I love fat people. Cuddly, happy, smiling and always ready to help…

Oops! Wrong start to the blog on LIFE and the “F” in the acronym 😊

Let’s start again, but before we do, I must tell you a story. Once I went to Lyons Wholesalers, across the road from the Wits Business School. I had come to know them as providing an excellent product at a fraction of the price – especially Pringle clothing. It’s an old fashioned store full of people my mother worked with when she worked at Ansteys in West Street, Durban – you know the one with the tube into which you inserted the invoice and the money for a purchase and minutes later, the change came down another tube – that kind of store. Anyhow, I was looking for a suit that day and the gentleman – you know the one, pants with braces and no jacket, but he wore those elastic armbands that kept your sleeves from going over your hands – came over and asked me what I required. “A navy blue suit,” I answered. “Oh, sir” he said, “that you’ll find in this section – for the “fuller figure, you know.”

I bit my tongue like my Granny taught me, stared at him with steel-blue eyes trying to get him to drop his gaze, but as he never did [for he knew my type from years of failed confrontation], and I ended buying from him. I do remember, he had to take up my leg length and soon conveniently forgot that that happens only when your waist size is perforce bigger than the length that your legs require.

Now stop giggling and let’s get on with this…

I’ve been cheeky responding to an acronym with another acronym. You see FAT stands for Faithful, Available, Teachable and this is one of those insights you’ll never read in a Harvard textbook as it just comes from experience. I was introduced to the idea by a minister on a Sunday morning. He was talking about the qualification for elders and deacons in the church to which I belonged. FAT people make good church leaders was his premise. I was a little sceptical in the beginning as a result of being “of fuller figure” myself, but I managed to remember that sermon to this day. The reason is that you often remember something that is practical and proves unbelievably meaningful to you.

“Faithful” speaks volumes and anyone who has experienced “unfaithful” knows exactly what it means. Faithful people stand by you. They encourage success and they avoid “kommentaar” in the presence of mistakes and even, failure. You see, we all know the glow of success – that warm fuzzy “I did it!” feeling that flows through you. Little successes or big ones, a monthly award or the trip overseas, the feeling is the same; just the depth and the duration differs. Loads of dopamine pumped through your brain into your cells. Faithful people are there to congratulate you, avoiding any gnawing jealousy and just giving you genuine praise, but even more important for me is the fact – and I know this in my own life – those faithful people put you on the stand in the first place. That’s incredibly humbling and my immediate response is to say THANK YOU again to the hundreds of people who have teamed up with me to make a success of what we were doing.

God knows, I appreciate each of you and, hopefully, so do you. For example, when I was asked to run Card Acquiring [the machine or internet through which you “swipe” your card at a point of sale], I was given a target of taking the division from under 20% to over 40% market share in 2 years. When I left 2 years later, we had a market share of 38%. Do you really think that I did that alone? Yes, I worked my guts out as usual, but who do you think created the break-through opportunities that made it possible? My teams across the country, of course! We did some simple things such as improved motivation of the sale teams and stepped-up the efficiencies of our acquiring by rolling out the latest technologies, we turned on, at great courage in those early days, the internet payment system but then we also improved relationships with our Corporate banking colleagues.

In doing this, we hunted big corporate relationships and had success with a few who were big hitters. Recognise the strategy? Frankly, just like you with your customers and your calling pattern and your building of solid relationships. In the process, faithful people came alongside our effort. Sceptics and negatives left behind – we were off to get us a big fish – and we did. Even the corporates that allowed us in and let us access their point of sale tills were faithful to Nedbank Card, and our ability to process their credit card business. How would you feel as a CFO if you motivated a change to the Exco, implemented it and then on the 3rd day of business, the tills went down for two hours? Of course, they believed in us to deliver on our promise; they were faithful! And, so were we. If ever “whatever it takes” was a motto, it was on those implementations and those first few months. Morning meetings, reporting, outage real-time feedback by till, by store anything it took to retain their trust.

You got the picture? Faithful people, by any other name [loyal, committed, related, involved, etc] give you allegiance and receive it in return. If and when you succeed, you can give bonuses and increases and even shares, but at the end of the day they appreciate your appreciation. I can honestly tell you, I could never repay the faithful people in my life. Never! Faithfulness mirrors your behaviours as a leader. Like we all know, you earn trust, and so you earn faithfulness. People do not give away their precious independence and dignity and respect to untrustworthy people. That does not imply you do not fail but what it does imply is the emotional reserves and contriteness to apologize and behave like you mean it. You can probably see by now that this attribute of leaders and followers is deep, earned, and psychologically contracted. It is friendship on steroids and foundational to lasting relationships. Leader, you get what you give, make no mistake about it.

“Available” is a little more practical but it also stretches boundaries. I’ve worked with people and have also expected that a report requested on Friday afternoon is available on Monday morning. If that request is asked too often, expect push-back, but if asked with courtesy and respect for reasons of urgency or importance an available person understands, they will deliver it on time. In turn, available people take your calls. They may tell you they’re in a meeting, but they surely get back to you as soon as it’s over. They are reliable and consistently so, but there is an element of available that is deeper than just practical availability. This is presence – not just “there”, but hearing, listening, accepting and understanding. How many times have I had an issue that needed ventilation [the new 702 buzzword!]. Just some time to be able to off-load, be listened to without judgement and then receive back some advice, an opinion or two or some rich experience from a mentor or confidante.

How we need more of this availability! As stresses mount in South Africa and the voices of leaders and wanna-be leaders become an overloaded cacophony, how we often need someone who is just available. Just ….available. The old saying, “A problem shared is a problem halved” is true and it’s only with available people that that can ever occur. You may need one as you read me, but are you one? To whom do people turn when they need one? You? Or, are you too busy, too important, too out-of-reach to be available for them? How many relationships could have deepened if you just took another 5 minutes before you looked at your watch? Think about it – and do it next time. Have a Nike moment: “Just Do it!” And remember the quote I’m sure I’ve shared before: “Some people give you their free time. Others free their time for you.” Be one of those!

“Teachable” It’s not the ability to learn that is important here. Heaven knows we’ve listened to teachers and parents and teenagers for long enough to learn and some of us have learned much and have the walls of degrees to prove it. The issue with teachability is the willingness to learn; that is an attitude of the heart not of the left-side brain of the head. Have you ever had to hand over a job to someone so that you could take up your new promotion? In comes your replacement. It’s quite obvious from the outset that they wonder why you and not they got the leg-up. They can answer you before you open the first screen.

They are clever, really clever and help you on the keyboard. Then, you open up having done that every morning for three years and start the lesson only to find know-it-all knows it all. They really do, but the problem is, they don’t. They interject, roll their eyes, ponder their navel and generally show a quiet level of disdain for you, their teacher. Whenever I have trained, I have endured these awesome people; who needs this, I’m so clever? However, so many times the rubber hits the road with a thud when they have to do what has just been theory. You know, like estate agents and consultants, just fill in the form, hand it in and wait for the loan to be approved/the mandate to be signed. Oh really?! It takes years we know, of hard slog and mistakes and successes to create the relationship-based environment to be able to be successful. No one-day wonders here; rather the hard slog.

Teachable people know the privilege of their place “at the feet of giants”. They listen and question, they experiment and revert with mistakes to unpack the learning, and then they go out and succeed and revert with “war stories” and a fist full of mandates and applications. They know their place in humility, know their place in the power of skills, and even often have the gratitude to acknowledge those who taught and mentored them to success in the first place. Teachable people acknowledge the people, the past masters, who put them where they are today and, as usual, teachable people love to teach. You see, once you’ve experienced learning and internalised it, you can teach others. It’s called Progeneration and it’s the process of “passing on” to the next generation. It happens in homes, schools, factories, offices and in cultures and nations. It is critical to continued sustainability and success and I can assure you, the art and skill of growing others even to be better than you, is a blessing into old age. There is nothing so sweet as hearing that someone whose life you touched has advanced from teachable to teacher in their own right and by the way, you’re never done. Always hang out with someone better than you. You can always learn from them just by asking the deep questions that beg an answer in your mind.

Oh, and by the way, FAT people are not schloeps [spelling?]. FAT people are confident and committed. They may be learning, but that for a purpose perhaps even bigger than themselves. They may be faithful, but they’re also faithful to the truth, pointing out a wrong or a lack of ethics and values. They may be available, but they are courageous enough to set boundaries knowing that everything in life has an equal and opposite opportunity cost; especially their time that they use wisely.

FAT will hopefully always be something different for you. Something different to consider and something for which you strive. FAT people exist at every level of society, in every culture and for every season of your life. Be one.

HLJ’s other name is FAT. There for you, faithful, available and teachable. Willing to listen and willing to share.

Yours in Property.

Jack Trevena
Latest posts by Jack Trevena (see all)