At Omnicor, we work with leaders in a variety of ways. Sometimes, we help our clients assess for leadership potential, and other times, we assist them in developing their leaders for the future.

Recently, we’ve begun to talk to leaders from across the business and government spectrum of South Africa in our podcast, Radio Omnicor. Here are five critical lessons they’ve shared with us:

#1. Leadership is systemic

A recent guest on our podcast had this to say about leadership: “Leadership is not something that exists inside a person, leadership is something that exists between people. It’s an emergent phenomenon that occurs as a course of the chemistry of people coming together in a particular time and context, and as a result, it cannot be determined by the individual capabilities of a person. This is also why someone who has been an excellent leader in company A, moves into company B and fails dismally.”

— Marc Kahn- Global Head of HR and OD at Investec.

We overlook the magic that happens when a group of like-minded leaders who are both talented and share good chemistry, can achieve.

#2. Have your own truth teller

During her tenure as Public Protector, Advocate Thuli Madonsela was known as a Makhadzi “Akin to that of the Venda traditional spiritual female leader, the Makhadzi, who whispers truth to the king or the ruler. A ruler ignores the Makhadzi at his peril” — Thandeka Gqu.

Thuli reflects that all leaders need their own Makhadzi, someone who will have the confidence and courage to tell you the blunt truth, no matter how hard it is can keep leaders honest and humble.

A truth teller will communicate and not hold back. This will help you as the leader communicate the truth. Once you have the entire story, you can be the leader who gets it!

#3 Leadership is not about being tough

Professor Johnathan Jansen explained that good leadership must be about being close to the people you lead. “Those who are led would be more understanding if a leader showed closeness even when things are not going well. Good leadership should be about being empathetic, allowing oneself to feel what those she or he leads feel.”

True leadership, he said, requires listening more than talking. Proper leadership involves paying attention not only to those who are succeeding in society but being particularly aware and in touch with the neediest in society. True leadership is about sacrifice and not about self-enrichment.

In our work with leaders in coaching, we often find that staff are neglected by their leaders, even just to set up mentoring sessions with the leader can be impossible – Be the leader who is both visible and available and your team will repay the favour.

#4. Go big or go home

“Most Leaders don’t think big enough says, “Dennis Zietsman, another recent leader guest on our podcast. When imagining the future strategy of the business, build a bold picture. Looking back, Dennis could not have predicted he would be the Chairman of a Group that employs over 40 000 employees, but he did set the intention to be big and global. It requires self-confidence, courage and also a team around you that share your values.

Get rid of staff quickly that don’t show up the way they promised in the interview. Too much damage can be done to the culture if you leave this tough decision.

#5 Mindfulness and grit

Our Resilience programme offers leaders a retreat, a full day away from the office, with no technology and no work. All that is required is mindfulness — defined by Jon Kabat Zinn (author of Full Catastrophe Living and father of mainstream mindfulness) as “Paying attention in a particular way, on purpose in the present moment and non-judgementally “

Sounds easy but it has leaders feeling very uncomfortable. In a world where we are bombarded by technology, information and work in complex and high-pressure environments, the old magic of mindfulness is once again trending. If you are mindful you will have self-awareness and patience to respond rather than react. Mindful leaders listen and make space for others, they arrive ready to learn from others and escape the arrogance of ego-driven leadership.

Author: Colleen McLintock