Good leadership.

One of my guests on The Mentorship Challenge talk show, John Nicolakakis, made an important distinction between management and leadership: “Leadership is the future, and management is the here and now.” A good leader needs to be both –  rooted in the present, but looking to the future. You need to get down to a granular level, but you also need to be a visionary.

No easy task.

When I think of leadership, I’m always reminded of the conductor of an orchestra. Think of a sizeable orchestra with over 60 musicians, each playing a different instrument. The conductor chooses the piece they will play – the music (or strategy!) – and must ensure that they all play the same melody, in tune, in time, at the same tempo and volume. Today’s leader needs to be adaptive and versatile, and must be able to ‘plug in’ to any organisation, bringing his or her own lead players (or exco team!) with them.

True leadership always rests in trust. It’s the glue that binds leaders to the people they lead. And trust is always reciprocal. For me, my lodestar is people – it always comes back to people, and getting them to care enough to invest emotionally in the business. This means constant and inexhaustible contact. Because, no matter how big a business grows, it must always feel like a family business.

You need to remember that people don’t park their problems at the door when they come to work. That’s why, as a leader, you need to keep an open door, so that your people can always bring you their problems, both personal and professional. There’s a level of sensitivity to leadership that is often lacking: you need to pay attention to the small details, the finer things. So, if, like our people, your staff leave at the crack of dawn and travel long distances, offer them a free breakfast. Depending on your budget, this doesn’t need to be a gourmet offering – it’s all about thoughtfulness. And a demonstration that you care.

Before we moved to our current premises, we met with the architects and co-created a space that would be home to our employees. Because, let’s face it, people spend most of their adult life at work, and so you need to ensure that this is a space they feel comfortable in, a place that makes them feel at home. And the spin-off of this care and kindness – and this shouldn’t be a cynical strategy – is increased productivity in the workplace.

A good leader needs to make his or her people feel safe. If your employees make mistakes, they need to know that they won’t get fired – I’m a firm believer that mistakes are not failures, but learning opportunities. I’ll shout this from the rooftops. However, if a staff member repeats those mistakes one too many times, learning just isn’t taking place, and you’ll have to take decisive action.

Which takes me to another hallmark of great leadership – decisiveness. It’s more important to make the decision, than to make the right decision. You can always mitigate the wrong decision and right it ex post facto. That decisiveness confers a sense of trust, because there will always be people in your organisation who don’t like to take responsibility. And that’s alright. Be the decision-maker – it’s a form of reassurance to your people.

But while you’re making decisions, don’t be a dictator. Always be a mentor. Spend time with your people, and share the wisdom.

And show them the value of a hands-on approach to business. Millennials think they can do everything on a PC. And who can blame them? It’s a brilliant tool. But you need to go walkabout every once in a while. I like to call it ‘kicking the bricks’. If you’re in the business of property, you need to do this literally, regularly. You need to get to know your buildings. Malls, for instance, each have a different ‘personality’, a different ‘look and feel’, based on the tenants and the people who frequent them. When it comes to customer care, you need to tap into this. We need to constantly ask what we can do for our tenants, so that they just won’t want to move from a Redefine building. You’ve heard the phrase “Happy wife; happy life.” (My wife, Leslie, is a firm believer in this!). It’s the same with tenants. Keep them content and, yes, then they may be willing to pay a little more rent than what the competition is offering.

You’ve got to be willing to keep your people happy so, for instance, we’re going to partner with another one of my guests, Ntando Kubheka, to provide his Locomute service to our tenants when their cars go in for a service.  It’s a nice personal touch.

And talking of touch, staying in touch, and meeting face to face, is probably one of the greatest weapons a leader has. When I’m thinking of purchasing a property, I’ll always pay the seller a visit. Numbers will tell you one thing, but looking people in the eye will tell you a whole lot more.

It always, always comes back to people, and building relationships. When you have an audience with someone, you’re already half way there. And then it’s all about you as a person. Build trust and demonstrate integrity. Don’t bullshit people. They’re no fools. Always demonstrate to your people – employees, suppliers or clients – that they are important. And treat them with dignity. Build your reputation on this.

So, look to the small details, but always with a view to the big picture.

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