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The Creative Executive

Creativity can help you think outside the box.

Dr Charlene Lew

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Corporate South Africa seems stunned by current political anxieties, labour turmoil, fears of increased economic volatility and competitive pressures.

Every sector is feeling some pain and each industry faces a different, but ever increasing spiral of turbulence that threatens lasting growth and competitiveness.

The landscape is rough, but many leaders stand poised in the hope of conquering markets and reaping rewards. This courageous attitude has to be matched with the right thinking and decision-making skills.

As a leader one of your primary tasks is to set direction for your company that will overcome current threats, sustain value for all, outdo your competitors, infuse you with energy and ultimately break through everything that obstructs or impedes on the way.

Why strategic creativity matters

This kind of leadership requires a high level of strategic creativity. Creativity in strategy allows executives to play with big ideas and break through boundaries.

It deals with a way of thinking that allows leaders to go beyond what their competitors may be doing, what’s been done before and what they are currently doing. The seeds of such creative thinking can be found in every good strategy.

If creativity however is about having new ideas and multiple solutions and unusual strategies, and if complexity and ambiguity increase as you ascend the corporate ladder, then nobody needs creativity more than the executive.

However, creativity remains a largely unexplored source of positive change, growth and resilience, especially for senior leaders.

Whether it is to compete on assets like Shell, restructure your company to be more nimble like Toyota, or carefully choose the release dates of your products like Apple, the logical choices in business remain important.

But alongside strategic planning, it has become high time to prepare for unknown futures, re-evaluate your relevance and shape tomorrow.

[box style=”gray,info” ]Seven Signs Your Business is Heading for Trouble[/box]

Encouraging creativity

How do you do this?  How do executives embrace a creative, counter-intuitive way of thinking to drive new results?

Practical tips for developing strategic creativity:

  • Ask, look and listen more

When you expose yourself to wide-ranging viewpoints and information, you introduce new thoughts that challenge set mental patterns.

It may be by sourcing new ideas from all ranks and challenging your employees to come up with new solutions. Lazarus Ramashilabele runs an Exxaro mine and to drive a culture of a high-performance he has introduced a campaign called “Every second counts.”

He wants hard results and the aim of this campaign is to let everyone generate creative ideas.

“Challenging everybody to be creative has resulted not only in useful ideas, but also a wave of excitement to make this culture happen” says Lazarus. Leslie Matthews, CEO of Tempest Car Hire has also experienced the value of contrary views.

“New ideas come to the fore when I allow my colleagues to have a robust debate with me, without any concern whatsoever of reprisals.  This then stimulates my thinking of alternatives in strategy, instead of me forcing my thinking on them.”

  • Play more

In diverting your attention to less serious or pressing issues, you gain and generate energy.  It is not about doing frivolous things, but doing things that allow you to test various risks.

Tempests’ Matthews puts it this way: “When people are relaxed in their interactions and communication, they become confident and confident people become creative and positive people.” In his experience, creating an energetic, playful atmosphere in the office brings a sense of happiness and subsequent out-of-the box thinking.

  • Dream more

In Distell’s Ghana office, Burton Swain, GM of trade marketing writes on glass, doors and walls to visualise his thinking

“If I see it, if I physically draw the strategic roadmap, it helps us all to focus on the year ahead.  Our strategic picture forms part of all our meetings, and helps us to add to our ideas or track our progress” he says.

Visions and dreams in strategy introduce creative shifts in your own perspectives and lets others see new possibilities.

  •  Work more

Developing creative skills also involves hard work and the discipline of putting effort towards useful, practical and relevant solutions, rather than illusions or fantasies.

It requires you to combine your divergent, outgoing thinking with your convergent, logical and practical thinking. CEO of the packaging business Mpact, Bruce Strong, has turned his strategy review process on its head to do this.

Instead of starting with the vision and mission in mind, he has asked all the leaders to first identify opportunities and then only to map it through analytical processes to strategic intent.

Strategy for Mpact has become much more practical in the process.  What is certain is that any South African business, regardless of how innovative, will face completely new sets of challenges in the future and customers of tomorrow will have needs that differ qualitatively from what customers need today.

As a business leader in South Africa strategic creativity should be embraced as a source of positive change, growth and resilience, especially for senior leaders.

It has to be developed through practice and as part of a personal development plan. Opportunities to learn, play, dream and execute should be actively sought out as part of strategic thinking towards new and better futures.

Dr Charlene Lew is a senior lecturer at GIBS. She teaches on the PhD, MBA and corporate programmes in the areas of strategic leadership decision-making and organisational behaviour. Charlene supervises doctoral and MBA research and publishes in the area of managerial psychology – focusing on the intersection where strategic leadership decision-making and organisational outcomes meet. She is passionate about the intra- and inter-psychological processes that drive behaviour at work, particularly at top management team level and holds a Doctorate in Psychology with a focus on adult career development.

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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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