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VIEWPOINT: A lesson in leadership

The December holidays are generally celebrated as time away from the office and with friends and family. But these past holidays had me spending a little bit of quality time … with none other than my boss!

It wasn’t in a meeting room and we didn’t focus on work – it was driving through a beautiful mountain pass in the Western Cape and discovering our shared passion for cars.

This was not polite courtesies exchanged in a tea room; it wasn’t small talk before a demanding project was to be handed over; he was spending his precious holiday time with me for no other reason but to get to know me better – as more than an employee or colleague, but as as an individual.

As we enthused over engine performance, I realised with warm surprise that although it is sometimes hard to connect at work, being the busy man that he is – we had much in common.

I felt a rush of camaraderie, respect and admiration for this man who had taken the effort to spend some time with me to bond. And I began to think about how leadership and motivating people in the workplace could really be as simple as this: finding common ground, connecting at that level and creating positive relationships that motivate each person to be better at their role – be it a manager or a team member.

Madeleine Albright, the first woman to become the US Secretary of State, stressed the importance of this, saying: “No matter what message you are about to deliver somewhere, whether it is holding out a hand of friendship, or making clear that you disapprove of something, is the fact that the person sitting across the table is a human being, so the goal is to always establish common ground.”

This is not to say that you will always enjoy and agree with everything your colleagues say or do. But as writer Mohsin Hamid once remarked, “The most effective forms of critique are ones that establish a common ground for people to occupy, and then appeal to the best nature of people on that common ground.”

It is far easier and healthier to influence people from the foundation of a strong relationship that has been built up through shared interests, values and motivations. And this you will only discover and can only build on if you take the time and energy to invest in the people you lead.

Such an investment is more than worthwhile, as it’s astonishing how much more insight and value you can add to something when you are passionate about it. And that’s precisely what I would like from my team members. Wouldn’t you? ❐

Author: Brett Tromp CA(SA) is CFO of Discovery Health.