Tuesday, 19 November 2013


                                                        SEASONS OF ELDERSHIP

Eldership portrays an image of fatherly concern, benevolent personality and magnanimity of heart. Eldership gestates, emerges, matures and recedes. The world, and South Africans in particular; have been privileged to experience this journey of eldership with Nelson Mandela. With the retirement of Sachin Tendulkar, India may be on the verge of experiencing the emergence of one of it's most influential "younger" elders.

In the last week of October, Cape Town was privileged to host an extraordinary gathering of global leaders called "The Elders" for their biannual meeting. Established as a group by Nelson Mandela in 2007, they are a distinquished group of elderly statesfolk who have held prominent global positions and now possess the integrity, independence, and transparency necessary to combine their wisdom and experience to open up dialogue in seemingly intractable situations. They are demonstrating just how valuable eldership is in our world.     

Eldership embodies tough lessons learnt
The emergence of Nelson Mandela from the Victor Verster prison on a hot, sunny afternoon of 11 February 1990 was an event of epic significance. Shrouded in mystery for 27 years, branded a terrorist and communist, he emerged on the world stage ; mature and measured ; a statesman of the highest calibre. His time had come. After 27 years of physical hardship, emotional isolation and constant humiliation, Mandela emerged from apartheid's Alcatraz equipped to offer his country and the world leadership honed on the anvil of adversity. The era of warrior heroism had crucibled into nuanced servant-leadership.The walk was not only long, it was complex; walking out of physical, conceptual and emotional prisons.
Eldership is a function of leadership. It is an earned status acquired through experiences which have been integrated, wisdom earned the hard way, crucibles endured and the valleys and mountain-tops of life conquered. Elders are qualified to operate on a level of leadership which emanates from the integrity of their personhood.

When Sachin Tendulkar burst onto the international scene at the tender age of 16, he captured the imagination of his audiences, his lifestyle was that of the ultimate professional, his character and maturity were being tested and proven under tough circumstances. His achievements are the more remarkable when we consider that he has shouldered the hopes and burdens of a cricketing nation for 24 years.

Eldership evolves from a life well lived.

When interviewed  by Oprah Winfrey in 2001 Nelson Mandela shared these words:

"If I had not been in prison, I would not have been able to achieve the most difficult task in life, and that is changing yourself"

The life and times of Nelson Mandela is woven into the most dramatic tale in South African history; the rise and fall of apartheid. His forceful character, strong sense of destiny and iron will has shaped that story; just as it has shaped him. It was in prison that he learned self control and discipline under under the most harsh conditions. Here he re-defined himself from a freedom fighter to a servant-leader. Here he developed the nuances of a transformational leader so vital in leading his country from the brink of a Bosnian-type civil war to the most miracolous of miracles - a negotiated revolution. In the process he displayed that eldership consists of exceptional leadership.

Sachin Tendulkar holds an unparallelled and unrivalled place in the hearts of the Indian nation. No other sportsperson has achieved near-God status as the "Little Master". Whichever direction he chooses to venture into beyond his playing career, the status of eldership in his country awaits him. His many political accolades and current membership of the political structures of his country ensures the role of eldership.


The release of Nelson Mandela  was a huge world story; an event campaigned, crusaded and petitioned for on a worldwide scale. He emerged at a time of extraordinary crossroads in his country, the continent and the world. At the time South Africa was overripe for change. Anchoring and navigating his country through its most intensive period of the deepest possible change required eldership of the highest calibre and Nelson was not found wanting. There were heart-soaring possibilities for South Africa and he led in a manner unparallelled in South African history.

We wish Sachin Tendulkar well for the next chapter of his life.

Monday, 28 October 2013


                                       GROWTH OF AN INFLUENTIAL LEADER

He came, he saw, he conquered. Cricket lovers who have followed the career of Sachin Tendulkar since his international debut in 1989 at the tender age of 16 have watched him grow into the game of cricket, inhabit it, ride it bareback and; with hesitating nostalgia; will watch him gallop off into the sunset.

It has been a surreal journey for both the spectators and the man himself. At the age of 10, he marveled at the spell-binding experience of witnessing the underdog Indian team led by Kapil Dev topple the reigning champions and favourites, the West Indies, at the final of the Prudential World Cup at the home of cricket - Lords in England. The dream was seeded and from the age of 11 his love, passion, and commitment to cricket was nurtured within the most cricketous hub of Mumbai. His devotion for the game was fueled when he had his first taste of international cricket when, in 1987, at the age of 14, he was a ball-boy at the World Cup game between India and Zimbabwe. In 1988, he attracted world-wide attention when a 3rd wicket stand of 664 with long term friend, Vinod Kambli, set a world record for any wicket in any class of cricket.

Throughout his career, Tendulkar displayed a sense of groundedness which can be traced to his close family relationships. His father provided the early security, his older brother Ajit recognized  the initial potential and coach Achrekar tended this potential till it blossomed into international quality. Tendulkar was always the faithful, dutiful son; open to being taught as his talent was fashioned and shaped so that the greatness within him could later be manifested.

In 1989 he stepped onto the international scene , mesmerizing audiences from Karachi in Pakistan, Old Trafford in England, Perth in Australia, Johannesburg in South Africa and avid fans back home in India. The boy wonder had arrived and with a tapestry of youthful exuberance, maturity beyond his years, composed temperament and ability to dominate the best bowlers, totally enthralled audiences around the world. He managed to extend his childhood dream far into adulthood, retaining his boyish enthusiasm for the game, honing his skills as he progressed and established heart-felt connection with his ever-increasing multitude of followers both inside and outside of India.

For 24 years, he lived his dream, paid his dues as he maintained a disciplined lifestyle, being diligent in his preparation and displaying a servant attitude towards his country. His stature was established on a lifestyle of distinction and being a model professional for all aspiring young sportspeople.

The retirement of Sachin Tendulkar is an event of epochal proportions for the people of India. His kind of love for the game, his longetivity in the game, his pride in playing for his country; defined him as a sportsperson who surpassed all of his contemporaries. No one has had to shoulder the expectations of a nation for nearly a quater of a century, no one has been the bedrock of a team in such an exceptional manner in a country where the game of cricket has so nearly become a religion, no other single sportsperson has been a model of consistency and stability over such a long period of time amidst a changing sport and changing context.

His stature inside and outside of the game goes beyond hard, cold statistics. It also stems from the respect he garnered from his fellow players which had a lot to do with the way he went about his business; he was temperamentally consistent, his career is devoid of any major controversy, his enthusiasm for the game undiminished


Tendulkar's career coincided with revolutionary changes within the game world wide as well as the rise of Indian cricket. The momentum commenced at the 1983 World Cup and the shift in influence and status in the game moved eastwards in 1996 when Sri Lanka won the World Cup in explosive style.The surprise victory of the 2007 T20 Inaugral World Cup in South Africa by India gave birth to the IPL and with the ICC headquaters moving to  Dubai - the eastwards shift of influence and status from the old- world Lords to the new eastern power bloc was complete.

Tendulkar is well-positioned to impact the world-wide game of cricket. With Mumbai as his base, a 24 year playing career as his point of departure and the most powerful cricketing nation eating out of his hands, Tendulkar is  perfectly positioned  to be a leader of immense influence, a powerful voice whose opinions and perspectives will carry tremendous weight in the corridors of power, not only in India and the game of cricket, but globally and to all sport. Cricket may never produce another Sachin Tendulkar. And perhaps the best is yet to come.

Monday, 7 October 2013


                                               THE VALUE OF ELDERSHIP

Good day everyone. I trust  that you are having a good week of growth and stretching experiences.This past 5 days I was privileged to be on a great experience of leadership growth as I attended a course called "No Name Initiative" In next week's post I will divert from my present theme and share about this stretching experience. This week we are looking a the theme of  eldership.

Most of us have experienced eldership in some form or another. For many it would be through the constant presence of a grandparent in our lives. The love , concern, wisdom and patience provided a sense of groundedness, a sense of stabiliy, a bulwark against the insecurities and unsafe spaces of our world.

Eldership provides something which is invaluable. In the case of Alex Ferguson, his secure home  life provided he first experience of eldership. When he arrived at Manchester United, the legends Matt Busby and Bobby Charlton provided the eldership. Busby had been the manager from 1945-1969, a period of tremendous extremes in the life of Manchester United and his excellent managerial leadership was the benchmark for Manchester managers ever since. Charlton had been the most celebrated player in the life of Manchester and England and subsequently maintained a life-long leadership role at the club. These 2 legends provided the eldership. Ferguson has acknowledged that the presence, frequent chats, words of encouragement and perspective from these elders was invaluable in his time at the club. On his retirement from management, Ferguson has earned the right and joined the ranks of these elders. His 26 years and 38 trophies through the good and the bad times, the endurance through the changing nature of the sport has earned him the privilege of joining these elders.

Elders fill a symbolic space in our hearts and lives. We experience this when we realise that we can have elders in our lives even though we may never personally meet them.They act as a reference point for what could be good , true and right in this world. A marker for where we want to grow to as human beings in our world. They allow us to get in touch with our legacy as we strive to build our futures. This was so well demonstrated recently when Nelson Mandela was ill and perhaps close to dying. The outpouring of empathy was world-wide and deep-felt. He fills a symbolic space in so many lives around the world.

As we journey to our best leadership selves, we would be wise to check into and acknowledge the role which various elders have played in our development.


A) Leadership is tribal
 Some folk learning the ropes, some at the coalface of operations, some in the background providing the wisdom, guidance, advise - eldership- based on years of experience are all important in forming an effective leadership culture.

B) Leadership like a son. 
Some leaders lead better with a guiding hand of eldership in the background bringing all the good qualities
  which only leaders can bring. In this case it may be a wise idea to seek out elders to walk alongside us as we lead.



Monday, 30 September 2013


                                               STRIVING FOR EXCELLENCE

At the conclusion of the 2010 World Cup, Sepp Blatter, head of FIFA, stated that the 1st African World Cup, hosted by South Africa, was the best ever. The world and many South Africans experienced "surprise leadership". We surprised ourselves with the construction of our world class stadiums, our sense of national unity and our excellent hosting.


In a sea of mediocrity, excellence is a rare but valued commodity. The leadership mindset appreciates excellence. The value of excellence resonates with leaders because they inherently
sense that if something is worth doing, then it is worth doing well. When leaders encounter excellence in some context, then they are inspired to pursue excellence in their own sphere of influence.

This is what happened to Alex Ferguson. As a player and a young coach, he experienced the excellent managerial leadership of coaches such as Scot Syman, Jock Stein and Bill Shankly. They were his role models and he in turn produced excellent leadership in his 8 seasons at Aberdeen. When he took on the Manchester United job, Alex Ferguson was already steeped in the mentality, ethos and culture of excellence. His 26½ years and 38 trophies at Manchester United are a testament to his leadership acumen.In the latest edition of World Soccer, Sir Alex was voted as the best manager of all time by an esteemed international soccer journalists and experts. A huge and richly deserved honour.


Inculcating a culture of excellence is a long term, artful form of leadership. AS stated, Sir Alex arrived at Manchester United with the correct mentality and determination, but he still needed to achieve excellence. The challenges of the journey from mediocrity to excellence entailed serious culture change, remaining committed to his own ingrained values and working to align all the stakeholders at the club behind his vision. Alex Ferguson paid his dues. The first 4 years at the club were tough as he was putting in place the building blocks to ensure long term health and the ability to consistently challenge for various honours season after after season.

Excellence meant organizing an effective youth structure which constantly fed quality players into the senior team, gradually developing the team into his image, ingraining the ability to bounce back from demoralising defeats, having the mental energy and the steely character to challenge for league honours. Above all, excellence meant practicing well-developed man-management skills.


a) Leading with excellence needs to take a long-term view.

b) You may have to "pay your dues" first and endure organizational mediocrity before being in a position to inculcate a sense of excellence.

c) Do not just accept mediocrity - excellence is worth striving for - it resonates with our deepest values.

Monday, 23 September 2013

                                         BEING SHAPED BY CIRCUMSTANCES

Nelson Mandela - in an interview with Oprah Winfrey in 2001 said:

"If I had not been in prison, I would not have been able to achieve the most difficult task in life, and that is changing yourself"

Nelson acknowledged that his time in prison shaped him into a leader in a way that no other environment could have done.Leaders are on a life-long journey to become the 'complete article' as leaders. Along the way, they are molded, carved, fashioned and defined by the many experiences which together crystallize the steel, the back-bone which  will often  characterise that leader for the rest of their lives. As shared earlier in this series, these types of circumstances/experiences are called crucibles : life-defining experiences which sears deep character-forming competencies into the leader sears deep character-forming competencies into the leader. 


Sometimes that event is experienced within the context of an organization and when the individual buys into the heart and soul of that organization, that individual experiences the impact of the crucible on a secondary level. This happened to Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United. On 6th February 1958, 8 members of the Manchester United team of that era died in a crash which has come to be known as the Munich disaster.As these players were not only stars of  Manchester, but of the English national team as well, this turned into a national tragedy. Over time, this tragedy has come to shape and mold the identity of Manchester United, it launched the brand that is Manchester United, it carved a football club into a worldwide phenomenon. Munich symbolizes painful shared memories, the loss of a uniquely gifted generation of players, and has become a powerful focal point of rememberance to the unrealized potential of the lost. It has been a source of galvanization for all those associated with Manchester United.

The key issue of this tragedy has been in the nature of the comeback. The club recovered, rebuilt and resurrected itself. This ability to pounce back, to land on it's feet, to gather it's resources has been ingrained into the the DNA of the club.

Food for thought:                "Every problem introduces a person to him/herself"

All our circumstances offers us the opportunity to change, to grow, to be stretched in ways we would not choose for ourselves.By navigating these experiences well, we can not only learn invaluable lessons of adapting and surviving but by learning to thrive in these circumstances our inner core of steel, capacity, resilience and hardiness is sharpened. A key example is that of MalalaYousafzai, the young Pakistan girl who was shot as a 14 year-old when she campaigned for the rights of girls to have education. In July she spoke at the UN Youth Congress on her 16th birthday to 1000 student leaders from 100 countries.A wonderful example of a crucible.

Key leadership lessons

a) A crucible is a serious reality check of your depth of character.

b) A crucible can have a major impact on your self-definition before embarking on a key leadership role.

c) The crucial factor is the nature of the comeback.

d) A crucible is essentially what you make of it.



Thursday, 12 September 2013


Good day everyone. This week we are looking at the theme of paying your dues as a stage on your journey of leadership development. When Nelson Mandela emerged from prison, there was a sense that he had already earned the right to lead SA into it's new democratic era. He had "paid his dues" when serving such a long prison sentence. He had integrated key leadership lessons during his time into his leadership style and outlook. On our journey of leadership development, there is a time to prepare to lead; and a time to lead. "Paying your dues" is the time of preparation for leadership and should ideally contain a variety of experiences so that growth can occur in a number of areas of a person's life.

                                                        PAYING YOUR DUES


The 2 key pillars on which effective leadership rests are character and competencies. Character is a quality that embodies many important traits such as integrity, courage, perseverance, confidence, and wisdom. Character is something within yourself which is fashioned and molded by your responses to the many experiences and challenges which life may throw at you.

Before commencing on his coaching career at the age of 32, Alex Ferguson spent 16 years as a player. Together with his schoolboy days, these years could be seen as his preparation for leadership. At his various clubs, he experienced boardroom dynamics, was exposed to a variety of managers; some of whom treated him well while others did not; he also experienced a vibrant Scottish environment where a whole group of outstanding managers emerged. He was exposed to the unique atmosphere at great football derbies and saw international soccer stars plying their trade. His memory store of these years contain lessons learnt in bitter disappointments and incredible highs; all integrated and stored away for his later managerial career.


Some experiences in life have a deeper impact upon our lives than others. The constant presence of good parents, the environment of a good school, the personal attention of an personally interested teacher or coach will have a life-long impact on our character formation. Sometimes we may experience an environment where many factors  conspire against us. Here we may learn deeper lessons such as the value of self-discipline, a deeper knowledge of  our inner emotional reality, how do we respond under pressure and do we have the resolve to thrive in such tough situations.

Alex Ferguson had such a time in his period at Rangers. Here he experienced religious discrimination, a manager who did not rate him as a player and the severe disappointment of being demoted to the reserve teams. His resolve, emotional stamina, and love of the game was severely tested. He was paying his dues. He successfully negotiated this period in his life and later we could detect the lessons learnt in the quality and longetivity of his managerial career. The path to effective leadership is seldom travelled without these sorts of deep character- forming periods.They are called personal crucibles.


A) Character formation needs as much attention as the development of our leadership competencies.

B) Character formation is essentially an inside job.

C) Lessons from crucible-type situations are the most valuable in the long-term development of our character and leadership acumen .

Have a good week