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!

Is your team fired up?

Is your team focused, fired up and fully engaged?

“Can you help us build a high performance team” is the question I am most often asked.

Almost every organisation wants their teams to be more resourceful, innovative and adaptive.

  • They want team members to be fired up and fully engaged.
  • They also want these teams to play well with other teams in the organisation too.

As one Executive told me; “we want to do business with our customers, not with ourselves.”

He’s right. Shifting the focus of the team to its customer is the most important thing.

Who wouldn’t want this?

Why then are so many teams not creating value where it’s needed the most?

Building a high performance team requires the courage to get a few basic things right. Starting with the Team Leader. This is where the journey to high performance begins.

The effect this person has on morale and productivity is profound.

A wise friend once told me; “to the fish the water is most important” It’s the quality of the water that determines whether the fish will flourish and grow.

To the fish the water is most important

And so it is with a Team.

The Team Leader’s main job is the water. It is to create and sustain the conditions for team performance. If these are not favourable, people and performance suffer.

A lot goes into this.

At the outset the Team Leader must believe that teams are not machines.

They consist of people. People have values, emotions, dreams, fears, biases, insecurities and past experiences.

These uniquely human qualities must all be harmonised into one distinctive identity. An identity to which people feel they belong.

People must still be able to be themselves within the framework and purpose of the team.

All this is part of the water. Part of what makes people flourish and grow.

The team’s purpose is vital too.

People may have differences but PURPOSE is the unifying force

A demanding performance challenge separates a great team from all the others.

When the team’s purpose explains what this challenge is – and people buy into it – the team is well on its way to being formed.

Talented people relish solving big, worthy problems, with people they respect and admire.

The Team Leader has other important things to do too.

  • They must mould the team by getting people to submerge their egos and co-ordinate seamlessly.
  • They must create safety … and set the standards.
  • They must know how to match people’s talents with the requirements of the job.

All these we’ll deal with in future posts.

For now it’s important that the Team Leader keeps themselves in check too. For a high achiever this is often the hardest part.

It’s so easy to interfere and disempower.

Chief controller


It’s often true that the Team Leader does know more than others. They can spot problems sooner. What’s more, deep down, they like control and feel insecure without it.

But when the Team Leader is the Chief Controller & Problem Solver, there are problems.

It disempowers. People stop thinking for themselves, become lazy, go silent and wait to be told. They stop taking risks and trying new things.

Anxiety (and fear) often rears its ugly head. People become unwilling to admit weaknesses and mistakes. The team retreats … afraid to make decisions.

The result is a few people do all the work while everyone else waits for orders and instructions.

There are no winners here!

At the end of the day it is the water that matters.

Unleashing the potential of the people and the ability of the team to perform depends on it.

To this end, the Team Leader makes the biggest difference.

Get the leader right and watch what happens.

You start doing business with your customers and stop doing business with yourselves!

Video: What we really care about. 1 min 30 s

For the next few months our focus will be on the Team Leader. Helping you to build a toolkit to unleash the full potential of your team. This is vital, especially when talent is so mobile and the future is so unclear. Stay tuned.

To start, downloadDo We Work Well Together?

Please comment below. We love hearing from you!

Leadership Works 2019 Wrap Up Meetings

Meetings. What should be done about them?


They are the most common of all business activities, yet also one of the most troubling.

There’s hardly an organisation we know who does not wish to improve the quality of their meetings.

It’s a real source of pain.

Why are they so troubling and what should be done about it?

Our first post in early 2020 will tackle this question.

Also in the New Year

  1. Launch of a new programme – Tracking Success.
  • We are excited to launch a new programme in 2020. It’s designed for your next team offsite or large company conference.
  • Tracking Success will inject energy and a fascinating new metaphor into your way of thinking.
  • Watch the short video to find out more.

  1. We’ll be traveling to Dallas in March to participate in Patrick Lencioni’s annual UNCONFERENCE.
  • It’s a unique event that celebrates the importance of Organisational Health.
  • Patrick Lencioni will talk on what motivates leaders to become CEOs. Are they leading with the right motive? For the reward? Or the responsibility it’s intended to be?

Meetings LeadershipWorks 2019 Into 2020

  • And then the piece I’m most excited about.

Southwest Airlines – one of the healthiest companies in America.

The Chief Learning Officer, Elizabeth Bryant and other SWA executives will talk about how they have sustained the culture and heart of Southwest Airlines, over so many years.

There will be much to learn and we will write about all of it. Please stay tuned.

Finally, in case you missed it, our most-read article in 2019 was The Power of Relationships.

It’s about an unusual friendship between two people, Alex and Renias. Their story is the inspiration behind our new programme, Tracking Success.  Click here.

Thank you for your support this year.

It’s highly valued. We wish you a wonderful holiday and great blessings over the festive season.

Best wishes,


Leadership Works November Who is the most important person in your organisation

Who is the most important person in your organisation?

The Team Leader is at the frontline of organisational culture.

The macro-culture gets set at the top. This is important but there are limitations. The problem is that even with the best intent, executives are distanced from most people’s actual daily working experiences.

The micro-culture is what’s key.

This is the team you work in. The 6 to 10 people you spend the most time with every day. It’s here, in the micro-culture, on the watch of the Team Leader where the culture gets realised.

The Team Leader’s actions, motives and personal energy makes a huge difference to how much people care about their place of work.

This is a big responsibility.

It’s why the Team Leader is arguably the most important person in your organisation.

So what is the work of the Team Leader?

Ultimately it boils down to two things:

  1. Create conditions for people to perform.
  2. Make work a dignified experience.

Performance matters. It’s obvious. But it’s surprising how often this gets lost in the activity of a business. Results matter. This is how value gets created. Results establish the legitimacy of the team and the sustainability of the business.

But dignity matters too.

This shapes how people feel about their work and the organisation.

If people are your most important asset, as I hear many executives say, then dignity matters. Dignity is how people are treated. It allows for people to belong. To feel loyal and want to do more.

Together, performance and dignity ensure that not only the business grows but the person does too.

The Team Leader has a big role to play. One of their first actions is to create clarity.

Practically this means working with the team to create a Team Charter. A charter is a ‘contract’. It bonds people’s actions together and releases energy towards a common goal.

Keeping it simple and on a single page is important.

Answering the following 7 questions is key:

  1. Why do we exist as a team … our core purpose?
  2. What do we do?
  3. How will we behave?
  4. How will we succeed … 3 things we have to always get right?
  5. What is most important right now … our team’s single most important near term priority?
  6. Who must do what and by when?
  7. What will we measure?

A Charter clarifies the team’s reason for being. It provides focus and it avoids the morale-sapping effect of confusion and the inevitable frustration which follows.

Yet most teams have not answered these questions!

And they certainly are not written up on a single page and kept visible and accessible. Neither are they referred to in meetings and consulted weekly as the basis for making decisions and evaluating success.

This is a powerful tool in the hands of the Team Leader.

So too is working with each person to identify their strengths. This builds the spirit of the person and it grows trust. The best team leaders work very hard at this.

In a May 2019, HBR article, The Power of Hidden Teams, Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall wrote:

“We discovered that strong agreement with two statements, ‘At work, I clearly understand what is expected of me’ and ‘I have the chance to use my strengths every day at work’, corresponds with a high level of trust in the team leader.

Trust in the Team Leader is the key to the performance of the team.

Creating clarity builds this trust.

So does helping each person on the team to get focussed and feel understood.

This is the essential work of the Team Leader. The best ones show up every day to do this … over and over again.

There’s more of course.

But it starts with performance and dignity on the frontline of your business.

We love hearing from you. Please comment below.

+ Do you agree that performance and dignity are vital?

+ Has your team answered the 7 questions?




The 4 Essential Things A CEO Cannot Delegate: Patrick Lencioni Interview

Download The Full Interview

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Last month I spent time with Patrick Lencioni. I always get so much value when I spend time with him. He is an incredibly gifted writer and without doubt the leading voice in the world today on organisational health.

During our time together I asked Pat a variety of questions, all of which arise from the challenges and issues we encounter while working with executive teams, in South Africa and around the world.

It is a powerful and insightful interview and I hope you find it as interesting and stimulating as I did while making it.

We deal with issues such as:

1. What are the 4 essential things that a CEO cannot delegate?
2. What does it really mean to develop a performance culture?
3. Why are meetings often so unproductive and what can you do about it?
4. How do you get communication to flow in large organisations with lots of layers?
5. How to tell the kind truth upwards and why doing this will double your influence in your organisation?
6. Why do managers wait so long before addressing poor performance and bad behaviour?
7. What are the ideal attributes of a great team player?
8. Why is clarity more important than certainty when you are an executive?

Patrick Lencioni Interview

Download The Full Interview

Download Size: 862.12 KB  204 downloads

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.

What do lion prides do with passengers?

Tackling the thorny issue of poor performance and unmet expectations is vital if a business team wants to be successful and breakthrough to the next level.

Ian Thomas and I discuss this question in the 2nd video in the series.

The key is to deal with these issues early, directly and of course kindly. It’s a mistake to wait.

Waiting does everyone a disservice. People want to know where they stand and they rely on you to tell them and guide them.

I am a beneficiary of this. Ten years ago, after a consulting session with an Executive Team the CEO invited me for a chat. He got straight to the point.

No elaborate preamble or attempt to soften what he was about to tell me. I recall his words clearly. “We like you. We want to work with you, but today you disappointed me. We have not hired you to tell us what we already know. Your job is to bring us deep insights from your experience, to challenge us and to force us to talk about the things we would rather avoid.”

That was it. Simple and clear. I had to get better if I was to keep working with them. It was a turning point for me and our business.

This was unusual. Mostly senior leaders allow too much time to pass. The real issue I think is the discomfort with the conversation. We hope that the other person will somehow gain the insight by themselves and take the steps to change, without us being in the uncomfortable situation of having to challenge them.

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

Here if you don’t contribute you don’t share in the rewards of the hunt and ultimately you fall out and die. It’s stark but its true. The sustainability of the pride relies heavily on the contributions of each individual but the individual is not more important than the pride.

Contribution and performance defines membership.

Are you moving too slowly to tackle behavioural and performance issues on your team?

Are you avoiding the uncomfortable conversation about someone’s performance or behaviour?

Take action today!

Begin by writing down what you expect. And yes, write it down. It’s important to be specific. Avoid generalising. This is not about their character. It’s about their contribution and behaviour – be crystal clear before going on.

Check your intent. You are doing this out of love and respect. The other person wants to grow and improve as much as you do and you are a necessary part of this process for them.

Don’t sugarcoat. Be direct and sincere. Offer help and support but don’t take on responsibility for their choices and actions.

Then follow up and follow through with rigour.

In the next video, Ian and I talk about building trust and goal setting. These are the next vital steps in building a great team.

For more articles and resource visit www.leadershipworks.co.za  | www.ianthomas.net. Or you can follow us on Instagram at @grant.ashfield | @ian_s_thomas.

Lions have mastered this skill… how about you?

In a lion pride, team selection and membership is an essential part of their survival. For lions, especially when they are hunting big prey like buffaloes it is a life or death issue.

Having the right team members on the hunt not only ensures their success but also guarantees their safety. Here there is no place for complacency, confusion or personal positioning and ego. It is about getting the job done and ensuring the wellbeing of the pride.

In organisations the consequences of getting team membership wrong is not so immediately felt. But it’s essential nevertheless.

In fact it is the # 1 executive skill.

Who should be in the key seats around the table is a skill every leader has to master. It is essential to be rigorous about people decisions. If you get this wrong, especially at the top, the whole organisation suffers.

Recently my friend Ian Thomas – best selling author of Power of the Pride, and team expert, and I caught up to talk about this subject. Ian has spent his life studying lion prides and bringing the lessons back for business people.

In this short three-part series we talk about team membership, dealing with passengers on the team, trust and goal setting. We hope that these are useful, fun, and helpful to you!

Getting Team Membership Right

In the next video we will focus on dealing with passengers and poor-performance.

With the right people in place you can now focus on accelerating your growth and building a healthy organisation – one that is future focused, outward looking and entrepreneurial. Vital qualities that every CEO I talk to deem essential to their success.

For more articles and resources visit our websites. www.leadershipworks.co.za and www.ianthomas.net. Or you can follow us on Instagram at @grant.ashfield and @ian_s_thomas.

Please comment below. We love hearing from you. We will send each person who comments a free copy of Ian’s book – The Power of the Pride. * limited to the first 10 comments

Leadership Works Is Your Organisation A Great Place To Work

Is your organisation really a great place to work?

I recently hosted a discussion with a small group of people aged between 21 and 34.

The group, made up of employees from junior and middle management, was talented and ambitious with the potential, the CEO told me, to succeed at the highest level in the company.

Her worry was whether they would stay and if the culture of the business really supported the growth and development of talented people. “A lot of our best people leave once we have trained them, it’s very costly and frustrating to keep starting all over again.”

It’s a problem many companies face.

The purpose of this discussion was to build the awareness of the Executive Team.

They wanted insight into how this group felt about the leadership of the company. They wanted to know if this really was a great place to work, why they had joined and what would cause them to leave.

This Executive fully appreciates the extent to which politics, confusion, turf wars, enlarged egos and dysfunctional behaviour at the top breaks down employee morale and productivity and how much this contributes to suppressing (and depressing) talent, causing them to leave.

This team is vigilant and determined to build a healthy organisation.

Respect, trust, confidence and pride in the culture are the hallmarks of a great organisation and the CEO in particular wants to know that these are present in her organisation.

To the credit of the group, once we kicked off, no one held back. From the start the discussion was animated, engaging and free flowing. Soon we were oblivious to the executives sitting around us, who were scribbling notes and listening intently.

Ninety minutes flew by and at the end definite themes had emerged.

1. Right now in their careers opportunity, guidance and autonomy is vital.

They need real work and responsibility that challenges them and leaders who will support them on the way. Few people, even the most talented, are able to be successful on their own.

But they also need space. They need to make mistakes safely and they’re not able to grow with managers constantly looking over their shoulders and interfering.

Peter Drucker said “that most of what we call management, consists of making it difficult for people to get their work done.” There comes a time when senior managers need to get out of the way and let people get on with it.

2. This generation is strongly motivated by the need to make a difference.

They want to make an impact and they want their work to have meaning. For many this includes being role models for their community – to show other people that it’s possible to come from very little materially and get somewhere in the world.

From their leaders they also need inspiration … more ‘why’. More knowing that what they are doing serves a real purpose. For any person, feeling that one’s work is neither appreciated or valued is demoralising, but its especially so for this generation.

3. “More feedback please!”

“Tell me how I am doing. Be direct and honest and please don’t shield me from consequences or the truth. Mostly don’t ignore me. Please don’t hire me and promise me great things and then ignore me.”

These words were spoken passionately and over again and were perhaps the biggest takeaway for this Executive Team.

One of my favourite management maxims, “Know me. Value me. Focus me” sprung to my mind.

To give of their best, everyone, especially this generation, wants clear direction and expectations, to be known and valued for who they are and to believe that what they do makes a difference and matters, especially to someone in authority.

I left the discussion with the overwhelming feeling that in our own striving, those of us in our 40’s and 50’s must not let this new generation down.

We are blessed with talent in our companies.

Our job as leaders is to see it. Nurture it. Release it.

As always we love hearing from you. Please comment below and let us know what you think. Is your organisation really a great place to work?

matches pass passion along leadership works top teams

Do you have a real team at the top?

Last time I promised to write about how to start to tap into the gold mine inside your organisation.

The first step is to build a real team at the top.

When your company’s executive team are not on the same page about what’s best for the whole organisation and they put their own interests, needs and functional areas before the priorities of the larger organisation there is a problem.

A bank executive told me recently, when there is no cohesion and unity at the top, the stage is set for interdepartmental rivalry, backbiting, confusion and infighting everywhere else. This behaviour he insists does not serve the overall best interests of the bank and neither does it help the customer.

The journey to a healthy organisation begins then with the Executive Team.

When your executives, the people with the greatest influence on behaviour in your organisation, start sharing information, support group decisions, dismantle the walls that once protected their turf and outlaw political games and hidden agendas, the message about how to behave is clear to everybody else.

How your leaders behave plays a vital role in ensuring that people don’t turn instead to cynicism, apathy and escapism.

Almost every employee has a deep need and desire for a cohesive and unified team at the top. They want to be inspired, to respect their leaders and to not have to take sides and fight unwinnable wars on issues that should have been resolved above them.

For many this deep need remains unmet and it’s a huge contributing factor to why large numbers of people are not emotionally engaged in their work.

At the initial offsite with the top team the first really difficult question we ask executives is, which team is your first team?

It’s not a trick question.

Which hat you wear as you sit around the Executive table is vital to how you show up and behave. Surprisingly, many Executives have not thought much about this.

For most it’s first their functional area or business unit – the team that they lead – that gets their main loyalty. This is where they are most comfortable. Where their knowledge and power base is.

Yet in a healthy organisation – there needs to be a clear Team Number One.

This is a small group of people – the Executives – who have the total interests of the business at heart and who are guided by one overarching leadership question, “How do we unlock and release the future full potential of the whole business”.

This means they are also completely dedicated to stopping the turf wars, ambiguity and every other barrier and bad behaviour that gets in the way of survival, growth and winning in the market.

They know that the stakes are high.

They know that the competition is organised and that every ounce of human creativity and intellect has to be focused outward and not wasted on internal struggles and needless empire building.

An executive I worked with – a very straight and direct man – used to challenge his team by asking; “do you want to be Executives or do you want to be Branch Managers?”

A stinging question, not intended to demean the latter but to remind his Executives of their main purpose … to build a real team at the top.

A Team Number One, that positions the whole business to meet customer needs and to set the example for getting people to submerge their egos and co-ordinate seamlessly. This team works tirelessly to make sure they don’t squander more human capability and goodwill than they actually use.

This is the first step to building your healthy organisation.

Next time we will write about the actual characteristics your Executive Team needs.

In the meantime please visit our Resources Page and download “Do We Work Well Together?” Ten questions that will make you think deeply about your team and what you look like to the people around you.

As always we love hearing from you.

Please comment below. We’ve just received fresh copies of Patrick Lencioni’s best-selling book, The Advantage and will give away three copies to people who comment.