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Want to Lead Your Staff? Serve Your People

Serve your people, and they’ll serve your customers. Lessons on becoming an inspirational leader from Brand Pretorius.

Nadine Todd




Living business legend

Brand Pretorius played a pivotal role in bringing McCarthy from the brink of bankruptcy to highly profitable

I’m often asked what it means to be a good leader. Remember this sentence: I am the light switch every morning. When I walk into the business, I look each and every one of my employees in the eye. I involve, empower, respect, trust, coach, and work with them – I just love my people. Are you deliberate in your efforts to switch on the lights?

Millions of team members around the world spend their lives figuratively in darkness. Gallup polls measuring employee engagement show this phenomenon clearly. 46% of employees have no sense of belonging, no confidence in the businesses they work for and quality of leadership they’re expected to follow. If you are actively disengaged, you’re practically sabotaging the business.

Who should be blamed for these poor stats? The workers? We’re quick to say they’re lazy, but shouldn’t we rather be looking at the quality of leadership in organisations? Let me share a story that demonstrated how leadership can affect a business.

Related: Develop These 5 Skills to Become a Tremendous Leader

The law of leadership

Shortly after I joined the McCarthy Group, I made a point to visit as many McCarthy Nissan dealerships as I could.

The new vehicle market was in trouble, and I wanted to touch base with our dealerships to see how they were faring. I arrived at the first dealership at 7am, and couldn’t find the dealer principle. I eventually found him in his office. No tea was offered, no pleasantries given, just complaints: Sales were down by 40%, Nissan was in trouble because we didn’t have a passenger car range. Within ten minutes I was depressed. I said, “Can I walk through the dealership to meet your people?”

As we marched through, he explained the layout and requested new equipment. We then went to his office and reviewed the numbers. There was red ink everywhere.

Next, I travelled to McCarthy Germiston. This dealership was in the wrong side of town, and if anything I was expecting it to be even worse off than my first stop. This time however, the dealer principle was waiting for me to arrive in the parking lot.

“Brand, it’s so wonderful to have you here, I can’t wait to introduce you to my winning team,” were his first words to me.

He knew everyone’s names, and shared personal anecdotes about each person he introduced me to. This was a dealership of bright eyes and friendly smiles. There was an atmosphere of excitement, pride and passion. It was an inspirational experience. And guess what? The numbers were good, despite the bad location.

So what was different from one dealership to the next? The answer is leadership. Success rises and falls with the right leader. The one dealership had an autocratic manager, the other an inspirational leader. There is a world of difference between the two.

Related: Always Deliver More, In Business and Life, With These 3 Principles

Being the light switch

How do you get your people to volunteer their energy, intelligence, commitment and loyalty to the organisation? Become an inspirational leader.

Here are five ways to get started.

  1. Lead on a perpetual basis. You are always the leader, so embrace this role and make sure everything you do supports it.
  2. Understand the difference between managing people and leading people. Teams are generally over managed and under led. Both functions are critically important though. Management is for effective execution, leadership is for vision. Leaders are obsessed with creating a better tomorrow for the good of all. Managers look at today. Leaders focus on people, managers on process. Leaders do the right things for direction, strategy, principles and values. Managers do things right.
  3. You can’t lead by autopilot or emulating someone else. You need to develop your own leadership approach. First-time bosses tend to emulate their bosses. That’s their frame of reference and it seldom works. Find your own style and way. Remember that autocratic leadership leads to reluctant compliance that lacks inspiration.
  4. Be a servant leader. Before you ask for a hand, touch a heart – care for your people and be willing to serve, and you will engage their minds and their hearts.
  5. Be kind without being weak. Learn to be bold without being a bully, be firm but fair, rigorous with results, but not ruthless.

If you serve your people, they will serve your customers. It’s your job to transmit inspiration. Switch on the lights. Once a quarter, put a question in your electronic diary that asks: Why should people follow me? Reflect on it and never lose sight of the answer, during good times and tough times.

Related: What Leadership Style Are You and Will It Get Results?

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


MAD Leadership Skills: Our Perspectives

Let’s have a look at some aspects around reasons for starting a business, the challenges faced and critical lessons learned.

Spencer Horne and Tshinondiwa Thovhakale




Some entrepreneurial skills can be taught while others need to be experienced. It is possible to gain skills while working for someone else, but there are perspectives that you can miss if you have not started your own initiative. Let’s have a look at some aspects around reasons for starting a business, the challenges faced and critical lessons learned.

The people who contributed to this content are from different fields of life, in various industries, with a variety of unique goals and ambitions.

Why Start an Entrepreneurial Initiative?

Some people start ventures because they have a good idea, some want to make a difference, and some are lucky enough to have witnessed a family member beginning a legacy. Three themes have been highlighted by our contributors this week:

Entrepreneurship is About Building Your Own or Expanding upon a Family

Member’s Legacy 

Tshinondiwa Thovhakale has started a transport company and has done this because of the memories she shares below: “Growing up I had a good relationship with my dad. I have some of the best memories of him. He owned his own taxi business and drove one of them. He would come to school and fetch me, and before dropping me home, we would go to the taxi rank, take people, and I’d sit in front next to him and count money for him. Then do the normal rounds of dropping people at their destinations, and then he’d take me home and go back to work. I think all that grew on me. When he stopped and made other deals with his taxis, I felt it was our legacy, and I couldn’t let it die like that.”

Related: The Kindling Of The Entrepreneur Spirit

Entrepreneurship is About Following Your Passion:

Spencer Horne stated:

“I wanted to work directly on the needs and problems that are my passion. The independence of starting a business and choosing exactly what to work on has been one of the most fulfilling aspects of my work. “

Entrepreneurship is About Making a Difference:

Many entrepreneurs start a venture because of a need that they would like to fulfil in the market. Some love the idea of feeling good by doing good and making a living out of it.

Things to Think About

Five challenges identified this week are:

  • Networking is essential: People don’t always seek new businesses to uplift, the help their associates, leverage this to your benefit and establish a network of influencers, support, and contacts in the industry.
  • Getting and keeping talent is a task: Especially initially when resources are limited, and you have a lot to do and achieve to grow your business, and cannot do it all alone.
  • You may encounter cultural/societal biases –  learn to use it to your advantage and set a precedent in the industry of what you can achieve: For example, being a female in transport, people may undermine you if they see the industry as a “man’s world” – show them why they’re wrong.
  • You need to make your opportunities when starting a business: There are fewer opportunities when on your own, and you need to build a relationship base to spread your reach. Tenders are often given to the same people and fundraising is one of the most time-consuming aspects of starting or scaling a business. It’s not something that is always enjoyed, and unfortunately, it must take priority over all else until it is achieved.
  • Persistence and flexibility should be balanced: Ironically one needs both an unfaltering belief in what you are doing and the flexibility to pivot out in response to the market. This is one of the most significant and most difficult responsibilities of a business leader.

Lessons Learnt

You need to make your own path

There is no blueprint. Your particular path to building your business will be different to that of others. At times you may learn from the experiences of other entrepreneurs, but be careful of comparisons. Be prepared for the detours and bumps along the road and be sure to take the time to enjoy the journey.

Related: Entrepreneurship Is All About Overcoming Obstacles

The importance of being patient

Patience is vital. Always have back up plans. It is best to venture into a business that you’re passionate about, because it’s the love for the business that will whisper the words “try again, just one more time” every time a challenge comes your way.

The importance of noticing the small wins

Entrepreneurship is a journey and in many cases, a challenging one. With this in mind, it is easy to get frustrated, lose patience and give up. At points, you may feel like no progress has been made. This is when people should remind themselves of the journey that they’ve already walked. It’s important to celebrate the small successes so that we stay positive and forge ahead.

Bringing it All Together

Entrepreneurship isn’t easy, but it is needed. It makes many people happy and helps create jobs and uplift communities. People start initiatives for different reasons, and we all experience challenges. It is through these challenges that we learn and grow.

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The 3 Dumbest Business Mistakes New Entrepreneurs Make Most Often

Don’t be superficial. Don’t chase too many opportunities. And do sweat the small stuff.

Dillon Kivo




Most new entrepreneurs make terrible, dumb mistakes that crash their businesses before they can even get started. They make these grave mistakes not because they are unintelligent, have low IQs or possess little experience.

New entrepreneurs allow these blunders because they don’t see them as issues. Thus, they fail to invest their resources into fixing the problems until the problems bulldoze their companies.

In this article, I will give you the top three dumb mistakes new entrepreneurs make, and I will offer a lasting solution to each oversight.

1. Superficiality

We live in a world of superficiality – shallowness, no attention to detail, not focusing on satisfying our customers.

In a world of 140 characters, many of us build products fast and hope for quick cash. The focus is more on “build and sell fast” than on quality and originality. Many entrepreneurs, especially the newbies, fall into this superficiality trap.

These would be entrepreneurs refuse to sharpen their skills, ship broken products and provide terrible customer experience. That’s why many startups don’t see the light of day.

Related: The 5 Biggest Mistakes Entrepreneurs Make

What’s the solution?

  • Customer obsession. Your startup exists to serve your customers. Be obsessed with always pleasing them with your product.
  • Obsessive attention to detail. Before you build or ship any product, check every tiny detail with care. Don’t settle. Don’t let your team rest until you have completed the project to above-standard quality.
  • Constant learning. Knowledge is the antidote of superficiality. Keep learning, so you can satisfy your customers with unstoppable value and become the go-to person in your industry.

In the end, dumping the superficiality habit requires a change in mindset. You can get rid of it with constant practice and obsession with quality. That means focusing on getting good at one thing, before moving on to something else.

Let’s talk about that next.

2. Chasing two rabbits at a time

Amateur founders are quick to craft multiple ideas, bloating their online stores with a vast array of products and constantly re-writing their missions to accommodate their offerings. But is that the brilliant idea they think it is? No, it’s not.

A friend of mine who is a freelance web designer recently told me that he had added copy-writing on top of his web design services. “I want to increase my income, you know,” he excitedly told me.

I told him not to do that. I told him to focus instead on his design services so that he would become known as an expert in that category.

Related: Derek Thomas from Letsema Holdings on Learning from your Mistakes

But he didn’t take my advice. The last time I checked, he had quit his freelancing career altogether.

Obviously, he was frustrated because he was chasing more than one rabbit at a time. As Confucius beautifully said, “Man who chases two rabbits catches neither.” Don’t offer two services or products at a time.

What you need as a new entrepreneur is credibility, not money. And the only way to establish yourself as credible is to focus on refining and improving your skill set, your product and your offering. Only then can your customers regard you as the best provider of a particular product or service.

3. Ignoring “minor issues.”

For new entrepreneurs, a comma splice in their home page copy is not something to worry about. “It’s just a minor issue,” they say. A broken link in their Facebook page is no big deal. “It’s just a minor thing,” they say. One negative customer review? Well, that’s just a “hot-tempered customer,” they say. “It’s just a minor thing.”

But is it? The reality is, these are not minor issues. These are big issues. Remember, all problems start small before they gradually metamorphose into big, uncontrollable setbacks.

That’s how Friendster crashed. It was the hottest social networking company in 2003, which Google wanted to buy for $30 million. But it lost momentum by 2006 due to minor technical glitches, paving the way for Facebook to take over.

Related: 6 Common Mistakes First-Time Business Owners Should Avoid

That little comma splice on your homepage can lead to a tsunami of credibility issues. An error in spelling will then portray your brand as another fake company in the marketplace. Protect your brand. Don’t leave any tiny issue unresolved. Fix it – fast.


When starting up as a new entrepreneur, the first thing to do is avoid making constant business blunders, no matter how insignificant they seem.

Don’t be superficial in responding to your customers’ inquiries. Take your time to provide them with in-depth answers to their questions.

Don’t chase too many opportunities, lest you fall into bloat and overload. Instead, focus on providing one product, and ensure that it stands out from the crowd.

Don’t ignore the small issues. They’ll grow into bigger problems. Nip them in the bud before they destroy your company.

Everyone makes mistakes, even veteran entrepreneurs, but learning how to fix these three big blunders will save your little startup from crashing early.

This article was originally posted here on

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Five Lessons In Leadership From Someone Younger Than 25 Years Old

Isabel Nkosi is a recent graduate in strategic brand communication, and a MAD Leadership Foundation Fellow and these are her insights.

David Hatherell and Isabel Nkosi




Following on from last week’s article, a common theme in starting new initiatives and leading others is to add value to society. Today we would like to highlight five leadership lessons from someone younger than 25 years old. Isabel Nkosi is a recent graduate in strategic brand communication, and a MAD Leadership Foundation Fellow and these are her insights.

Lesson 1: Leadership Is not Always About Your Capabilities

The first time I was lucky enough to assume a leadership position was when I became a class representative in grade 6. From then on it became the norm for my classmates to continually nominate me for these auspicious roles as we progressed through school. I soon realised that some of my peers voted for me because I was seen to be the ‘popular,’ intelligent girl, while some voted for me because they liked my personality.

This led to my revelation that being voted into a leadership role, can sometimes have nothing to do with your capabilities of actually being a leader, and once voted in, will likely to perpetuate you being voted again. This can make you apathetic as a leader, however, must be seen as an opportunity to prove, and continuously improve, your leadership skills and impact in a position of power.

Related: 15 Of South Africa’s Business Leaders’ Best Advice For Your Business

Lesson 2: Good Leaders Care About the People They Represent

In my Matric year, I was outvoted for a leadership position, by someone whom, in their motivation, mentioned that people trusted her to make a difference. I remember how those words haunted me. I kept on asking myself what difference I had made in my previous leadership roles, and it was at this point that the universe taught me what leadership is.

This was when the term “leadership” shifted from being about the title and benefits to the people you represent.

Lesson 3: Leadership is Personal

The older I get, the more personal leadership becomes to me. It has nothing to do with being appointed or chosen by anyone. It is a decision I take for myself to make a difference no matter who I am, no matter where I am, and despite the economic power I hold. More than anything, leadership is a passion – being passionate about recognising the opportunity to do better and waking up each day to do so. I have grown to not only accept but to believe that you can never be too young to lead and inspire others to do better continuously.

Lesson 4: You Are Never Too Young to Lead

If one is to observe the current state of South Africa truly, you would see the need for more young leaders to emerge and to take a stand for the development of our country. Young people are often told ‘you are the leaders of tomorrow’ and that ‘one day – when you are old and wise, you will be given endless opportunities to lead and make a difference.’ I disagree. We need more young vibrant, passionate and committed people to become leaders today because often, tomorrow morphs into never. South Africa’s youth need to stand up and take charge as the country’s new leaders. A fresh mindset that is aimed at benefiting the greater good of the country is needed today.

Related: 22 Qualities That Make A Great Leader

Lesson 5: Leaders Need Support

We are grateful for organisations like Make A Difference Leadership Foundation that is committed to creating a legacy of young leaders. These leaders will grow to be great role models. More importantly, we are grateful for the motivation and support to be leaders in every aspect of our lives as scholars and fellows of the MAD Leadership Foundation program. The world has never been hungrier than it is now for young leaders to embrace the opportunity to lead.

South Africa’s youth constitute 37% of the population and who else is capable of leading this demographic than those who personally relate to their challenges and obstacles? May the youth of our country grasp that there is indeed no more significant time than the now to unapologetically accept that they are a powerful force that is capable of making a positive contribution back to society.

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