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Great Managers are People Farmers

Are you a people farmer? You need to be if you want to be a great manager.

Bertie du Plessis




If you are not a people farmer, then you are not a manager. If you are a manager you are in the people farming profession.

As a manager you might check Excel spreadsheets, monitor process and put systems in place, but that’s not the subject of your management. People is the stuff your management is made of. If you are a potato farmer, you should know potatoes. If you are pig farmer you should know pigs. A dairy farmer should understand cows. And if you are a manager, you better know people. If you don’t, poor harvests and bankruptcy lead to the final unhappy end. So, how well do you understand what makes human beings tick?

Learning to put people first

Very few entrepreneurs and SME owners I know began their ventures one bright morning, drawing the curtains aside with: “Oh, I want to work with people, what business can I start so that I can fulfil my lifelong ambition to work with people?”  No, we usually begin because we have no other option than working for ourselves – or because we have a bright idea that we believe will change the world.

In the first case, we usually fall back on a skill we have and for a very long time we must keep on practicing that skill in our SME, while doing a host of other things, invoicing, chasing debtors, marketing, managing the people we acquire along the way to help us with the work load… Managing is a struggle to create some order from the day to day chaos. Thinking about people, what they are, what makes them tick, comes as an after thought, if at all. To get people to do what we want, we mostly fall back on anecdotes, fragments of our own experience, how people treated us, what we want and don’t want. If you wanted do potato farming with such little anecdotal knowledge you would have been doomed to subsistence farming at best.

Those entrepreneurs that begin with an idea are no different from those that had to jump the ship and begin their own business. They too are not primarily interested in people and what makes them tick. It’s the idea that drives them, not the love of people. “People” is an after thought. Those business owners/managers with a formal education in business will have a smattering of “Maslow,” often the only bit of knowledge I find among them.

Of course, our book shops are awash with books on the status term for management, “leadership,” mostly purely motivational and with no real substance. It’s about as good as if you want to do potato farming believing that talking to the plants will help them grow better!

So, now what do you really think about the people and about the human race as such?

Understanding people

Let me give you four options and then you choose (these were originally prepared by Matthew Stewart in an article in Strategy + Business).

  1. Do you believe human beings are self-cantered, not innovative and lazy; left to their own devices they will do the minimum and be prone to theft?
  2. Do you believe that human beings are like machines, they don’t know what they want, and you must lead them to achieve goals through a scientifically designed system of rewards and punishments?
  3. Do you believe that all people are creative by nature, love to work and will perform to the best of their abilities – if only management would get out of the way?
  4. Human beings thrive on freedom, however, they are also power hungry and they need a system of checks and balances to prevent rogue individuals from seizing absolute power?

Let’s do a quick check.

If you chose option A: People by nature stupid? Have you given thought to the ingenuity of prisoners? Want to know about innovation, go to prisons and get wise!  Now these guys are not known for their high educational achievements, but hey, if it is in their self-interest they are on a par with top class engineers.  The operative word is of course self-interest. If it is in our own interest, we are all hugely innovative.  The question is how to harness self-interest in the workplace to bring innovation to the business.

If you chose option B: If this were true about humanity, it is inconceivable how the species could have survived for close on 200,000 years.  And if you wanted to see this fail big way, just think Stalin and Mao. That was what communists really believed. But, oh, I think you forgot about freedom. Human beings want freedom, and if you imprison them, they will use their ingenuity to sabotage you – exactly what happened in communists countries! Same holds true for business.

If you chose option C: You have read far too many syrupy books by New Age management gurus. Probably you have a whole library of Tom Peters books.  Sorry I can’t help you. We are freedom loving, ingenious when it serves our self-interest, but if management were so bad, why don’t you try and win the next soccer or rugby world cup without a management team. After all, we call an outfit without management amateurs!

If you chose option D: Pity you couldn’t travel back in time. You would have made great friends with the authors of the American Constitution, Thomas Jefferson and his friends.  Now, we are close to the truth, freedom is important, so we are optimistic about human nature, but we are also pessimists enough to understand that you can’t win the World Cup in whatever sport without a management team to nudge self-interest and group interest to converge.

Farming with people needs both pruning and fertilising!

In my next article I will look in more detail at what we can really know about human nature, the stuff our management is made of.

Bertie du Plessis founded his successful consultancy firm, MindPilot, 17 years ago. He names several of South Africa’s blue chip corporations among his client list and has taught as a lecturer and guest lecturer in six different disciplines at tertiary institutions. His blog is the most read business blog on the domain. Visit Bertie Du Plessis's website for more information.



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




“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




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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