Jason English's Rules of Authentic Leadership

Jason English

Success in the business world isn't something that is easily achieved. It can take years to cultivate the right teams, management, culture, and vision. Strong leadership is the key to making sure all the pieces fall into place, but how do strong leaders emerge, and is there an exact formula one can follow? According to South African entrepreneur Jason English, the key lies in leaders who are able to "just be authentic."

The idea of authentic leadership is nothing new. With a history dating back to ancient Greece, authenticity has become an increasingly important factor for leadership success over the past century.

A cursory Google search will provide a variety of models and theories on how to be an authentic leader, but according to an article in forbes, Authentic Leadership qualities include self-awareness, transparency in relationships, balanced processing, and moral perspective, and can lead to increased employee engagement, employee growth and the building of trust between the employer and employees.

For Jason English, the Chief Ecosystem Officer at CG Tech, authenticity is exactly what has helped him climb the corporate ladder and achieve success by pioneering his own unique brand of leadership – something the 45-year-old refers to as his "Oros."

Named after a South African cordial drink, Oros is essentially a leader's vision, values, and purpose. Over a decade ago, as Jason English began to scale his first business, Prommac, a small oil and gas services company, he knew he needed to find a way to transfer his vision to those working around him. The crucial step, he says, was in figuring out a way to do so without diluting his purpose. Passing on his Oros to team members so that everyone was aligned, and company culture was strong, became almost an obsession for English.

Using the Oros Effect as his guide, English was able to take Prommac from a small market player with a handful of employees to an industry leader with a few thousand employees and a yearly turnover now in excess of R1 billion.

In 2014, the business became part of the CG Tech Group and four years later, English took on the role of CEO for the investment holding company. Since that time, CG Tech has acquired a number of businesses that on paper might not seem connected, but that Jason English and Chairman Niall Carroll believe belong in the CG Tech ecosystem, where one company helps to power the success of another.

In order for the CG Tech ecosystem to remain healthy, Jason English looks for leaders who display Authentic Leadership qualities to help drive the group's success. Each of the CG Tech subsidiaries is run by owner-operators who make up the CG Tech Board of Directors. This very much encourages openness and transparency throughout the group, the right conditions to foster trust and engagement.

Beyond Oros and an ecosystem approach to investing, there are four elements Jason English relies on as an authentic leader. The first is assembling the right team. Finding people who align with your vision, values, and beliefs is key to building and spreading your Oros throughout your organisation. This doesn't mean every team member needs to be your carbon copy, quite the contrary.

According to English, as your Oros grows and distills down the company ladder, you might find there are people who take your Oros and help to build the flavour.

"Every leader will have their own style. It's not your job to force people to follow it, but rather to rally people who are aligned to your vision, beliefs and values and then allow yourself to go on the journey with them," says English.

English notes that authentic leaders must lead with intention. In other words, once you have found your Oros, use it to power your strategy. It will need to be clearly defined for you and your teams so that everyone is able to become aligned and work towards a common goal.

"One of the best ways to do this is to optimise the people within your ecosystem, leaning on those who are most capable of helping to power your success in the future," explains Jason English.

The next element is something that affects both leaders and employees. Fighting the dreaded imposter syndrome. Defined as "the internal psychological experience of feeling like a phony in some area of your life, despite any success that you have achieved in that area," imposter syndrome has been experienced by some of the world's most accomplished leaders.

According to research by Moneypenny Resources, "41% of VPs have suffered from imposter syndrome." And a recent survey in the UK found that three in five workers (nearly 58%) have experienced feelings of self-doubt and failure in the workplace.

"Finding your Oros and staying true to it is key to combat these feelings. If you know your purpose and have built a team who's aligned with your vision, the room for self-doubt will start to diminish," says English. "Authentic leadership is a great tool in helping organisations know who they are."

Lastly, English states the importance of knowing when it's time to step aside. A good leader is one who can recognise the next stage of growth and is able to pass on the reigns to their successor. Those who fight change, run the risk of being obsolete in the future.

When it was time for Jason English to leave Prommac, he already had a succession plan in motion. Although their leadership styles were different, Dany de Barros was the perfect candidate to take over as CEO of Prommac.

"Dany and I, we were able to align our vision, values, and goals from the first day he was brought on as COO in 2015. As our relationship grew and I was able to transfer my Oros to him, I recognised that there would be a time where I needed to let him lead. It made my transition from Prommac to CG Tech a pretty seamless one."

Today, Jason English remains CEO of CG Tech as well as the head of Al Laith, an engineering and construction services company in the CG Tech portfolio. Here, he continues to use authentic leadership to help propel the business to new and exciting markets. Maintaining his Oros and relying on his four elements of authentic leadership, remains a top priority for the South African entrepreneur.