It is so much easier to destroy than to build

I remain distraught and saddened by the recent events in South Africa – the mass rioting and looting that afflicted KwaZulu Natal and Gauteng.

It has been a traumatic series of weeks for millions of South Africans and I recently mentioned how distressed I was by these events.

The situation has somewhat stabilized thanks to the good work of communities, police and SANDF troops. However, the news is fraught with stories of the consequences of this attempted insurrection that occurred over the course of these past weeks. Humanitarian work has begun to alleviate the present suffering and help rebuild.

On the 16th July 2021, President Ramaphosa described the destruction as a result of a “deliberate, coordinated and well-planned attack on our democratic order”.

This cataclysmic event led me to one conclusion – it is hundreds of times easier and quicker to destroy than it takes to create! It has also challenged my hope in South Africa.

Nevertheless, there are some key shifts that would bring some hope to my country.

Feeling distressed about the rioting and looting that is taking place in South Africa

Rioting and looting has engulfed parts of South Africa in July 2021. KwaZulu Natal and Gauteng provinces are currently the most affected.

These riots appear to have morphed into a short-sighted destruction of infrastructure and thousands of businesses. The news is full of images of mass looting. People even seem to be driving to distant shopping malls and warehouses to steal without remorse.

I am very distressed by it. I am unclear about how I can influence the outcome of what is happening. It is a struggle to retain hope right now. The people that I have spoken with feel the same.

Here are my thoughts on the matter.

Virtual organizations and remote working require more than technology to succeed

Technology has progressed so that people can work remotely and organizations can operate virtually.

Many of us have been fortunate to be able to continue with our work despite the challenges presented by the Covid-19 lockdown.

For many employees, the lockdown has vindicated what they have been trying to tell their bosses all this time – that they can work from home and don’t need to come into the office every day and waste time in traffic.

But working from home has brought its own challenges. Few organizations have been designed to run virtually. Although technology has enabled the remainder of us to get by, the true power of virtual organizations has not been harnessed. In this article I explain why some bosses will be anxious to get everyone back into the office, and how some organizations have been able to master remote work.

Founder’s syndrome undermines the legacy of strong leaders

Founder’s syndrome is a pathological pattern of behaviour that sometimes afflicts the founders of organizations. Management consultants colloquially refer to it as ‘founderitis’

Founder’s syndrome occurs when a strong-minded founder, who battled against odds to build an organization, ends up becoming its biggest constraint to growth.

I see it as an autoimmune disease that infects founders and consequently undermines the organizations that they worked hard to build. I encounter a new case of founder’s syndrome every couple of months in my consulting work.

In this article I’ll define founder’s syndrome and two ways of seeing it. I will also discuss how it is caused, its common symptoms, how it is treated and how to prevent it.

Be hopeful, not optimistic

Recently, I have noticed that there seems to be a shortage of hope in the world.

Despite the incredible progress that we have made as a species, everything seems to be a mess. There are problems everywhere we look.

Yet despite these problems, we need hope to give meaning and direction to our suffering.

This article will reflect on the nature of hope and the three ingredients that constitute it. It will also consider what leaders can do to cultivate genuine hope (and not false hope) among their followers.

Does your organization have FOGO?

Now that the lockdown in South Africa has started to lift, I’m noticing how many people are struggling with FOGO – an acronym for ‘Fear of Going Out’. 

They have established a safe bubble during lockdown, and are anxious about venturing out and confronting the turbulent world that awaits them. This tendency seems to be the antithesis of FOMO, which we all know as the ‘Fear of Missing Out’.

This article explores the characteristics of FOGO in organizations, and what you, as a leader, can do about it.

I encourage leaders to realize that their organizations must venture out before it’s too late. The cost of inaction may be irreversible. This unusual moment will come to an end, sooner rather than later, and we will all have to enter the uncertain world outside.

Leaders must confront their brutal truths but never give up their hopes

It is becoming much clearer what the next 12 months will look like for our organizations. For some organizations, it looks quite bleak; for others there may be a measure of hope.

I’m writing this article in early August 2020 in South Africa. The coronavirus pandemic appears to be over the hump of the first wave over here, and hopefully in decline. People have learned how to navigate through the dangers and restrictions that confront them each day. It looks like the initial panic is slowly subsiding. 

Leaders are able to distill evidence and trends to infer what their organizations will look like over the next year. For many leaders, this outlook is legitimately distressing. Their organizations, their beneficiaries and customers, their strategic context, may look very different from how they did in the past. 

I advise leaders to consider the Stockdale Paradox, in which I’ve found solace in recent months. This paradox suggests that leaders must confront and accept the brutal truth of what they see.

The four outcomes of good leadership

I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership recently – about what good leadership is and what type of leaders the world needs right now. There seems to be turmoil everywhere, but also opportunity.

I’m very mindful of how leaders behave and the outcomes they achieve in their teams, organizations and communities. I’m fortunate to have worked with some very skilled (and poor) leaders, and witnessed a variety of leadership styles.

I’ve noticed that good leaders are able to achieve four key outcomes among their team members, subordinates and followers. I unpack these in this article, as well as the three biggest mistakes that I tend to make as a leader.

We are heading towards some difficult times with many challenges on the horizon. While none of us know how this will ultimately turn out, we can be sure that many of us need to become better leaders. Focusing on these four outcomes will help us to remain on course.

Manifesto on strategic clarity

Most of my time is spent helping leaders of non-profit organizations and social enterprises to cultivate strategic clarity.

I want them to think clearly about their organizations. I want them to make sensible decisions and act swiftly upon them.

But I’ve noticed how easily we get lost in the activities, documents and tools of strategy. These can become an end in themselves.

I recommend we shift our attention to what we’re trying to achieve: clarity of thinking and good decision-making. Then we become open to possibilities we never considered before. Sometimes, all we need is a good night’s sleep.

This article explores some creative ideas for how we can improve our strategic clarity.

Estimating probabilities is key to strategy

Leaders must be good at taking bets against the future. They must be able to choose a course of action that is most likely to advance their organization in an uncertain world. Competent leaders make the right bets most of the time; bad leaders don’t.

However, many of the leaders I help are overwhelmed by the strategic choices facing their non-profit organization or social enterprise. 

They have realized that they have limited resources such as time, attention, money and people. They recognize that they cannot pursue all opportunities. Neither can they protect against all threats and risks, with equal enthusiasm, despite wanting to do so. They have learned that the future is uncertain and unpredictable. They have begun to accept their limitations as leaders.

Leaders must learn how to embrace the ‘agony of choice’. They must become skilled at estimating probabilities. They must learn to act swiftly with imperfect information.

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