

Here leaders fail to act on key messages and alarm calls.

Negative signals from the workplace and marketplace are discounted. Positive data gets spun and amplified. Setbacks are blamed on others.

What fascinates me is how the Executive Culture enables this.

In Collins’ words …

Jim Collins on Executive Culture

Here’s where it gets real.

He offers 8 indicators that the Executive Culture is in decline. Here they are …

Teams on the way down

  1. People shield those in power from grim facts, fearful of penalty and criticism for shining light on the harsh realities.
  2. People assert strong opinions without data, evidence, or a solid argument.
  3. The team leader has a very low questions-to-statements ratio, avoiding critical input and/or allowing sloppy reasoning and unsupported opinions.
  4. Team members acquiesce to a decision yet do not unify to make the decision successful, or worse, undermine the decision after the fact.
  5. Team members seek as much credit as possible for themselves yet do not enjoy the confidence and admiration of their peers.
  6. Team members argue to look smart or to improve their own interests rather than argue to find the best answers to support the overall cause.
  7. The team conducts “autopsies with blame,” seeking culprits rather than wisdom.
  8. Team members often fail to deliver exceptional results, and blame other people or outside factors for setbacks, mistakes, and failures.

Do you recognise any of these in your team?  If so it’s a sign.

An alarm call if you like. Something to urgently attend to and to act upon.

Alarm call - it's time to act

If it’s the team at the top that’s on the ‘way down’ there’s a lot at stake.

The silent creep of mediocrity begins at the top. The ripples of dysfunction make their way into every corner of the organisation.

Seeds of decline are sown in its wake.

It’s why building a healthy organisation – which always starts with the team at the top – is not a nice to have.

It’s mission critical.

Collins also offers 8 indicators for “Teams on the Way Up”.

This is a helpful and practical guide to what a healthy Executive Culture looks like.

You can download both here.

Ultimately How the Mighty Fall reminds me of two important things:

  1. No company has an automatic right to exist. That right is earned daily. In the end, it’s the marketplace that decides.
  2. Decline is not inevitable. It is rather, as Collins reminds us, largely self-inflicted. It’s a function of the choices we make, the things we tolerate and the actions we fail to take.

How is your Executive Culture?

Is your team on the way up or the way down?

It’s vital that you know the answer!

Further resources:

  1. Sean Summers / Biznews interview: Sean is the recently appointed CEO of Pick n Pay. In this telling interview he talks about how this once great company lost its way and what it needs to do to find its way back.  Watch here.
  2. I worked with Jim Collins when How the Mighty Fall was published. Don’t miss the interview I did with him. Click here to read.  

We love to hear from you! Please comment below …

Unlocking Leadership Excellence: 9 Gems for Young Leaders

Unlocking Leadership Excellence: 9 Gems For Young Leaders

Summary: Discover 9 practical leadership gems shared by a seasoned executive to help young leaders excel in their careers.

We recently conducted a Leadership Development Programme for a large global company. Participants were young leaders in the early stages of their careers.

They were still learning to lead themselves. Now they were being presented with the opportunity to learn how to lead others.

This is a crucial transition. One which presents an exciting opportunity to grow as a leader.

But moving from team member to leader of others can also be difficult.

We invited the Managing Director to share the guiding principles for his career as an international executive.

What follows are the 9 practical gems he offered these young leaders.

Click below to watch the video.

1. People are your most important priority.

The higher up you move the more dependent you become on people around you. People come every day with 4 expectations; To know me, value me, focus me and to grow me.

The more creative you are as a leader in meeting these expectations the more successful those people will become. And their success ultimately dictates and governs yours.

2. Always exceed expectations.

Do this every single day. Make a real effort to find out what is expected of you and how to exceed expectations. If you do this you’ll be noticed and recognised.

3. In the short term careers are not always fair.

There will be setbacks. Welcome these early on while you still have the time to bounce back from them. Learn this early.

A horizontal move is not a backward step. Establish a firm and diverse foundation upon which to build your career. Horizontal steps often offer this opportunity.

4. Be bold with your ambitions.

If you think small and plan small you will win small. Thinking big breaks the status quo and pushes a company into achieving large positive goals.Do not dream incrementally. Leaders need to look into the future and imagine the amazing things the company can become.

Then it’s about resolve and know-how to figure out how to get there.

5. Make clear choices.

Not everything is equally important. There are usually only a few critical decisions that will drive the organisation forward.

Discover what these things are. When everything matters resources are diluted and you become focused on the wrong things. Reduce the noise, narrow the focus and concentrate on only the essential.

6. Work together.

Early on in your career it’s often all about you. This is natural. You are busy establishing yourself. This changes over time. You must know how to work with others to achieve more.

People love to work in silos. It’s safer. But it’s important to stop this. To get people to submerge their egos and to work as a team.

7. Connect and confront.

Seek the balance between the two. Connect First.  Establish strong relationships. Then use those relationships to surface the issues and disagreements in a constructive way.

Leaders must make the best decisions for the company, not the individual.

This can be uncomfortable. But if relationships are strong you’ll be able to work through difficult issues and secure the best interests of the organisation.

8. Be brave.

“We love people with courage” I remember him saying. The easiest solution to a problem is often not the correct one. Make the difficult choices. Sometimes you will fail, but if failure isn’t an option, winning isn’t either.

Courage is a muscle you need to build every single day.

9. Love what you do.

No one can fake passion. People will feel it and it will be difficult to inspire others. Be authentic and know your subject. In this way you will be able to inspire others and appeal to their emotions as well.

Do you have a leadership philosophy?

A set of beliefs, values, principles and guiding concepts that articulate your approach to leadership. Is it written down?

Sharing your leadership philosophy, especially with the younger team members in your organisation can help unlock their own leadership excellence and guide them on their leadership journey.

It’s one of your most important responsibilities.

And it’s never too late to start!

We love hearing from you. Comment below or email me at grant@leadershipworks.co.za.

Please also send this post to 1 person who will find it valuable. Thank you!

Magnet attracting people to a new level of performance

The 4 Essential Human Needs

People come to work every day with 4 needs. 

It’s the manager’s job to understand that they exist and to play their part in meeting them.

Doing so is the key to employee engagement. To accessing people’s resourcefulness, initiative, and creativity.

So, what are the 4 human needs?

They can be simply expressed as The Four Me’s.

  1. Know Me.
  2. Value Me.
  3. Focus Me.
  4. Grow Me.

Let’s explore them in more detail.


Managers often expect 100%  – yet know little about the people they manage.

It’s a strange bargain. One that goes like this; “I expect your full commitment, yet I won’t make a sincere effort to get to know you and to understand what makes you tick.”

They tell me people should be self-motivated. This is true. They should be. Almost everyone starts off that way.

The problem in organisations is people become demotivated.

Demotivated people

Managers underestimate the role they play in allowing this to happen.

It’s the inequality in the bargain which gets the ball rolling.

Know me does not of course mean acting out of character or being inappropriate.

But it does mean making a genuine attempt to see the person as a living, breathing, whole human being. Not as a means to an end – a cog in the wheel whose needs are invisible and irrelevant.

Which leads to the second ME …


Knowing allows for valuing. Making a place for what is important to the other person.

The manager’s fear is that doing this will make them appear soft and touchy feely. That it will cause them to lose control. To be taken advantage of.

In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

Remember the goal always is to access people’s resourcefulness, initiative, and creativity. Those “human only” qualities that make the biggest difference to an organisation.

Too often we get compliance, even resistance instead. Research confirms this.

Gallup  consistently tells us that large numbers of the workforce are either unengaged or actively disengaged.

Would you?

Meeting these first 2 needs doesn’t take a special skill or more time. It takes a realisation.

The realisation that management is a noble profession. One which gives you influence and the opportunity to impact the quality of people’s lives.

These two ME’s lay the foundation of mutual respect in a relationship. This creates the climate for what comes next.


This is about clarity and direction. (And eliminating confusion.)

I know it’s obvious, but this is the manager’s job.

Two people discussing what is most important

People really do expect their manager to know and communicate what is most important. And to direct the flow of work and effort.

Some managers say people don’t like to be micromanaged. Almost always this is an abdication.

So much of what people do in an organisation is unnecessary.

Jim Collins  thinks it’s as high as 60%. Imagine … people could stop doing half of what they do every day, and it will actually help the organisation!

People DO have a need to be focussed. To be relevant. To direct their resourcefulness, initiative, and creativity to work that is worthwhile.

For this they rely on the manager.

This gets us to the final ME …


Grow me is a covenant.

It’s an agreement between two people born out of trust and respect.

Often the manager will see more potential in the person than they see in themselves.

Now it’s about closing the gap. Elevating the person to the level of their potential.

You do this by creating the conditions for growth. By raising the standards and expecting more.

Obviously it also includes support. But excludes wrapping them in cotton wool.

People grow the most when they have responsibility and experience the consequences of their actions.

Now you’re not a manager any more.

You are a source of inspiration. Fulfilling your noble duty. Allowing your belief in their potential and the standards you’ve set to be the magnet that pulls them up.

This is your ultimate purpose.

To use your platform and position to grow people. To serve and to help them reach their highest potential.

We love to hear from you. Please comment below. What is the managers ultimate purpose? 

High Performing Teams … Is Yours One?

High-performing teams are the aspiration of almost every organisation I work with.

It’s no wonder … 

  • High-performing teams excel in problem-solving, adaptability, and resilience.
  • Relationships on the team are healthy and energising.
  • Active listening, healthy debate and constructive feedback is the norm.
  • Accountability is ingrained. Team members take ownership of their roles and responsibilities. There are no passengers.
  • Challenges are embraced as opportunities to excel and grow.

These are wonderful qualities.

And so it’s surprising, how few teams, especially in large organisations, actually meet the standard.

High-performing teams, for many, remain elusive – despite being so admired.

With this in mind I sat down with Ian Thomas.

Ian is a wildlife expert and the best-selling author of The Power of the PrideHow Lessons from a Pride of Lions Can Teach You To Create Powerful Business Teams.

It’s a classic.

He is sought after all over the world for his views on lions, business teams and leadership.

The result of our time together was a series of videos. These delve into lion behaviour and most importantly … what we can learn from them to make our teams perform better.

Video 1: Team membership and team size. (3 mins 44s)

It all begins with who is on the team. The qualities, mindsets and skills of the people on the team define what kind of team it will become.

It’s also ensuring that the team is small enough, (not large enough.)

Most teams are too big – it’s a major reason why so few are high performing.

Video 2: Setting goals, creating focus and building trust. (3 mins 14s)

Here we draw our insights from lion prides who pursue big dangerous quarry like the African Cape Buffalo.

Goals create focus and they concentrate effort. Breakthroughs happen when committed people direct their energy and effort on a few big things.

Many teams however have too many priorities. This is a real problem.

Too many priorities actually mean none at all.

Many teams make this mistake. It has a direct impact on their performance and success.

We also explore the practical role trust plays in high performance.

Video 3: How do lion prides deal with passengers? (3 mins 5s)

This is the most vexing question of all.

It’s well known that the 1 thing leaders don’t like doing is confronting people about poor performance and / or bad behaviour.

This has a direct impact on team performance … and the ability to keep your best people engaged.

In a lion pride the issues are so much sharper and real.

Here, contribution and performance defines membership. If you don’t contribute you don’t share in the rewards of the hunt. It’s stark but it’s true.

Ultimately the sustainability of the pride relies heavily on the contributions of each individual.

But the individual is not more important than the pride.

We hope you enjoy the videos … and that they get you thinking about your team?

Here are 10 questions to help you do so?

  1. Do you have the right people on your team?
  2. Is your team small enough?
  3. Does your team have too many priorities?
  4. Do your team’s goals concentrate energy and inspire commitment?
  5. Do your team members respect you and trust one another?
  6. Do the members of your team have their ego in check?
  7. Does your team have high standards that everyone buys into?
  8. Is membership on your team defined by contribution and performance?
  9. Do you see performance or behaviour on your team that does not meet the standard?
  10. Are you avoiding a difficult conversation?

Download the 10 questions here

We love hearing from you. Please comment below. If you’d like to contact Ian he can be reached on ian@ianthomas.net

We equip leaders with the tools to build high performing teams.

Know How

Are you building leaders of substance?

Who has had the biggest influence on your thinking about what a business leader is and does?

Ram Charan is at the top of my list.

He has been a trusted advisor to CEO’S for over 40 years. I love his practical, no-nonsense philosophy and approach.

His book, Execution, The Discipline of Getting Things Done is standard reading for how to deliver results.

But my favourite Charan book is simply called Know-How.

Know How book cover. Ram Charan

“We need leaders who know what they are doing” is its premise.

Know-how distinguishes leaders who perform over time from those who don’t.

Charan sets out 8 interrelated skills that must be learnt, practiced, honed, and mastered.  These skills build two essential kinds of acumen – Business and People acumen.

Then he lays down the challenge …

“Will you be able to do the right things, make the right decisions, deliver results and leave your business and the people in it better off than they were before?”

So, here they are – the 8 Know-Hows that give substance to your leadership:

  1. Can you position your business by finding the central idea that meets customer needs and makes money? And can you appropriately reposition it, as will increasingly be required?
  2. Are you able to pinpoint external change by detecting patterns ahead of others and put your business on the offensive?
  3. Do you know how to lead the social system of your business by getting the right people together with the right behaviours to make better, faster decisions and achieve business results?
  4. Can you judge people by finding their best talents, based on facts and observations and match them with a job?
  5. Are you moulding a team by getting highly competent leaders to submerge their egos and co-ordinate seamlessly?
  6. Do you know how to develop goals by balancing what the business can become with what it can realistically achieve, not merely looking in the rear-view mirror and making incremental adjustments to what’s been done before?
  7. Can you set laser sharp priorities by defining the specific tasks that align resources, action and energy to accomplish the goals?
  8. Can you deal with forces beyond the market by creatively and positively responding to societal pressures you don’t control but that significantly impact your business?

Download: The 8 Know-Hows of a Business Leader

I love how he combines commercial insight and customer satisfaction (Business Acumen) with what he calls the social system of the business. (People Acumen)

Getting this combination right is how leaders create value.

Keep your customers happyWhat happens in reality?

Very often it’s the appearance of leadership that is rewarded.

Real leadership – the ability to perform over time – however is not about appearance. It’s about substance.

Substance is ultimately what distinguishes leaders who create long term value from those who don’t.

This is what must be rewarded.

That’s why these Know-Hows are so helpful.

What about your leaders?

  • Do they possess the know-how to unlock the full potential of your business?
  • Do they intimately understand your customer and how to position and reposition your business to meet their needs and make money?
  • Do they possess the knowledge and understanding of how to lead and inspire and to develop and grow talent?

There’s a lot to think about here.

Ultimately what is most important?

It’s that you are doing everything possible to help your leaders become leaders of substance.

To learn, practice, hone and ultimately master these 8 essential Know-Hows.

I predict that doing so will be the biggest difference you make to the future of your business.

We love to hear from you. Please comment below.


Who will cry when you say goodbye?

Who will cry when you say goodbye?

Some years ago I  attended the farewell for the Chief Executive of a well-known company.

The room was packed with people. They’d come to bid farewell to someone who’d been at the centre of their working lives for many years.

I’d worked with him and his team for a long time and knew many in the room well.

Fortunately, the business was in good health.

It was winning in the marketplace.

They’d also built a strong leadership culture. A magnificent accomplishment, considering how hard it is to achieve and sustain both.

The time had now come to hand over the leadership baton.

Emotions in the room were high.

The CEO thanked everyone for coming. Then he reflected on their journey together. True to form his language was simple, heartfelt, and direct.

I knew his style well. He was no ‘touchy feely’ leader. In fact, quite the opposite.

He had extremely high standards

I’d had my own experience with his directness right in the beginning of our relationship. He asked to see me privately after a team engagement. “You added very little value in that session” he told me.

It was a direct confrontation.

“Here’s why I asked you to work with us and what I’m going to need from you differently going forward,” was his follow on.

He was very direct, but he was also kind.

It was a defining moment in my career. Defining because he was right. He confronted me with what I already knew. I had not added value.

And he’d cared enough to tell me so!

He could have taken the easy way out. That’s what normally happens. Expectations go unmet. No discussion happens and slowly over time people lose confidence (and respect) in one another.

He was not that kind of leader.

At the time it was hard and embarrassing. But deep down I trusted his motive and I’m forever grateful to him.

Rather than turning me against him it inspired deep loyalty.

He believed in me when I did not believe in myself.

He saw me not living up to my potential and he wanted me to do something about it. The effect was to wake me up inside. To turn me from mediocrity and encourage me to strive for a higher standard.

My encounter with him was not unique to me.

Different versions of that conversation had happened with every person in the room. He’d had a direct hand in shaping them into the leaders they’d become.

People like this don’t come into our lives very often.

  • People who don’t allow us to settle with the current version of ourselves.
  • People who expect us to grow and change. Even when it’s uncomfortable and inconvenient.

He was one of those people.

Saying goodbye was hard. People had tears in their eyes. Some were actually crying.

So profoundly grateful were they for the role he’d played in their lives that it had triggered a deep emotional response.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that people cry when you pass on your own leadership baton.

How you invest in them every day

  • The extent to which you are helping them to grow and change.
  • To not be settling for the current version of themselves.
  • To be active in helping them to see and unlock their potential.

It’s up to you …

Will you be one of those very few leaders they encounter in their working lives … who care enough about them to inspire them to strive for a higher standard?

Who have the courage to confront them with the truth (kindly), even if it hurts?


  • Think of a person who believed in you more than you believed in yourself at a critical moment in your life. What emotion do you feel for that person right now?

Please comment below – we love hearing from you.

Please also read a related post: The Motive – What Kind of Leader are You?

Is your ladder against the wall?

Is Your Ladder Up Against the Right Wall?

Many years ago, I read the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

The author, Stephen Covey concluded that the lives of even successful people are often a mess. According to him if they could live their lives over again, they would do so very differently.

As a young person this blew my mind.

I wanted success but without the regrets and disillusionment.

Is your ladder leaning up against the right wall? That was the question from the 7 Habits I’ve carried forward ever since.

It’s easy for our lives to fill up and get busy. To scramble up the ladder of life only to realise – sometimes too late – that it’s leaning against the wrong wall.

As the year kicks off this is a good reminder to me.

To pay attention. To be mindful and conscious about where I might be drifting and what I really want out of life. It’s possible to spend a lot of energy on the wrong things. It’s important to be vigilant.

Time passes so quickly. We get onto a path. One-year blurs into the next.

As Covey puts it: “If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster.”

What’s the point of that?

Over the years I’ve developed a series of questions. They help me think about where I am going and who I’m becoming in the process.

I find it helpful to write too. Writing is thinking and writing is clarifying. Thinking and clarifying … both are important.

And so, I offer you the questions. There are 23 of them. Probably too many, but each I find useful. They are not exclusive or exhaustive. They just work for me.

Hopefully all, or at least some, will work for you too.

The questions are organised into 3 perspectives. These help me to organise my thinking.

Mark the ones you’d like to respond to.

Perhaps add others of your own.


Step away.

Come back again.

Write some more.

Keep thinking and keep clarifying.

So now it’s your turn. Just start! It’s never perfect.

Looking Backwards

  1. What am I most proud of having achieved in the past 12 months?
  2. Where did I disappoint and let myself down?
  3. What lessons did I learn from my achievements and disappointments?
  4. What powerful piece of advice do I give myself for the year ahead?
  5. What do I want to be different in my life 1 year from now? (More of / Less of?)

Looking Inwards

  1. What do I fear the most? Which of these fears do I plan to tackle?
  2. What is currently going on in my life that no longer serves the person I wish to become?
  3. What season of life am I currently in and what is life asking of me?
  4. How do I limit myself?
  5. What do I say to myself to explain and justify these limitations?
  6. What new story can I begin to tell myself to shift from limitation to possibility?
  7. When am I at my best, filled with energy, vitality and joy?
  8. What part of me needs to evolve, grow up and change?
  9. What habits serve me best and which do I need to let go of?
  10. What relationships must I invest in, mend, or restore?
  11. Is my environment helping me to grow?
  12. What’s missing in my life right now? (It was once there but seems to have gone away) How can I get it back?
  13. What is the ultimate criteria by which I measure my life?

Looking Forwards

  1. What am I most excited about when I think of the next 12 months?
  2. What big challenges will I have to face and overcome in the next 12 months?
  3. How do I plan to grow?
  4. What are my personal goals that will define success for me this year?
  5. What is my major focus for the year ahead? Answer the question; “This will be the year that I …?”

Download the 23 questions here

I’d love to know how it goes. Please comment below or mail me at grant@leadershipworks.co.za