Archive | September 2012

A triumph of sheer will

On 24th of April 2012, Chelsea played against Lionel Messi and Barcelona – the then best team in the world. Yet somehow, against all the odds, logic, expectation, the form book, the coaching manuals, Chelsea produced a stunning rear guard defensive display to draw 2-2 and made it the Champions League final.

Oh, what a night! It was all stacked against the Blues but they forged a memorable victory.

Chelsea did the impossible: they pulled off something new under the sun, something never seen before, a rearguard action of heroic dimensions.

Stuff purism; this was one of the great nights, simply because it was about more than just beauty and technique. It was about bravery, determination, a refusal to bow, a triumph of sheer will. It was Chelsea’s destiny to leave Catalonia defeated, as most teams do. They changed the narrative; they made this happen, somehow.

Think of the concentration, think of the resolve. It was at the lowest point, two goals and a man down. Then consider that, from there, Chelsea drew the game 2-2.

Sometimes there come some games along that are impervious to common sense.  This is one of them.

Why did Chelsea qualify to reach the finals in Munich? Because they really, really wanted to. This is a testament to an outstanding group with determination to succeed.

We can all learn from Chelsea. When they were 2 goals down, they never complained, nor felt sorry for them selves nor accepted their situation as being the weaker team playing against the best team in the world. They looked forward to the challenge of making things right-jumping over the hurdle of Barcelona and being at Munich for the finals. This they achieved through bravely, determination and a refusal to bow – a triumph of sheer will

Teams can attain phenomenal success in business or achieve great things  if they can choose to view setbacks as ‘body blows’ and not as ‘knocked outs’ or view it is as stepping stones.

Thinking Like a Champion

Champions are born and champions are made. One definition of a champion is someone who shows marked superiority. Another definition is someone who is a winner of first prize or first place in competition. We’ve all seen Olympic champions on television. What comes to mind when I see their amazing ability is the amount of training they have endured, the sacrifices they’ve made, and the courage they’ve had to have to get where they are. Those are some of the attributes of a champion.

Champions also want to achieve something special. Ordinary wouldn’t be enough for someone who has the mindset of a champion. Champions think big. Champions work in a big-time way. Champions are focused. Champions are disciplined. Come to think of it, champions think like champions. A champion is someone who gets up when he can’t. Let’s hope that applies to you.

You can learn a lot from watching the experts, whether you’re interested in sports, the arts, or whatever. One thing they all have in common is the same mindset: They want to win; they want to be the best. Not the runner-up, but the best. That’s a very important thing to consider. I’ve seen very talented people fail because deep down I think they were afraid of winning. Winning comes with a responsibility. Champions rise to that responsibility. Search yourself carefully to make sure you’re ready and capable. If you’re not, do something about it. It’s an important element of success. We win in our daily lives by being careful with every day, by having a champion’s view of each moment.

Why set your goals too low? Did you ever hear a child saying they want to be nothing when they grow up? They are full of dreams and plans, and rarely are they mediocre aspirations. They want to be presidents, doctors, astronauts, scientists, and so on. They’re on the right track and have the right mindset. That’s the first step—and a daily responsibility for a champion.

Champions go the extra mile. We all know when we’ve done just enough and when we’ve really exerted ourselves. Make an effort to exert yourself—every day. Don’t fail because you never allowed yourself to get started! Don’t avoid success because you think the responsibility might be too much—just focus and get going! You’d be surprised at what intelligent effort can produce. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.

Pay attention to these things and you will be on your way to thinking like a champion—and becoming one.


I believe that there’s a lesson in almost everything that you do and every experience, and getting the lesson is how you move forward. Some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default. Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure, but the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it.

Now, failure is not fun. It is that period of your life which is a dark one, and you have no idea what is going to be the next step. You will have no idea how far the tunnel extended, and for a long time, any light at the end of it will be a hope rather than a reality.

The other side of the coin is failure will give you an inner security that you will never attain by passing examinations. Failure will teach you things about yourself that you could have learned no other way. Failure will let you discover that you have a strong will, and more discipline than you suspected; you will also found out that you have friends whose value was truly above the price of rubies. The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, though it is painfully won is worth more than any qualification you ever earned.

It is no easy situation to experience failure but if you accept your ‘misfortune’ and handle it right, your perceived failure can be a catalyst for profound reinvention. The beautiful thing about learning in failure is that nobody can take that lesson away from you.

The world has so many lessons to teach you. I consider the world, this Earth, to be like a school and our life the classrooms. And sometimes here in this Planet Earth School the lessons often come dressed up as detours or roadblocks. And sometimes as full-blown crises. And the secret I’ve learned to getting ahead is being open to the lessons, lessons from the grandest university of all, that is, the universe itself.

It’s being able to walk through life eager and open to self-improvement and that which is going to best help you evolve and grow into more of ourselves.

Mistakes, challenges, obstacles, and set backs all offer opportunities to sharpen skills, focus energies, stir the creative juices, think smarter, act faster and perform better.

Every set back should give you a great lesson and learn from the lesson to become a very educated man/woman in this journey of life.  LETS LEARN FROM OUR FAILURES.

Learning Is a New Beginning

Pythagoras interpreted the universe through numbers. He was a philosopher and a mathematician, and he knew the importance of learning. Pythagoras lived a long time ago, but a lot of things have remained the same, like the significance of education for both individuals and society.

Whenever you start something new, you will have a lot to learn. This should not discourage you- in fact it should give you energy. It is similar to the feeling of a new beginning, a fresh start.

 It’s important to remain open to new ideas and new information in this life. Being a know-it-all is like shutting the door to great discoveries and opportunities. Keep your door open every day to something new and energizing.

These days, we don’t have many excuses for having a blind spot. We all have access to information with relatively little effort, and, back to the ancient Greeks, Socrates is famed for having said, “There is only one thing I know, and that is I know nothing.” Pretty tough words coming from an esteemed scholar and philosopher, but it opened him up to more knowledge every day. In other words, start every day with a clean slate. Give yourself a new beginning by opening up your mind.

Don’t start a new business, venture or enter a new field thinking you know everything about the field. Don’t make that mistake. There are a lot of hidden aspects in every industry, and you will find out how complex seemingly simple things can be.

Finally never think of learning as being a burden or studying as being boring. It may require some discipline, but it can be an adventure. It can also prepare you for a new beginning.

Take that first step in learning. Use everything in your power to utilize and develop that capability and ability to learn, and you’ll be in for some great surprises.  Learning opens you to more knowledge. Learning opens up your mind. Learning is a new beginning.


Leadership is a matter of intelligence, trustworthiness, humaneness, courage, and discipline. Reliance
on intelligence alone results in rebelliousness. Exercise of humaneness alone results in weakness.
Fixation on trust results in folly. Dependence on the strength of courage results in violence. Excessive
discipline and sternness in command result in cruelty. When one has all five virtues together, each appropriate to its function, then one can be a leader.

— Sun Tzu

Sun Tzu’s Art of War originally was intended to be read as a work of military strategy and philosophy.
Yet even today, more than 2,000 years later, Sun Tzu’s description of the traits that characterize a successful leader is valid in any arena—war, politics, business, and any endeavor that requires the ability to inspire and mobilize the efforts of a group in the service of a common goal.

What kind of person is the theoretical ideal leader?

The ideal leader has the intelligence to understand the subtleties and complexity of the leadership
role: It is not sufficient to bear the title and hold the authority of a leader to function as one. The very
concept of leadership is subjective, which is why so many different varieties and degrees of leadership are
evident in society and in business. The perfect leader understands what it means to lead, and to be led.
The ideal leader is aware of the mutual responsibility of the leader and the led: Each relies on and supports the other.

A leader without a sense of humanity is only a leader by virtue of superior power, while a great leader inspires more by force of character and principle than by fear and intimidation.

The ideal leader is also someone who can be trusted. The essence of trust and trustworthiness is the necessity of interdependence. If a leader loses the confidence of those who follow, they will cease to
follow; if a leader fails to trust the skills of those who follow, the result will be disaster. No one can lead
alone; the concept is absurd.

A successful leader is courageous, and not simply in the physical sense. Many decisions must be made
in solitude, even when the leader has numerous counselors. The perfect leader is one who willingly takes on the responsibility for advancing or retreating, and accepts the consequences. If the leader is not seen
to have the courage required to act on behalf of all, the leader will lose the confidence of the group, and
ultimately the position of leadership itself.

Finally, the perfect leader must impose discipline, in the classic sense of teaching followers the correct
path. Discipline is not simply exercising control and punishing those who fail to obey instructions.
Discipline is guidance, structure, training; without it, no one can lead effectively.

Sun Tzu pointed out that each of the qualities he mentions as essential for leadership can lead to excess and abuse. It is only by balancing the proportions of these qualities that the leader can attain
maximum effectiveness.

Learn to Think on Your Feet

Complacency can ruin your chances for success. It’s the same as being in a rut and deciding to stay there. People should and must live on the edge—it’s the opposite of complacency, and the same as thinking on your feet.

Ever notice how your senses are heightened when you are in challenging situations? It’s like having an adrenalin rush that gives you extra energy. If you see every day as a challenge, you’d be surprised how efficient you can become and how much can be accomplished. People often say they “hit the street running,” which is another way of saying they did their prep work and were ready.

The basic ingredients for success in business are to learn to think ahead, to be prepared, and to cover your bases.

In business, you must spend a great deal of time researching every detail that might be pertinent to a deal. People often comment on how some business leaders operate with speed. The reason they can move quickly is that they’ve done the background work first, which often no one sees. Just because you don’t see someone working doesn’t mean they haven’t been working in their spare or private time. You must prepare yourself thoroughly, and then when it is time to move ahead, you are ready to sprint.

Being able to think on your feet is the result of training and discipline. You can’t sprint unless you have built up the strength to do so. Building the stamina is up to you. If you don’t work at it, it’s not going to happen by wishful thinking. You have to dedicate yourself to it every day. In other words, set a goal and work toward it. Athletes know that no one else can do the training for them, and business people should have the same discipline. They have to be self-reliant.

Have you ever said to yourself, “I wish I’d thought of that!”? I’ve heard people say that when they come across something very clever or something fantastic. One way to learn to think on your feet is to ask yourself what you should be thinking of this very moment. Do it right now, and then see other people saying, “I wish I’d thought of that—what a great idea!” You’d be surprised how many good ideas you might have if you’d give yourself the opportunity to think about them. Thinking takes time. It’s the preparation for being able to think on your feet. First things first: First we walk, then we run, then we sprint.

It is an encouraging fact that man has the unquestioned ability to elevate his life by conscious endeavour. That is not only an encouraging statement; it is also an empowering one. It means you can accomplish a lot by applying your brainpower and then moving forward with it. Thought without action won’t amount to much in the long run. Those great ideas you have will remain great ideas unless you actively do something with them.

Don’t wait for dire circumstances to test your quick-thinking ability. Test yourself daily. Be on alert at all times. As Napoleon said, “A leader has the right to be beaten, but never the right to be surprised.” See yourself as a leader—starting right now. It will mean you are self-reliant, responsible, and not apt to being unnecessarily surprised by the vicissitudes of life, whether you are in business or not. Being prepared cannot be overestimated, and if you want to hit the big time running, you’d better be able to think on those feet of yours.

Adapted from Think like A champion

Using Your Intuition

Harvard business professor Daniel Isenberg studied 16 senior managers in major American corporations. He spent days interviewing them, observing them as they worked and watching them perform various exercises designed to identify what made them successful. He discovered 5 different ways in which successful managers use intuition:

  • To help them sense when a problem exists
  • To rapidly perform well-learned behaviour patterns
  • To synthesise isolated bits of data and experience into an integrated picture
  • To check on the results of rational analysis – they search until they match their ‘gut instinct’ and their intellect
  • To bypass in-depth analysis and generate a quick solution

Charles Merrill of Merrill Lynch once said that if he made decisions fast, he was right 60% of the time. If he took time, analysed a situation and made a decision carefully, he would be right 70% of the time. However, the extra 10% was seldom worth the time.

Intuition is based on everything we already know and have experienced, intellectually and emotionally.

We may not be able to explain the rationale behind our ‘gut instinct’ but it is more than a whim.

Leading in the 21st Century – An interview with Shimon Peres

Leading in the 21st century

An interview with Shimon Peres – President of Israel

Leading in the 21st century has been a walk on the wild side. To get a better fix on the challenges ahead, McKinsey spoke with Shimon Peres.  Please read this insightful interview.

September 2012

Polish-born Shimon Peres is one of modern Israel’s defining figures. He is the ninth president of Israel, a position he has held since his election in 2007, and has served twice as Israel’s prime minister.

Peres immigrated with his family in 1934 from what was then Poland to what was then Palestine. He joined the Haganah defense force in 1947. After the establishment of the Israeli state in 1948, Peres, then just 24, was appointed head of the Israeli navy by Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. In the years since, Peres has held nearly every major cabinet position, including deputy prime minister, minister of defense, and foreign minister. He has served as head of Israel’s Labor party many times and over the course of his career has been a member of many different political parties and coalitions.

Peres is a recipient, with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, of the 1994 Nobel Prize for Peace in recognition of his role in peace talks that led to the Oslo Accords. He was awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama and an honorary knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II. He is the author of more than a dozen books, including the 1995 memoir Battling for Peace. He shared his unique perspectives on leadership in the modern age in a conversation with McKinsey’s Rik Kirkland in January.

McKinsey: You’ve cited Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, and David Ben-Gurion as the three greatest leaders of the 20th century. What is it about them that you admire?

Peres: Each had a brilliant mind, and a brilliant pen. Their ability with a pen demonstrated many things: curiosity, memory, courage. They understood that you lead not with bayonets but with words. A leader’s words must be precise and totally committed. Words are the connection between leaders and the public. They must be credible and clear and reflect a vision, not just a position.

I could also name some American leaders. Think of Abraham Lincoln. No one described democracy better. He said a democracy is made by three conditions: a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Everyone knows those words. There you have in three phrases something you could write entire books about. Or John F. Kennedy: “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” Or Theodore Roosevelt: “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” These are expressions that everyone remembers. And the style is the man.

McKinsey: But you have also said that in addition to keen intellect and verbal eloquence, great leaders must have the ability to act decisively.

Peres: The first time I met Ben-Gurion he told me that a great leader has to decide: either make peace and pay a price, or go to war and take a risk. No separation. No escape. Make up your mind. But above all this and behind it all, there is something else that people judge: Do you want to rule them, or do you want to lead? Do you want to be on top, or do you want to be ahead, showing the way?

You can’t lead by trying to follow the polls. The people may say, “We are for you.” But they are never for you 100 percent. They are divided, maybe 51 percent for you and 49 against. Maybe a bit less or a bit more. But it’s a shifting situation. You must carry on and earn their trust. You shouldn’t be afraid to be afraid. But you shouldn’t be afraid to be courageous as well.

McKinsey: How does a leader project confidence even when he or she harbors doubts?

Peres: The first rule is no double talk. Don’t say things in private that contradict your public statements. If people see that you say one thing in private and another in public, you are lost.

McKinsey: Another challenge for leaders is reconciling their long-term vision against what it takes just to get through the next few months. How do you strike that balance?

Peres: The last two decades we have witnessed the greatest revolution since Genesis. States have lost their importance and strength. The old theories—from Adam Smith to Karl Marx—have lost their value because they are based on things like land, labor, and wealth. All of that has been replaced by science. Ideas are now more important than materials. And ideas are unpredictable. Science knows no customs, no borders. It’s immeasurable, unpredictable, unprecedented. It doesn’t depend on distances or stop at a given point.

Science creates a world where individuals can play the role of the collective. Two boys create Google. One boy creates Facebook. Another individual creates Apple. These gentlemen changed the world without political parties or armies or fortunes. No one anticipated this. And they themselves did not know what would happen as a result of their thoughts. So we are all surprised.

It is a new world. You may have the strongest army—but it cannot conquer ideas, it cannot conquer knowledge. Now when you try to anticipate what is possible, you must go to books or laboratories, not simply to the stock exchange. You must exercise your brain. And you can keep your brain fresh if you use it.

McKinsey: In a world where ideas play such an important role, is it more important for modern leaders to be disciplined or to be creative?

Peres: The mind of a leader must be free—a mind that can dream and imagine. All new things were born in dreams. A leader must have the courage to be a nonconformist, just like a scientist. He must dream even if he dreams alone or if people laugh at him. He must not let his heart falter.

McKinsey: So leaders must be able to communicate clearly and act decisively. But before that they need curiosity and vision.

Peres: Decisiveness alone is not enough.

McKinsey: In the wake of the financial crisis, there has been a lot of discussion about governments reasserting authority and political leaders demanding a greater say over affairs in the private sector. Does that present new challenges for business leaders?

Peres: Nations and states remain a force. And there are also international organizations like the World Bank or the United Nations. But today, civil society is stronger and greater than governments or international organizations.

McKinsey: How has the spread of new technologies like the Internet, smartphones, and social media changed the landscape for leaders?

Peres: Today, the separation between generations is stronger than between nations. Our children say, “Please don’t impose upon us your own arrogance—the world you created, wounded by war, corrupted by money, separated by hatred. And don’t try to build artificial walls between us and other youngsters.” Because they were born in a new age. For them, the modern equipment of communication is what paper and pen are for us. They can communicate much more easily and don’t feel all this hidden discrimination that we were born with and find so difficult to get rid of.

McKinsey: When you look into the future, given what you’ve said about the critical role of science and ideas, what will be the drivers for the global economy?

Peres: Today unemployment is the greatest problem we face. But I think that’s in part because we employ wrongly. The greatest branch of the economy in the future will be learning and teaching and educating. Learn more, work less. I think the proportion will change. Most of our time we will either be studying or teaching or doing research. There is no end to learning, there is no end to research, there is no end to imagination—and no limit to creativity.

Leadership Wisdom from “It’s Your Ship ”

A challenge for every organization is to attract, retain and motivate employees. If a company succeeds in doing so, employees work with more passion, energy, and enthusiasm. This translates to an increase in productivity and more profit for the company.

Another factor to remember is this: real leadership must be done by example. Remember that the people below you follow your lead and that you have an enormous influence on your employees. They will look up to you for signals on how to behave and what the organization expects from them.

Remember that one of the secrets to a successful management of any organization is to be able to articulate a common goal that inspires people to work hard together. Proper, effective and open communication of goals, rules, instructions and expectations can spell a difference.

The best way for an organization to succeed is to give the employees all the responsibility they can handle and then stand back. Trusting your employees to do their job well sustains the company.

Trust is also a social contract – you have to earn it. Trust is earned when you give it. When people start trusting each other more and more, they stop questioning motives and start to work as one unit.

Encourage the people in your organization to be more result-oriented by opening their minds to new ideas. Encourage them to use their imagination to find new ways of doing things. Your employees must learn how to take the initiative.

It is also important to remember that sometimes, you need to learn to take calculated risks. Bet on people who think for themselves. By taking a “leap of faith” and trusting that one person can do the job and do it right, you increase his self-confidence and make him do his job even better. You must also learn to take a chance on a promising sailor. Give people second chances especially if you see potential in him. He might just surprise you with outstanding results.

Lastly, if a rule doesn’t make sense, break it carefully. Remember, there is always room for improvement but think ideas thoroughly before implementing it.

In any business, standard operating procedure (SOP) is the rule. It is safe, proven and effective. However, SOP seldom gets outstanding results and distracts people from what is really important.Innovation and progress are realized when you go beyond standard operating procedures. Sometimes, you have to look for new ways to handle old tasks and find
new approaches to new problems.

Good leaders strengthen their organization by building their people and helping them feel good about themselves and their jobs. When this happens, morale and productivity is improved which translates to increased profit for the company. Focus on building self-esteem. Show them that you trust and believe in them. Praise them for a job well done.

Unity is essential to any organization. If you don’t support each other, the organization will soon encounter critical problems that may be irreparable. The job of a leader is to assemble the best team possible, train the unit, and figure out the best way to get the members to work together for the good of the organization.

Lastly, remember that people who enjoy and look forward to going to work are more productive and happy. You can create a positive atmosphere at work by letting people have fun and interact with their colleagues. Having fun at work creates more social glue for the organization. This results in productivity and loyalty.


9/11 Legacy – A day that changed the world

Defining moment

The world today is a far different place than the one before the fateful morning of 11 September 2001.

Whether the world has become a better and safer place remains an open question and it a question over which opinions differ and differ strongly.

There can be no doubt that what happened on 11 September 2001 was a defining moment in history. The visuals of two planes crashing into the Twin Towers and another into the Pentagon, the symbol of ultimate power, will stay etched into the memory of the people who saw it first hand or followed the drama unfolding on TV.

Much that has happened over the past 11 years in hot spots around the globe can be traced back to that eventful day.

Intriguing observation

One perceptive analyst made the intriguing observation that horrendous as it was, the cruel murder of over 2000 civilians after the second of the towers collapsed was not the only major crime of that day. It also initiated a war of retaliation and revenge with consequences that will still be felt for years to come.

On the evening of 11 September 2001, President George W. Bush declared a global war on terror when he told the American nation that “we will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbour them.”

Originally justified to hunt down those who ordered and were involved in planning the  murder of thousands of innocent people– many not American –  the war on terror has become a terror war.

The cost to Africa

The killing of Osama bin Laden may have quenched the American desire for revenge, but there is the prospect that it may further radicalise Islamic fundamentalists to continue bin Laden’s mission. The evidence is there for all to see that bin Laden’s “crusade” did not die with him. Al-Qaeda might have lost their charismatic leader but his legacy lives on and has found acceptance in parts of Africa.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Al-Shabaab in Somalia, Boko Haram in Nigeria and Ansar Dine in Mali are all to a more or lesser degree franchises of al-Qaeda and primed to further bin Laden and al-Qaeda’s ideals in Africa.

This in turn has attracted US interest and Africa is firmly in the crosshairs of those in charge of the global war on terror. General Carter Ham, commanding officer of Africom, the US regional military command for Africa, does not mince his words; “Countering the threats posed by al-Qaeda affiliates in  Africa remains my number one priority.”

Africa can but hope that something similar never happens again.

Garth Cilliers  (Leadership Intelligence Bulletin)