John Maxwell
John Maxwell

Where do you start?

It feels a bit awkward doing your first posting, but hopefully someone will find it useful or at least thought provoking.

I think on reflection that a key role for all parents, who by default play the major leadership role for their children, is to create an exploratory mindset in their children. I grew up in an era where you became a doctor, lawyer or accountant. Period. I had no idea what I wanted to do and so followed family tradition by choosing to be a doctor (father and older sister).

A C in matric did not cut it for entrance to medical school and I ended up doing first-year BSc with a view to repeating first-year medicine. I chose geology as an interesting subject and loved it! I thought I would become a geologist instead until a PhD student kindly outlined the options of field, mine or research. I switched allegiance to becoming an accountant; I did a month’s articles to get a flavour, hated it, but really did not want to become a lawyer, so I enrolled in first-year BCom.

I struggled with motivation throughout but really loved the car restoration, partying and freelance TV camera work. I thought briefly about a career as a cameraman. I passed my degree, went on to do an honours degree (thought about switching back to medicine), passed the board exam and then completed articles. I thought about emigrating to Australia, but decided my broader family was more important and so did my national service through the receiver of revenue.

I had no idea about what opportunities other than being a financial manager there were for CAs, and so when a former audit manager called me and offered me a job as head of internal audit at a bank, I took it and ended up spending my entire career working in financial services.

The point of all of this is that I often reflect on what career I would have followed if I had been exposed to things such as engineering, marketing, television production or even horticulture. All of these really interest me today but were not even on the radar. So next time you are thinking about your leadership role, think close to home and make sure you expose your children to all the opportunities there are, and help them to make a choice that they will find motivating and fulfilling as opposed to having to reflect on choices made when it is too late to change!

  • Odette

    Dear John

    I’ve always wanted to write a “Dear John” letter so thank you for giving me the opportunity. I just wanted to offer a few words of encouragement for your first blog – bravo and well done, I hope to read more from you in the future.

    Now for my two cents worth (no adjustments for inflation unfortunately)…

    I agree with you that children need to be exposed to as much as possible. We all have different talents and strengths and the so-called “normal” jobs are not for everyone. How are our children to know what choices are available to them if we don’t allow them to see and experience as much as possible?

    Achieving financial security is all very well but sometimes this is done at the expense of quality of life. Far too many people spend years in jobs that give them no sense of satisfaction or achievement but, the bills get paid. Rather take a chance and try the uncoventional. Follow your passion (apologies for the Oprah-speak) and the money will come.

    I hope that if my child one day tells me he or she wants to be a professional butterfly-catcher I’ll understand and support the little loony (and cash in the unit trusts).

  • Jihaad Boltman

    Hi John!


    Must just challenge you on 2 scores:
    1…the last part of the last sentence – it’s NEVER too late to change!…unless of course we know when the last moment is! You may just have to reset your expectations.

    2…seems like the best place to start is with yourself. The laaities – yours and the broader family’s! – happen after this critical step.

    Talking about laaities. South Africa needs a generation of entrepreneurs to catapult us into the economic miracle that lies ahead. I would really appreciate your comments on HOW this can be done.
    ..and if you are willing to take it a step further, we could commit to getting at least 1 thing done in 2008!

  • Jocelyn Newmarch

    Hi John

    Good to see you on Thought Leader.

    I found your post interesting as growing up I had the opposite experience. I had no idea what business entailed until I started working, as I knew no one actually involved in business. I thought it seemed a rather negative and acrimonious way to spend a life.

    Now I’m a business writer – go figure! – who really enjoys writing on financial markets and economics. In retrospect I would have enjoyed a business degree and a career in finance, but I had no way of knowing that until recently.

    I think we’re lucky in that there’s always more than one career we would have enjoyed or excelled in, more than one path we could have followed happily.