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David White and Jannie Rossouw - 20 Lessons in Leadership

Article Written by David White and Jannie Rossouw


We collectively spent more than 6 decades in positions of leadership. We decided to articulate our collective learnings in leadership in a succinct article.


Although we worked in different industries, we share a passion for people which culminates in the way in which we engage and lead people.


We trust that our insights will be of value to you.


  • Grow to become a servant leader - A leader is not only a person in a position of authority. A leader is someone who serves the very people they lead. By serving others you teach them to be humble. It enables a leader to become part of the team where respect is earned as your colleagues see you in action and where they experience your willingness to learn with them.

  • Know the detail of your business - If a leader shies away from understanding the detail of the business i.e leaves it in the hands of staff alone, it borders on abdication. As a business grows it becomes more difficult for the founder leader to keep tabs on every minute detail in the business. You then need to rely more on the managers who are appointed to understand the detail workings of their respective divisions. The leader`s role is then shifted to focus on the key performance indicators of the business and to develop the vision of the business and to provide strategic direction.

  • Admit when you are wrong – move your ego aside - To admit when you are wrong shows that you are human. Blame shifting is unproductive and ignorance is bliss. When we fail at something or make a mistake it creates an opportunity to learn. It becomes a missed opportunity if your ego stands in the way of progress. People will not think less of you because you erred.

  • First try to understand before you expect to be understood - There are usually three sides to every situation – my perspective, your perspective and the truth. Put in the effort to understand the other person`s perspective. I have found that sometimes my original request to a person was not clearly defined and hence the outcome was not aligned to my expectations. This is a sure way to fast-track the remedy and resolve the situation. Be quick to listen and slow to have a knee-jerk response.

  • Be a go-giver - Usually the adage states that we need to be “go-getters”. If we turn this around and focus on giving more and adding value to colleagues, clients and stakeholders, we are setting the stage for a collaborative outcome. People are more inclined to give something in return instead of merely responding to you because you are in a leadership position.

  • Give recognition when earned - We all have a need to be recognised. Give authentic recognition to people in front of their colleagues. Also remember their loved ones, they are the silent partners of your business partners and staff. Also make a point of it to catch people when they are doing things “right”.

  • Create opportunities for staff to voice their opinions - One sure way to receive their honest feedback is to request them to complete an anonymous survey. There are only three questions to ask:

  1. What is going well in the business?

  2. What is going wrong in the business?

  3. What will I change immediately if I was the boss tomorrow?


The golden rule is not to go on a witch hunt if you receive feedback you did not expect or like.

  • Trust people until proven wrong - Trust is something which is earned, but in a business we cannot distrust people until they have proved themselves. Set boundaries of responsibility in which we allow people to make judgement calls. These boundaries will limit risk should people fail. When people know that they are trusted, they are more inclined to live up to a good reputation.

  • Be fair - To be fair as a leader we need to stick to the facts and manage our emotions. To be fair also means that we need to be reasonable. Treat people on equal footing.

  • It is lonely at the top! - To be a business owner and leader of people is a lonely responsibility. Surround yourself with people who have your best interest at heart. Engage with a friend or objective party to the business to act as a soundboard to speak about the challenges and opportunities in the business.

  • Focus on outcomes - Most businesses fail for the simple reason that their leaders did not provide a clear description of where the organisation is heading. It is not possible to be successful in business, or in any venture, unless we define what we are aiming to achieve. Success is the accomplishment of an aim or purpose. Sharing the outcome intentions of the organisation encourages staff and teams to work towards these defined goals, and helps to eliminate the need for micro management and removes the effect of low energy and stagnation.

  • Encourage staff and teams to think and contribute, and give praise where due - People are smart. Allow them to think and contribute within your business. It is important that staff and teams are inducted in such a way that they understand the “business language” of the organisation, and are aware of what makes the business successful. By giving praise and pointing out and sharing successes across the organisation, we help to develop good business minds traits and habits, and help to create a thinking organisation, where everyone contributes towards ensuring the organisation is successful and sustainable.

  • Be authentic, and listen to your inner voice - Be the best version of yourself. Nobody can be you, and copying anyone is of little value on the screen of life. Your inner voice is always edging you on to speak its truth. This voice encourages the best for everyone in every situation and is never ugly or self-directed. Our inner voice is always urging us forward and helping us to add value to society and the environment, and reaching a point of harmony and sustainability.

  • Recognise that success is often inconvenient - Success is not easy. Roasted chickens do not fly by for us to pick out of the air. Success comes from good planning and resourcing, and the application of customer care, sustainability considerations, and a business minded approach to decision making. Even the best plans do not guarantee a positive outcome. We have to dig deep, and have to want our success for it to become a reality. Success is inconvenient, as it is not just a simple mental application. It requires the commitment and faith we cement in our souls.

  • Aim to build long term relationships with staff, suppliers, customers, etc - Businesses are about people. People do business with people, and this is a fundamental principal in building a sustainable business. People are our staff, our suppliers, and people are the communities we support. We need people to create products and services to support our customers, who are also people. Success in business is the result of the effective contributions and requirements of people. People can effect positive change in social and environmental considerations, and as such people need to be regarded as critical assets in driving strategy to meet organisational outcomes.

  • Choose your organisation’s specific target market - Throwing mud on a wall and hoping it sticks is not a viable going to market strategy for any organisation. We need to clearly define our customers and put effort into understanding their needs and challenges. We also need to articulate clearly how our organisation is able to meet those needs and challenges. Without defining our specific target market, it is like shooting an arrow in the sky, and hoping it will land on our favourite supper. We need to be precise about how we identify and approach our ideal clients, and this comes through recognising that we cannot be everything to everybody, but we can be attractive to customers who see that we are helping them fulfil their needs.

  • Don’t compromise on values or ethics - It is a business leader imperative to create an engaged, ethical and sustainable organisation, that meets governance and stakeholder needs and expectations. This is deeply etched in King IV Code of Good Practice. For our organisation to be regarded as a Good Corporate Citizen, we are required to show that the organisation’s leadership and governing body are providing ethical and effective leadership. For an organisation to be regarded as providing ethical and effective leadership it is requires having an ethical and effective culture, to be productive, have adequate quality controls, and be legitimate.

  • Always show up with quality - Always show up with quality. It does not matter to your client or audience that you did not sleep well the previous night, nor if you are not feeling your best on the day. Your client or audience is not interested in the way you comb your hair, nor if you are rich or poor. Your client and audience only want to hear how you can help them to meet their wants, needs and demands. Providing quality services or communications is the substance that ensures we build long term relationships with clients, staff, and suppliers. In the example of mountain climbers setting off for their newest conquest, taking with them ropes, boots, crampons, climbing helmet and an ice axe. A mountain climber would not attempt climbing a mountain without these supporting tools… and as such business leaders must also be properly prepared, showing customers and stakeholders that the organisation is competent, composed, and energised to support the client requirement.

  • Remember that tomorrow is taken care of by your diligence and applied expertise today - A foundation of faith is critical in ensuring that our businesses last into the future. One of the considerations that have helped me the most in my career is to ensure that I put my best effort onto doing today’s work today. I try to ensure that I leave for nothing for tomorrow that could be done today. Tomorrow is still a hope, and when it does arrive, it will arrive with its own challenges and opportunities. By doing all we can today we create a platform of excellence and faith to springboard off when tomorrow arrives.

  • Recognise that fruit comes in season - Not every day in business is easy. In fact, there are likely to be more tough days in our working career than easy days. We need to recognise that for us to have good days to enjoy, that these are the result of us putting in effort and hard work to establish our success. Success is the result of us reaching an aim or intention. This aim or intention is our “fruit in season” it is the outcome of our labour and journey to reach our milestone. Sometimes fruit does not appear instantly, but if our heart is in the right place, and we are adding value to our clients, society, stakeholders, and the environment, we certainly can expect to receive the recognition and value creation we have anticipated.

David White and Jannie Rossouw - 20 Lessons in Leadership
David White and Jannie Rossouw - 20 Lessons in Leadership

Authors contact details:

Jannie Rossouw David White

Mobile: 082 560 4149 Mobile: 083 782 5515

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