Empowerment in contemporary times

NLP Logical levels

Empowerment is defined as a multi-dimensional social process that helps people gain control over their own lives. It is a process that fosters power in people for use in their own lives, their communities and in their society, by acting on issues they define as important.

Contemporary times are characterised by complexity, globalisation and high stimulation of from the outside world. Empowerment efforts towards people who are unaware renders futile efforts because renewal even within an organisational context requires the removal of obstacles. Too often a time these obstacles are in the individual’s own mind.

For me empowerment in contemporary times is more about the beneficiary finding their “why” as Simon Sinek puts it in his Ted Talk on how great leaders inspire action. It seeks to give people autonomy, be it in the work place or their personal lives and the starting point is self-awareness.

It is found that sociological practices of empowering our marginalised groups have been unsuccessful because they lack self-awareness. To paraphrase Steven Covey; empowerment yields great results only when it has been deeply understood and internalised. Existing boundaries will fail and fear will disappear with the resulting quality in processes and products showing a remarkable improvement.

This brings to mind the NLP levels of change model. It states in short, that true change takes place when it’s made from a higher level as it would change everything below it in order to support the higher level change. This suggests that empowerment efforts need to address the beneficiary’s mind as modelled in the levels of change. The highest level being spirituality addressing for whom is the change taking place and for what purpose. This is followed by addressing identity addressing does the change reflect who I am? The following level is about understanding one’s values and beliefs which answer the question why make this change?” Skills and capabilities is the next level, here you examine what in this area can be changed.

This level is followed by the behaviours level, addressing the question “change what?” Lastly, change is addressed in the environment which is the “change where?” question.

It was Wayne Dayer who said once you see a child’s self-image begin to improve, you will see significant gains in achievement areas, but even more importantly, you will see a child who is beginning to enjoy life more.


Planning for continuity

Harry was good with his hands and he soon started a company building cabinets and office furniture. In time his business grew and began performing office moves and handy work in office parks. He was good at his craft, and his business grew in size, with his wife running the office and three teams on operations. He put his apprentices through school and helped them run their lives as well as he ran his business. They all depended on him, all of them. His wife, his workers and his clients, he was hands on and ever ready with a friendly smile.

Harry had a lot of knowledge, most of it in his mind. That which his workers knew, they gained from him. He was unselfish and made time to teach them when he had the opportunity. One fateful day, Harry, unfortunately was killed.

This is a problem faced by many small business owners. In being occupied with their business operations, they often neglect to put a continuity plan in place. This can be simplified to the following;

1. Ensure that the processes that you follow to get any output are written down in a fool proof way, that in the event you are in hospital or sick, the business can carry on without you. It’s important too that these processes are updated and refined.

2. Put a plan in place for who to call or who will help run your business when you aren’t around. Have you trained someone already, if not, start today.

3. Can your business run without you? It’s good to be indispensable however, as the CEO, CFO and COO of your business, you need to develop others so your time is freed up to think for the future, to plan better and manage the relationships with your big clients.

4. Another very important risk is the risk of a fire or flood, where can you resume operations etc, this is a good to have, you won’t have it in the beginning but as the scale of your operations grow. This needs to be a serious consideration.

5. Lastly insurance make sure you have liability cover in the event your assets are damaged or you experience major loss.

The list above is not one to be put in place all in one go, it requires careful thought. A start is the process document or manual. Make the process so easy that even a fool can follow it and not fail.

Dealing with “gatekeepers” at work: Beware of Dr. No

There is a need to some extent to gatekeepers, however they eventually become obstacles which hinder progress.

I couldn’t have written this piece better, well done David.

Minding the Workplace

Every organization needs individuals who can sign off on new ideas. This, in itself, is not a bad thing. But what happens when these people are obstructive gatekeepers who stand in the way of innovation and creativity?

Defining a gatekeeper

In his excellent book The Art of Non-Conformity: Set Your Own Rules, Live the Life You Want, and Change the World (2010), Chris Guillebeau defines a gatekeeper this way:

Gatekeeper. n. 1. A person or group with a vested interest in limiting the choices of other people. 2. An obstacle that must be overcome to achieve unconventional success.

Sound familiar? If so, read on.

Human hedgerows in organizations

Guillebeau encourages people to find more independent ways to work, and many would benefit from considering that possibility. But what about the vast share of people who, by choice or circumstance, work in conventional organizations?

Mediocre, underperforming, and dysfunctional organizations are filled to the…

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Non – conformity – embracing a challenger culture


This is dedicated to my L.I.F.E (Leaders Inspired From Experience) cohort, as we come together to create the reality we dream of. This is for the crazy ones.

Human evolution is filled with examples of non-conformist movements beginning the 1950s such as the beatniks, hippies, demonstrations against nuclear warfare, globalisation and pollution to name but a few.

By definition, conformity is behaviour that is the same as the behaviour of most other people in a society or group. In psychology conformity is a type of social influence involving a change in belief or behavior in order to fit in with a group. This change is in response to a real or imagined group pressure.

Psychologists generally identify 3 ways of conformity, normative involving compliance (to fit in); informational (desire to be correct) and identification (conform to a social role). Further research on the subject of conformity was conducted and it was determined that the level of non-conformity differs among cultures. In Western cultures which are more inclined toward individualism, the individual is more important than the group so non-conformity is greater. Whilst Eastern cultures value collectivism where the group is more important than the individual, they show a higher leaning towards conformity.

Author and brand-building expert Denise Lee Yohn in her book ‘What Great Brands Do’ lists the following as what these challenger brands do;

  • Great Brands Start Inside, great brands start brand building by fostering a strong internal corporate culture.
  • Great brands are not in the business of following, they are challengers – they are in the business of leading – leading change, developing their own ideas, advancing their own platforms and values, and they invite other people to join along with them.

Too much conformity can be a bad thing. John F. Kennedy said, “Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.” I have been in environments where everyone is expected to think the same and behave the same. Where differing thoughts are a “no-no” if you want to be happy in that space let alone keep your job.

I have always found it difficult to exist in such environments and as a coping mechanism I tended to draw closer to myself as a form of self-preservation.  Holding back your individuality and your own mind can lead to your extinction as a person. In these situations one is no longer themself.

As to whether there can be a balance between individuality and conformity, it could be considered that one should rather make a concentrated effort to find that balance.

There is wisdom in the ‘no”. In any team there will always be the instigator, that one person who doesn’t ever agree. It’s easy to stereotype them but; it’s wiser to hear them out. There is always wisdom in the “no”.

Organisations which have been successful in cultivating healthy challenger cultures are Apple, and Google (and others like them) who went against the norms and created phenomenal workplaces for employees who in turn became comfortable to challenge the status quo.

In an HBR article, by James R. Detert and Amy C. Edmondson, on why employees are afraid to bring ideas to their bosses. The authors interviewed 200 individuals from all levels and functions of a company. Half of the employee respondents in a culture survey had revealed that they felt it was not “safe to speak up” or challenge traditional ways of doing things. What they were most reticent to talk about were not problems but rather creative ideas for improving products, processes, or performance.

Detert and Edmondson found that the innate protective instinct of self-preservation was so powerful that it also inhibited speech that clearly would have been intended to help the organization. During their interviews, the perceived risks of speaking up felt very personal and immediate to those employees and the possible future benefit to the organization from sharing their ideas was uncertain, so people often instinctively played it safe by keeping quiet.

It appears to me that organisations with challenger, non-conformist cultures also use technology to innovate and enable their people.  This is seen in predominantly IT companies (Microsoft, Google, Apple and the likes). There is much to be said for this holy trinity of people, culture and technology and the creation of great organisations.

In closing, people who search for their internal compass are told to find that one thing that unleashes their inner awesomeness. I believe that it’s when companies believe they are doing great work that its employees in turn believe they are doing great work and thus unleashing their inner awesomeness in this ecosystem.



To read more about this experiment: http://hbr.org/2007/05/why-employees-are-afraid-to-speak

Show up differently


Showing up differently in a word is to innovate. Innovation is defined as making changes in something established, especially by introducing new methods, ideas, or products. I have encountered many organisations which have relied on their tried and tested ways and though they may have worked in the past, more can be done. Most businesses go from year to year giving customers or members that same old service in the same old way.

The beauty of innovation is that it can be something small, something that makes people experience you differently.

The BMF young professionals’ provincial executive committee (PEC) for Gauteng went through a time when it felt its events weren’t really speaking to its members. The team realised that they had been providing the same Forums each year not only with the same people as key note address but at the same venues as the rest of the organisation for several years now.

Our plan of action for the year was well thought out and all the programs we had planned were great, in fact anyone who didn’t attend would have really missed out. We still couldn’t reach our members in spite of this. It appeared we couldn’t communicate this to them in a way that we could solicit buy-in from them. It was then that the team decided to position itself differently in the minds of its members.

We changed our venues, created new content and began looking at new speakers, people with whom our members identified with and what they wanted to become. To anchor this new change, we began conducting mini surveys after each event. The responses have been positive as we take their suggestions and keep evolving. Our members took notice and we started getting their attention.

It is when you change something that something changes, this is the lesson we learnt in coming up with programs for young professionals. We realised that when planning our programs we need to begin with ourselves internally as an organisation and understand ourselves better. There is merit to conducting a competitor analysis however, we found that this is more of a sense check as our competitors don’t sit with us in our boardrooms they are out there trying to be the best at what they do in spite of us.

They are creating new thinking; new ideas and clients/members go there because they find value in the innovation. The PEC also began to understand that our members are tapped into global sources of information and thinking we could just keep going using our old ways to relate to them was really undermining to them.

Eldeman, the world’s largest public relations company understands this and it believes that one cannot stay successful simply by doing things the same way, no matter how well these ways have fared in the past. They suggest that to evolve and to be a step ahead of the competition is the only way to be relevant and breakthrough in today’s times.

The world is changing continually, competition is global and so are ideas. In order to thrive it is crucial to be courageous enough to show up differently and change the game.

A few tips from Eldeman on showing up differently;

  • Allow your mind to explore
  • Shake up your surroundings
  • Put method to madness
  • Indulge your curiosity
  • Create new opportunities

Go out there and show up differently, it will do wonders for you!

Being good is good business

Being good is good business, this what my high school business economics teacher kept drumming into our minds, all the time. In my adult life I’m coming to understand why that is and what it means in practice.

Everyone,is trying to get something for something. That is how life is, there a few exceptions but the point to note is, reciprocity is part if the game.

In business, one provides their services or products for a price. Being good means doing your business with a spirit of integrity, being good means providing work of a high quality and going out of your way to for clients because that’s the good thing to do.

I raise this because many a time, I have encountered small businesses that are very bottom line focused. They are only interested in the money and could not be bothered with the person they are doing business with.

I was involved in planning a conference, we needed the services of a photographer, we needed delegate tags to be printed with our logo on it, and we also needed speaker gifts. In the spirit of empowering previously disadvantaged business owners, we approached them to provide the required work for us.

The company commissioned to supply the speaker gifts, on the Friday afternoon before the event,told us they can’t find gifts and therefore can’t help anymore. I then approached a small company owned by what can be considered to be a previously advantaged individual, this girl was phenomenal! By 4pm on Friday I had speaker gifts, she jumped over hoops for me and didn’t even speak money until I brought it up. I could tell she did bigger business with far more monied organisations than ours. She however, did a splendid job anyway and made sure that if there was ever a chance to do business again, that we kept her top of mind.

On the morning of the conference, at 7am to be exact, we found out that the photographer was no longer coming. He did not get paid a percentage of his fee in advance so he decided to go elsewhere (a wedding where he obviously could earn more) without communicating this with us. It was 2 hours before the conference that we found this out and we had a crisis on our hands.

Once again, I called the “speaker gifts” girl, she was on it and volunteered to help by calling around on a few of her contacts in order for them to do a last minute favour for us.

What I took away from this was to NEVER EAT ALONE, this is the title of Keith Ferazzi’s book. In the foreword of his book on relationships he says;

“Relationships are all there is. Everything in the universe only exists because it is in relationship to everything else. Nothing exists in isolation. We have to stop pretending we are individuals that can go it alone.”

Successful businesses are businesses that last long, they outlive their owners. I believe that they make their patrons feel safe. Going into business with someone solely with the intention of making as much money out of them as possible is exploitation, nobody likes to be used. And yes, you will manage to get something out of that person the first time, however at the expense of future business.

Like the lady who provided the speaker gifts, I believe that business is not the picking of a fruit but the planting of a seed. After all, people do business with people they like. If I am treated well, shown respect and can see that my business is valued, there is no way that I will go elsewhere.

The really wealthy and successful businessmen and women know that their net worth is determined by their networks. They have artfully mastered the art of relying on their relationships. The client and the supplier are such relationships. Build a great business that is good to those it has relations with and they (the profits) will come.

Building a sustainable (good) business is about your anchor clients, the repeat business. These guys pay your bills. Walk-ins and once-offs are essential too, they provide an opportunity to convert them into repeat business. Measure the rate at which you turn a once-off client into repeat business. That’s where the gold lies.

In summary;
1. Being good is good business
2. Build it and they will come
3. Rely on the power of relationships- never eat alone
4. Build it before you need it

So next time you get business stop to show appreciation, have integrity – do what you say you will do, after all, your name at stake!

The fish rots from the head

Organisations may find themselves at a point where they are dealing with many fall outs, high staff attrition, lost business and a general dis ease in their business.

Very few are keen to admit that the problem might really be with its leadership.

The proverb, “the fish rots from the head” in business suggests that leadership is the root cause of an organisation’s failure and demise. This is true whether that organisation is a country or a company or just a small team.

We need to understand that leadership affects and determines culture through the things it rewards, pays attention to and shapes really how things are done. For example, in the corporate environment, there’s a common phrase that says “nice guys finish last.” This phrase is normally accompanied by a culture of backstabbing, dishonesty and cutting corners. Everyone becomes insecure and endevours to drive sharp bargains.

In his article, Rick Crandall states that the top leader’s job is to create the right internal climate for the organisation. He states that organisational climate embodies the intangible feelings your people have about your organisation. You can’t directly control the attitudes of everyone under you. But if you accept the fact that you are responsible, regardless, then you can focus on creating a desirable organizational climate. 

Crandall ends off with; you need to work with your people in an atmosphere of respect. Your job is to support them in doing their jobs, which ultimately serves customers. You can’t change all the external issues that create stress. But your people will appreciate being heard, respected, and involved, and will respond to your efforts to improve things. 

As a leader, one needs to have a concious awareness of their actions at all times, this is the place that one begins to become impactful.

Don’t do it alone.

In my mastermind group, we recently decided to pair ourselves up with a “hunting partner”. The purpose is to have someone help you achieve a specific goal for the next 6 months.

At first I was the most vocal against the idea, citing all sorts of reasons why we should rather find our own partners and make it someone we are most comfortable with. I’m glad that they didn’t take my protests into consideration because I’m all the better for it.

I’ve realised that we are too small to go it alone, whatever “it” is in your life. If a goal is meaningful enough, important enough to you, you cannot rely on yourself alone to achieve it. Find someone, a friend, someone you admire or look up to, this person will help you take stock of where you are, they will hold you to account. That the purpose of a hunting (accountability) partner.

Those that are truly successful engage the help of an accountability partner. An accountability partner takes on the role as a trusted confidant or a mentor whom you trust and who can provide you with the guidance and motivation to forge on ahead.

The experience has inspired me, it has stretched me. I found that having someone who challenges you is the best thing that you can do for yourself. My partner is someone who at first made me feel uncomfortable because we are so different. This was good because he broke the barriers I had, caused by my self-limiting beliefs.

The process of being accountable is about accepting responsibility for your actions and staying true to your commitments. Unaccountable people make excuses, put things off and never reach their goals.

So I challenge you, find someone who will hunt with you. The process creates a good ecosystem because you are encouraged by each other constantly and it’s really a win-win situation. Your accountability partner can be your cheerleader and your coach as they will guide you on the path to achieve your goals. They also act as a sounding board for new ideas and they help you discover your purpose or drivers along the way.

This is just another reason why one should NEVER EAT ALONE!



Reflection is what links our performance to our potential.

I recently had a discussion on self mastery with a leadership coach and professor. To make me understand the relativity of reflection to leadership, she told me about a story of a ball. She said that during a ball, at a castle, a King was looking to appoint an advisor.

There were several men in the kingdom which were there and they all were highly recommended. So the King held a ball so he could see these men in a social setting in order to get a sense of who they were and what they were really like.

During the course if the evening, the King went to the dance floor and joined his guests. He spent quite a lot of time there, entertaining and taking part in the various dances. In all this time he realised that he was tired and had spent so much time being the star of the dance floor that he had not given thought to the real reason he held the ball.

Upon this realisation, he immediately went to the balcony. He found that at the balcony he had time to himself, where he could think through what it was that he really wanted in a trusted advisor as well as which of the men on the dance floor below exhibited such characteristics. Suddenly, his understanding of what was happening below changed. He got to see so much more than what he did at the dance floor.

The professor then said that as a leader in any organisation, one needs to ensure they spend more time on the balcony than on the dance floor. This, she said is what reflection allows one to do. It is the process of properly unpacking ourselves as leaders for the good of others.

It is also an extremely necessary activity for an entrepreneur, one would recommend that thinking time of at least half a day in each week, perhaps at the end of the week will do wonders. It allows you to learn lessons and record them soon after they happen this process allows one to internalise these lessons and in so doing, the thinking around certain things changes.

As mentioned before, your business is as big as your vision of it. The more time you spend here, the better for the long term growth of your business.

Go on, reflect!


My address at the Black Management Forum’s Young Professionals’ Enterprise Development Summit

The following was part of an address I made at the Black Management Forum’s (BMF) Young Professionals’ (YP) enterprise development summit in April 2014. It has been adapted for the purposes of this blog.

In 2013, 73 million young people will be unemployed.

425 million young women and men will join the labour force between 2016 and 2030. That means the world will need about half a billion jobs by then. These are statistics by the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban KinMoon who made remarks on Entrepreneurship for Development.

He further said that to help meet this challenge, we should encourage, educate and empower young entrepreneurs. He said, we need to make a shift from talking about creating jobs for youth to talking about inventing jobs by youth.

There are numerous discussions taking place around the world with young entrepreneurs on entrepreneurship for development.

In a Forbes article by Bryan Silverman, the founder of Star Toilet Paper a young entrepreneur himself. Silverman gave the following the advice was given to young graduates on entrepreneurship;

You are part of the generation of change, and you MUST be the catalysts. It doesn’t matter if you are your the boss of your one person company, if you decided to join a startup or small business of 10-50 employees or if you work for a company with thousands of employees. You can either be a fly on the wall and spend your 2 – 5 years at the company as someone who just completes their work or you can be the one who creates the bottom-up change necessary to innovate the company to become the best in the business.

Everyone has a dormant entrepreneurial mindset that has to be awakened. Being an entrepreneur doesn’t necessarily have a pre perquisite of starting your own business, it’s a way of thinking about how you want to take on the world. You can be an entrepreneur at your own company, or you can be an entrepreneur within a company of thousands of people-despite the fact that you may be at the bottom of the totem pole.

Here are a few mental shifts to make so you can evoke the values of entrepreneurship not only in yourself but also in others;

1. Think like a leader. Leading is about invoking a sense of confidence in those below you so everyone can lead the team forward.

2. Take risks, no matter the circumstances

3. Keep your eyes open. Prevent the problem rather than finding a solution.

4. Believe in yourself, have the guts to disrupt the status quo. If you wait until there is a problem to be solved, guess what somebody is already solving it so you are already behind the curve.

The spirit of entrepreneurship is alive in South Africa, it’s evident by looking at this room today. Let us take it forward with us into every space we occupy. It’s a state of mind, a way of doing things. The world is looking to us to bring about the changes to socio-economic problems through entrepreneurship. My question to you is, what’s your contribution?

Thank you.