The 4 Elements of Greatness

Successful business people share a number of similar character traits.  The 4 I would like to write about today, are about being visionary, having good judgement, being courageous, and having drive (or being driven)!



Analysing the successful business people in the world today, I have come to the conclusion that being a visionary is more than important, it is absolutely essential.  Without a vision, nobody is going anywhere!  In this regard a vision is defined as this desired or ideal future destination. The purpose of this vision is to excite, mobilise, and energize the people, be it of an organization, a society, or even for the individual.  In addition, without a vision, you can forget about having engaged employees.  An engaged employee is someone who contributes meaningful to the attainment of the organization’s objectives, consistently and constantly.

Organizations that have visions that speak to me in a meaningful manner, include the companies listed below:

  • Pick ‘n Pay: We Serve; With our hearts we create a great place to work; With our minds we create a great place to shop.
  • Starbucks: To inspire and nurture the human spirit; one person, one cup, and one neighbourhood at a time.
  • SABMiller: To be the most admired company in the global beer industry: Investment of choice; Employer of choice; Partner of choice.
  • Adidas: Our passion for sport makes the world a better place!
  • Elizabeth Arden: To be beautiful and natural is the birthright of every woman (more a mantra, but still).

For me, these visions provide the necessary energy and excitement.  I am an outsider and am still excited about them.  Had I been an employee of any of them, I would have worked myself to a standstill, with a broad grin on my face.

I am also sure that these visions have created a good picture of what it is that the creator wanted to achieve.  It would have served (and still does) as a guiding beacon for the creators themselves, both in times of prosperity and difficulty, as well as for the employees. We all know that Pick ‘n Pay is going through a difficult time right now, but I am sure that their vision will pull them through!

Being a visionary is that essential element that differentiates a true entrepreneur from the technician and the manager.  And the tragedy is that it is a scarce commodity! Visionaries are few and far between.  But I am of the opinion that we can inculcate this within ourselves, by exposing ourselves to great people, either on a personal basis, or by reading about them. We just need to be willing to take the risk. We do need to make peace with that fact that some of us would be better at it than others, but that’s not the issue.



The second essential element for business success deals with having good judgement.  Developing a vision that leads to nowhere can be prevented by having good judgement. It’s about knowing what will work, and what will lead to disaster.  It’s also about knowing what road is ethically and morally wrong when it appears to be a sure thing!

It is also about knowing when to quit. It’s about dealing with unforeseen problems as they arise, and developing solutions where no clear-cut answers exist. In addition, the following are typical issues for which good judgement is critical:

  • Who will be our customers, and who do we not want as customers?
  • Can we really serve them? Do we have what it takes? Do we know what they really want and need?
  • Which investments will we make?  Which businesses will we sell off?
  • Where do we get our capital from?
  • How do we deal with governance and ethics issues?
  • How do we deal with non-performers? With people who display the culture but do not provide the results?
  • How do we deal with those that are effective, but are “bad” for the culture and climate of the organization?
  • What decisions do we take when we personally stand to win, but the organization might stand to lose, especially on the long-term?

Displaying good judgement is easy when you deal with issues that are cut and dried, where the answer is clear-cut, and for which there are enough precedents.  However, displaying good judgement is extremely difficult when there are no certainties, when there is a very thin line between right and wrong! Especially when you stand to lose when you take the difficult option! It is also very difficult to display good judgement when the chances that you will be caught out, are slim.  Then the attractiveness to make a bad judgement call can prove to be too much for many people!

Getting a business offer that appears to be attractive can require good judgement. What appears to be a good bargain on the short-term, can be a disastrous call on the long-term.



Being courageous is about having the guts to do what is required, to stay the course irrespective of the pressures.  It is also about taking the decisions that you know will be unpopular, but what you also know need to be taken for the good of the company on the long-term.

Courage is about staying the course year in and year out, doing what needs to be done, in spite of feeling fed up, tired and angry. Courage is about staying true to your vision, and trusting your judgement.

Having the courage of your convictions is easy when the call is clear, as is the case when displaying good judgement. But displaying courage when the implications are extreme and/or unclear, is not so easy. Displaying courage in taking a decision when you stand to lose is also not that easy!

Oriah MountainDreamer wrote a poem, “The Invitation.” Two of the verses are as follows:

It doesn’t interest me

to know where you live

or how much money you have.

I want to know if you can get up

after the night of grief and despair

weary and bruised to the bone

and do what needs to be done

to feed the children.


It doesn’t interest me

who you know

or how you came to be here.

I want to know if you will stand

in the centre of the fire

with me

and not shrink back.


For me, this is what courage is about on a personal level!



Being driven is keeping up the pace relentlessly.  It is about getting up early in the morning and working flat-out for 12 hours, come rain and sun shine, rain or hail! It’s about not taking no for an answer, and it’s about chasing after that vision, with no excuses!

When the odds start being stacked against you and when the circumstances are becoming difficult, it will be courage and drive that will get you out of the bed in the morning, displaying the discipline to do what is required.  Being driven will make you do what is required, even when you don’t feel like doing it at that moment.

A vision without judgement can bring about dangerous results.  A vision without courage will also lead to nothing. A vision without persistence and drive will definitely not materialise!



Someone for whom I have the utmost respect has been involved in building a business the past 7 years.  He developed a vision of what it was that he wanted to create.  There was meaning to be created, and he saw the opportunity when others did not.  He has had to convince his network and the banks to provide him with the capital to build his business.  He has had to deal with regulatory issues and corruption at the most inappropriate places.  He has had to go back to his financiers to ask for additional capital for working capital purposes. In order to ensure a constant supply of raw material, he has had to pay his suppliers a good rate when he could have skimped on the rates. In addition, he could have jumped ship when attractive offers came his way from bidders eager to buy into the potential that clearly existed for the discerning eye – after working at it for 7 years! He has also had to deal with disappointment, with failure when success seemed imminent, so close and yet so far.

But he stuck to his guns and is now on the verge of a number of spectacular breakthroughs. A number of large MNC’s are interested in his products due to the potential they have for his basket of goods. Also, in his country good sense has eventually prevailed in the regulatory environment, and the prospects for his products are excellent.

Four issues have contributed to him being on the verge on something big:

  • Having a clear vision of what it was he wanted to achieve. This clarity helped him stay the course.
  • Having good judgement as to what would be the right thing to do, and as to what would work and what not. He also had the good judgement to deal with a short-term attraction when it was not in the interest of his company in the long-term.
  • Having the courage to make the right decisions when they needed to be made, not only knowing what they should be, but actually making them. Having the courage to say no when it would have been so much easier to say yes!
  • Having the drive to work at it relentlessly for 7 years, day in and day out!  Understanding that hard work is what at times differentiates success from failure.

He is not the only example I can mention.  The more obvious examples are people such as Nelson Mandela, Richard Branson (Virgin), Steve Jobs (Apple, Pixar), Raymond Ackerman (Pick ‘n Pay), Whitey Basson (Shoprite), Christo Wiese (Pepkor), and Anton Rupert (Rembrandt & Richemond).  Other less spectacular examples, but no less successful, include people such as Roy Taylor (Ladismith Cheese), Michael Back (Backsberg), Rian Stassen (Capitec), and Jannie Mouton (PSG).

There are many more people like these. What sets them apart from the rest of us, is exactly their willingness to embrace their vision, exercise and display good judgement, being courageous when the odds are stacked against them, and being driven and relentless in the pursuit of their vision and objectives!  They were willing to accept the risks, knowing that they did not always know what the risks were, but trusting their judgement and drive to make a difference!

Those of us who choose not to work on these 4 traits or elements within ourselves, will be doomed to mediocrity.  We will be the “solid citizens” of the business world.  They need us, make no mistake.  Without us solid citizens no organization is going anywhere. But make peace with it that while we might be referred to as good, we will not be referred to as great!

But it’s about choice, isn’t it? What will yours be? It is yours to make, after all!

You may also like...

4 Responses

  1. Rian Truter says:

    Great post, Johan! Keep it up.

  2. Gerhard says:

    Dear Johan

    Great story line and very relevant! Thx for your time and effort forward this to us. Appreciate. A book that you can get from exclusive books Know How – The 8 skills that separate people who perform from those who don’t: Ram Charan will elaborate more on your story line.

    Kind regards

  3. seo guide says:

    I am often to blogging and i really appreciate your content. The article has really peaks my interest. I am going to bookmark your site and keep checking for new information.