Leadership 101: knowing, accepting and being

Having the ability to lead yourself independently and authentically (self leadership) regardless of your career or position in the company is an essential quality that each New Gen should develop in order to become an effective team leader. To lead yourself you need to know yourself, accept yourself and be yourself. Leaders who develop self-awareness have a more positive self-image, find it easier to accept themselves and be their own independent person, authentic in every regard. There are valuable resources that you can use to assist you in developing self leadership: Books, Autobiographies, Movies, Courses, DVD’s, CD’s, Coaching, Mentoring and Exercises.

The first step of self leadership is to KNOW yourself. This requires self awareness in terms of your personality, strengths, shadows, values, motives, EQ and abilities. Let’s start with a small exercise: take a moment, relax and clear your thoughts. Now I want you to focus on yourself for a few minutes by answering the question:”Who am I truly?” Quite a tough question to answer in a few minutes! It is important to remember that getting to know yourself is like any relationship that you build: it requires time with yourself, patience, deep reflection, frustration, grace, asking questions and most importantly having the right attitude. Knowing yourself is an essential part of having a realistic self image and identity. As a team leader, self awareness forms an essential part in developing a leadership style that works well for you and is consistent with who you are.

The second step of self leadership is to ACCEPT yourself. Being true to the person you were created to be requires that you love yourself for who you are – a unique created individual with a purpose. I still struggle with being comfortable with my weaknesses and shadow side – my tendency to be too passionate, the fact that I talk too fast and complete people’s sentences; my overwhelming strong style that sometimes intimidate others, my background and upbringing, being too critical; becoming too involved. Over the last couple of years I have learned from people like Carly Fiorina (former CEO of HP) and Bill George (former chairman and CEO of Medtronic), from interactions with my husband, friends and business acquaintances and in my work with the New Generation, that we all feel that we have to be perfect. In attempting to cover things up, we only fool ourselves. Accepting yourself is an essential part of appreciating your own uniqueness and being graceful with who you are. As a team leader, accepting yourself helps to accept the diversity and uniqueness of others and teaches you to use this diversity to the advantage of the goals and purpose of the team.

The third step of self leadership is to BE yourself. Being your true self requires that you know and live out your purpose and passions in life with excellence! Who you are makes a difference. The most important message you can share is yourself. Most people search for years to find their purpose because they conform to the stereotype leaders of society, normative styles of leadership and become “plain vanilla” leaders without creativity, excellence and passion. Being yourself is an essential part of living with authenticity, integrity and courage. As a team leader being yourself will build trust and relationship with your team, when you help them grow they will help you grow.

As a new generation CA(SA) I want to challenge you to start leading yourself independently and authentically NOW. Do not wait for someone in a leadership or mentoring role to develop your skills, strengths and abilities. Take responsibility and be an inspiring, optimistic, enthusiastic young professional and lead yourself out of negativity and pessimism. Great leaders know that leadership success starts with self leadership and that it should be seen as a process and not a destination – you develop as a leader continuously throughout your life. It takes hard work, commitment, self discipline, practice and a willingness to grow.

George, B (2004). The Journey to Authenticity. In Leader to Leader (Vol 31) USA: Leader to Leader.
Fiorina, C (2007). Tough Choices. A Memoir. UK: Nicholas Brealy Publishing.
Gordon, J (2008). 10 Thoughts about leadership. www.jongordon.com.

Author’s details: Adel du Plessis CA(SA), is a qualified Authentic Image & Life Coach and Hermann du Plessis is a Business & Leadership Coach. They are both part of Therapia, a coaching, training and consulting business that is passionate about the human capital development of corporate companies and individuals through emotional intelligence, leadership development, authentic image and presence.


Leadership in the Trenches

Movies about the military and war give us the idea that the decision makers in times of combat are never on the battleground. They sit somewhere in an office far away from the action and bark out the orders. These orders are then to be executed by those poor soldiers risking their lives in the trenches. The trenches are on the battlefield and that is where the bullets fly and the bombs explode! We get the idea that the soldiers in the trenches are victims of the decisions taken by military leaders far away from the reality. The question we must ponder though is whether there is any space or opportunity for leadership to surface in the trenches?

Let us learn from the following case study: The lives of New Generation CA(SA) candidate A and New Generation CA(SA) candidate B

New Generation CA(SA) candidate A (NGCA-A) is a 28 year old who qualified as a CA(SA) at the age of 25. He had good results in the board exams and his performance reviews at his employer have always been satisfactory. But NGCA-A has lately developed a feeling of resentment. He feels that he has no say in the decisions being made at his employer. He feels abused by his manager and senior manager because he is always having to carry out their decisions. He is the one facing the clients, spending late hours at the office preparing presentations and doing the nitty gritty of what was decided earlier in the day.

NGCA-A often ponders why he studied so hard for his CA(SA) if he is constantly doing the work of a glorified PA. He feels that his days as a clerk are long gone and that he should be the manager of the team that he works with. He constantly analyses every moment of the day at work, to ponder how he once again had to do the dirty work and execute the management decisions. NGCA-A is currently in the process of developing a victim mentality which causes much bitterness and what we like to call an emotional cancer. His attitude will, over the next couple of months, become negative, pessimistic and cynical. He will soon be known as a moaner and people will isolate him, because he will become one of the biggest energy drainers in the office.
NGCA-A has lost his vision in the trenches and has given up. Two things usually happen to NGCA-A: they quit and go through all of the above at the next company, or they get asked to leave and go through all of the above at the next company.

New Generation CA(SA) candidate B (NGCA-B) is a 29 year old who qualified as a CA(SA) at the age of 25. She had average results in the board exams, but she passed. Her performance reviews at her current employer have always been excellent and she has been identified as part of the company’s leadership excellence programme. NGCA-B has lately developed feelings of great excitement and passion. She loves being part of her team at work. She learns so much from her manager and senior manager and enjoys being a part of the process in executing their decisions. She learns every day that she faces clients and deadlines. Implementing the tactics of the management decisions teaches her so much about business and how the right decisions work out on the floor.

NGCA-B often ponders how hard she studied for her CA(SA) and what wonderful opportunities it has created for her in life. She is so grateful for what she has achieved and constantly writes notes of her gratitude in her journal. NGCA-B volunteers on a weekly basis at an educational charity that teaches extra classes in maths and accountancy to underprivileged children. NGCA-B is currently in a process of developing an abundance mentality which causes so much fulfilment and satisfaction in her life. She will soon be known as an energizer and people will engage with her because she makes their lives feel lighter.

NGCA-B is living a visionary life in the trenches and will soon move up. Two things usually happen to NGCA-B types: they grow and develop into leaders at their current employer, or they grow and develop into leaders who are then poached by another employers for vast amounts of money.
This case study asks the following questions:
• Why is there a difference between NGCA-A and NGCA-B?
• Is it really that bad being in the trenches?
• How do I practise leadership in the trenches?

As a new generation CA(SA) you will find yourself in the trenches of the corporation that you work for, at the start of your career. This is where we all start, even those managers and senior managers who currently bark out the instructions. Most military generals will tell you that they have learned some of their most valuable leadership and life lessons in the trenches. Leaders in business that we work with will testify to the value of experience in the trenches, especially when tough decisions need to be made on leadership level.

As a new generation CA(SA) you must not underestimate the value of the trenches. It is a place where a lot can be learned regarding leadership. Therefore you need to capitalise on your time in the trenches and you can do that by adhering to the following:

1. When in the trenches learn
People feel that when they know how to do the job, they need to move on to the next job. But there is more than just the job. When you are developing as a leader you also need to learn about yourself and those around you. Leaders are learners. Leaders are never learned.

The trenches are the ideal place to learn about yourself. Here you must up your level of curiosity and notice things that most people never realise about themselves. What motivates you? What do you value and why? How far can you push yourself? What are you really good at? Where are you going with your life?

The trenches are also the ideal place to learn from others. Once again pay attention, be curious! What are the different personalities of those with you in the trenches? How are the different personalities motivated? Which managers do you look up to? Why do you look up to these specific managers?

Leadership is not about the job, it is about people and here in the trenches is where you learn about yourself and also where you learn about people. Keep a journal and reflect on what you have learned on a regular basis. Don’t be afraid to ask. Ask (always seek knowledge) your manager or colleagues when you don’t understand or when you don’t know. We often work with managers who struggle to get their teams to ask. You must ask questions, because it will be the only way to learn. One of humanity’s biggest fears is emotional discomfort and this fear prevents us from asking questions. When asking for knowledge we feel vulnerable and this causes emotional discomfort. This is what the trenches are all about though: learning, asking and growing.

2. Drop the entitlement mentality
Gretchen Neels, a Boston-based consultant was coaching a group of young adults in their mid-twenties on how to succeed in job interviews. She asked them how they believe employers view them. She gave them a clue, telling them that the word she was looking for begins with the letter “e.” Their guesses were: energetic, enthusiastic and excellent. The correct answer though was “entitled.” The behaviour of an entitled individual is usually very self-centred, feeling he has the right to receive from his employee and usually he has a demanding style of ambition. This entitled attitude of the new generation stems from the consumer driven worldview created by the Baby Boomer generation. Our challenge for the new generation is to become aware of this entitled attitude.

Having a misplaced sense of entitlement attitude will result in more harm than good, especially in the workplace. The new generation CAs(SA) who excel are those who believe they need to take responsibility for their own lives and who don’t expect others to do it for them. They have an internal locus of control and make things happen for themselves.

So let’s answer the questions asked in the opening paragraph: “Yes, there is space and opportunity to learn about leadership in the trenches.” As a new generation CA(SA) you need to remember that the trenches serve as a school where we learn. In Zulu they say: “Ufunda kuze ufe.” It means we learn until we die, even in the trenches of corporate South Africa.

Author’s details: Adel du Plessis CA(SA), is a qualified Authentic Image & Life Coach and Hermann du Plessis is a Business & Leadership Coach. They are both part of Therapia, a coaching, training and consulting business that is passionate about the human capital development of corporate companies and individuals through emotional intelligence, leadership development, authentic image and presence.


How to Grow as a Leader Without a Position of Leadership

It is exciting to meet new generation CAs(SA) who are so keen to grow as leaders and make an impact in their companies and in their communities. However, they struggle to see how this will happen without them being in leadership position. “It is always the executive and senior management that are developed as leaders”, the complaint usually goes.

Leadership is not about position though. John Maxwell coined the phrase: “Leadership is about influence and not about position.” His book, “The 360 degree leader” explores this topic in more depth. There is a lot of truth in what John Maxwell proclaims, but the reality is that the new generation CA(SA) needs to find a place where he or she can hone their leadership skills. The new generation CA(SA) will be the leader of tomorrow and leadership comes through practise. But where do we find the opportunity to practise? A classroom is not a practise ground, even though we need the theory and training. We need a place where we can develop our leadership acumen.

As a young man I was fortunate enough to travel to the US and attend leadership conferences. I learned a lot. I listened to some of the world’s greatest leaders, but most valuable in my development as a leader, was an environment where I could apply these powerful leadership lessons.

For four years of my career I lead a volunteer organisation with over a thousand volunteers. We had over 250 working groups all lead by volunteer leaders. I was paid a salary for what I did, but these 250 group leaders were volunteers sacrificing their free time for the greater good of their communities, city and country. When you work with volunteers you soon encounter two challenges: firstly, you don’t pay them and secondly their performance does not get managed. Thus you encouter the reality that if you waste the time of a volunteer, he/she will soon go and ply their trade somewhere else where they feel that their sacrificed time is making a difference.
My responsibility was to empower the 250 group leaders. The 250 group leaders had to lead volunteer groups varying from three to fifteen people. I had regular meetings with the group leaders as individuals, and once every quarter as a collective group. Most of the 250 group leaders had full-time corporate jobs, but sacrificed their free time to be volunteer leaders. When I asked the group leaders why they were so committed, their most popular answer was the great experiences to be found in leading volunteers.

Here are some of the core leadership skills that you can learn in a volunteer organisation:

• How to cast a compelling vision: Keeping volunteers excited, engaged and motivated without pay really challenges your vision casting skills.
• How to clarify roles and expectations: Volunteers give their precious free time and you as a leader need to manage that by giving clear instructions in terms of roles and the expectations of execution. The biggest mistake is to volunteer for an hour of their time and only use twenty minutes.
• Placing your volunteers where they fit best: This is a key skill that any leader needs to conquer. How do I use my volunteers’ talents in an area that they are really passionate about?
• People skills: When people volunteer they sometimes give their opinions without using tact. There is a lot of conflict and miscommunication within these organisations. This is a great environment to learn how to constructively deal with conflict and communicate effectively as a leader.

There are wonderful organisations in our country with life changing causes to better our communities, cities and country. They need you as a new generation CA(SA). They need your skills and talent to make a difference to those in need.

But the truth is that you also need them and the opportunity that they provide to you as a young leader to develop your leadership acumen.

Author’s details: Adel du Plessis CA(SA), is a qualified Authentic Image & Life Coach and Hermann du Plessis is a Business & Leadership Coach. They are both part of Therapia, a coaching, training and consulting business that is passionate about the human capital development of corporate companies and individuals through emotional intelligence, leadership development, authentic image and presence.