Visualising and shaping a desired future through leadership




By Rakesh Sondhi


One of the key issues all start ups are facing is delivering performance. Success and high performance in business is down to many reasons, but research has generally put one factor above all others – leadership.


Even after many years of research the magic formula for leadership has still not really been fully understood as evidenced by the small number of truly great leaders in business today.

Great business leaders demonstrate the needs of leadership in a commercial environment. The sports arena has also created many great role models for the area of leadership from both the management perspective and playing perspective, such as Sir Alex Ferguson from Manchester United. There have been sportspeople such as Muhammed Ali who have become iconic, creating a following all leaders crave for. Sports leaders show leadership in an environment of passion where drive and commitment from the head and heart are essential to success. Then there are great political leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi, to name just two, who demonstrate the role of leadership in a political and philanthropic environment, where action for personal gain is strictly limited. One might argue that the truly great leaders (especially those mentioned above) actually demonstrate characteristics of all three and are seen as agents of change and transformation. There is much we can learn and apply to business from these sectors.


The key attributes needed for successful leadership to raise performance in an organizational context are:

  • Direction Setting by focusing on the future and understanding external events in a highly uncertain environment, with an ability to turn vision into action. 


  • Demonstrate personal character by living the values of the firm and creating a positive self image 


  • Building organisational capability through people, teams, infrastructure and an ability to manage change 


  • Mobilising individual commitment by channeling emotions and sharing relevant power and authority. 


  • Measuring relevant criteria to add value to the customer experience 
Sport provides a unique environment where sportspeople have no choice but to perform when standing in a stadium with 60,000 spectators.

These are the leaders’ “moments of truth” (Jan Carlzon – Scandinavian Airlines) or “magical moments” (Michael Eisner – Disney Corporation). These moments represent the time where excuses for a lack of preparation are not acceptable. You do or die! 



Within the Total Leadership framework there are two core elements needed to develop the required attributes. These are:


1. Personal Guts and drive


Guts and drive encompasses the will to succeed and the determination to never give in under the most stressful situations. Key learning from the area of boxing and martial arts are incorporated into the development of the leader. Within the martial arts area there is a saying that the winner is not the one who wins all the time, but the one who gets knocked down six times, and gets up seven! Guts and drive ensures the best possible performance is achieved.


2. Team based delivery – including team building and team based performance


Team based sports such as football and rugby provide a tremendous foundation for learning about the leadership attributes needed to win in competitive situations, where self belief and desire to win are essential criteria that can be measured and assessed. Team based sports also provide a background where performance is assessed in front of thousands of spectators and participants have no place to hide.


Role of leadership


The delivery of performance requires clarity in the role of leadership. Total leadership is all about developing the full plethora of skills needed to be successful in team-based environments. Before we can start developing the skills we need to understand what the role of leadership is in all settings. These include the following:

  • Conceptualising what needs to be done


  • Diagnosis, strategic planning, organising, concept formation - PLANNING ACTION

  • Align people and resources

  • Self confidence, communication, persuasiveness, assertiveness - MOTIVATION

• Take an active role


–  Communication, adaptability - VISIBILITY THROUGH COMMUNICATION


• Create success



– Stamina, proactive and achievement orientation, energy and initiative, business sense - PERFORMANCE DRIVEN


Total Leadership


The concept of Total Leadership is concerned with developing the leader from within. Sometimes, leadership development focuses on the skills needed, such as strategic thinking, as opposed to the development of the personal attributes that makes great leaders.

Total Leadership is about ensuring the qualities of balance, creativity and personal drive are captured within a comprehensive framework. Great leaders walk the talk, and do not talk the talk. Total Leadership is about change, development and transformation of the individual.

Sometimes there is an assumption that leaders are born. This assumption should be challenged as development and learning are critical to the evolution of leadership. Very rarely will you find a leader that has not made mistakes. Fear, and the management of fear, is probably the biggest block to leadership development. In the past, people had little, or less, to lose and experimentation was essential for progress. However, in modern and wealthy times, people assume they have much more to lose. They live in a very comfortable style and lack the desire and will to change and improve themselves, creating an uncomfortable status quo which slows down the personal development of individuals.


Great leaders are not born, but are nurtured by learning from their responses to the challenges presented to them. As the challenges become more intense and difficult, people either stop putting themselves in those situations, protecting themselves from failure, or they become stronger and better leaders learning from the mistakes and successes of their responses to those challenges.


The development of Total Leadership is based on individuals putting themselves in situations that challenge their assumptions and take them outside their comfort zone. This is where sport has a major role to play in the development of leaders. Sport places people in situations that stretch their capabilities and also pushes their limits to levels not previously possible. These situations are very tangible in the sporting environment and variety is purely limited by imagination.


Total Leadership is based on developing personal traits that are intuitive and allow the leader to perform under stress. Commitment is needed from the individual to change and transform, as without this desire the attributes are never going to be ingrained into the character of the leader. With all the management and leadership courses running in this day and age, there is no question that all leaders know what they should be doing and how they should be doing it. However, this does not mean they actually display these essential characteristics. Therefore, the development of intuitive attributes is essential.


Total Leadership involves developing a strategic and holistic perspective that allows the leader to combine analysis, creativity and intuition to maximise the impact of decisions taken. A vital part of the strategic perspective is the ability to take the most appropriate perspective that is all encompassing and broad. Strategic skills are quite easy to apply, but what is difficult is applying these skills to the appropriate level of the organisation.


Delivery of the strategy requires communication skills that we call sixth sense communication. Sixth sense communication is about developing a personal character of sensitivity and caring for people. Sixth sense communication is about the skills needed to inspire people to give 110% towards a cause, which requires the leader being able to engage with people in the organisation and developing a personal humility.


The final stage of the Total Leadership framework is the ability to inspire to create a high performance balanced team through the development of icons and inspiring people to behave as a team to create a 2+2=5 scenario.


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