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Be a Fearless Leader

Three real-life CEOs who are making the world a better place.

Reana Rossouw

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Business Leadership

The rules of business 50 years ago (even 20 years ago) were very different from the rules today. As a business leader, if you don’t take care to know what these rules are, and have a plan in place to address and embrace them, yours won’t be a brand of the future.

A new way of doing business

While the term was almost unheard of a few decades ago, today ‘sustainability’ is the pinnacle of leadership. The result is that leaders need to consider the impact of their actions on the business world, governments, as well as people and the planet.

This requires a paradigm shift, but it’s associated with numerous paradoxes and complexities. In an attempt to manage and understand these paradoxes, we look at three qualities of a sustainable leader and illustrate these with examples of real CEOs.

1. Financial growth is not a primary driver for organisational success

Previously, growth was the single most important driver of organisational strategies. Today, leaders are confronted with the paradox: Is growth feasible in a world running out of resources? Do we need to grow at all costs? How do we marry growth and sustainability? What is the risk and result of a growth-focused strategy?

Leaders can no longer base decisions purely on financial growth or be incentivised based only on financial performance.

Sanlam CEO Johan van Zyl has expressed his concern for South Africa’s short-term profit objectives and the use of incentives to support an immediate vision for shareholder wealth creation and growth. Sustainable leadership underpins the belief that this approach will undermine an organisation’s ability to grow economically and create an equitable, sustainable future for its entire stakeholder base.

2. Innovation is a tool to drive impactful organisational change

Incremental changes will not make organisations truly sustainable. In the past, most organisations focused sustainability efforts on cost efficiencies (by reducing consumption of resources) and compliance (by reducing risks and protecting their social licence to operate). Although small, these are steps in the right direction.

However, in the quest to become more sustainable, organisations cannot innovate just for the sake of innovation. Innovation requires positive changes to products and services, and eventually the business model. Only in this way can innovation lead to transformation and sustainability.

In 2011, bottled water manufacturer Valpré, owned by Coca-Cola, opened a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Heidelberg. Every detailed component of the plant underpins innovations to reduce Valpré’s carbon footprint and supports a business model geared towards sustainability.

The plant is the first in South Africa to produce PlantBottle packaging – a 100% recyclable bottle design comprising 30% plant material. In the US, the production of 2,5 billion PlantBottle packages eliminated the equivalent of approximately 60 000 barrels of oil from Valpré’s plastic bottles. This innovation may have been small, but its cost and environmental impact was transformational.

Perhaps the most visible example of an entrepreneurial trailblazer is Sir Richard Branson who predicts that the business world will enter unknown territory in ten years — running out of energy, yet remaining worryingly over-dependent on oil.

He views the opportunities of renewable energy as the perfect platform to develop new technologies and innovations for business success, marrying innovation with
impactful and sustainable change.

Leaders need to ask themselves whether their organisations have the resources, skills and internal capacity to drive innovation to become more sustainable in the future. If organisations cannot develop truly innovative business models, their ability to create long-term value may suffer and their economic survival will be at stake.

3. Value collaborative, altruistic capitalism

Business is inherently competitive. However, a stakeholder-based future may ask leaders to be more collaborative. The long process of stakeholder engagement will ensure that the organisation has the long-term stamp of approval of its stakeholders to continue to do business.

Leadership for sustainability requires a heart, rather than a head approach. An overriding traditional leadership quality was the ability to cut through emotional clutter and make decisions based on facts. In a sustainability context, predictability is hard to come by.

‘Emotional clutter’ – impoverished communities, contaminated water and endangered species – is part and parcel of what sustainability demands. Leaders cannot afford to ignore these elements.

Today, leaders have to base decisions on uncertain futures, unpredictable outcomes, deteriorating resources and incomplete analyses. This will often require intuitive or ‘heart-led’ leadership – an approach that may not come naturally to most 21st century leaders.

Unilever’s CEO, Paul Polman says one of the greatest challenges of this century is to provide good standards of living for seven billion people without depleting the earth’s resources or running up massive public debt.

He begs for a new form of capitalism, and the pledge by businesses to partner with government to collectively address socio-economic and environmental concerns. Business is part of society, not separate from it, and needs to recognise that communities carry the same weight as the demands of shareholders.

A new generation of leadership

Growth in difficult times, constant innovation to stay ahead of competitors, innovative products and services, and embracing change in an increasingly complex environment will remain imperatives for business. Simultaneously though, leaders will have to embrace the underlying paradoxes in these imperatives.

The sustainable leader will fearlessly face these challenges and establish a new generation of business leadership.

Reana Rossouw is the owner of Next Generation Consultants, a leading boutique Management and Business Consulting Firm with a wealth of experience in the business development environment.

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Leading

How To Make Speedy Decisions As A Leader

Whom of us has not been held prisoner by our own devices of procrastination and fear? Whom has not used delaying tactics purely to play for time only to learn the true practical meaning of Shakespeares words: “I wasted time and now time doth waste me”?

Dirk Coetsee

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“Trusting one another, however can never mean trusting with the lip and mistrusting in the heart.” – Mahatma Gandhi


“Self-trust is the first secret of success” – Ralph Waldo Emmerson

Whom of us has not been held prisoner by our own devices of procrastination and fear? Whom has not used delaying tactics purely to play for time only to learn the true practical meaning of Shakespeares words: “I wasted time and now time doth waste me”?

Rapid decision-making

Harvard research has identified amongst other key traits of the most successful CEOs’ of Fortune 500 companies the ability to make decisions quickly and act on them at a rapid speed albeit with the inherent acknowledgement that they might get it wrong forty percent of the time.

Related: 7 Strategies For Development As An Entrepreneur

Why is speedy decision making and a rapid pace of execution so critical? Top leaders know that making quick decisions combined with swift execution creates a much better chance of success as opposed to very slow and bureaucratic verdicts underpinned by little or no action.

When there is a high level of distrust amongst the stakeholders in any entrepreneurial venture literally everything slows down as negative arguments ensue and takes up an enormous amount of precious time. Forced action underpinned by distrust loses quality and speed and can potentially bring a business to its knees.

“The speed of trust” is therefore an extremely valuable principle that all Leaders should live by, that is if they wish to serve a higher purpose than themselves and others. Those Leaders whom have developed a high level of self-trust and have earned the trust of their team members have put themselves in the very advantageous position of being empowered to move towards their vision at a rapid pace through quickfire decisions positively multiplied by confident and competent execution.

“The speed of trust” does not mean that decisions are made without careful consideration and stakeholder input putting the level of quality of execution at imminent risk. It simply means that the decision-making process is quicker than most as mistrust does not cast unnecessary shadows of doubt over the intentions and ambitions of all the stakeholders.

A Leader or Leaders whom has fostered self-trust within themselves will not go through lengthy spells of procrastination that those whom lack self -awareness and suffer from severe self- doubt has to go through.

How do I execute at the speed of trust?

How do I practically bring the principle of the “speed of trust” to fruition within my business? Firstly, ensure that this critical principal is applied throughout all business processes which starts with hiring trustworthy people and by working those out of the business whom cannot be trusted.  Secondly, as  a Leader your actions and words echo throughout every aspect of the business therefore do what you say you are going to do. Admit to your mistakes and fix them.

Thirdly be authentic in your pursuit of the vision of your business. One of the possible ways to achieve that is by being a visible and living example of the business values that you advocate as a leader.

Related: Sales Leadership: The New Frontier

Lastly in order for you to be trusted as a leader you must first show trust in others. Trust others by giving them more responsibility and verbalise your high level of trust in your team members. Passionately speak about this principle and its positive fruits at every opportunity. Make the practical display of this principle by employees or any other stakeholders known to all stakeholders and be lavish with your praise when anyone is willing to earn the trust of other team members.

A very good example of this principle in action was embodied by the Supreme Russian commander, Alexander Vasilyevich Suvorov whom never lost a battle and was respected by both his men and his enemies. He earned the trust of his men by being amongst them as often as he could, by sharing their hardships and by offering them the most authentic and quality military training known to man within that period of history.

Suvorov was a humble student of warfare and documented every detail of his learning experiences which included setbacks that he faced. He observed the morale of his men first hand and ensured that he inspired them not only through his inspiring speeches but by being a living example of discipline and bravery.

I will leave the reader with an important question to ponder, one that has echoed throughout history: Do you trust enough to be trusted?

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What Kind Of Leader Are You?

Your effectiveness in scaling your business starts with the kind of leader you are. Here’s how you can build yourself up into a leader others will follow.

Nicholas Haralambous

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When you are in start-up mode it’s tough to take a step back and think about the kind of leader you are or want to be. Most of the time you’re fighting to keep your business alive, never mind think about how you lead.

This is especially challenging when it’s faster and more efficient to just step up and do things yourself. It’s easier for you to make the decisions, do the work, check the work, follow up on the work, etc. However, it’s this situation that prevents young companies from scaling to the next level.

Ask More Questions

I work really hard every day to be quieter. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I fail so dismally that I actually do more damage than good. You see, I like to talk. I like to hear other people talk and I like to bash around ideas until they become something bigger, something better and something that can move from idea into action.

Related: Your Leadership Journey Starts Now… And Go!

Coupled with liking to talk, I also like being right. Who doesn’t? Add onto these two things the fact that I like to read and research and then throw in a teeny bit of ego or pride and it’s a recipe for leadership disaster.

If I am the most well-read, loudest and most opinionated person in a meeting then all that happens is that I end up pitching an idea, getting everyone to agree with this idea and then assigning the work on the idea to become a reality. Basically, I am working with, for and amongst myself. It’s an echo chamber that leads to bad ideas surviving and an unhappy team leaving.

The Collective Is More Intelligent Than the Individual

As a leader and founder, you probably feel like you are the person with the best understanding of the problem you are trying to solve and the best person to solve the problem. This can lead to a dictatorial approach to leadership, team inclusion and problem solving. You have an idea, you tell your team and they do what you tell them.

If this is how you do it then I have to ask you a simple question: Why did you hire smart people? Just so you could tell them what to do? If that’s the case rather hire capable but cheap people, not the best.

Your best people are there to help you scale your business beyond your own thinking and time. There are a set amount of hours in the day. There are only so many emails you can answer in your day.

A good example in my business is customer support. We pride ourselves in our impeccable customer service online and offline. I can’t physically answer every question posed by customers but I can hire incredible colleagues, entrust them with my vision and views on our customers and then trust them to go out and use their good judgement.

Work With The Best

Here’s the kicker to being a good leader: You need to work with the best people.

This is not something I say as a passing statement. I want you to stop reading right now and think about the ten people you interact with at your company every day. Are they the best people you could be working with? If not, why not? How do you find the best people and bring them into your business? Go and do that.

Related: You’re The Boss, So Be The Boss

It’s important to work with the best for two very simple reasons.

Working with the best people pushes you to be better. If you are literally the smartest person in the room in every aspect of your business it means that you are surrounded by subpar players and you are not learning anything. The people around you are meant to educate you and push your business into places you didn’t even know were there.

Second, working with the best people attracts other incredible people. If you have a business full of average team members, can you guess what kind of people they pull towards your business? More average or less than average people. Why? Because average people don’t want to be surrounded by incredible people. If they are, they look worse and not better.

It’s incredibly difficult to be a good leader all of the time. In fact, it’s close to impossible. What you can do is try to be a leader who communicates, learns and grows with your team in an open manner.

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All The Business Wisdom You Need From 4 Famous Entrepreneurs

Combine the knowledge of the greatest entrepreneurs with your own hard earned lessons.

Brian Hamilton

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There’s a lot of deification of entrepreneur “personalities.” The truth is that a few entrepreneurs, in my opinion, are probably luckier than good. But, some of the praise and deification is warranted. There have been some fantastic business leaders in this country, and one can learn a ton from studying them. Below, I’ve compiled a list of the four entrepreneurs who have taught me the most over the years.

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