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

Friday, 6 September 2013



Good day everyone. This week we are dealing with the important topic of personal attention in leadership. Leadership is a complex enterprise. It consists of a host of activities including visioning, team-building, culture management amongst others. Many people feel that the attention a leader gives to the personal development of key personel is the most strategic use of his/her time.


Leadership is a choice to make a difference and to do  what others are not willing to do, it has to do with unlocking the potential in others.
                                          Carly Fiorina - former CEO of Hewlett Packard

Case Study
In the case of Sir Alex Ferguson, the personal attention to key individuals was interwoven with a wholistic developmental focus on youth ; a strategy at each of his clubs to develop a good team. This strategic focus was central to his managerial leadership philosophy and comprised several issues which was close to his heart.

A) His keen determination that working class boys with footballing potential be given the opportunity to develop that potential.  - here we can think of Ryan Giggs, David Beckam and Wayne Rooney.
B) Building a team of coaches with key junior coaches who understand the ethos, values and culture of Manchester United and took an wholistic interest in all aspects of the boys' lives. Here we can think of Brain Kidd who was part of the 1968 European Cup winning team who in 1988 became a youth coach.
C) The willingness to take risks with young players; and the skill to effectively integrate youthful with more experienced players into winning teams.
D) The patience to wait for players to mature into effective stars.

This strategy was vindicated when the FA Youth Cup winners of 1992 matured into the 1999 Tremble winning squad.

Leaders are dealers in hope. They walk, influence and invest in such a way that young people sense their horizons lengthening, their worlds expanding, their futures opening up. This type of leadership focus could be described as providing needed anchorage amidst the possibility of pending wings. It is a reflection of a deep-seated matter of the heart. In the case of Sir Alex, some players have gone on to become international superstars - think of David Beckam and Christiano Ronaldo.
21st century leadership entails winning the war for talent which implies winning the war for hearts. A vital  question which a senior leader may need to ask him/herself may be:

                                        How personal does your leadership need to be?

The ability to understand people's aspirations and add value to their lives is a choice.Leaders consciously choose to develop others, to invest time and effort in growing others around them.

Key leadership lessons

A) Is your inner theatre ( see post - True to your Roots) - healthy enough to receive personal attention on your leadership growth journey?
B) Are you ready for possible opportunities when your life seems to be opening up?

Chat again soon

Monday, 2 September 2013


                                               BE TRUE TO YOUR ROOTS       

What shapes you? What are the deeply held beliefs which undergird your behaviour, what are the core
values which frame your leadership style, what are the defining moments which have chiselled your character ?

Throughout his managerial career, Sir Alex Ferguson took pride in the fact that he did not change while all around him there was constant change. Players became more powerful as their financial packages grew, the influence of agents crept stealthily into the game, commercialization became rampant, British football became increasingly international. Throughout these constant changes, Alex Ferguson remained a pillar of consistency. He remained true to his roots.


Ferguson was raised in a normal home in the tough, post war era. His father, a strict, hard- working man of his era, was an endearing influence in his life. Working class pride, intensity of shared experiences and loyalty to one's friends and family were the prized values of the day. This foundation provided Ferguson with a life-long sense of groundedness and centredness. These early days also provided him with a most valuable leadership skill - the ability to handle men of various backgrounds and characters. In attempting to find the secret of his longetivity in his managerial role, many have noted his ability to get the best out of everyone around him, especially his players, as one of the hallmarks of his managerial career.
At the time, Scottish football had an intensity and passion which was unmatched elsewhere. Parents and local schoolboy coaches were encouraging, disciplining, and coaching as they promoted a love of football as part of a clean code of living. While he grew, experienced and blossomed as a player and young man in this unique set of circumstances, Ferguson was learning that leadership was more tribal than organizational.


The dynamics of our early environment stimulates within us an inner theatre towards leadership. An inner theatre is a learned predisposition of how we will react later in life when faced with possible growth opportunities. An environment filled with positive role models, stretching experiences, space for your gifts to blossom and your voice to be heard; will later translate into a teachable attitude towards possible growth opportunities. This could be the ability to recognize an opportunity, willingness to receive from coaches and mentors, and the essential emotional stamina to handle challenging situations well. An early environment with many negative and/or deeply scarring factors will predispose us negatively towards possible growth opportunities. We may have an unhealthy sense of independence, a fragile grip on reality, an underlying well of anger and a low level of teachability. All these factors may seriously impair our openness to possible growth opportunities.


Alex Ferguson is a product of his time and era. He brought a unique leadership style to the role of soccer manager. His hard-nosed managerial approach, emotional presence on the sidelines and terse press conferences has been a constant feature in the success of Manchester United over the past 20 years. His has been a leadership of forceful conviction as his strong personality and character was imposed on his environment. His inner theatre propelled him to constantly seek out new challenges, he had a constant need to win, and his energy and enthusiasm was seemingly boundlesss. The values, principles and convictions seeded in his growing up years were cemented over a 27 year period of managerial leadership which, in all probability , will never be repeated.



"Leadership is the expression of the very best that has been invested and build into you"

As your self awareness deepens, so you will be in a position to more effectively handle the leadership challenges which will come your way.

3) YOUR CV MAY ONLY TELL HALF THE STORY.                                      

Your potential for good leadership is more than what appears on your CV.

Good journeying

Coach Louw