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Sharing my Top 5 Leadership Lessons I learned from a Lifetime with YPO ~ Marco

The day after South Africa won the 2023 Rugby World Cup, I saw a Mail & Guardian headline that read, “The Boks’ real gift to South Africa is leadership”. In the midst of the leadership crisis that our country faces, the idea of leadership being a gift to others resonates powerfully with me.

If good leadership can help to inspire an international sports tournament win and unify a nation (watch the Invictus film to learn about how winning the 1995 Rugby World Cup miraculously drew South Africans together, post-apartheid), it’s worth developing in other spheres of life, too.

Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO), an over 34,000-strong global community of chief executives, focuses on developing better leaders.

Here are some of the leadership lessons I have learned since 1986 when I became a founder member of the Cape Town Chapter.

My Top 5 Leadership Lessons
  1. Practice Makes Perfect
  2. Leaders Care About Their People
  3. Everyone has Something to Offer
  4. Even Leaders Need Support
  5. Saying Yes Can Create Unexpected Opportunities
1. Practice Makes Perfect

From my early days in YPO, I learned that this organisation empowers its members to step up, take initiative, and grow. I have held volunteer leadership positions, served on the board, chaired committees, and designed programs that connected hundreds of YPOers from around the globe. These experiences have not only allowed me to meet extraordinary people from different countries, industries and walks of life, but also helped me develop and refine my leadership skills. My leadership style from before I joined YPO has improved by leaps and bounds, thanks to exposure to other leaders and a variety of opportunities to practice leading others.

SA Rugby website

2. Leaders Care About Their People

As soon as the whistle blew finalising South Africa’s recent nail-biting 12-11 win of the 2023 Rugby World Cup final, team captain Siya Kolisi charged across the field to embrace Cheslin Kolbe who had been sin-binned for the final 10 minutes of the game. Kolbe had sat on the sideline for the final minutes with his rugby jersey over his head, unable to witness the effect of his mistake on his teammates. Kolisi understood the importance of restoring connection and caring for the teammate who had made a misstep that could have cost the Springboks the RWC final, before doing anything else.

During my time with YPO I have learned the importance of empathy and showing people you care, especially as a leader. Part of caring is listening. Another part of caring is leading with fun and humour.


Gwen and I at the YPO University in 2000

6am morning meetings

When Gwen and I chaired the Cape Town 2000 YPO University – we held a 6am meeting with the YPO committee each day. On the first morning I hired a saxophonist to play for 10 mins, the music “juiced” everyone for the day… The next day there were three masseurs ready to treat the group to back and neck massages while the meeting was in progress.

And on another morning, we invited a sex therapist to address our group “how to make time during the business of running the event”. All in the name of fun!

Another aspect of caring is to be mindful of what you say you will do. One of my rules for myself is that if I say something, I had better mean it and get it done. The saying “the faintest ink is more powerful than the strongest memory” is the reason I take notes – they provide me with instant accountability so that I can follow through to show respect and do what I said I would.

3. Everyone has Something to Offer

One of the most valuable lessons I have gleaned through YPO experiences is not to overlook or underestimate people. This was epitomized during a predicament, many years ago, when a charter plane we were meant to fly to our destination couldn’t take off due to a technical issue. An older YPO couple volunteered to put a contingency plan together and organised a new venue and itinerary, which they pulled off in 45 minutes. Before this moment, I would not have considered this couple to organize an event. They did a great job.

I learned that no matter what I may think, everyone has something to offer. It was an unexpected solution from an unexpected source, reminding me never to underestimate anyone’s potential.

4. Even Leaders Need Support

My YPO forums have been another remarkable platform for leadership and learning experiences. Described as a personal, private, and confidential “board of directors”, these monthly meetings provide a safe space to discuss any issue – personal, business, family, or political.

The collective wisdom, respect, and care within these forums have helped me navigate life’s many challenges. Being part of a YPO forum has taught me that if you’re prepared to listen on a particular issue and take on board good questions and advice through conversation, you can live life in a far more successful way. The success of a forum group is that you receive help from other leaders, and you can also help others work out challenging situations. A true mark of the importance of a supportive community of peers, many chief executives join YPO for the chapter, but they stay for the forum experience.

5. Saying Yes Can Create Unexpected Opportunities

YPO’s culture of volunteer leadership led me to organize a YPO Intl Cape-Town-Couples University in March 2000, little did I know at the time, this would spark the genesis of a new business. For months after the event, dozens of YPO members reached out to me for help revisiting Africa with their families, so I began referring them to various safari lodges, companies whom I knew well.

After a few months of arranging these requests, encouraged by my forum, what began as simply helping others, evolved into a business with a mission to make people fall in love with our beautiful country. That business, Timeless Africa Safaris, is now 21 years old, with a team of 17.

Some time ago I was presented with the Hickok Award – the highest award in YPO – when people ask me what I did to receive this award, I reply: I said yes too many times. I wanted to grow as a leader and a person, therefore early on I decided to engage fully with the many opportunities within YPO. I have been privileged to launch a number of YPO chapters in different parts of the world over the past 30 years. These experiences helped me to learn, grow, travel, meet new exceptional individuals and to lead better.


Reflecting on my journey, I have realized that leadership is very much about ‘followship.’ It’s about empathy, showing people you care, and being serious about your business. It involves bringing fun into the plan and respecting people’s time. It means following up on commitments and understanding that everyone’s most valuable asset is their time.

YPO has also taught me the power of staying connected. The ability to tap into a global network of over 34,000 members means any question can be answered within three degrees of separation. This network is a significant asset that has enriched my life and that of my family, immeasurably.

In YPO, we foster a culture of continuous learning, idea exchange, networking, and personal development. We are always eager to learn, whether it’s about economics, self-development, or geopolitics. This commitment to growth is something everyone can adopt and practice in their own lives.

My YPO journey is far from over, and I am deeply proud of the growth I have experienced, the connections I have made, and the impact I have been able to have. Here’s to many more years of learning, leading, and making a difference.


In this article
  • Introduction
  • My Top 5 Leadership Lessons
  • 1. Practice Makes Perfect
  • 2. Leaders Care About Their People
  • 3. Everyone has Something to Offer
  • 4. Even Leaders Need Support
  • 5. Saying Yes Can Create Unexpected Opportunities

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