SA’s Very Own Legend Francois Pienaar On MAD Leadership And Paying It...

SA’s Very Own Legend Francois Pienaar On MAD Leadership And Paying It Forward



Instead of complaining, have a hand in shaping the future

Make A Difference Leadership Foundation (MAD Leadership Foundation) started over a lunch with friends. We’re all passionate about South Africa and its potential, and yet we were only discussing negatives: Problems in leadership, education and other macro issues.

As the conversation continued, we realised that we’d each been given a helping hand in some way, either by a mentor or a bursary that had changed our lives irrevocably.

It was an awakening. We decided to start a collective drive to pay it forward. Instead of bemoaning the future of South Africa, we could have a hand in shaping the future. We felt a bursary would be the best gift we could give talented scholars.

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Often the greatest achievements start with one small step


MAD Leadership Foundation was no different. We put together a small and fairly informal team that could spearhead things, finding a few scholars who we could mentor and support.

From this small start things just grew and grew and grew, and before we knew it, we were a fully-fledged scholarship programme.

Growth is an interesting thing. It’s exciting and rewarding, but also comes with its own challenges. Suddenly this wasn’t just ours anymore. We couldn’t devote all our time and energy to it, so we started to collaborate, looking for other non-profit organisations, influential leaders and corporate partners that share our vision and mission to create a brighter future for South Africa.

We’ve pooled resources and widened our net to find and support more talented scholars. But none of this would have been possible if we hadn’t taken that first step.

You need to know who you are and what you stand for

This is true whether you’re an individual, a business or a foundation. For example, as a foundation, we’re steadfast in our pursuit of excellence for our scholars and determined to remove every obstacle blocking their success.

Our aim is for them to emerge as leaders, confident in who they are and how they can perpetuate a cycle of change. These values permeate everything we do.

It’s been a journey of trial and error, and as we’ve evolved and the programme has changed, we’ve needed to establish formal processes. Everything is based on your values though. Get the foundations right and the rest will follow.

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Make ‘pay it forward’ the cornerstone of everything you do


If we all lived and operated like this, the world would be a better place. Through the foundation we place a huge emphasis on our scholars’ responsibility to pay it forward.

We can only help a finite number of individuals, but if they go forth with a focus on transforming society for the better whenever they get the opportunity — whether through mentorship, standing up for something that is right or giving back in a small way that sets someone on a path that was previously unobtainable — then the impact of even one small deed is exponential.

Our aim is for each of our scholars to understand the value of giving back, so that one day when they enter the workforce, they won’t be motivated by what they can achieve for themselves, but by how they can contribute to society as a whole.

In my opinion, there are four key pairs of values that drive strong leadership. These provide a framework for a value-driven leader:

  1. Ambition with hard work
  2. Passion with discipline
  3. Courage with honesty
  4. Confidence with humility

There are no foolproof plans for success but everyone needs guiding values to benchmark their decisions, goals and actions against, to ensure that you are constantly evolving into the type of leader you would want to become.

Leadership is a journey; it has to be challenged and worked on. It must be flexible enough to evolve into the kind of leadership behaviour that is needed at the time. Most important of all, great leaders work hard.

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One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received

“Children are the best mimics in the world. Are you worth mimicking?” View everything you do through that lens, and evaluate if any of your behaviours, values and thoughts need to be adjusted.

Nadine Todd
Nadine Todd is the Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Magazine, the How-To guide for growing businesses. Find her on Google+.