Three Defining Characteristics Of Courageous Leaders

Keri-Leigh Paschal – Executive Director, Nation Builder

Every generation has called for more leaders – courageous leaders – who will stand up for good, wholesome principles that have the betterment of people and planet at their core. We do know we need them, across all sectors of our society. But do we need to define that they are ‘courageous’ leaders? Or is courage a given character trait of good leadership?

Courage is a vital virtue of good leaders, “those who would rather challenge what needs to be changed and pay the price, than remain silent and slowly die inside” (Andy Stanley). Yet every situation that calls for courage involves some kind of uncertainty and some kind of risk, which in turn implies vulnerability. Not a characteristic most would associate with courage, but one that Nelson Mandela intimately understood: “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

It takes courage to see challenges as opportunities, to address injustices past and present, and to shape society’s future direction. And the courageous pioneers who do, share these three main characteristics: They have deep conviction, they can effectively tap into unrealised opportunities, and they view themselves with humility.

Deep Conviction
Leaders of businesses that make a tangible difference in society – while also making a profit – have a passion for the wellbeing of people. This deep conviction leads to a business approach that is centred on being a force for good in society, a selfless and authentic motive outside of profit.

Profit is essential – because without profit a business would not be sustainable, and the passion to make a difference, would remain a mere desire and not become reality – yet the conviction to be good and do good determines the ultimate end of the business, by shaping both the day-to-day decisions and long-term investments that together ensure a lasting positive impact.

Unrealised Opportunities
Courageous leaders view the world differently. They see frustrations, constraints and differing perspectives as fuel for innovation that drives solutions.

They are curious and can be found immersing themselves in new contexts to give them a broader understanding of and insight into their ever-changing landscapes. This enables them to identify where pain points exist and drives their passion to engage more effectively through their business to provide a different service or offering and thereby turn unrealised opportunities into real gains.

Humble Approach

“True humility, scientists have learned, is when someone has an accurate assessment of both his strengths and weaknesses, and he sees all this in the context of the larger whole. He’s a part of something far greater than he. He knows he isn’t the centre of the universe. And he’s both grounded and liberated by this knowledge. Recognising his abilities, he asks how he can contribute. Recognising his flaws, he asks how he can grow.”

(Ashley Merryman, The Washington Post).

Humility is not thinking less of yourself. It is having a right view of your skills, character and position. It takes a courageous leader to not have all the answers and to see the skills and understanding of those better equipped to meet the challenge. It takes vulnerability to seek assistance, ask good questions and build partnerships to achieve the greatest possible outcomes.

The three characteristics briefly described above are simple, yet require authenticity in heart and approach to truly be a force for social good.

In the social development landscape, we often see business people impose their views and preferred solution on those in the development sector. However, there are many credible social impact groups who have already learned the hard lessons and therefore understand the landscape. The key is to find the right partner and have the humility to trust their judgement on how to engage constructively in building the social fabric of our nation. Those investing in these partnerships experience greater joy with each life that is transformed.

Within our local business community, where the economic and social realities are challenging, courageous leadership is the only approach that can ultimately redefine our society.

Let us engage our entrepreneurial spirit, let us think creatively, and let us work together in finding solutions to the unique complexities that our colourful nation presents us. Let us find the courage in each of us, and let us lead.

All rights reserved. Copyright 2018 Mergon Group.

Courageous Ministry Leadership

Neil Hart – Executive Head Mergon Foundation​

It’s a lonely role leading anything. Once the excitement dies down the responsibility kicks in. There are so many questions. Are your people inspired by the mission & committed through the hard times? Are they living together in a healthy culture and growing in their contribution?

Is the organisation operating efficiently with good governance? Are funders hearing stories of the contribution in society and coming alongside you to enhance your efforts? Is the Board involved and helping to lighten your load? And greater pressure…are they inspired by your leadership?

We understand the pressure you feel, leading a ministry requires deeply courageous leadership.

The good news is that there is no perfect leader. Even the best I know are not complete leaders. We all have faults and blind spots. We are all a work in progress in the Master’s hands. Be vulnerable with those you lead – I’ve found that the strongest, most effective leaders are insecure. The reality will surprise you. You are probably the very best leader; for now, you are what your organisation needs in this season.

At Mergon, we partner with over a hundred ministries and leaders across 30 countries. We journey with them in 3-year partnership cycles so we get to see a few things in this time together. Leading a ministry is selfless and tough, but very little in life compares to giving your life away for something that means so much or reverberates so deeply into eternal realms.

Over time we have seen some healthy organisations operating in ways that rival the best of corporate best practice. Sadly this is generally the exception to the rule.

Jim Collins, in a foreword to the book Engine of Impact, wrote that “most nonprofits limp along, operating far below their potential impact”.  Even with wonderful, committed leadership and teams, the podium for healthy organisations is sparsely populated.

From over 25 years in business, I can tell you that there are few corporate leaders that have to deal with as much pressure as some of the ministry/NGO leaders I have worked with. In business there are generally well paid, qualified staff to delegate to, in ministry often not. In business, we protect our hearts from the messiness of people’s lives, delegating this to the HR department. In ministry, we live with the emotion 365 days a year.

Having been a CEO in business and in ministry, I want to share 5 points that enable more effective leadership and will imbue you with courage:

1. Win trust by being personal

Great leaders know how to be personal. It’s not a ministry thing, great CEOs in all walks understand this. The bulk of being personal relates to circumstances or information that is not work related. Marriage, kids, financial pressures and needs, fulfilment, rest etc. Do you know these details in your team’s lives? The better you do this, the more trust you will have. The advantage of trust? Well, its immeasurable really, you simply cannot lead well without it.

2. Empower your team with greater responsibility

Expect much from your team by showing respect for the individual skills and experience they have. I have learned that everyone comes with a past that should be respected and given due consideration. Your volunteer or manager may have a degree in something that they are not putting their daily time to. Find space for this to be expressed, and you’ll be amazed at how much more people come to life when they use their skills, interests, training or experience. As a leader, its your responsibility to uncover and maximise this.

3. Have organisational clarity

Ministry leaders are often so filled with passion for the work that one expects everyone will thrive on the same purpose. The truth is that many employees thrive on clarity. A CEO must create and communicate organisational clarity to every single member of the team. It is a truth that humans needs to understand (and buy into) what they are contributing to and how their success (or lack thereof) impacts the outcome of the work. Think of your team members, does each one know for certain what they are meant to be doing and what a difference their contribution makes to the overall goal?

4. Share vision often

Real clarity comes with a compelling vision. A CEO must be great at articulating vision, and doing it regularly. It is astounding how much vision-casting is required to keep a team focused and excited. Find several ways to communicate the same vision: through video, words, pictures, in Keynote presentations or through drama…do what it takes to regularly keep the vision clear and compelling.

5. Raise leaders, not followers

If you asked me what the single most undervalued skill of CEOs is I’d say it is the raising of leaders. There are a few important aspects to doing this well. The first is identification. For me, this is a combination of prayer and using personality tools (of which there are many available) to discern good candidates.

Secondly we should test leaders-to-be. You can always rely on people with tested character, those who have been through the fire. Find ways of testing faithfulness in small and big ways.

Lastly a CEO needs to be able to call out the gifts and talents that they see in prospective leaders. There is little that accelerates growth in an individual than someone who believes in them and tells that how good they are at specific things.

There is little more fulfilling than leading an organisation or team that is healthy, passionate and effective, contributing to growing God’s Kingdom. A healthy team will make you sleep well at night, only kept awake by the God-given mandate and vision you carry.

All rights reserved. Copyright 2018 Mergon Group.

Investment in courage at Atterbury blooms, 25 years on

Francois Van Niekerk – Founder & Chairman Mergon Group

After three centuries of Apartheid rule, Nelson Mandela became South Africa’s first black and nationally elected president on 10 May 1994. ”

Never, never again will this beautiful land experience the oppression of one by another,”
said Mandela upon his inauguration.

Twenty-five years ago, South Africans were facing unchartered territories on a social, political and economic level. Democracy was born. But it was a young concept, and some had tremendous hope, others were fearful of the unknown. At the time, for one group of people it has taken courage to work towards a new national order, for another group to submit the leadership they fought to keep, and for another to graciously welcome and accept the change that followed.

Leaders calculate courage
In business deal- and decision-making, we often navigate the same fears. Twenty-five years ago, I took a calculated chance, but a chance nonetheless, on a young junior article clerk, Louis van der Watt. Louis expressed a strong interest in property, and I had a good feeling about him, so I offered him a partnership deal.

This turned out to be the embodiment of a courageous investment turned successful venture that not only grew from strength to strength but went on to have touched, improved and enhanced the lives of so many people. Not only is Atterbury successfully bringing people together in safe and beautiful surroundings, but we think of the more than 650 Atterbury Trust bursary students, and the impact that has been made in the lives of Atterbury’s employees and their extended families. Part of the company’s legacy is that Atterbury’s developments make an impact on people’s quality of life.

I am deeply grateful for the material success of Atterbury. But most rewarding to me is to have seen how Louis has exponentially enhanced the founding principles and standards. How he eventually crafted a business with a full house of all the qualities required for enduring greatness. Louis believes strongly in business, assuming a leadership role, voicing opinions and creating opportunities.

Leadership can be a lonely place, especially within the cut-throat property industry. Louis quickly established himself as a leading figure in the South African property industry. He is widely respected, and his style is probably best described by a quote from Alan Greenspan, former Chairman of the US Federal Reserve: “I have found no greater satisfaction than achieving success through honest dealing and strict adherence to the view that for you to gain, those you deal with should gain as well.”

I make no secret that my forty years of exposure to picking and cultivating business partners, Atterbury Group’s CEO proves a distinct career highlight for me because of his uncompromising values and his unassailable credibility quotient. Louis is Atterbury. He is the acknowledged architect, rainmaker and driving force responsible for moulding Atterbury into a premium international property group.

Marrying profit with people
Today, looking back over a quarter of a century of investment in the property sector, we are able to recognise that continued courage has often catapulted investment decisions into positive societal impact.

Yes, the landscape is very different today. We had to adapt politically and geographically in business. However, the real challenges facing the business sector are mostly to do with political undercurrents of bad governance.

The country’s potential can be unlocked, but only through a radical new approach to leadership and a new form of constructive, cooperative governance. Courage, creative thinking and the can-do SA attitude is needed to support our government. I’m grateful to see the mounting realisation in corporate circles realising that communal goodwill and maximising profit are anything but mutually exclusive.

Richard Branson redefines success as “doing good at a profit”. The growing belief is that for capitalism to prolong its shelf life, we need to explore the new concept Bill Gates calls “Social Capitalism”. The business game has changed. Now, to succeed, you need to make a profit while you do good; and the latter way beyond the odd charity handout. I believe business should shift its values from a singular profit focus to caring for people, communities and the planet in order to become true catalysts for change on a social, political and economic level.

But beyond this, my walk with God in business reinforced my own belief in the need for SA business and our civil society to start focusing on sharing and forgiveness. The Gini coefficient and “hate index” are both at breaking point.

Under construction
Atterbury’s sustained high-road performance, and Mergon’s decreasing shareholding presented the Mergon Group with several cash-realisation opportunities. It certainly was the major source of capital that enabled Mergon’s widespread diversification programme. In context, it makes Louis and the entire Atterbury family significant contributors to the Mergon quest for serving the expansion of the Kingdom through business.

Despite Louis being the almost overwhelming dominant force, he also meticulously developed and nurtured a substantial number of proteges. In a new era where Louis van der Watt is no longer operational head in South Africa, I have no doubt that the Atterbury reputation for unabated progress will be upheld, given the acknowledged quality of the company’s board, senior management and staff.

In time this will emerge as a significant part of his legacy.

All rights reserved. Copyright 2018 Mergon Group.

Mergon’s Journey – The Courage To Surrender

Pieter Faure – Mergon Group CEO

Since Mergon’s establishment almost forty years ago, courageous leadership has been one of its most enduring character traits.  It was instrumental in navigating the vulnerable start-up years in the early 1980s; in surviving the crisis of economic sanctions; in capitalising on opportunities at the dawn of democracy in transitioning to a new generation of leadership in 2008 and then in backing a next wave of entrepreneurs that grew and diversified Mergon over the past ten years.  

There are many more such instances that come to mind, notably each of these represents key junctures in our journey.  It has always required faith and invariably involved a degree of risk, but once accomplished, it set us on a new path to success and greater impact.  However, when I reflect on Mergon’s journey, the moments that I believe required the most courage from us as a leadership team has been of a different kind.  It is the courage to surrender.  

Let me explain.  Mergon Foundation, with its Kingdom Impact mandate, is the 70% shareholder in the Mergon Group.  As such, we have come to respectfully view God as our de-facto majority Shareholder.  As with any normal majority shareholder in a business, we believe there are certain decisions of significance which are reserved as Shareholder matters.  In such matters, one will typically consult the majority Shareholder and then wait for His answer – not moving forward until such time.

One such example was when we needed to decide whether to move forward with our largest start-up investment to date, the co-founding of King Price Insurance.  We had done all our due diligence but decided to surrender the final decision to God in prayer, and not move forward until we felt we clearly heard from God.  For me, as a leader, the reality of truly letting go of such an important decision was very much outside my comfort zone – like most leaders I prefer being in control, especially since God’s timing and guidance on such matters often looks very different from what we in our human capacity might have in mind.

After much prayer from our team, our board and partners, we eventually felt God gave a clear release for us to go ahead, but with a caveat – that we should not go it alone.  With the deadline fast approaching, we eventually found a like-minded partner to journey with us, and we proceeded with the investment.   Since then, despite many challenges, more capital and a longer time than expected, King Price Insurance has become an incredible success story, and it is quickly becoming a key part of our investment portfolio.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to us; rather it should be an encouragement of what is possible if we as leaders display the courage to surrender our own plans, dreams and concerns to God, to prayerfully wait on Him and walk in relationship with Him.

All rights reserved. Copyright 2018 Mergon Group.