Written by Leonie Pentz; VP EMEA AIMS International, Managing Partner AIMS South Africa

While I am an avid supporter of looking forward and focusing on the positive, often when analysing the best way forward, the answers can be found in past experience.  A little introspection can go a long way in avoiding future pitfalls and better arming ourselves for future eventualities.  Therefore, when it comes to leadership, using a seasoned executive consultant means that perhaps we can learn from others’ mistakes – which is, let’s face it a lot cheaper than learning from our own.

Casting my view over the CEO’s and other senior leaders I have worked with over the last 20+ years and their respective success (or not -) stories, I cannot help but compare the first 10 to the last 10 years.  What is changing?  Are the same ‘types’ of leaders still relevant today?   And are they future fit?

Every senior business leader who were successful had the following three things in common:

  1. Resilience:
  • the power or ability to return to the original form, position, etc., after being bent, compressed, or stretched; elasticity.
  • ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like; buoyancy.

 – thesaurus.com

To be resilient, one needs to be robust, healthy, with a good holistic lifestyle and good energy levels.  This becomes more prevalent when appointing experienced senior managers, who are most probably 40 or older.  At the age of 20 and 30, with the natural resilience of youth, an unhealthy lifestyle will not necessarily affect a manager’s performance, however 20+ years of self-abuse will catch up with him/her eventually and this will happen most probably during their 40’s or 50’s.  And this will happen on your watch and at your cost.  Be warned.  I have seen companies implode due to “CEO burnout”.  In fact, one of the most talented CEO’s I have met is point in case.  His shareholders trusted him implicitly and due to his immense intellect and talent, were blind to the (small) red flags: firing too many CFO’s in too few years, not building a talent pipeline, always knew better than everyone else (and he mostly did!), controlling everything including cash flow, investors agreements, valuations.. On paper, this property company was worth billions after only ten years, starting from a humble one million rand apartment block under the leadership of our talented CEO.  Until one day when his erratic office routine, egotistical behaviour, risky investments, parties, drugs and rock ‘n roll caught up with him. And the company shareholders.

  1. Personal motivation to succeed:
  • Motivation: the state or condition of being motivated or having a strong reason to act or accomplish something – thesaurus.com

In short, they want to do this job in this place at this time and therefore are hell-bent on making a success of it and enjoy it, to boot!

This is possibly the most important key to success in any role for any individual.  Not the biggest talent and skill in the world can replace good old personal motivation, application and hard work.  A manager who taps into her/his team’s personal motivation (strong reason to act) factor and leverages it successfully, wins gold. This always leads me to ask the question in any recruitment process – so she CAN do the job, but WILL she? Understanding the people behind the job and what motivates them is important.  Proper talent assessment co-ordinated by an experienced Consultant who understands your business environment and whether it will offer the right opportunities and environment for a candidate to be successful can be money well spent. I have seen more than one example where (at face value) exceptionally talented managers turned out to be, not only disappointing performers, but even disruptive when appointed in the wrong role and environment.

  1. Superb relationship building skills:
  • Failing at building good long term relationships and refusing to understand the importance of this is possibly something that could stem from what I call the; “everyone is out of step except for my little Johnny syndrome”. It often starts with (either besotted or indifferent) parents failing to insist their children take responsibility for their own actions and bear the consequences of their own actions. A great lesson to learn early in life is that, to win the war, you often have to lose a battle or two and quite frankly, you are not always right. Good managers understand that they need to take people with them on their journey to success and can not do it alone.

Good managers understand that they need support from those around them.  In fact, I have often seen pretty average potential workers get promotions, due to having built strong relationships with clients, managers, shareholders…As you move up the ranks, this skill becomes, not important, but crucial.  I have witnessed more than one (once with fire extinguisher in hand) young CEO burning her/his fingers thinking that she/he can tell the executive team or shareholders where to shove it…. Needless to say, that is not the way to building good relationships with the powers who write the cheques!

The biggest single factor for these successful relationships seems to be trust.  Ever heard: “Oh let’s give Bob the role.  He is probably not going to shoot the lights out and might need some training on product, but at least we know what we have in him”? Yes, we trust Bob. He is consistent.  He has a good attitude.  And we like him…and this probably goes for his clients and subordinates too!

My HR clients talk about ‘future fit’ leadership.  What does this mean?  Yes, certainly; today’s leadership should have ‘propensity for change’ and ‘tech savvy’ and understand digitisation etc. From the good and not so good experiences while finding and growing your leaders over the last 20+ years, the above three keys to success have remained the same.  Fit for past, present and future leadership.

Written by Leonie Pentz; VP EMEA AIMS International, Managing Partner AIMS South Africa