The sacrifice for greatness


I have been an admirer and to some degree, a follower of many great men and women, leaders who have not only reached the pinnacle, but have sustained their stay at the summit over the years. These are masters in their areas of specialty. Well, at least in my view. From an early age I have been seduced, and have fallen in love with great leadership, and at some point I started believing it was possible to emulate these great men and women who have graced this earth with their existence.

Patrice Motsepe, a man whose name is synonymous to a business guru and a colossal source of inspiration to many in the black community. Johann Rupert, a luxury goods titan who not only picked up where his father left off, but has managed to extensively expand on the legacy. Richard Maponya, affectionately known as the father of black business, this to me this is the flower that somehow found its rooting through the cracks of the concrete. Pam Golding, described widely as a warm personality, and an agent of much welcomed change in the property industry. Khanyi Dhlomo, a focused media mogul who turns into gold everything she touches. The list continues.

“By hoping for the moon, men have missed the flowers that blossom at their feet” says Andre Schweitzer. While I do not know any of these people personally, and my impression of who they are is only shaped by what the media has been reporting, one does not need to be a rocket scientist to figure out how hard it must have been to reach the top or stay at the summit. The sacrifices these celebrated individuals had to make are often played down, and we mostly hear about the victories and achievements instead. Consider the late nights, the business trips out of town while the family remains behind, missing soccer matches. An MBA, which is almost a prerequisite for playing in big corporate leagues, and common among top flight executives, is arguably the most demanding field of study known to man in business, to such an extent that is has come to be known as “the marriage breaker”.

This is what has prompted this article. While we laud these “unicorns” with well-deserved praise, perhaps you and I should pause to reflect on what it took to get to such heights. If you are like me and have hopes of somehow leaving your mark in this world, maybe we should take a moment to evaluate the costs and rewards of our respective journeys. I came to understand why some people are content with where they are. It is because to them the sacrifice outweighs the benefits, and I find no fault with that.

Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Daymond John, Raymond Ackerman, Pam Golding, Oprah Winfrey, to name a few, all have one thing in common; as much as they are widely regarded as leaders in their respective spheres, they were each at some point a challenger, the new entrant. One can only imagine the rejection they had to face, the uncertainty of the road ahead, and perhaps the degree of self-doubt induced by disappointments along the way. The truth is the underdog has to work twice as hard while the established simply rides the wave of reputation. And such is the severity of the call on anyone looking to ascend to the summit. It takes a made up mind and a resilient personality to mount the hill of success. And while the destination is important, the toughest decisions anyone wishing to become like the aforementioned will have to make are centered on what to leave behind. An airplane has a weight limit proportional to its wing size and engine capacity. And carrying more than the limit stipulates will prevent this phenomenal machine from flying.

All these individuals we celebrate today had to make these decisions regarding how they spend their time, who to keep in their lives, which attitudes no longer serve them, what habits need to go, and the list goes on and on. If you are a challenger, at one point or another you will need to make these sacrifices. Winston Churchill says when there is no enemy within, the enemy outside cannot hurt you.

You might be reading this as someone who has earned their stripes; you have paid your dues and are now reaping the benefits. To you Sir or Madam, the challenge is a little different. What the accomplished have to sacrifice is the experience they have gathered over the years. As ironic as that may sound, perhaps the greatest call placed on our celebrated leaders of industry is to unlearn the very same things that have made them who they are today. Of course, the fundamentals might not always change, but the manner of approach certainly has and certainly will evolve.

What I’m saying is communication has always been the goal but very few people still fax today, meetings can now be held using video calling, we now send text instead of a letter through the post office. These are oversimplified examples, but they underpin the world we live in today, and subsequently translate to how we conduct business. A sage once said “it is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change”. Perhaps you know all about the sacrifices of success, you have been through them yourself, but are you ready to let go of what you know and embrace the unknown?

It is lonely at the top. This popular statement means a lot of things to a lot of people. To some it’s a statement of discouragement, to others it’s an attestation of exclusivity. While we cannot control other people’s views and preferences, each person has to define what success is for them and come to a conclusion of what sufficient sacrifice is. Competition today is fierce; the internet has been a blessing and to some extent, a curse. Information travels at the speed of light. And today we hear of more businesses rise and fall faster than days prior to the widespread use of the internet. This poses an increased challenge to those who want to reach the pinnacle, and a bigger threat to those who have their thrones firmly established at the top.

While advancement in technology has improved lives, the internet has also opened up industries and lowered barriers to entry significantly, calling for increased effort from those who are in the game. It simply takes more to get heard in today’s noise if you are starting out  and even more to survive the rough seas of disruption if you are established.

All of these translate to more and more hours at work, learning new skills and adapting oneself to this new era. They say on average, CEOs reads about sixty books a year to stay abreast with new developments and maintain an all-round view on issues, such is the fierceness of competition. But you have to believe you were born at the right time, in the right place and are equal to the task.

Raphuti Jethro Malebane is the Editor of The Emperor Magazine South Africa