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Care and Grow Leadership Profile: Frans Bothma

When interviewing Frans regarding excellent decision making, two variables in his thinking became very apparent which account for his success as a leader:

  1. His behaviour is guided be explicit values
  2. Recognising the evidence for these values is concrete and practical.

Let me say more about what is meant by this!

There are six values/criteria by which Frans guides and shapes his behaviour, and he refers to these criteria constantly: safety, quality, human factor stability (i.e. engagement, trust, and openness), cost, machine utilization and maturity of people (mastery of their work demands).

For tracking purposes, the evidence for these criteria are concrete and practical, and is verified in his experience: he recognises them when he sees or hears them. They are not just words, or “shoulds,” but are instead concrete elements of his working world. Moreover, the people in his immediate team have also taken ownership of this evidence for the criteria. They have consensus in how they all recognise the specifics of these criteria.




The reader might wonder: “so, what makes this exceptional?”

The answer is in how Frans’s behaviour turns the typical leadership definition on its head. Arguably, the most popular definition of leadership is “achieving results through people.” Much can be said about the thought viruses in this definition, but one aspect will suffice for this article: people in this definition are the means by which results happen. People must be coerced, motivated, engaged, influenced, served, or any other one of the thousands of answers from the multi-billion dollars leadership industry. Frans, against the importance of the criteria for successful work, sees the people working with him as the end: the work is how to grow people. The work is the means, maturity of the people in the mill becomes the end.

Again, the reader might think: “nice words! But, how specifically?”

I will refer to four clusters of Frans’ behaviour.

Cluster 1: Caring. One of the ways that caring is demonstrated was in the morning walkabouts where Frans greeted all the people who made eye contact with him. When he spoke to somebody about something, he paid attention to what the person was saying, and showed excellent listening skills. From a distance the mutuality of the discussion was apparent in the body language displayed by both. During the operations meeting feedback, after the walkabouts, Frans could be seen to be listening carefully and asked about the 6 criteria if he needed clarification.

Cluster 2: Means. Much of the discussion around “fixing” was about making the means available. As the mill has a solid history and therefore has the basics in place, i.e. equipment, people (trained and in-training), operating procedures, etc. these fixing discussions were about the daily, unexpected contingencies. As cost was a factor, they did not have the luxury of having all the possible spares available in real time. Frequently they had to improvise to keep the mill running, until the spares arrived. Sometimes improvising was not an option, and the discussions were about dealing with a dead stop on a certain piece of equipment. The how of the discussion is significant: everybody participated! A breakdown was not just the problem of maintenance. Frans’ understanding and clear mental schema of the mill, its processes and consequences in breakdown of an element, lead to valuable input by him in getting to solutions. He delegated easily since he trusted his team members, because of the learning culture that is a strong feature through all the people in the mill.

Cluster 3: This cluster, ability, includes on-the-job-training, and taking ownership of one’s own equipment. Like in other mills where the same kind of learning and ownership culture exists, in the mill managed by Frans, understanding, and doing certain kinds of maintenance on the operator’s section of the process is a natural phenomenon. They demonstrate mastery of their work. And, work well together with maintenance as the operators are very helpful in doing a good diagnostic of problems. This in turn helps the mastery of the maintenance crew and contributes to their effectiveness and speed of action when dealing with breakdowns.

Cluster 4: Accountability. As the metrics for each of the operating criteria are very specific (including the metrics of the two “soft” criteria: people stability and maturity) it is easy for the management team to track their progress and successes. By applying the three clusters of behaviour above, corrective action is appropriate to the person and the quality of the performance by the individual. Over-disciplinary action, or an erroneous soft approach does not easily happen. In a spirit of caring and developing mastery, individuals are recognised for good performance. Underperformance allows Frans and his team to judge means or ability as a causative factor and take the right action. Of course, attitude as a causative factor would be glaringly obvious, not based on guesswork, and is appropriately dealt with through disciplinary and punitive action.

Armand Kruger

Armand Kruger qualified as a clinical psychologist at the University of Pretoria in 1972. Since 1973 he has been working with one burning question: How do successful people do it differently? What alternatives are they doing in their minds not done by the average or the underachiever? To answer that question he went outside of mainstream psychology to find cognitive process models that will capture the essence of success.

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