Camphill School gets computer lab

The CSSA and the Papillon Foundation have opened up a new world for these intellectually challenged learners.

Wednesday, 6 April, was a momentous day for the learners of Camphill School, near Hermanus, in the Western Cape. It marked the official opening of its brand new computer lab.

Thanks largely to the generosity of the Computer Society of South Africa (CSSA), together with the Papillon Foundation, the school is now the proud owner, for the first time in its 61-year history, of a computer lab.

Camphill School is an independent Section 21 school for intellectually disabled children, aged between six and 18. Of its current 52 learners, more than 80% are from local, disadvantaged communities, where the parents are able to pay little or nothing in school fees. The fees, together with a small subsidy from the Western Cape Education Department, account for less than 40% of its budgetary requirements. Just surviving is a challenge, let alone acquiring luxuries like a computer lab.

Thanks to the tireless commitment and enthusiasm of Mike Chiles and Moira de Roche, both members of the CSSA, the ball was set in motion to create this wonderful opportunity for the children of Camphill School. They mobilised the CSSA, together with the Papillon Foundation, to make a dream come true.

The Papillon Foundation provided 10 refurbished computers, and the society paid for additional security for one of the school’s classrooms, converted for the purpose, as well as carpeting, workstations and the necessary cabling to make the lab fully operational. Cecil Nurse completed the picture with the donation of 10 chairs, while Overberg Computers supplied mouse pads and headsets.

The last piece of the puzzle was the installation of software by CAMI, which has been especially designed for the education of learners with special needs. The software is on trial for six months, and if it lives up to its promise, will continue to enrich the lives of the learners for a long time to come.

These special needs educational programs will open up a whole new world of experience for the learners, and give the teachers an additional teaching tool for the development of the children, most of whom respond particularly well to visual stimuli. One can barely imagine what the lab will mean to those learners who are unable to communicate through speech, but who may now be able to do so by means of a computer. For them, it will be like breaking out of prison.

Additional computers donated by the Papillon Foundation will enable the school to put at least one computer in each classroom as well. So, 2013 will see Camphill School, its teachers and learners step into the exciting world of cyber space together. Its donor friends can’t be thanked enough for this wonderful opportunity!

(as published by ITWeb


Grade 10 learners shine in Programming Olympiad

Officially the subject “Information Technology” only starts in grade 10, but two learners gave themselves a head start and made the finals of the Programming Olympiad.  Usually learners in grade 10, who have only had a few months of programming tuition, do not make it to the Programming Olympiad Finals.

Peter Waker,  Manager of the Standard Bank Programming Olympiad explains “For a grade 10 learner to make it to the Finals they must have started programming on their own before they reached grade 10. Essentially these learners are self-taught.”  Darren Roos of the Pretoria Chinese School confirms this. “I started programming when I was in grade 6. I have learned much at the Final Round and cannot wait to share it with my friends.”

His school principal Liséttè Noonan is impressed by Darren’s enthusiasm “I am presently looking at how we can introduce an advanced program on IT.”

Reuben Steenekamp from Reddam House Constantia in Cape Town has a similar history. His father explains “Reuben was very keen on programming from primary school days. When he reached the limit of what he could teach himself we were lucky enough to find a group at the University of Cape Town that he could join.”

The Standard Bank Programming Olympiad is an annual event that this year attracted 4,848 entries. The First Round is held at schools all over Southern Africa. The top performers in that round are invited to Cape Town for the Final Round. The finalists for 2012 came from the Eastern Cape, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape.

The Finals are held over two days. On each of these days the participants has to write the programs that would solve three problems.  Their solutions are tested with different datasets and were expected to provide the answers within as little as half a second.

Robert Spencer, a grade 12 learner at Westerford High in Rondebosch earned the Gold award, the Standard Bank trophy, R37,000 for himself and R5,000 for his school by having the highest score in the 2012 Standard Bank Programming Olympiad. This is the third time Robert has taken part in the competition. He won a Bronze medal last year.

A learner from Pearson High in the Eastern Cape, Stephen Barnes (grade 12), earned Silver. The other Silver medal went to Paul le Roux, a grade 12 learner at Parel Vallei High School in Somerset West.

Bronze awards went to Janneman Gericke a grade 12 learner at De Kuilen High, Guy Paterson-Jones in grade 11 at the Diocesan College (Bishops) in Rondebosch and Shaylan Lalloo in grade 11 at Pearson High in Port Elizabeth.

IT billionaire, Mark Shuttleworth, provided a total of R100,000 in prize money for learners using the computer language Python.  Python is the language Mark used to write the software that made him his billions, and he wants other young South Africans to have the same opportunity.  Most of the finalists, and all but one of the medal winners, used Python.  The last Python prize of R10,000  went to the highest ranking runner-up, Grant Zietsman of Pretoria Boys’ High.

Peter Waker commented  “What is really remarkable is that none of these learners use Python at school. For the competition a few used Java which is taught in some provinces, but most chose to learn a second language.”

Let’s hope that both of the Grade 10 learners go from strength to strength to be in a good position to win medals at the 2014 International Olympiad in Informatics.

For more information,  contact

(Moira de Roche is a trustee of the South African Computer Olympiad trust)

Why are we still so bad at presentations?

There have been dozens of books written; articles galore; advice everywhere you look; even some amazingly good examples of great presenters – Steve Jobs and Daniel Pink come immediately to mind – but  most of us are still  just plain bad at delivering presentations! And I count myself amongst the baddies, because I fall into the same traps as everyone else.

Actually, to be fair, it’s not the presenter – it’s the presentation –  but the presenter is the one with control over it.

I attended a presentation a couple of months ago that should have been really good: the presenter knew his subject, might have been reasonably passionate about it, and even spoke well –but – every word he said was on the slides. Now here’s the thing: I can read faster than most people talk, so I’d read the slide whilst he droned on, in a room that was darkened (big mistake) and too warm (air conditioner switched off so that we could hear the presenter speak), at the end of a long day – and I embarrassed myself by nodding off more than once.

So here’s the thing folks – learn your presentation – don’t use the slides as crib notes. You should have either an image or very few words on each slide. They are an aid for the audience, but you should be the focus of attention.

The Learning & Development Community of Practice in Cape Town used the Pecha Kucha format for the presentations at their last event. This format requires 20 slides, each slide to be shown for no longer than 20 seconds. I was one of the speakers at this event, and putting the presentation together was a real learning experience. My topic was “E-learning: Help or hindrance in a time of Information Overload”. My first difficulty was actually producing as many as 20 slides. I found that I because I wasn’t using words, but rather images, I just did not need as  many slides as usual. Think about how often you see a slide with “Continued” on it – because the presenter could not fit all the words on one slide! And there were 7 speakers at the event, and the audience certainly learned two or three important concepts from each speaker. This was clearly demonstrated when they had to do a report-back on what they had learned. So it does work!

So how can we overcome the “Death by PowerPoint” syndrome when we are preparing and delivering presentations? Here’s what I suggest you do:

  1. Remember you are the main attraction
  2. Do a mind map for your presentation. This will clarify your thinking, and give you the presentation outline.
  3. Write a script. Try to make it into a story if the subject allows.
  4. Choose a design. It’s best to stick to white as a background to ensure legibility.
  5. Be careful with font colors. Some colors – lime green comes to mind, is close to impossible to read.
  6. Put your content onto the slides, using only an image or a few words. The slides should capture the imagination and aid retention. If you find yourself running out of space for your words, you definitely have too much on the slide
  7. For goodness sake, if you have quote on a slide, either paraphrase it, or allow the audience to read. If you read it out as is, it suggests the audience can’t read!
  8. If the presentation will be made available to the audience, and you are worried that a few pictures won’t make any sense when they review at a later date, copy the appropriate parts of the script into the notes section of the slide. This is also a good aid for you when you are practicing your presentation.
  9. When you rehearse – and you must – say the words our loud at least once. This will help you remember your script, but also alert you to anything that sounds wrong.
  10. A good rule of thumb as far as timing goes is to have a maximum of one slide per minute.
  11. And again – remember you should be the main attraction.

These rules are even more important for a webinar, because you have to hold the attention of an audience you can’t see.

Aim for continuous improvement – it is a challenge to change old habits, but if you keep working at it you’ll get better and better. You’ll also find you enjoy the experience more, and if you are having a good time, your audience will too.

Next time I am presenting, I’ll try to follow my own advice. And I wish you good luck for your next presentation.

The state of IT education in South African schools

Guest blog by Mike Chiles

Mike Chiles addresses audience at IT Learner’s Awards

The two subjects Computer Applications Technology (CAT) and Information Technology (IT) have their roots in a subject called Computer Studies that started as an official subject in the Western Cape in 1979, a little over 33 years ago.  Computer Studies has changed its nature and been through a few versions since then culminating in 2006 with the introduction of OBE to the FET band at schools where it became the subjects as we know them today.  You will no doubt know that we are going through yet another iteration, called CAPS.

In 2011, 549 learners sat their final IT examination in the Western Cape and 8 557 sat their final CAT examination.  In comparison to other subjects offered in the Western Cape these numbers like some others are relatively small and consequently do not appear on the radar when it comes to the provincial awards ceremony held at the beginning of each year.

You will already have heard that one of the objectives of the Computer Society South Africa (CSSA) is to “elevate the level of ICT capability in Southern Africa”.  It is for this reason that the Western Cape Chapter decided, a while ago, to institute these awards where we recognise those learners who have achieved in CAT and IT.  We also recognise the educators who put in many hours of hard work and provide the opportunities so that their learners can succeed.

What is of some concern to many is that the numbers of learners taking these computer-based subjects at schools in the Western Cape and across the country are still relatively low and, of more concern, are starting to decline.

At a recent policy conference held at Gallagher Estate in Midrand it is reported that Jacob Zuma stated that “SA needs to ensure that ICT becomes an enabler in the country”.  He has tasked the Dept of Communications with the development of a new ICT policy – hence the ICT Indaba recently held at the CTICC.  He furthermore stated that “On the skills front, many young people from historically-disadvantaged backgrounds come out of the basic education system, never having been exposed to ICTs. This impacts their performance in institutions of higher learning, as well as their ability to adapt and become competent in the use of ICTs.”  So the education system clearly has a challenge that it needs to meet.  This challenge is to not only provide computer laboratories for curriculum purposes (such as those provided by the Khanya Project and Gauteng Online) but also to develop learners’ competence in the use of ICTs.  This of course, in addition to the provision of textbooks and other learning resources.

However, I have been told that in one province up to 30 schools have been instructed by their MEC to drop CAT from their subject list as from 2012, while in some of the former Model C schools CAT is being dropped and Dramatic Arts or similar subjects are being introduced.  The IT numbers are on the decline for a number of reasons, chief of which is the difficulty of obtaining suitably qualified teachers.

So why are the CAT numbers declining, you might ask?  It has everything to do with what has become known as the “designated list”.  This is a list of subjects that tertiary institutions require learners to take in order to gain entry to a degree course.  This list includes the gateway subjects (Languages, Maths and Math Lit, Life Sciences, Accounting, etc.) and other subjects such as Information Technology, Dramatic Arts, Consumer Studies, Religious Studies, etc. but not Computer Applications Technology.  I’m aware that some research is now being done on the “designated list” by HESA (Higher Education South Africa) but I believe that pressure needs to be brought to bear on the authorities to include CAT on the “designated list”, after all many of the tertiary institutions require their students to obtain some form of computer literacy before they can graduate and we are living in a world where the workplace requires greater competence in the use of technology.  These days one stands a better chance of getting into tertiary education to study a B.Sc by taking Consumer Studies (Domestic Science) and not CAT at school level.

So my plea is for the authorities to carefully look at the computer-based subjects at school level so that, at the very least, education can give effect to the statement made by President Jacob Zuma about increasing the ICT competence of learners in the basic education system.

Mike Chiles retired as Director: e-Learning after more than 40 years in secondary school education.  He started Computer Studies in the Western Cape in 1979 and is still intimately involved with both CAT and IT.  He has a passion for endeavouring to support educators using Web 2.0 technologies. Mike is a Fellow of Computer Society South Africa.

Computer Applications Olympiad – top students honored



Ziyaad Seedat received prizes from Fiona Wallace

At the Computer Applications Olympiads Dinner held in Cape Town last week, Ziyaad Seedat, a grade 12 learner at the Ligbron Academy of Technology in Ermelo, Mpumalanga, was awarded the first place CoZa Cares Trophy and a gold medal.


This year’s Applications Olympiad finalists were representative of the entire country as they came from six of the nine provinces.  In the past, the Western Cape and girls dominated the Finals. This year, there were no finalists from the Western Cape and only two girls.

Ziyaad also won a scholarship to the University of Cape Town, an Apple iPad and R3 000 prize money.

 The Computer Applications Olympiad is only three years old, but with 13 000 participants is already one of South Africa’s largest Olympiads. Most of the participants take Computer Application Technology (CAT) at school. This subject teaches the skills necessary to use tools like Word Processors, Spreadsheets and Databases.

 Speaker after speaker pleaded with Education Authorities and Universities to give more recognition to CAT.  President Zuma has now added his voice to theirs.

Guest Speaker, Kobus van Wyk, until recently director of the Khanya Project in the Western Cape, stressed the value of CAT irrespective of study direction or future career.

The Executive Director of the Computer Society of South Africa,Tony Parry, in his address, added the voice of the ICT professionals to this.  “The CSSA cannot emphasise enough that ICT studies should start at school.”

Peter Waker, Manager of the Olympiad, expressed confidence that later this year Higher Education S.A. will announce that CAT is a designated subject; one that helps learners to gain an advantage when applying for university admission.  “Drama is a designated subject; it is inconceivable that CAT would not be” he added.

Presenting the first place trophy to Ziyaad, Fiona Wallace, CoZa Cares Manager, expressed the social responsibility organisation`s pleasure at being able to once again sponsor the Olympiad. Congratulating the young learner, Ms Wallace said, “There are certain skills vital to the future wellbeing of modern nations. CoZa Cares invests heavily in computer-related education because the ability to successfully navigate a computer screen is related to the ability to successfully navigate life. Computer skills are vital to people and to nations.”

Addressing the 53rd ANC National Policy Conference,  President Zuma stressed that the need for ICT skills to enable the country to progress.  “On the skills front, many young people, especially from historically-disadvantaged backgrounds, come out of the basic education system never having been exposed to ICTs.  This impacts their performance in institutions of higher learning, as well as their ability to adapt and become competent in the use of ICTs.”   The discussion document tabled at the conference proposes that in order to have an e-literate population, e-skills should become a compulsory subject in all public schools.

More about the winners

While most of the participants are heading for studies that will lead them into the IT world, Ziyaad is unusual in that he intends to study Medicine next year  at the University of Cape Town.

Silver medals went to Salomè Bloem, a grade 12 learner at the Hoër Volkskool in Potchefstroom, North West Province and Michael Harrison of grade 12 at Michaelhouse in KwaZulu-Natal.  Michael will study Computer Science at the University of Cape Town next year, while Salomè will go to the North-West University to become a chartered accountant.

Bronze medals went to Lwandle Makhoba, a grade 11 learner at Horizon High School in Johannesburg, Thiolan Naidoo, also a grade 11 learner, but at the Star College in Durban, and Mpumelelo Sibiya of the Ligbron Academy of Technology in Ermelo, Mpumalanga.







5 reasons to make your workforce mobile

I was listening to a talk show on the radio yesterday, and was stunned at how inflexible managers are about giving staff time off to take care of sick children, or deal with other personal matters. And it was not just women: a man related the sad tale of how, because his wife suffered from severe post-partum depression leaving responsibility for caring for his new baby to him, he was actually fired. That’s beyond insensitive – it’s just plain cruel!

Can companies afford to lose good people simply because they are totally inflexible? There are almost always alternatives, unless the job is a customer-facing one. Companies should consider making a large percentage of their workforce mobile, and allowing them the option of working from home.

If you think about it, a mobile workforce makes a lot of sense.

  1. The company can drastically reduce its office space, and all the associated costs such as electricity and supplies.
  2. Workers will not spend many frustrating hours commuting. So they are less stressed, the roads are less congested, and it’s a “green” option.
  3. The younger generations are blending their work and family responsibilities with greater opportunities to put more balance in their lives. They are prepared to put in long hours, but at times that suit them.  The “net-generation” has grown up with technology, and so is perfectly adept at using all the technologies at their disposal: laptop computers; tablets; Smartphone’s – and the connectivity that makes all of these things work. An employee does not have to be in a specific place to work.  The “net-generation” is also considered to be the smartest generation, so will be unlikely to accept having to work in the old way
  4. All workers should be judged on their outputs; just because someone is sitting at their desk, does not mean they are actually doing productive work.
  5. Virtual meeting technology enables remote meetings, but do remember that many meetings can be replaced by a well-written memo!

So why aren’t more companies making their workforce mobile, and allowing them to work from home, the local coffee shop, or anywhere else they might find themselves? Well much of it is down to management attitudes, which I have listed in italics together with my rebuttal.

  • Employees cannot fully contribute if working from home. Actually, the contrary is usually the case. The hours usually spent commuting are used for working. Reduced stress makes people more productive.
  • I will not be able to manage the employees if they are not at work. If you can’t manage them if they are not under your nose, you are a very old-fashioned manager. Also, it’s all about trust. It’s important to trust your employees wherever they are located. And if you find you can’t trust them, do some soul-searching – maybe you don’t trust yourself. And if they are really untrustworthy, do you really want them working for you?
  • I will not be able to reach them quickly enough. Why would it take longer to call someone on the mobile phone than an interoffice extension? Part of the contract should be that employees are always reachable during office hours.
  • Wanting to work from home is certainly not something I would expect from a fast tracker. What – are you serious? Fast trackers are the people most likely to want to want to work from home. They know what they want and how to get there, and will probably be more focused without the distractions of an office.
  • Home workers are not team players. It’s up to the leader to build a cohesive team.
  • Homes can be too disruptive to work effectively. There should be an agreement with the employee that they will have a space that can be closed off from the rest of the house. If the person does not have a home office conducive to productive work, then the company should consider assisting to finance  the necessary alterations. Budget for it along with budgeting for the technology.
  • Face-to-face contact is what I am most comfortable with. Get over it – times have changed!
  • We need to be able to rally quickly, brainstorm, solve problems, which can only be done together in the office. This should not be necessary that often. However, you can brainstorm virtually. If it’s really necessary to bring everyone together, call a meeting at the office.
  • There is no way to know what they are really doing at home. And neither should you care, as long as they are delivering what is asked of them.

It’s really all about balancing the risk with the benefits.

The keys to success with virtual teams are:

  • You must lead differently. You need to ensure everyone (including yourself) has a clear and unambiguous role description, with competencies that can be assessed.
  • Communication is vital. You must be clear and unambiguous in all interactions with staff.
  • Concentrate on creating a highly defined process where team members deliver specific results in a repeated sequence – this builds reliability and trust

If you are changing to a mobile workforce, there is a need to hold some workshops with your staff to discuss the new way of working. You can use this forum to set some ground rules.  The move must be managed like any change process.

Sure, not everyone is going to survive the change – but your high-performers will thrive. And aren’t those the ones you really want to keep as highly-engaged, happy and productive workers?

Why happiness is important

I often joke that I was born with the “happy gene”. On the whole I am a happy person. This doesn’t mean that I live a charmed life, but rather that I am usually able to see the positive. I like being happy, and am grateful to have inherited this “gene”.

The downside of being a happy person is that you are totally unprepared for unhappiness. It takes you to a very dark place. In my personal life, I have had some losses which have taken me there, but for the most part it has had to do with my professional life.

I am defined by what I do. I like to do well, and have my performance acknowledged from time to time. However in the past few years, I have found myself in situations that were far from ideal, and really dragged me into that dark place. I spent hours and even days crying silently, and found so little to look forward to that I could not easily crawl back out.

During the darkest days, I came across the work of Shawn Achor – I listened to a webinar he did for Books24X7’s Leadership Development Channel,  and was impressed enough to buy his book: The Happiness Advantage.

Turns out it is not only important to be happy from a personal point of view, but it is essential that companies and organizations create and maintain a happy culture to be productive and innovative.

So what is happiness? There is no single meaning of happiness, it is subjective wellbeing. Too many of us think “If only”.  Geneen Roth, inspirational author, puts it well. “If only I could lose some weight, I’d be happy”. And then the person either loses the weight, and is still not happy; or doesn’t have the willpower to lose the weight, and then hates themselves for having no willpower. So they are no closer to that happy state – because really you have to find it within yourself.

We have also been conditioned to think that if we work hard, we’ll be successful, and success will bring happiness.

It’s obvious that being happy is mostly under our own control. I don’t include those who suffer from clinical depression of some sort. Sadly, being happy is usually not under their control, no matter how many times they are urged to “snap out of it”.

Achor provides readers with seven strategies with actions any individual can take to be happier. But take it from me; the strategies just don’t work when you are in an environment which seems almost designed to make employees unhappy. And unhappy people are not engaged in the business. At best they come to work and quietly keep busy to make the day pass; at worst, they make everyone around them disenchanted, nd maybe even actively sabotage the business.

Leadership guru, Pat Lencioni, cites the three signs of a miserable job as:

  • Anonymity – employees are made to feel like a commodity, and there is no interest in who they are as a person.  When I heard this, it occurred to me that when I was a Manager, I did not know enough about my people; this because I respect people’s privacy and believe they will tell me what they wish to. But I now realize I should have taken a more active interest in their personal lives.
  • Irrelevance – workers need to know that the job they do makes a difference.
  • Immeasurement – this is when individuals have no way of gauging how they are doing on a day to day basis. For some jobs you have to be creative about how this measurement is set, but there is always a way. And we are not talking about performance reviews, or even balanced scorecards, here.

Managers and leaders must ensure that the above is not the case for their team. What else can they do?

  • Take a good look at meetings. Is it really necessary for everyone to meet at the same time? And the very worst thing the manager can do is to start berating the group for poor performance (this should be done one-on-one). When people are under attack, the limbic (emotional) system goes into “fight or flight” response. Forget about the concept of “think, then react” – rational thought disappears. If a manager thinks this will get everyone into gear to improve, he can think again. The opposite result is more likely.
  • Look for signs of disengagement, and fix the problem as soon as possible. There is a point of no return, and then you risk losing high performers. It always seems to me that high performers have high standards, and so are less tolerant of a bad situation than their less effective colleagues might be.
  • If engagement surveys are run in the organization, ensure that they are designed to elicit the truth, and give employees the opportunity to express what they feel anonymously. The best option is to get the survey designed, run and analyzed by a third party, who can provide feedback as well as advice on corrective action.
  • Trust yourself and trust others; and give others no cause to distrust you. This means not telling lies, big or small. Take responsibility for what happens in your team.

The happier and less stressed you and the workforce are, the more productive the environment. And apart from the positive impact on the bottom line, everyone will actually enjoy coming to work. They won’t want to rush off at the end of the day. Absenteeism will go down.

So commit to positive steps to becoming more happy and creating a happy environment today. Unhappiness is a dark cold pit, and once you are in it, it’s very difficult to get out of it. Being happy is sunshine and light and positivity.


The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor, Crown Business. Also available as an audio book and presentation on  Leadership Development channel.

Lencioni, Patrick. Turning the Daily Grind into Daily Fulfillment. Soundview Executive Book Summaries. © 2008. Books24x7

What is leadership?

There is so much talk about Leadership these days. Is it my imagination, or is there far more focus on it? In the wake of some spectacular business crashes; and in the Information Age we’ve heard about them, dissected them, and laid blame…., we keep trying to figure out what makes a good leader.

I also found it amusing that when consulting Wikipedia for a definition of Leadership, I encountered a message “This article has multiple issues”. So it seems that even Wikipedia can’t elicit a sensible definition! So since Wikipedia could not help me, I accessed and found a definition “The leader is characterized by a strong drive for responsibility and task completion, vigor and persistence in pursuit of goals, venturesomeness and originality in problem solving, and a drive to exercise initiative in social situations. He possesses self-confidence and a strong sense of personal identity; a willingness to accept the consequences of decision and actions, a readiness to absorb interpersonal stress, a willingness to tolerate frustration and delay, an ability to influence other people’s behaviour, and a capacity to structure social interaction systems to the purpose at hand. (Stogdill, 1948)”. Pretty old, but I think it still has value.

Courses on Management tell us that Management includes four processes: Planning; Leading; Organizing; Controlling. So is Leadership just one of these processes? And can Leadership skills be taught or are they character traits and qualities you either do or don’t have. Maybe some people live their lives never demonstrating their leadership ability, but in my humble opinion Leaders will always find themselves in leadership positions, whether it’s in corporate, sport, charity work, or politics.

A clever man once suggested to me that only 30% of people are capable of Leadership – the rest have to be told what to do to some extent. I’m sure that there are many who will argue this – and as I have no empirical evidence to back it up I am on shaky ground – but it would account for why there are so few examples of exceptional Leadership.

I have been blessed with working with some outstanding leaders, and am fortunate enough to have lived in South Africa when Nelson Mandela was President; a great statesman and leader who is still an example to the entire world. Sadly, I have also observed some very poor leaders in action.

Apart from the professional qualities and competencies one would expect a leader to have, I think good leaders:

  • Trust themselves. It is very difficult to trust others if you don’t trust yourself.
  • Are wise, not just intelligent.
  • Are confident and competent.
  • Lead change, but are not “changelings”. I can tell you from experience that there is nothing more stressful than working for “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde”.
  • Have values, ethics and are honest in every way.
  • Have good memories.
  • Have the ability to tell stories.
  • Are empathetic and compassionate.
  • Do not think they are invincible. I have no doubt that Hitler started off as an exceptional leader, but once he succumbed to  megalomania he set a path for both his own and his country’s destruction.
  • Accept responsibility. I listen to leaders in all walks of life playing the blame game, and wonder what happened to the concept of “the buck stops here”.
  • Are humble, but never self-effacing.
  • Are the same person publicly and privately.
  • Are lifelong learners, always striving for improvement.

Can these qualities and traits be taught? I’m not sure, but leaders can be made aware of these, and then dig deep within themselves to adapt their behavior accordingly.  A coaching intervention, coupled with a self-directed learning program can do this.

Charged by a gift book

Have you ever noticed how things come to you at the time you most need them? This happened to me recently when I received Brendon Burchard’s new book “The Charge” – but let me give you some background first.

I follow Brendon and receive his e-mail newsletter. I can’t quite remember what I had to do to receive his new book, but do know that it was something simple like a Like on Facebook or a retweet. I was a little sceptical about receiving the book – after all, I live in Cape Town, South Africa, and wondered whether the offer would be honored when there are additional costs. It’s one thing to get an e-book for free, but an actual hard copy of a book? But because I have a deep love of books – developmental and fiction – I thought there was no harm in giving it a go. So I did the necessary, and forgot all about it.

So receiving the actual book was like receiving a belated Birthday present – not only getting the book but realizing that honourable men like Brendon do exist And it came to me at a time when I knew I needed to make some changes in my life from a professional perspective. I am far from finished with the book, because it’s not something you simply read – if you want to change your life there is work to be done, and I am going to do it.

Yesterday there was a lively discussion about Leadership on Skills-Universe (, prompted by the death of  Professor Tobias. As I was engaged in the discussion I found a paragraph in “The Charge” about competence and leadership, which I duly posted because it was so appropriate to the discussion.

So “The Charge” is a gift that keeps on giving! For more information about the book and it’s author go to, or maybe just go to Amazon and buy the book! You won’t be sorry.

Learning & Teaching – Why they are different processes

I completely understand why the South African Minister of Basic Education is doing away with Outcomes-based Education. The results speak for themselves. But do we focus too much on pedagogy (teacher-focused) and too little on experiential learning? Going back to the basics is no bad thing – fundamentals such as reading and writing and even computer literacy are fundamental. Indeed the first two are  good examples of subjects that need to be taught. Although a love of reading is surely something that is learned by experience – you can’t teach that!

My favourite example is about divorce. If  anything can be taught, then we should teach people how to get on and have a successful marriage, or they should have learned by other’s mistakes, but as we all know, they don’t!  That’s because human behaviour is just so complex!

All of the things that ultimately make an individual “employable” , or able to create work for themselves, are behaviours that must be learned. For example, good communications skills, and customer service are behaviours. You can tell people over and over what makes for good customer service, but unless they have experienced good and bad, and had positive  reinforcement for good behaviour, it’s really just so many words that can be learned but not internalized.

Can we teach entrepreneurship? I think not – we have to help an individual to uncover their own inherent ability and wish to be creative and entrepreneurial. On the whole though, the pedagogical approach to education destroys creativity.

So in my view, by removing outcomes based education, we might just be throwing the baby out  with the bath water. Leaners might get better marks, but be even less employable because they  do not demonstrate good soft skills, and are not able to think for themselves.

So why (in my opinion) was outcomes based education such a dismal failure? Perhaps because the pedagogical approach was used to try to teach the concept to educators, and their behaviours never cahnged!