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VIEWPOINT: Aspire to inspire

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Outside the grey stone walls of Oxford University’s Saïd Business School, it was an ordinary damp Friday morning in England. But inside, where I sat listening to Adrian Moorhouse – Olympic gold medallist turned consultant – it was an extraordinary moment. I had just experienced that rare and delightful ‘Ah-ha!’ moment, and I knew then that I would never look at leadership the same way again.

Adrian had just asked the audience to think of a leader who had really influenced us. We responded with an assortment of dynamic sports coaches, visionary CEOs and forward-thinking activists. He then said, “Now if I had to ask your teams at work the same question, would your name have come up?”

There was silence in the room as his message hit home. For many of us, leadership was about someone else. Our minds had immediately leapt to renowned figures with a significant reputation for leadership, hardly considering the colleagues around us and within our own organisations. But the reality is that no matter what position we are in, we are all leaders to someone else – be it an organisational team; our children, nephews or nieces; the friends in our action cricket teams and churches. No matter how wide-ranging or compact your circle of influence is, we all have the opportunity to be the ‘best’ leader to someone else.

I thought of the Finance team I manage at my own workplace and asked myself, could I honestly say that my name would come to their minds?

Although I would like to flatter myself by saying ‘yes’, the reality is that it probably would not. But instead of feeling disgruntled, I need to acknowledge that self-awareness and insight into a situation, no matter how unflattering it is at first, is always a good thing. I now recognise an opportunity that I had not previously been consciously aware of – an opportunity to be the best leader I can be to my team.

This task appears daunting, but I believe that when you start to see leadership as the ability to significantly impact a person’s life for the better, it is no longer a duty, a management performance goal, a burden, or a mere contractual responsibility – it is an exciting challenge to better others and yourself in the process.

The Brazilian author Paulo Coelho, in his novel The Witch of Portobello, writes: “What is a teacher? I’ll tell you: it isn’t someone who teaches something, but someone who inspires the student to give of her best in order to discover what she already knows.”

Our task as leaders, in whatever field or stage of life we are in, is to be such a teacher.

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