A Dog won’t bite if it’s busy chewing

There are two containers situated on a piece of land in a place called Besters in the sprawling urban and peri-urban surrounds of Kwa Mashu in Kwa Zulu Natal, South Africa. On reflection, there are countless more in these areas which double as workshops, cell phone outlets, storage facilities and roadside tuck shops, but these two seem to stand out from the others. They are painted blue, and they have a recently planted and healthily growing vegetable garden on the slope going down towards the road.

For many years up to sixty women and one man met here on Saturday afternoons. They still gather here, but there are a few more men, and there is a youth group now. The physical space has not changed too much for some time, but the possibilities which have emerged from these containers are so radically different to what they once were. There is still the sanguine singing which reverberates out of the tin tympani and across the Zululand valleys, but there is a bit more baritone and bass to the song and to the prayer.

They are here to save money.

Little by little their single South African Rands turn to boxes of washing powder and multiple birthday blankets. Educations have been paid for and houses have been renovated or even built, and if the name of their savings scheme ‘Lethu kuhle’ is anything to go by, then good things are indeed coming. Not just the men who are more often seen in the taverns, and the youth, but also the ideas, the support and the hope. Perhaps those three things – ideas, support and hope might be enough to build a community. For that is what greets here, meets here and eats here.

As we cram into the already packed containers to learn from their leadership, a young man with the fire of hope in his eyes calls out in an excited voice:

“Inja ayilumi uma isahlafuna”.

Had this been in 1879, and a couple of hundred miles North and inland, I might have thought I was about to receive a disemboweling at the hands of King Cetshwayo’s victorious Zulu army on the battlefields of Isandlwana. There was both power and passion in his voice, and a response from Gogo’s and Grandkids alike that they were in agreement and were ready to follow him into battle.

And they are in a battle. An economic battle for survival where they have learnt that their only weapon is themselves. Themselves and each other. Battles turn to wars, and wars demand war cries, and a call to arms. They are arming themselves no longer with political power, but with money and knowledge.

“A dog won’t bite if it’s busy chewing”

This rallying cry rocked me in its raw rurality.

The Fourteenth Century Father of English literature and writer of Olde English classics, Geoffrey Chaucer, had something to say about this in that “idle hands are the Devil’s tools”, and he probably interpreted this from the Bible’s Book of Proverbs 16:27, and the Turks have a wisdom that everyone is tempted by the Devil, but idle people tempt the Devil.

The Zulu version cut me to the core in the word ‘bite’.

When I am busy in my own life I don’t have time to bite. I have no interest to harm others when I engage in my own meaningful work. I don’t bite into the meaningless universe of remote controlled channels of repeated reruns (unless the Golf is on), and I don’t bite at my children out of boredom. When I am busy chewing, I don’t sit too long tippling at the tavern of travail and temptation or banging on the bar of boredom and blame. I get off the couch of slouch and I go for a stroll in the suburbs or a swim in the golden light off the sea. When I am detached I look for inspiration in a device, but when I am engaged, my inspiration is right across the table in the unasked light of my children’s own chewings.

What was the best thing that happened today? And the worst? And if I stop long enough to listen to the stories of the tennis or cricket, or water polo or dream dress, I stop biting at the blank spaces of an uncertain future, and I fill the present with presence. I enjoy the conversation even more than the meal, and I don’t rush off to the same looped CNN latest update.

I phone a friend in the traffic on the way home instead of biting at the next taxi driver, and I turn off the TV to read something far more meaningful.

When I am bored, I bite. The bite does not always show up as a violent temper tantrum, it could be far more painful and poisonous in dismissive disengagement or snide cynicism. What could be more damaging to a child’s view of the world than the negative reflection of someone they look to for guidance?

When our global level of employee engagement is dismally low and trending downwards, and the unemployment of our youth in South Africa hovers on the wrong side of half, something will bite. And it may bite at the coffee stations and water coolers in the passages of perceived politically correct politeness, or it may bite in the next rock thrown in a protest against poor service delivery. While it may look like life giving water from afar, the acid of anger will eat us from the inside, unless we have something else to get stuck into.

Interesting phrase that: “Get stuck in.” Perhaps it is the quickest way of becoming unstuck?

While the Youth at Besters are here to save money, as they do so, they also find meaning and purpose. They share stories of fear and excitement, of despair and hope. They have a community to eat with and there’s less time and reason to bite.

They save themselves in this way, and nothing is more dangerous than the venom of our own vindictiveness towards our very own selves.

Maybe I need to chew on that thought for a while myself?

Steve Hall

Good relationships and happiness

What keeps us happy and healthy as we go through life? If you think it’s fame and money, you’re not alone – but, according to psychiatrist Robert Waldinger, you’re mistaken. As the director of a 75-year-old study on adult development, Waldinger has unprecedented access to data on true happiness and satisfaction. In this talk, he shares three important lessons learned from the study as well as some practical, old-as-the-hills wisdom on how to build a fulfilling, long life.

The overwhelming conclusion of the study was simply this: “The good life is built with good relationships”!
In all the work we at Learning to Lead (https://ltl.co.za) do we have been guided by the wisdom of Margaret Wheatley, who convinced us that “relationships are all there is”!
When positive energy flows freely in a relationship, we are happy. If it is negative, we aren’t. It’s as simple as that.

Ukushaya ngezinduku ezimbili

A dead and half plucked Pel’s Fishing Owl hangs silently in the heat of the traditional healers market in Warwick triangle in the center of Durban. Even in death it carries the regal air of a superior presence, and it remains top of the list of any ornithologists must see birds. People travel from all over the world to get this spectacular Owl onto their life list, but no birder ever wants to see one dead.
These Owls are best seen along the well wooded rivers of Southern Africa, and according to the Roberts Bird App, there are only three pairs of these ‘whispering death’ fishers along 4.8km of River in Kwa-Zulu Natal. Other pairs are scattered through the Okavango Swamps of Botswana, along the Zambezi and through the Kruger National Park – but only 3 known pairs in KZN.

How does a seventh dead one find its way into these markets?

Sadly, the owl is not alone. On this Saturday morning I see countless wild animals including three honey badger hides and a handful of Pangolin scales. This shy and friendly animal is more persecuted by poaching than even the Rhino, and I struggle to make sense of it all amid the emotions of sadness infused with anger.

I have never seen a pangolin alive in the wild, yet I have seen one dead in the markets.

Why, with modern medicine is there a need for this outdated belief system?

I have asked this question many times, and only recently did a phrase gifted to me by a colleague and friend stick in my mind long enough to be toyed with:

“Ukushaya ngezinduku ezimbili.”

Fighting with two sticks.

There is a mixture of old culture and modern medicine at play here, and some distrust and skepticism exists at both ends of the spectrum. Stories and cures have been handed down from generation to generation and some may well have become lost in the smoky haze of fireside translation. Equally the corporate greed of some of the modern medicine makers make these remedies out of reach for so many of the sick and the dying, and anger festers in an unhealable wound. In the middle of this dichotomy exists a market of duality and when desperate people are in need of healing, they can cocoon into the comfort of cultural cures, or move mindfully into modern medicine.

They can fight with two sticks.

In the martial art of stick fighting, two sticks are used. The ‘Isiquili’ is the attacking stick and the ‘Uboko’ is the one used for defence.

A young fighter was left hopelessly vulnerable with only one stick, and for the first time something struck a chord in my own consciousness.

When I only have one single version of the truth I am fighting with one stick.

With that stick I try to beat the pictures in my mind into submission. Pictures of superiority versus inferiority and pictures of a finite, linear world. I use my single stick to carve out silos of us being separate and disconnected, and if that is the only stick I have, I will drum it hard to produce power to get things done.

With only one stick, it is highly likely that I will see the world as a very hostile and unfriendly place.

But if I pick up another stick I can hold two conflicting viewpoints in my armoury. I can attack and defend.

No boxer ever won for too long in his career on all out attack, and even the great Muhammed Ali had to learn how to absorb a few punches and avoid as many in defence as he could land in attack. Great rugby teams can do both, and they can turn one to the other in a snap moment of the bounce of an odd shaped ball.

Even Michael “Whispering Death” Holding himself, the great West Indian fast bowler, had more than one variety of delivery. Arguably the fastest bowler the world has ever seen, he would approach the crease with such fluidity and in complete silence, that the umpires couldn’t hear him coming. Perhaps like the Pel’s Fishing Owl he had extra feathers on his flight feathers to reduce turbulence and therefore sound. From there he could unleash a bouncer clocked at 156km/h or produce a slow ball which had the batsman playing his shot almost before he had taken guard.

Not easy to bat against a bowler who has two sticks.

Imagine facing Shane Warne who had all six known variations of leg spin, and could bowl them all with differing flight and speed. That is a whole quiver full of different sticks. No surprise he took a few of those in his time.

Michael Holding might not have been the best batsman around, but according to Wikipedia, he made a quarter of all his test runs in sixes and he still holds the highest tenth wicket partnership in an ODI during an unbroken stand of 106 with none other than the great Viv Richards. Now there’s another example of the twin sticks of elegance and brute force.

And no helmet.

But back to the point. Or points?

Perhaps what I need to do is not so much to go out and look for new sticks, but rather to polish the ones I may already have?

Could I re-examine the pictures I hold in my head to see another side? That there may be many versions of the truth, and that life could be infinite at times? Might we be infinitely connected as opposed to separate and disconnected, and when I smile and someone smiles back, is that not evidence of the possibility of a friendly world?

Could we really embrace and celebrate our uniqueness instead of being mired in constant competition?

If you have ever been to Mahatma Gandhi’s house in Inanda, KZN, that hotbed and melting pot of political thought and Leadership, you will have seen a reference to what he referred to as “7 deadly Sins.”

  • “Wealth without Work
  • Pleasure without Conscience
  • Knowledge without Character
  • Commerce without Morality
  • Science without Humanity
  • Religion without Sacrifice
  • Politics without Principle.”

Perhaps the world has tried to fight for too long armed only with the left hand sticks?

Baltes and Staudinger (2000), postulate that one of the five components of wisdom is the ability to hold different contexts of ambiguity in uncertainty.

I think that is called fighting with two sticks, and the wisdom to know when to use which.

Of course, I still far prefer to see a Pel’s Fishing Owl in full flight, and not hanging half plucked with a dead eyed stare from the rafters of a tin stall, but maybe I’m learning to live a little more comfortably in the discomfort of conflicting viewpoints.

There had been a deluge of rain in KZN in the fortnight before our arrival for a Leading with Humanity week, and as a result there was an abundance of mud.

We learned through experience, that when you have only one set of wheels turning, your vehicle eventually nestles up to its chassis and becomes immovable in a hole of its own making. Sometimes we do exactly the same, and spinning the wheels of the same old tired story doesn’t get us anywhere except more entrenched in the perceived succor of the place we were before.

I guess if you stick with one stick, you get stuck.

And we can’t afford to remain stuck for too long in a fast changing world.

Steve Hall


“If all you ever have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Abraham Maslow”
(Although the source of that quote remains ambiguous even of itself.)

Pregnant with Hope

In less than two months we have come a long way
And yes, we have many more dragons to slay
Though Zuma has gone, there’s still many a crony
And brothers called Ajay and Atul and Tony.

In a decade this scum has sucked all our air
Corrupt to the core without compassion or care
Our SOE’s have been brought to their knees
And our State has been captured by the greed of this sleaze.

SARS was derailed and the hawks lost their wings
As our very own President did unspeakable things
We were sliding down hill with each passing hour
While he washed his sins away in a shower.

The rainbow gleam of our shining democracy
Was in danger of becoming a complete ineptocracy
Week after week with a new range of stenches
As Number 1 giggled and shuffled the benches.

The rot of our head was guarded by keepers
And the rest looked sadly like reapers or sleepers
But thankfully though, some brave souls held strong
Those heroes who know their right from their wrong.

While gravy train pigswill was lapped up so loudly
Good men and women stood gallant and proudly
They threw their bodies in front of this bus
For a better South Africa for each one of us.

Some will stay silent, but they’ll get their rewards
And we might wish that others will fall on their swords
Perhaps ‘Butter Mielie’ will finally go
‘Faithless’ and Zwane and those useless and slow.

Wipe Brown away and put Dudu to sleep
Trim the eyebrows of stuttering Shaun sheep
It will take some action, decisive and fast
But those complicit must have “heh – hehed” their last.

Cyril you’ll be hailed as our Nation’s third coming
After Christ and Madiba, we’ve had a rather rough bumming
We look up to you as a sign of salvation
And you have our support to rebuild our Nation.
We’ve been dragged through the depths and the dust and the dirt
Pain in lost trust, betrayal and hurt
The negative downgrades have been hardly surprising
But in this year of Madiba, his new Son is rising.

So, get out there and connect on the beaches
Engage with the students, go and speak with the teachers
Our previous error had lost his connection
Let’s not worry today about next year’s election.

But you’re not alone and we must work together
Though Zuma brought us to the end of our tether
We can greet warmly and cross our divides
And lift up our country from such diverse sides.

Good luck Mr. President, your task won’t be easy
As you unpick our way through the slime and the sleazy
Both corporate and cabinet are in need of a cleaning
As we find our way to new purpose and meaning.

While a decade of decadence has broken our souls
You outlined at SONA some magnificent goals
While we have felt shafted down a slippery slope
Thank You, Sir, for making us pregnant with Hope!

Steve Hall

Human Energy and the crucial role in all human outcomes




We focus on Human Energy and the crucial role it plays in all human outcomes, as individuals, in teams, in organizations and even in communities.

It ultimately defines success or failure in what we as humans seek to achieve and how we want to live.


The challenge for each one of us is to see Energy and feel its powerful impact on everything we do: at work, at home and at play.

We need to understand it; value it; and then master it sustainably!

The pay-off is that we THINK better and behave differently: at work, at home and at play.


• Individual Energy Coaching.
• We share the learning in groups of up to 40, or more. We call these “Energy Days”.
• We train Energy Coaches and Team Managers within organizations to share the learning amongst colleagues.
• We have created a video based e-learning program, our “Personal Energy Journey”, to reach large numbers at lower levels within organizations.
• We have published a book called “Peoples” that tells the Energy Story simply for children – and for adults!
• We follow up each Energy session with a series of our Fully Alive Letters, at intervals of 4 to 5 weeks to sustain the learning.


Successful teams are made up of high energy individuals WHO TRUST EACH OTHER. The challenge is to understand and accept that, and then to change the behaviours to build trust.


• We work together, out of the office if possible, and we reinforce why we are together.
• We share our own values to create a common set of team values.
• We explore the Quantum World and expand our thinking exponentially.
• We examine our paradigms – our pictures of the World – and find common ones that drive the way we choose to behave towards one another.
• We test those behaviours against the way a Pride of Lions behaves and achieves.
• We learn to THINK TOGETHER!

We call this our “Energy Journey”, which we tailor make for each client, usually at regular intervals spread over about a year.
We use unique experiences – in the Bush; in the Inner City; at Constitution Hill – and powerful speakers, well debriefed into relevant learning to enrich the Journey.

Gold of the Desert Kings


Successful organisations and communities have a clear VISION of where they are headed. They have the buy-in of high energy members, and they are alert to the risks and opportunities that face them constantly.


• We have a new approach to Strategic Planning in the Quantum world that technology is revealing in a convincing way.
• We facilitate 2-day off-site sessions to review and define Vision.
• We work through a Values process to align and share the team’s values.
• We create the reality of what we call the “Seeing Eye” – the capacity to see new risks and opportunities through the eyes of everyone in the organization.
• We use innovative learning exercises and experiences, such as our tried and tested “Gold of the Desert Kings”. We don’t go bungi jumping, zip lining or go-carting!
• We leave with no doubt that we do infinitely better as a team when we THINK TOGETHER.


We have developed, tried and tested our own eQ Energy Survey which enables reliable diagnosis, comparisons and the measurement of progress on the Energy Journey – at individual, team and organizational levels.

We have developed and share an additional step in the recruitment process for identifying candidates with naturally high energy.


We focus on Human Energy.

We try to stay at the cutting edge of all new insights in the area of Energy – in Nature, from New Science, Neurology, Psychology and Human Physiology.

But we share with the Simplicity on the far side of Complexity.

We have one foot in the Linear World, and the other in the Quantum World – the world of unpredictability, uncertainty and infinite challenge!

We put a great deal of effort into high energy learning, learning spaces and experiences. We do as little teaching as possible, and there is no “death by Power Point”!

And if it isn’t FUN, we have failed!

We live in two worlds – the predictable world and the unpredictable world

cut apple


Cut open an apple.

First question:

How many seeds are there in your apple?

This is a simple linear challenge – anything from 5 to 8 seeds. A child can do it easily.

Second question:

How many apples are there in each seed?

That’s a different, non-linear challenge. The number of apples in each seed depends on a whole lot of unpredictable variables; time, money, water, space, soil fertility, diseases, pests, and …. and ….

We are becoming more and more aware every day that we are living simultaneously in two quite different worlds.

The one is the world we know.

The predictable world; the stable, the repetitive, the safe world.

The other world is almost totally unpredictable, uncertain, full of infinite variables, and potentially very scary.

We always have lived in both worlds of course, but we couldn’t see the second, and it certainly didn’t challenge us until the absolute explosion of technology in the last 20 years.

The Internet, Facebook, Apple, GPS, Google, Amazon, IPads, Smart Phones and literally thousands of free Apps have invited us – or forced us – to admit to this exciting but infinitely uncertain environment in which we can fly; or swim; or sink.

This new world requires a totally new way of thinking, of doing and of behaving.

The key to this challenge is the ability to THINK and to THINK TOGETHER.

High energy individuals in high energy teams do both really well; provided they have developed really high levels of TRUST.

Different behaviours are essential but are not easily learned!

Contact us.

Our focus at Learning to Lead is on ensuring that individuals and/or teams Think, and Think Together in High Energy and High Trust relationships.



Company Culture, the collection of shared norms or beliefs

From time to time, we get asked to help a client define their own unique “Company Culture”. It is a fascinating exercise, takes time, absolute honesty and authenticity and patient collaboration at all levels in the organisation.

According to Wikipedia ….

“Culture is the social behavior and norms found in human societies.”

Essentially, we believe, it is about how we behave towards one another, and why we behave that way. We behave the way we do because we believe it to be the best way we know to achieve what we seek to achieve … together!

So the culture of our client company is its collection of shared norms or beliefs – its “Company Values” – which drive behaviour towards one another and towards their stakeholders. These are inspired by excited consensus as to what they want to achieve – our “Vision” and “Mission”.

Achieving harmony and then making the Values truly live is a tough challenge, especially in larger organizations.

Agreeing and defining the destination they are to seek with passion is often even tougher especially in the new Quantum World of almost infinite and ever changing risks and opportunities.

But no matter how well these crucial covenants are defined, nothing happens without Energy ….. Human Energy!

High energy, fully engaged staff and Trust, with a capital ‘T’ make the exercise, and then the Journey, a legend.

Negative energy, disengaged staff and distrust, destroy it.

Helping an organisation go through this process successfully and creating high levels of sustainable energy to drive it towards its dream, is what we believe we do best.

Colin Hall. 0825687887
Steve Hall 0825687894

The Art of the Idea by John Hunt

I am constantly inspired by John Hunt’s simple wisdom, captured in his book “The Art of the Idea”. Hope it stretches your thinking.

“Anyone can have an idea. If we are all supposed to be equal before the law you’re even more equal before the idea. The right to see something from a new perspective belongs to us all and because it is a personal internal right we choose to exercise, no one can stop one from doing it.

Even the worst authoritarian governments can’t stop you from thinking. Free thought is what they fear above all else.
The most banana of republics intuitively know they are just one brave idea away from collapse. Ultimately they understand they will lose. No army, no torture room, no suitcase stuffed with unmarked bills can help them.

This raw power belongs to everyone. More importantly, the quality of its output does not depend on age, race, gender, nationality, qualification or profession. Sadly though we always diminish its force by trying to segment its potential. We tend to ask the same people in the same space to come up with something new.

It’s not that they’re inappropriate, it’s just that familiarity tends to breed…well, familiarity. They are hamsters in the same cage; at the very least, they need to be given a new wheel”

His book was originally published in 2009 ! Can we look to wise old men and women…or perhaps to the millenials?

RUACH – in Hebrew meaning ‘wind’ or ‘spirit’

Some thoughts on the leadership role of Boards of Directors:

I have been told of a lovely Hebrew word ‘ruach’ which, translated, talked to me of the power of the human spirit, of wind, of sailing and of soaring. It talked to me of human potential, of positive willing human energy with all its possibilities. Learn how to harness it and humans can really fly.

With a jet ski – fast and noisy, greedy for precious petrol – our strategic horizons are limited to a few kilometres.

But on a yacht we catch the wind in our sails and we can circle the world three times for nothing.

In a car – however expensive, with speed limits and bounds of safety – our strategic horizons are a few hundred kilometres a day.

When we use the free lift that air gives us when we fly, we can travel to the other end of the world … and back.

Our possibilities are unlimited, endless, infinite…

– With wind when we set our sails
– With the lift we get from air when we tip our wings
– With boundless human energy, ‘ruach’, human spirit
When the fuel is power – the power one has over another, our horizons are near and the costs are high.

If this somewhat lyrical proposition is true and we believe implicitly that it can be proven, then what is the leadership role of a Board?

Most importantly it must do all that it can to ensure that the craft is a yacht and not a jet ski, that it is an aeroplane and not a car.  And, if it is a yacht, that it has an auxiliary motor for “in case”.

And it must be seaworthy and airworthy. And the skipper or the captain and his crew must truly understand wind, airlift and human spirit.

All that, in our definition, is leading.

Is that all?

Unfortunately the answer is NO. We have a management role too. We have to be sure that all the passengers – the stakeholders – are aboard and comfortable. Since moving creates risk, and weather conditions are not always favourable, we have to ensure that all the serious risks are adequately covered – life-belts, lifeboats, parachutes, and marine insurance.

Sadly, but realistically, we have to acknowledge that even good experienced skippers make mistakes, take excessive risks and dangerous short cuts, and even cheat on the answers they give.

All this is called good corporate governance. We call it management.

A Board, which is truly leading and managing, is a good Board and deserves the fees it earns.

We use a lovely piece of anonymous poetry, adapted slightly.

When I reach the edge of all the light in my life and I step out into the darkness beyond, I need to know one of two things:
Either you will have created a safe place upon which I can stand,
Or you will have taught me how to fly
… or both

A Board that has created the rock of good corporate governance that is well managed, and leaders who encourage the team to fly, has done an almost legendary job.