Written by Vanessa Whitehead, NOC Director

In Chinese writing the word “Crisis” is expressed in the form of two Chinese characters. The first represents the word for “Chaos”. The second signifies the word for “Opportunity”. It seems ironic that in 2020 amidst the global crisis these words summarize our reality as we try to get our heads (and hearts) to fathom what the opportunities emanating from this chaos could be.As Leaders in this crisis together, we are faced with the reality of having to make prompt decisions, take sensible actions, and deliver results that favor our institutions and our people and not “one at the expense of the other”. Finding that balance between facts versus feelings – head versus heart – emotions versus logical thinking – all the while trying to make sense of the chaos; and set aside our own personal emotions.

“Action taken in panic – a blind panic – is rarely going to give something your best shot”. So how do we find our way through the panic, balance our emotions with reason and make decisions that positively impact ourselves, our families, employees, customers, stakeholders, and organisations?

Great leaders understand how to balance emotion with reason. They develop crucial qualities needed to become great decision-makers. We will discuss three of these qualities:

  1. Emotional intelligence
  2. The ability to handle uncertainty
  3. The ability to weigh evidence with intuition

1. Emotional Intelligence

Daniel Goleman defines Emotional Intelligence as “our ability to understand and manage our emotions and those of others”. This is one of the most important qualities a leader must possess. Emotional intelligence consists of:

The key to success is to our ability to recognize our emotions, be influenced by them but not blinded by them. We cannot bury our emotions, worries and fears. We need to be able to express our feelings and decisions calmly and clearly to others even when we experience intense emotions within ourselves and from others. We need to be aware of our emotional state so that we can manage the intense emotions and make smart decisions. Our feelings have functions – they provide us with insights and give us an opportunity to follow our inner wisdom. They give us clues as to what choices, roles, and decisions are best for us. They motivate us to change and create healthier boundaries. We don’t have to act on all our feelings/emotions as sometimes they don’t serve us, but we do need to acknowledge what we are feeling and decide how to act. We need to process our feelings otherwise those stored feelings will lead to stress and physical symptoms e.g. hypertension, muscle tension, gastrointestinal problems, addictions, and headaches.

2. The ability to handle uncertainty

We are often paralyzed by uncertainty and end up basing our decisions on things that aren’t relevant. We get caught in over-analysis commonly known as “analysis paralysis”. We know we need to move quickly and proceed with the available information versus taking time to gather additional and sometime irrelevant information. Great leaders need to know when to stop gathering data and go back to the big picture or key data points.We seek certainty and security before we make a decision and we may find a false sense of security in our mountain of facts. Like reigning in our negative emotions to achieve emotional self-control, sometimes we need to accept uncertainty rather than try to resolve it. Focus our limited time, energy and money on making the best decisions in the face of an uncertain outcome. We do not mean that you should not bother to analyze a situation before making a decision – but know how to gather the necessary information to resolve the situation without getting stuck or investing too much time or resources in the analyses. Ask yourself if the uncertainty that you are attempting to resolve is resolvable. If not – accept the uncertainty and move on. Limit your choices to make the best decision.When there are more than five or six options, we have a more difficult time deciding and often opt not to make a decision. Keep your options below five and you will find it easier to decide.

3. Weigh evidence with intuition

We hear intuition described as “a nagging little voice inside of us”. It may speak softly or scream out at us. In our non-stop, technology-filled worlds we may find it difficult to hear our intuition. Excellent leaders often say they follow their “gut” to make decisions. They trust themselves and their expertise and do not get stuck in the cycle of over thinking. The more we know about a subject the more reliable our intuition will be. Finding a few moments of reflection, a walk, a warm bath, gardening etc. provide perfect opportunities for us to hear out intuition. When we find time to be a human being and not a human doing, we may be surprised at what we hear. Otherwise if we do not yet trust or hear our intuition – ask for advice or guidance from someone whose intuition we trust and test their intuition to our own.
As a great leader, we need to be comfortable with discomfort. We can only do our best with the information we have available to us at the time. There cannot be a right or a wrong answer – perhaps an inferior option but we will learn that we can handle the outcome and find unexpected opportunities for growth as we navigate the tightrope and find our own personal balance between facts and feelings – head and heart. We cannot lead courageously without both.We are challenged to draw on qualities that will enable us to walk this tight rope, navigate these unprecedented times and never lose sight that to survive we must balance Head and Heart. We need to understand and manage our emotions and those of others. We need to be comfortable with discomfort. We can only do our best with the information we have available to us at the time to move quickly and then to proceed. We need to hear our intuition, follow our “gut” to make decisions and trust ourselves and our expertise and not get stuck in the cycle of over thinking.In so doing, navigate the tightrope and find our own personal balance between facts and feelings – head and heart. We cannot lead courageously without bothWritten by Vanessa Whitehead, NOC Director(1)Daniel Goleman, Richard E. Boyatzis, and Annie McKee, Primal Leadership, (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2004). (2)Larina Kase – Gradiazo Business Review 2010

Written by Adele Hall, NOC Director


My 4-year old granddaughter often asks when told she has to wait for or get something later, “When is later? Is later, now?” and so it is with the future as it concerns COVID-19.

The future is now.A question frequently asked is, “What will the future, or business look like post the pandemic?” If one could quantify how often this question or a version of it is asked, it would most likely rank in the top 5 questions being asked right now. And yet, as often as the question is asked, we are no closer to consensus on the answer. Why then start with a frequently asked question by my granddaughter? Because the future is NOW.

We can’t predict the future but we can do something about now. There’s a new reality emerging for all of us even if we can’t predict what it’s going to look like in our homes, our businesses, the South African economy or the global economy. But it’s coming and it will be like nothing we’ve never experienced before.

If there are some of us who are thinking that our lives are on hold and we’re waiting for the virus to run its course and all we need to do is stay safe, stay healthy and keep our heads down, for once it’s over we’ll return to our lives pre-virus, get back to normal. No. The way we were is over, a new normal is in the process of being formed. Be part of that metamorphosis. See the pandemic as our Damascus Moment and use this time to learn and reinvent and re-emerge enhanced versions of ourselves.

We’re not certain how the world will emerge, but we can focus our energy on preparing ourselves for the new normal. Appreciate that this rampant virus is a mighty catalyst for change.Where to start? As the great Anthony De Mello would have said, start with self.Never before has it been more important to answer the question of questions, “Who am I?”. Who am I choosing to be during this pandemic? Who am I choosing to be post the pandemic?

Stop thinking about what you want (that may be unrealistic given the circumstances) instead focus on who you want to be. How do I cultivate my curiosity during this time, become an accomplished specialist, grow my knowledge base to emerge with an enhanced mindset and new skill/s that you can bring to bear on a changed world.

It has been said previously, this pandemic is a great equalizer, a phenomenal leveller that presents us with a tremendous opportunity to learn lessons from the edge. I recommend that while we cannot control the changes that will be made manifest at an economic or business level, we can spend some of the lockdown time working on the change we want to see, by working on ourselves.

There’s never been a better time to heal ourselves, break free from the pain and patterns that hold us victim and trapped.What about spending time re-evaluating what really matters to you, what you value. Reassessing the key relationships and roles you have that are aligned to the things you value. With this in hand, assess the gap between who you are now and who you want to be. Set realistic goals that will move you over time to BE the person you most want to be. A person who will be relevant in our new world with its new normal.

We are always in a state of greater becoming, the pandemic has acted as a magnificent catalyst to propel us into an uncertain future. Don’t waste the crisis.

Written by Deidre Barnes, NOC Head of Learning

Working from home has become a trend. A staggering 74% of respondents in an annual survey conducted by FlexJobs and Global Workplace Analytics believe that flexible working has become the “new normal”. By 2018, 5 million employees in America (4% of the workforce) worked from home more than 50% of the time (Global Workplace Analytics’ analysis of 2018 American Community Service (ACS) data).

Take a 2-minute scroll on any social media platform and you will see lots of people boasting about their “work-from-home” businesses and jobs.Globally employers have caught on to this trend and started realizing the benefits it can bring to any business- from the flexibility it provides to the employees, to time and money saved on commuting, to increased staff attraction and retention. There is also a myriad of studies reporting on the positive impact on the employer-employee relationship due to the demonstration of trust from the employer’s side.

Recently remote working has become not just a luxury, but a necessity to those of us who are fortunate enough to have jobs and businesses that can operate remotely. We suddenly find ourselves with no other option. I can no longer choose to work from home while my kids are all in school and go to the office when I feel the need for a face to face meeting. I can no longer choose to go to a client when the four walls of my home office start to close in on me.

So how do we do it?

A quick Google search will leave you feeling even more overwhelmed with thousands of articles, tips, techniques, and recommended tech. All of them are relevant, helpful, and probably very necessary during this time. I have tested and researched the most popular and common tips and summarize them for you below:

Here are my 5 full-proof tips to kick-start your working-from-home experience:

1. Set Targets

Start every day, knowing exactly what you need to achieve that day. Be very specific and practical about the output you need to produce, and put clear and realistic timelines to these. What will be even more helpful is if you actually write these down and display them somewhere you can see them throughout the day.

Considering that you might be working in a team and most likely have subordinates and/or superiors, it will be a great idea sharing these with them and asking them to do the same. Transparent communication in this setting is even more vital than usual!

2. Find Your Own Rhythm

Find a routine that works for you and your household. Again, write it down and make everyone aware of it. It does not have to be followed to the second or minute, but it helps if you have a guideline to stick to. This will also help you manage the people in your household, because they will know when you have “work-time” and when they should not bother you. It will help you to know when to get into a work mindset and when it is down-time.

Communicate this to your team. Even though you should be accessible to your team within the “normal” working hours, it helps your team to know your general timelines and which times will be better for you to meet and respond to communications.

3. Create a Magical Space

If you are lucky enough to have a home office or study, make this a place you love. Spend some time transforming it to a neat and organised space where everything is set up and ready to help you be productive.Should you not have an entire room to yourself, find a space in your house where you can set up an area for yourself. Make sure everyone knows this is your space to work and that it should be respected. If possible, set it up facing away from any possible distractions. Don’t work in your bed or on the couch in front of the television. It is important to distinguish work time and space from down-time, especially if all of this is happening under the same roof.

4. Make Technology Your Friend

There is no shortage of technological tools to help you be productive from home – the trick is to find what works for you.The usual suspects that help with communication and collaboration are Skype, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, and Zoom- although there are thousands more to pick and choose from. For project management, check out Trello – both a website and an app that creates a kind of real-time bulletin board. Action items can be dragged from one category to another, eliminating unwieldy email chains and (real-world) sticky notes, which can pile up with team projects. Basecamp is also a favourite among digital project managers.To avoid thousands of emails being sent and version-confusion rearing its head, ensure your team is using a cloud-based storage and sharing solution like Dropbox or Google Drive. This will make it easier for remote team collaborations.

Also, if you can get some noise-cancelling headphones, this will be a big help to avoid distractions and keep you focused.

Remember to proactively create forums in which to be social! If your office’s kitchen was a place where the team would catch up and have quick informal chats, perhaps schedule a weekly “virtual kitchen chat” where the team dials in using your video conferencing platform of choice, with a cup of coffee and ready for a team catch up.

5. Unplug

One of the biggest struggles for remote workers is the ability to “unplug after work”. Be clear on your work and home boundaries and schedules, and stick to them. If you have finished your workday and you are now spending time with your family, be present in doing that. Do not constantly check your mails and respond to requests (crisis management is the exception here).

If your whole team works remotely, keep in mind that they will probably have different schedules than you and therefore you might be getting emails while you are not working. Ensure that there is enough overlap of working schedules between you and the rest of your team, so that there is “core” working hours where everyone is online and accessible. If you have that you will be more confident to not respond to emails at all hours of the day.

Remote working is the new norm for many people around the world. It will have its challenges, and it will also bring us many new opportunities to connect in a meaningful way. It will inspire us to be creative and innovative, and to think differently and redesign our worlds.

Let us embrace this extraordinary opportunity to create, connect, and collaborate in a different way. Let us be brave in trying out new methods and new tools. Let us be bold and make mistakes along the way and then be open enough to learn from them.

Finally, let us be kind to ourselves and each other, as we all navigate this new world we are responsible for creating together.

Written by Adele Hall, NOC Director

I read somewhere over the last few weeks that pandemics are equalisers, allowing us to pin-point what’s not working, as well as serving as a starting point to scale and innovate.

There is so much going on that is in our circles of concern- beyond our influence and spending more time worrying about that which we cannot control steals our joy and eats our energy.

So why not take a moment and focus on something we can control, can influence, and ask ourselves, what kind of leader am I being during this time of great uncertainty? I hope that the answer to that question, if only in part, is a courageous leader who will lead through these times of uncertainty.

The wise tell us that Courage is a core component of Leadership. It may very well separate effective leaders from ineffective leaders. What then is courageous leadership?There are many definitions to draw on, but one that resonates with me is the following: A courageous a leader is a leader who has influence and can effectively motivate a group to act towards achieving a common goal because they have mental and moral strength and will persevere and withstand danger despite their fears and the difficulty of the challenge.With this definition in mind, do you see many examples of this in play around you? Can you call to mind a leader who lives and leads in this way? Are you this leader?

“Courageous leaders are in high demand and short supply these days.”—Forbes

If leading from courage is not difficult enough, we’re now being called to be courageous leaders in uncertain times. Never in my 52-years have times been more uncertain than they are right now. This being at a personal, as well as professional level. If I have never or not very often led with courage when things we relatively good, I am now being called to lead from courage during times of great uncertainty, COVID-19.

It’s easier to be a courageous leader when times are good, but to be called on to be a courageous leader when times are tumultuous, when my business, my family and loved ones are depending on me to navigate them through these dire times, this is another matter altogether. Yet, in my experience, some of our greatest opportunities for growth and personal development comes from the edge. The lesson from the edge now is how to be a courageous leader who can lead through these times of great uncertainty.

As I stand with my tippy toes, on the edge, my hand is up to learn the lessons of courageous leadership in these uncertain times for I want to emerge an enhanced version of myself, for we will come through this time of COVID-19. What we do in the interim will separate the effective from the ineffective.

The place to start is with MINDSET. Nothing changes until the way we see the world changes. We are what we think and believe. What is the mindset of a courageous leader?

1. Believe in Yourself Without Limits – See yourself as bold and you will behave boldly

You are literally as courageous as you think you are.It is shown that those who see themselves as courageous respond to fear-inducing events more boldly than those who do not see themselves as courageous. This does not mean that you do not have to prepare for events that require your courage, but it does mean that the more you do it, the better you get at it. Bold people are just ordinary people who have activated their courage an extraordinary number of times.

2. Keep Worry at Bay – Engage in purposeful actions

Keep your worries in perspective.Worrying constantly and staying on high alert will not help you override fear and it will impede your development as a courageous leader. In fact, high-alert behaviour will make you more fearful. Worry can destroy your ability to lead effectively because it drains valuable energy, takes away needed focus, causes fatigue and stress, and steals joy.Engaging in actions that can make a difference for others. Fearlessly focusing on the work that matters most, can help you keep your worries at bay and develop the courage you need to succeed.

3. Be Optimistic – Watch your self-talk

Maintain an optimistic outlook even when things do not look or feel good.

According to Debbie Ford, author of Courage: Overcoming Fear & Igniting Self-Confidence, “When you are not complete with the past, you drag it around with you wherever you go, using it as a reference point for who you are, for what you think, for what you believe, and for the choices you make.” We can be our own worst enemy, our self-talk is predominantly negative and hence self-fulfilling. We’re called to let go of the patterns that hold us hostage and keep us from conquering new challenges and learn the vital lessons from the edge.With the ideal growth mindset in mind, what is your current mindset in this regard? Which of the three mindsets above would need most work? What would happen if you did nothing?

I urge you, as I do myself, during these times of lockdown and great uncertainty, watch your thoughts, check your mindset. Begin the journey of self-transformation by working on developing a new mindset that enables you to lead with courage through uncertain times, in particular now.To all the courageous leaders who are currently leading us through this time of great uncertainty, we thank you. Our prayers are with you.

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