In 2019, the Springboks, South Africa's rugby union team, prepared for another improbable finals appearance in Japan. On November 2 in Yokohama, their head coach, Rassie Erasmus, delivered an inspiring speech to the team about their individual stories, their sense of brotherhood, and their potential to inspire a nation. The team's captain, Siya Kolisi, keenly experienced the transformative effects of personal and collective upliftment. On the eve of the final, he and his wife, Rachel, compiled a list of ways they could contribute to their country if the team won the Cup.
Kolisi's journey began on the last day of the apartheid regime: June 16, 1991. Growing up, he faced both hardship and privilege, mirroring South Africa's journey toward justice and equality. Raised mostly by his maternal grandmother in the Zwide township near Port Elizabeth, Kolisi encountered violence, alcohol, and substance abuse in his early years.
His promise on the rugby field opened doors for him, leading to scholarships at prestigious schools and a professional rugby career. This path was almost unthinkable under apartheid.
In 1995, just days after Kolisi's fourth birthday, the Springboks won their first World Cup final. The team was predominantly white at the time. Twenty-four years later, Kolisi, the team's first Black captain, raised the World Cup trophy alongside his multiethnic team, symbolizing South Africa's progress.
Kolisi's autobiography, "Rise," published in 2021, chronicles his life journey and serves as an inspiration to others. The title reflects his transformation from a township childhood to the captain of a World Cup-winning Springbok team and his dedication to driving progress in South Africa. "Rise" also invokes Maya Angelou's poem "Still I Rise," which conveys the determination to thrive despite discrimination.
Kolisi acknowledges that there's much work to be done in addressing social injustices in South Africa. Like Lemmon before him, Kolisi utilizes his influence to Lift Others Up. In April 2020, he and his wife launched The Kolisi Foundation to aid disadvantaged communities affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and address systemic inequalities, including gender-based violence, food insecurity, and unequal access to education and sport. They believe in the power of small acts of change creating a domino effect.
As leaders, how can we encourage others? One approach is to actively listen to our staff, invite their input, and consider their diverse perspectives in decision-making. Another way is to amplify their contributions and extend their influence. We should empower others to take risks, challenge us when necessary, and support them during challenges or setbacks. We should be accessible to provide feedback as they explore and exercise their curiosity.
Creating a positive circle of influence and encouragement is central to our role as leaders. At times, we seek input from a collective wisdom, while on other occasions, we guide, advise, and provide constructive criticism. In all these ways, we demonstrate care and interest in those we lead, fostering safe learning environments and cultures. Through encouragement, we establish the freedom to learn, as advocated by humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers.
While purpose and mastery can inspire learning, relationships profoundly enhance human development. Isolation and disconnection hinder learning or even reverse it. Encouragement is vital to guide learning toward growth and help individuals navigate the discomfort of the consciously incompetent phase of development. We learn and grow together.
Even the smallest acts of kindness and encouragement can create a ripple effect within teams and organizations. Genuine engagement and recognition make individuals feel valued and heard. This is precisely how the South African rugby players felt before the World Cup final – lifted up by each other, their supporters, and a higher purpose. Their performance left a lasting impact.
Lift Others Up Guidance
- Recognize and appreciate others' efforts and achievements.
- Teach and coach, sharing your knowledge and experience.
- Show a genuine interest in others' perspectives and ideas.
- Encourage others to learn and take reasonable risks.
- Never underestimate the potential of a team with a strong sense of purpose.