Elephant in the room

Is your team having enough conflict?

Reading time: 2 mins 3s

This was no ordinary Leadership Team. 

Their discussions flowed quickly to the most important and difficult issues.

There was very little of the fake harmony that characterizes the dynamics of so many teams.

Their conversations were passionate and unguarded. Team members voiced their opinions and views even if this meant disagreeing with each other.

All this happened inside their meetings. There was no corridor talk about each other to third parties.

Loyalty to the absent was one of their most sacred rules.

Dr. Stephen R Covey

This set them apart.

Many teams prefer to talk about one another. Not about what is really going on. Not this one!

I also noticed the team was very respectful and human with one another.

What was the result?

  • They solved real problems.
  • They made decisions.
  • Bottlenecks disappeared.

But it also had another effect.

  • There was no politics.

Making the best decisions for their organisation became an obsession.

The focus of the business shifted to where it needed to be … winning the hearts and minds of customers.

This set the tone for the next layer of leaders and their teams.

They fixated on not becoming complacent.

The bigger picture was that their entire marketplace was changing. Competitors and technologies were threatening and disruptive.

They could not afford for hubris and mediocrity to take hold.

A new Executive who joined the team found it very difficult at first.

He was uncomfortable with this level of transparency and candor. He was used to sheltered, conflict-averse environments, and to navigating corporate politics.

But the leader of the business was clear.

He liked to say … “if you’re not regularly pushing one another outside of your emotional comfort zone, you’re not making the best decisions for the business.”

This set the tone and he was unapologetic about it.

It was often a little messy.

Sometimes he pushed too hard and it felt personal.

But his motive was always consistent and transparent. It was always about making the best decisions for the business.

Motive meaning

At the same time, I noticed how hard he worked to build trust and respect in the team.

The team really valued this.

The new Executive quickly realised that being on this team was good for him too. It represented a critical growth point in his career.

He told me it was like waking up after a very long sleep.

My journey with this team has been an absolute highlight of my consulting career.

Their environment remains disruptive and ultra-competitive. Big players with deep pockets and massive ambitions are encroaching on their space. It will always be that way.

But I’ll bet my money on them making it.

I bet they will continue to figure out ways to innovate and solve problems faster than their competitors.

That’s because they have done what few teams ever manage to do.

They have mastered conflict.

What’s the lesson? 

  1. Passionate, Unfiltered Debate (PUD) is necessary for building commitment and making good decisions.
  2. Trust and respect build loyalty. It also removes the personal risks, and makes PUD a possibility.
  3. Confusion, politics, and ambiguity have a high cost. Eliminating these is the #1 job of the Leadership Team.

We love hearing from you. Please comment below. Do you think mastering conflict is critical on a team? What happens if you don’t?

Would you like to build a great leadership team? Contact me to find out how … grant@leadershipworks.co.za



Trust is a Superpower. Does Your Team Have It?

Reading Time: 2 mins 20s

A few years ago I found myself working with an Executive Team where the levels of trust were low.

The lack of it was thick in the air.

People hid their mistakes and weaknesses from each other.

No one dared ask for help.

Team members avoided spending time together.

There was very little spontaneity and banter. I noticed how each person managed their words and actions. They wasted precious time and energy on self-protection.

Being guarded was normal for them. Conflicts and discontent were disguised by fake harmony and humour.

Meetings were ineffective, rigid, stuck-up affairs, which everyone disliked, even dreaded.

The organisation craved leadership – but this Executive Team was unable to provide it.

The effects seeped into the business.

Politics and silo’s slowed everything down. The culture was inward-looking. Internal competition was the way to get ahead. Several of the company’s most talented people in key positions left.

This was a real wake-up call for the Chief Executive.

Something had to change.

Stephen R. Covey

Trust is a precious commodity on an Executive Team.

It boils down to the willingness of individuals to be vulnerable.

This is hard for Executives.

It means asking for help. Taking risks in giving feedback. It means admitting mistakes and weaknesses.

Being vulnerable is a special kind of strength. A superpower if you like. It transforms relationships. And it has a huge impact on group norms and team dynamics.

When you work with people who;

  • Offer and accept apologies without hesitation
  • Accept questions and input into their areas of responsibility
  • Tap into each other’s skills and experiences
  • Focus time and creativity on important issues, not politics and sideshows
  • Spend very little time protecting themselves and undermining each other

… life on the team is never the same again.

All the internal noise goes away.

Now, it’s possible to do the real work. To be resourceful and innovative. To create value.

What happened to the Team?

Over time, the Chief Executive came to see that he played a vital role in building trust.

  • At first, it was hard, but he showed courage. He took risks and was vulnerable without guarantees that others would respond.
  • He was authentic. He acknowledged the mistakes he’d made and apologized. He asked for the team’s support. Because he was consistent and sincere, people responded well.
  • He also showed empathy. He put his phone away. He started paying attention to the people around him. He concentrated on serving the needs of other people. Not himself!

The CEO’s actions allowed for new conversations to take place.  

It also earned him the right to expect more from others.

This set the scene for change.

Now conversations on the team are different. People speak up. They tackle issues and they make better decisions, faster than before.

In the next level of leaders, there is more collaboration, less silo thinking, and much less politics than before. Critically, their attention has shifted to solving problems, not just talking about them.

What’s the lesson here?

  1. At the top, trust is not a nice to have … it’s a requirement to lead.
  2. Without trust, there is no Executive Team … at least not one with the credibility to lead, inspire and transform.
  3. Trust can be restored … but it takes a determined effort and some risk.
  4. One person willing to take the risk gets the ball rolling.
  5. Two people willing to move forward allows new and exciting things to happen!

We would love to hear from you.

Do you have the Superpower called Trust in your team? Please comment below.

+ Download our Trust Checklist for Teams by clicking here.



COVID-19. The world has changed

How To Emerge From COVID With Your Culture Strengthened?

Reading time: 2 mins 50s

Covid-19 has changed our way of work. The ‘Zoom-i-fication of Society’ as some are calling it is permanent.

In a report from Initialized; “two or three-day office work weeks will become the norm for companies with physical offices.” They conclude that “only a small minority of companies will expect employees to be in the office all five days of the workweek.”

(See the report here)

Some of my clients will only return to the office in September. That’s a long way away. What we hoped would be a sprint now turns out to be a triathlon

So, in this hybrid world of work …

  • How do you build winning, happy, motivated teams … and sustain performance for the long haul?

This is 2021’s Management Challenge:  

to emerge from Covid with the spirit of your organisation alive and well.

… with the culture and performance of your business strengthened, not depleted.

It’s certainly a big ask.

How you rise to the challenge will define your success this year.

Here are a few practical thoughts on how to do so with the team you lead.


  • Decide which meetings must happen in-person. Get commitment to be at the office for these. The Weekly Team Meeting is the best example. Consider extending it by 15 minutes. Use this time for informal discussions or individual check in’s.
  • Keep your weekly 1:1’s consistent. This gives structure and stability. Remember to ask your 2 guiding questions; “What are your priorities this week?” “How can I help you?”
  • Consider only starting meetings at 9.00 a.m. With all meetings finished by 4 p.m. Take the bold step and make 1 day a week a meeting-free day.


  • Everyone is experiencing trials and challenges right now. Don’t assume therefore that people feel the same way about their work as before.
  • Anticipate this. Talk about the purpose of your team. Much more than normal. Discuss the relevance and impact of your work on others. Remind people why your team is important.
  • Make it personal. Remind team members why what they do matters and to whom.

Focus, focus, focusFocus

  • Create hyper-focus. This means your team goals are clear, simple, and ambitious. 7, 8 or 10 goals are too many. Concentrate your team’s energy on doing a few things really well.
  • Break big goals down into smaller ones. Radically re-prioritise work and consider which goals should not be worked on at all!
  • Keep your team in the loop on decisions being made in the wider business. It’s the unknown that unsettles people. Make time for discussion, so people can process what these decisions mean to them.


  • Ensure people are seen and heard. This is a basic human need – amplified by isolation and remote work. People want to be known and valued for who they are. Not treated like machines.
  • Celebrate small wins … for goals achieved and for conduct that reinforces your culture. Recognise people who help others. Ensure you too are a positive inspiration to the people around you.
  • Make sure team members know what a good day means to them. Help them to develop a simple set of criteria so they know for themselves … and not because you tell them.


  • Give your attention. Access to you is important. Be mindful of your own busyness. Trust is built on empathy and authenticity. If you’re unavailable, distracted (or absent emotionally) trust is compromised.
  • Burnout is real. Be vigilant because it’s on the rise. (See Beyond Burned Out, a must-read article). Feeling overwhelmed, drained, and unable to meet constant demands are clear signs. Be an expert in recognising burnout and intervene early.
  • Know what flexibility means to team members … and build flexibility into your team’s way of work. Develop a system together that promotes healthy habits, fosters creativity, and delivers performance.

I encourage you to start working in all of these 5 areas. To get active. To ensure your leadership is right for the times.

The world of work has changed forever. The forces driving this are out of our control.

What we can control is our response.

The best managers are already hard at work …  determined to not miss the opportunity presented by this time of disruption and change!

Please comment below: What are you doing to sustain performance for the long haul? To emerge from COVID with the spirit of your organisation alive and well?

Please forward this post to a colleague, friend, or family member. (Use any of the buttons below)



How to build commitment, set expectations and focus your team

Get everyone on your team heading in the same direction

Reading Time: 2 min 30s

Last time we wrote about clarity …

Making choices to focus and simplify your business. This is the most important work of the Executive Team.

The key lies in answering the 7 Essential Clarity Questions. Then it’s about over-communicating these through all the layers of your organisation.

Now it’s time to get every team in your business focused and heading in the same direction.

Cohesive teams that understand what they must do to make the business successful are precious.

Focus, discipline and simplicity are key. So is trust.

In short …

  • Your team must know what to focus on.
  • It must understand its purpose.
  • People on your team must trust one another.

It must also have a well-established meeting discipline. One where facts and data get on the table and everyone on the team knows what’s going on.

Invariably, your success also depends on other parts of the business coming to the party. Sales depend on Manufacturing, Operations on Supply Chain, and so on.

This means your expectations of other teams must be clear and your relationships healthy.

What’s surprising is how often they are not!

All of the above takes work, coordination, and intention.

It’s all part of the discipline of execution.

It’s work that requires Executives to roll up their sleeves and to get stuck in. Some Executives don’t like doing this. They think their main job is to set the strategy.

It’s not actually.

Far more important is working out the detail of how results will be achieved.

Not to mention getting people fired up.

This means translating the high-level stuff into clear performance goals. It also means setting clear expectations. Guidelines for how departments will work together and how people will behave.

A tool I have found very helpful in making this happen is the Team Charter.

We’ve developed and refined it over several years as a result of working with countless teams and Executives.

Executive Team at Work

The Charter is organised under 3 main headings … Purpose, Results, and Behaviours.

It captures what the team’s highest priorities are. It’s a promise from the team to the business. It’s where the team says, “this is what you can count on us for.”

The Charter is also used to set expectations with other departments.

Too often ‘Department A’ has no clue what ‘Department B’ is striving to achieve. In most cases, very little attempt has been made to clarify goals or synchronise activity.

Sharing the Charter and using it to set expectations solves this problem.

Simplicity is vital.

The key is that everything is on a single page and everyone on the team is part of creating it.

This makes the buy-in so much higher.

Finally, the Charter helps with team meetings. It offers a template for a simple, yet effective weekly meeting structure.

One that encourages transparency and accountability.

It guides the flow of the meeting … and it’s used for identifying those areas that need special attention. What’s more, it is a living document that is constantly being updated.

Teamwork, at the end of the day, is not complicated.

Nothing about what a team needs to do to perform is hard to understand.

The hard part is showing up every day and doing it.

For a busy Executive, the Team Charter makes the hard work much easier to do.

Ultimately, it also does the most important job of all. It gets everyone onto the same page and it keeps them there!

Would you like to use the Team Charter for your team?

Please mail me at grant@leadershipworks.co.za or comment below. I’d love to share it with you!


7 Questions Every Executive Team Must Be Able To Answer

Create clarity. Make choices and simplify your business

Reading Time: 3 Mins

What is the most important work of the Executive Team?

It’s to get onto the same page and decide what really matters for the organisation.

Without clarity your customers become confused … and your employees get frustrated. You risk becoming all things to all people.

That’s not a healthy place to be.

The Executive Team must make choices about what is most important.

This is achieved by answering a handful of critical questions. We call them the 7 Essential Clarity Questions.

 The 7 Essential Clarity Questions

  1. Why do you exist … your core purpose (beyond making money)?

This explains why you matter and to whom. It is your organisation’s highest motivation.

If it’s sincere and heartfelt your core purpose is a powerful source of inspiration for the people who work there.

  1. What do you do … your business definition?

Your answer here is a literal one. It’s what you actually do to fulfill your core purpose.

Two linked questions are who is your customer and how does your business make money?

Business acumen at all levels of your organisation is important. I’ve discovered how few people actually understand how their business makes money. And therefore what the right things are to measure, put resources into and stop doing!

  1. What are you busy building … your dream for the future?

This is where you are headed. What you aspire to be. People in your business, and those you want to attract, should be able to say, “Yes, I want to be part of going there!”

  1. How do you differentiate … why will the customer choose you?

This is your strategy … your unique approach to delivering value to your customer. I love to boil it down to 3 things, which we call your strategic anchors.

Southwest Airlines one of my favourite companies, does this so well. For them, it’s these 3 things: Low fares, on time and treat customers well.

They get these 3 right more than any other airline. It’s why they’ve been so successful over many years.

  1. What is most important your highest priority right now?

This is your overarching goal for the business for a defined period. Normally 6-12 months.

For many of my clients during COVID19, it was ‘keep the business alive.’

Now many are going onto the offensive. They are defining their highest priority for the next 12 months, knowing that now is the time to get back to business and pull ahead.

  1. Who must do what?

At one level this is obvious. But obvious doesn’t mean it’s common.

Each person must be 100% clear on what they need to do to make the team or business succeed. Everyone else on the team must also believe that this person is willing and able to make this contribution.

I don’t mean just to pay lip service to this. But to have deep confidence in fellow team members to fulfill their promise to the team.

  1. How will you behave … your core values?

These are the few behaviours that set your company apart. This is not the usual stuff like honesty, integrity and teamwork. These aren’t differentiating. Everyone has these.

I mean the behaviours that are uniquely associated with you.

Capitec, another of my favourite companies, does this brilliantly. They call it their C.E.O – their behavioural standard for everyone … from the Top to the Frontline. It stands for Client First, Energy and Ownership.

Over the past 20 years, they’ve baked these 3 behaviours into their business processes and culture. It’s part of their special formula for success.

Finally, because you’re a leader more is expected.

For leaders there is an 8th question … how will you behave?

Your Vital Leadership Behaviours .. to answer how you will conduct yourselves … to unlock the potential in your people … inspire hope and confidence and build a winning business?

This is often overlooked. But is a mistake. There’s true power in a Leadership Charter that simply describes your Vital Leadership Behaviours.

Once you’ve done the work to create clarity … what happens next?

  1. Simplify it onto a single page. Do this intentionally. Make it visual, memorable, and accessible.
  2. Take it to the business and get ready to listen. Invite contributions and have the humility to revise your plan.
  3. Overcommunicate and KEEP IT ALIVE. Make this the most important document in your business.

We love to hear from you. Please comment below.

Which question do you think is most important, the most difficult to answer, or the one that gets the least attention?

Why Don’t Leaders Come With An Instruction Manual?

Build trust, remove misunderstanding, and unite the team. 

Reading time: 3 min 20s

  • Does your team understand you?
  • Do they know who you are and how you like to operate?
  • Do you have expectations that you need to clarify and communicate?

All too often a team spends unnecessary time trying to figure out its leader. And the leader has expectations that are not clearly expressed and understood.

This problem is important to avoid.

If left unchecked it can lead to frustration, politics and what is known as the Fundamental Attribution Error.

This is a form of bias that causes us to misjudge people.   

It happens like this …

  • I observe your actions and I judge you – based only on what I can see.
  • What I can’t see and understand are your intentions and the situation you are in.
  • When the tables are turned, I expect you to take these things into account and offer me the benefit of the doubt.

It’s a double standard that causes trouble on a team. 

Stephen R. Covey

The solution is relatively simple.

But it does require a high degree of sincerity, vulnerability, and openness.

This is why it’s difficult.

The solution is the Personal Users Manual.

It’s a tool to make yourself known and understood by the team you lead. Its purpose is to remove the risk of negative interactions occurring through misunderstanding.

Two years ago I worked with a CEO who’d recently been appointed to lead an Executive Team.

He came from the Main Board of the company and was on a mission.

The company had fallen behind its competitors. It had great products but had taken its eye off the customer.

The new CEO had to turn this situation around.

He was a seasoned executive and a tough character. The Executive Team was anxious. Although they did not know him well, they knew of his reputation. This worried them.

He was prejudged before even setting foot in the building!

In our first meeting, he got straight to the point …

The Executive Team had important work to do. He could not afford for it to be wasting energy on office politics and misunderstandings.

Could I help him?

We agreed that at his 1st Team Offsite we would start with the Personal Users Manual. The session would be called, Working With Me.

These are the sections I asked him to prepare.

  1. My style – normally and under pressure?
  2. My values?
  3. What I find hard to tolerate?
  4. When and how best to approach me?
  5. How I view success?
  6. My areas of growth and how you can help me?
  7. What I expect of the people I work with?
  8. How and when to communicate with me?
  9. What makes me stressed?
  10. What people may misunderstand about me?

Working with him beforehand I could tell that he was taking this seriously.

He wanted the team to understand him.

He did not want his reputation to detract from them working well together.

That morning of the offsite was one my most memorable.

To start with he handed each person a copy of his Users Manual and explained its purpose. Then he carefully worked his way through the document.

You could hear a pin drop.

At the end, he asked for questions and discussion.

What followed was 90-minutes of deep, authentic conversation. It was one of those rare moments that took on a life of its own.

Their relief at his approach was palpable. In the process what they discovered was someone they could work with … a genuine human being.

A new energy was released which laid the foundation for a highly productive relationship.

Three months later we revisited the exercise.

  • He asked for feedback.
  • He reinforced what was important to him and why.
  • He asked how he could get better.

The team took up the discussion and again a great session followed.

Implementing it wider in the organisation.

The Executives followed his example and adopted the exercise for use with their teams. Even in those teams with established leaders, the exercise was valuable.

Importantly, at no point was this ever a ‘touchy-feely’ team-building exercise.

Combined with other elements, it was rather about doing the essential work to unlock the full potential of the team. Potential that in many teams is so often ignored and untapped.

… and it took a brave and wise leader to go first.

What is the lesson?

  1. A new CEO (or Team Leader) is a big change. Quickly adjusting and not wasting time on ‘figuring the other person out’ is vital.
  2. When we judge someone else’s behaviour, we are only seeing part of the equation. There is always another side.
  3. The Personal Users Manual helps to reveal that other side. When it’s backed up by consistency and frequent communication, trust is built.
  4. To be authentic this requires careful thought, courage, and vulnerability.

We love to hear from you. Please comment on this blog post below.

We will send you the Personal User Manual Template, a Sample, and a Users Guide.







Is Your Team Small Enough?

Reading Time: 3 min 15s

The ideal team size is between 5 and 10 people.

This is true for all teams, but especially for the one at the Top.

Recently I worked with an Executive Team that had 15 members.

The CEO wanted to improve communication and speed-up decision making.

He believed having a large team would serve this purpose. He also felt it would improve morale and be a great developmental opportunity.

The result was the opposite.

Meeting times doubled. Spirited, passionate discussions stopped taking place.

Superficial knowledge was going unchallenged. Before long, the louder, more extroverted people began to dominate meetings.

The vital Executive Culture of relevant, penetrating discussion simply did not exist.

Other issues were also at play.

  • The large group size made building trust more difficult. There was not enough ‘psychological safety’ in place. This made it hard to air real feelings.
  • People only engaged in meetings when the topic involved them. If it had to do with another part of the business they switched off.

The combined effect of all the above meant that important decisions were not being made. Valuable opportunities were being missed.

This team had a problem.

The real achievers were frustrated. One of the stars on the team confided in me that she was ready to leave.

Instead of buying-in, people were checking out.

On a high-performing Executive Team, everyone is expected to weigh in.

Frank views must be expressed. These must be debated and subjected to the critical analysis of others. Deadlocks must be broken and closure reached on important issues.

All this, while still maintaining the relationships required to work together.

The best teams have mastered this ability.

It’s why team size is so important. With more than 10 people around the table, it is difficult to have this kind of rigorous and inclusive dynamic in place.

This was a huge test for the CEO. A test, he had to confront head-on.

The company too had its challenges.

Their industry was changing rapidly. There was massive competition from bigger, more dominant, global players. They had to move fast to stay alive.

Building a cohesive, highly responsive, and credible Executive Team was vital.

There was an added complication.

I discovered that deep down he feared conflict.

This was actually the main reason why the team size issue had not been resolved. His aversion to conflict meant that the uncomfortable decisions about who was on the team were never taken.

He did not want to alienate, upset, or disappoint those around him.

What happened?

There was no overnight shift. This seldom happens. But today real change is underway.

Working with him, the CEO came to see that his most important job was fixing the team. Getting the team size right and deciding who sits in the key seats was something that only he could do.

Today, the team size has been reduced. The right people are now in the key seats. It’s a major achievement.

This has unlocked many positive benefits for the business.

  • There is a different spirit in the Executive. A new culture of straight talk and shared accountability is taking hold. This has set a fresh tone for the rest of the business.
  • Silo thinking has made way for a new era of working together. There is a key initiative in place to dismantle the bureaucracy strangling innovation and creativity.
  • The Executive and the next layer of leadership are collaborating as partners. A new way of working, based on trust, openness, and two-way communication is in place. Productivity and morale have greatly improved.

One year ago this business was inward-looking. 

Ironically, being inclusive at the wrong time, created frustration and resentment. This, coupled with the failure to make key decisions, damaged the credibility of the leadership team.

Today there is hope.

The energy of the business has shifted. Now they are focussed outward. Most importantly … serving the customer has become their #1 priority again.

What’s the lesson?

  1. To be healthy an organisation needs a credible Executive Team. Getting the size and composition of this team right is the 1st step in establishing this credibility.
  2. Taking the step is an essential challenge that cannot be avoided or delayed. It may feel hard and difficult to do so. Some people may even get upset and leave. But it’s a risk worth taking.
  3. The real risk ultimately is in not doing so. There is too much at stake. The productivity and spirit of your business depend on it!

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

What about your team … is it the right size? Does it have a culture of straight talk and shared accountability? Can real feelings be aired?


Write to me at grant@leadershipworks.co.za to find out about our new Team Survey. It’s a great tool. Simple, practical, and delivered virtually. Discover what’s really going on in your team and how to make it better.


What Kind Of Leader Are You?

Reading Time: 3 min 20s

Why do people become leaders – especially CEO’s?

  • Is it the personal reward for a lifetime of work and sacrifice?
  • Or, is it to serve others and do whatever it takes to help the organisation succeed?

Patrick Lencioni’s latest book, The Motive, is a new addition to my bookshelf. It explores this idea in detail.

All his books are fantastic. However, I think this is his best one yet.

So many books are about HOW to lead. This one is about WHY. Why you should even be leading in the first place.

So, what kind of leader are you?

In The Motive, Pat describes two primary motives driving people to lead. He calls these Reward Centered or Responsibility Centered.

Reward Centered Leadership

What’s the motive here? It could be expressed like this …

“I’m the CEO now. This is my reward for years of hard work. I’m finally at the top. It’s time to cut back on those things I never liked doing and enjoy the fruits of my success. I have authority, power and respect. Effort, sacrifice and climbing the ladder have got me here. I now have money and opportunity. I’ve arrived.”

Responsibility Centered Leadership

By contrast, the motive here is as follows …

“I’m the CEO now. My job is to serve the business and its people. The effort and sacrifice on my part have only just begun. This will be demanding and hard. I choose to take this on in spite of that. The authority that comes with the position is to be used wisely. People rely on me to do the hard and essential things that only I can do.”

This book is well-timed.

  • We’ve become overly tolerant of reward (or self-centered) leadership in all areas of our society.
  • We’ve forgotten that leadership is about the interests of those we lead and the value the leader creates.
  • Closer to home, you may see tendencies of Reward Centered Leadership in yourself that you would like to change.

Five responsibilities  

Pat sets out five responsibilities that leaders who are Reward Centered, don’t like to do. So they abdicate, delegate or avoid them.

Use these to reflect on your own leadership and where you may need to make a change.

What are the five responsibilities?

A. Having uncomfortable and difficult conversations.

I know CEO’s / Leaders who go to great lengths to avoid difficult conversations. Particularly with a Peer or Direct Report about their behaviour or performance.

Issues either get completely ignored or they convince themselves it will get better on its own. It never does.

Being an executive means being willing to enter the danger. To have direct (and compassionate) conversations on the things that really matter.

A CEO may not ever love this part of the job. But it comes with the territory.

B. Managing Direct Reports (and insisting they manage theirs.)

A CEO will often say; “I’ve hired adults. I trust them to do their job. People don’t like to be micro-managed.”

The problem with this, is that every human (even the people at the top) needs management … of the helpful kind.

Helpful means clarifying what they are responsible for. Being aware of how well they are doing it and providing coaching and interference when they need it. (And they will need it.)

That’s not micro-managing. It’s doing your job!

Without it, you have no real reason to expect them to be successful. Most organisations suffer more from the abdication of management at senior levels than from micro-management.

C. Developing the Leadership Team

Practically every CEO wants a great executive team. Yet all too often this gets delegated to HR or an external consultant.

It is the CEO’s job to ensure people are working well together. That they trust each other. Have good conflict, commit to decisions and hold each other accountable. This cannot be delegated.

Others can help of course. But the primary responsibility of having a functional cohesive team cannot. The CEO has to be 100% invested in showing the way.

D. Running great meetings.

I’ve written at length about meetings. Click here. But it’s still worth the reminder.

Meetings are the platform on which a leader leads. Leaders who don’t have great meetings, don’t understand that it is the most important thing that they do.

They should be a CEO’s favourite activity.

E. Communicating constantly and repetitively to employees.

Leaders should never apologise for repeating themselves.

Corporate communication from executives is often taken with a pinch of salt. Skepticism and inertia are very common. Because of this employees need to hear the same thing over and over again, and in different ways, before they buy-in.

Some CEOs, especially the reward centered ones don’t like doing this. They feel it’s wasteful or redundant to repeat themselves. And they often get bored with the repetition.

Good CEO’s don’t care about being criticised for repetition. To them it’s much more important that people are informed and have bought in.

Get back on track

  • Do any of these Five Responsibilities strike a chord?
  • Is there an area where you have slipped and need to get back on track?

The Motive will help you do so.

Leadership is meant to be a selfless and demanding responsibility. Especially for the CEO. It means taking on the hardest, most uncomfortable job in the organisation.

It’s not for everyone and neither should it be.

The question to ask is not, “Do I want this job? but, WHY do I want it?

Is it for reward or for responsibility?

Your answer will make a huge difference in the lives of a great number of people.

Choose wisely!

PS: We love hearing from you. Which of these Five Responsibilities do you think should never be avoided, ignored or delegated? Please comment below.



The Most Extraordinary Character I Ever Met

Reading Time: 3 min 15s

Many years ago I was working as a facilitator on the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People programme.

It was a wonderful occupation at a formative time in my own life.

Work with purpose is precious and I was very lucky to have it.

On the first evening of the programme we would gather around the TV in the conference room. It was time for the highlight of our day together.

Time to watch The Man Who Planted Trees.

In 1953, Readers Digest gave Jean Giono, one of France’s most famous authors, an interesting task. To write a story about the most extraordinary character he had ever met.

Inspired by a reverence for nature and to protect the forests of the world, Giono wrote The Man Who Planted Trees. It was to become his most loved story.

Much later it was converted into an animated film. A piece of work so well crafted that it won an Academy Award. The film is artistry and beauty at the highest level.

On every occasion, it cast its spell over me.

The story begins with a young man on a walking tour high in the mountains of Provence.

To his dismay, he discovers a barren and deserted wasteland … a place where water and life itself had ceased to flow.

In the far distance, he notices a lone figure. It’s Elzeard Bouffier – the hero of our story.

Having suffered personal tragedy, Bouffier had retreated into the highlands to be alone, with only his sheep and dog as company.

But, as the young man quickly discovered, there was so much more to Elzeard Bouffier.

Realising the land was sick and dying for lack of trees he had decided to put things right.

He was planting trees.

One hundred thousand in the first three years and the resolve to continue going until that number would seem like a drop in the ocean.

The young man visited our hero constantly over the next 35 years. In time he would change from sheep to beekeeping.

Yet his purpose never wavered … to restore the land by planting trees.

Slowly, and over many years, water began to flow again.

Communities sprung up in the valley below. Life in these villages revolved around the fountain, where water gushed up in abundance.

“Hope had returned.”

Ultimately, the storyteller concludes, more than “ten thousand people owed their happiness to Elzeard Bouffier.”

Today, more than ever before, this beautiful story resonates with me.

In the mid-1990s our country was trying to come to terms with the demons of the past and to build a new future. The story held meaning then. How do we put things right? How do we create a prosperous country for all who live in it?

Inauguration Day. Union Buildings, Pretoria. 10 May 1994

Today our land is still trying to heal.

We are still busy building the future.

And now another storm is blowing.

COVID 19 has dramatically disrupted our lives and livelihoods.

There is uncertainty.

We often feel anxious, unsure and overwhelmed.

Once again I am inspired by the life and actions of Elzeard Bouffier.

In 1914 the Great War broke out and raged on in Europe. Even so, he continued planting. Twenty-five years later the world was at war again. He still did not waver from his work.

The land needed to heal. It was his job to put it right.

Elzeard Bouffier’s dedication to the ultimate purpose of his life was constant and unyielding. Through good and (very) dark times he weathered the storm and created a new and bright future for thousands of people.

It is this, which makes him the hero of our story.

The image of a leader as a sower of seeds, a planter – a grower, is one I hold dear.

If you run a business, manage a team, lead a school, teach a class, or simply have responsibility for yourself, you are the one to make hope possible.

+ To weather the storm.

+ To sow the seeds and plant the trees.

Together, we have to ensure that the generations who come after us have a forest to walk in and a fountain to drink from.

We love hearing from you. Please comment on this blog post below.

Next time I’ll write about the CEO Rising Summit. There were fantastic contributions from Jim Collins, Verne Harnish, Ram Charan and Patrick Lencioni.

How Great Companies Prepare for Bad Times

Reading Time: 3 mins

Few segments have been harder hit during COVID 19 than the airline industry.

The impact has been devastating.

Once planning on high tourism demand and endless clear blue skies, the industry now faces an uncertain future.

On 3 March this year, I flew to America. It was business as usual. Flights and airports were bursting at the seams.

In the past two decades, the industry has seen eye-watering growth.

The IATA website reveals that 4.4 billion passengers flew in 2018. That’s up 7% from 2017. It’s been continuous year on year growth. There were 1.6 billion passenger journeys in 2000.

”Airlines are connecting more people and places than ever before. The freedom to fly is more accessible than ever. And our world is a more prosperous place as a result.” So said IATA’s CEO, Alexandre de Juniac in 2018.

Overnight, everything changed.

Today upwards of 50% of the global passenger fleet has been grounded. Passenger revenues will be $252 billion lower this year compared to 2019. 68% lower in Q2 alone.

Most international carriers only have two months’ cash on hand to cover operating expenses.

It is a desperate struggle for survival. The risk of permanent damage is very high.

Who will emerge stronger … positioned to capitalise on opportunities, as demand returns and air travel inevitably rebounds?

Time will tell of course. But I’m placing my bets on Southwest Airlines.

The current challenge for airlines worldwide is to manage costs and cash. In America, a $25bn rescue package for the 10 biggest airlines has been agreed upon. Southwest Airlines will receive $3.2bn, including $2.3bn in payroll support.

But what else do these airlines have to fight with?

This is the bigger question. And it’s precisely where Southwest has the biggest advantage.

When the reality is bad and the future is uncertain you have to have something substantial to fight with.

How strong you were going into this crisis matters now.

Airlines that win are the ones with the lowest costs.

Southwest is relentless in delivering a no-frills business model with the lowest per-unit cost in the industry. But they’ve also achieved something else.

They’ve combined low cost with a customer experience.

One no competitor has ever got close to matching. They created a superior intangible flying experience. Based on fun, entertainment and genuine human care.

For the customer, this more than compensated for any loss in frills and benefits on the low-cost model. And it made them strong.

Here for me is the secret.

For this to feel real and authentic, they had to build an airline culture unlike any other. One that had the properties of fun, entertainment, and genuine care at the very core of its soul.

What’s more, after 45 years, they still invest in their culture and guard it like a fortress.

Competitors cut corners that saved costs but eroded their cultures. Herb Kelleher, the founder, was clear. Southwest only cut those corners that did not impact the culture inside the company.

The result today is something rare and precious …

        a deep well of accumulated trust, loyalty, and respect from customers and employees.

Will this be enough to avoid failure?

It’s impossible to say of course. There are no guarantees. So much is still out of their control. The biggest uncertainty is when people will start to fly again. And in what numbers?

But they have a fighting chance.

  • They have cash, a strong balance sheet, and the lowest unit costs, and …
  • They have a culture that’s near impossible to copy and customers who love them.

How other airlines (and businesses) right now would wish for the same!

Last month, Gary Kelly, the Southwest CEO said this;

“I’m grateful we have time to work on the biggest problem we’ve ever been confronted with. This is not a time to feel sorry for ourselves. It’s time to be laser-focused. We believe we have rational reasons for hope.”

Rational reasons for hope … arising from actions taken during the good times.

Once in the storm, it’s too late.

Jim Collins writes about productive paranoia. “It’s the ability to be hyper-vigilant about potentially bad events that can hit your company. Then to convert that fear into preparation and clearheaded action.”

It’s the hallmark of a great company. And it’s why Southwest has a fighting chance of making it … possibly even emerging stronger.

Saving for a rainy day is not an empty idiom. It’s exactly what one needs … flying into a storm.

We love hearing from you. Please comment below …

Related Posts:

  1. Does Your Organisation Have a Heart
  2. Priceless Lessons from a Business Legend