Axel Rittershaus is an internationally recognised leadership trainer, speaker & executive coach and advisor at C-Level and to senior executive teams. He focuses on leadership, empowering people and leading in times of change. He has a client list that includes Fortune Global 500 companies and large corporates in Europe, Asia, America and Africa. Axel is the president of the ICF Cape Town Chapter. Axel is a regular contributor to national and international magazines like Entrepreneur, DestinyMan, WITS Business Journal and ComputerWeekly.
Never one to sit still he is a keen ultra-marathoner.
My Definition Of Success | Let me split my answer in business and private life:
On a business level, I am working as an executive coach and facilitate leadership development programs for top-level senior executives, success means to me:
If my clients tell me that they were able to improve their personal life and business, especially regarding collaboration and relationships with their peers, employees and superiors.
On a personal level success means spending time with my wife, have sufficient time to read and run in the beautiful area in and around Cape Town.
Yes, my definition of success it has changed over the years – from external, more status related definitions to more meaningful topics.
The older I get, the more I am aware of the fact that our time is limited. So using time for important things instead of artificial or superficial things became my priority.
I Am Driven By | If I imagine lying on my death-bed, I don’t want have my dreams, hopes, skills and talents staring at me and telling me, that they were waiting for me all the time – but I did not realise or use them.
My Highlights | They are all related to making changes. I recall three very important ones: 1) selling my first IT company; 2) quitting my well paid work in IT to become a full-time executive coach & facilitator; 3) moving to Cape Town without any contracts or relationships – just because my wife and I fell in love with Cape Town and South Africa.
The Difference Between Good And Great | People who are good at what they do often stop improving when they reached a certain level. Unfortunately this often means that they actually get worse a little every single day.
People who are great never stop improving, learning & trying new things on their mission to be & remain being great. The path from good to great is not that hard, it does not require superhuman qualities. It “only” requires conscious and persistent work on improvement. And this means to realise that what you did so far, what got you to being good, might not be the best strategy or skill to become great. Your own ego might be the biggest hurdle standing between yourself being good and being great.
A Key Talent | Focus and determination – When I faced the most challenging moment with the first company I founded, I reactivated my focusing capabilities, put aside everything that disturbed me and did whatever possible (and impossible) to overcome it. Within a few weeks a solution was found, nobody would have believed possible.
How can this be replicated? I learned the hard way that the lack of focus means that a lot of your energy flows into areas which are not that important. And too little energy remains for the important topics. Sooner or later you run into trouble – which you might realise too late since you are busy looking at unimportant things.
I recommend working on what’s important first thing in the morning and a weekly “did I work on my top priorities” check. It’s basic, and it’s crucial.
Being successful means saying “no” to many things (distractions) so you can say “yes” to the important things – in life and in business.
Principles I Live By | Focus on what’s important, give trust first, don’t listen too much to the self-destructive voice in your head – rather learn from what your fears try to tell you and then do it anyway.
Dealing With Doubt | I believe, and know from many people I am working with as their executive coach, that even the most successful people have self-doubts. Why shouldn’t they? Self-doubts can be negative, when they restrain yourself. They can be positive, if you listen to them since your unconscious mind tries to tell you something. If you realise what that message means, the doubts will be the source for continuous improvement!
One of the best ways of getting along with fear or self-doubt is to speak about it. Often the thoughts change the moment we speak them out. Studies show, the moment you speak and label a fear or negative thought, you reduce the stress level it creates in your brain.
Leaders often don’t dare to speak with others about their own fears or weaknesses. But when they do they realise, if done properly in a safe environment, such openness is regarded as a sign of strength rather than a weakness.
It’s very powerful if the “untouchable” board member discusses setbacks of his (business and sometimes private) life with his team and suddenly becomes a human being. A human being people want to follow – instead of an “untouchable” person everybody just follows because they want to keep their jobs.
When dealing with fear it’s crucial not to give too much time to this fear, since time is fuel for fears. Understand where the fear is coming from and evaluate if there really is a risk. If the risk is acceptable, feel the fear and do it anyway. If the risk is too high, find a way to reduce it.
“Feel the fear and do it anyway” is not just a powerful phrase, it’s also an outstanding book written by Susan Jeffers I recommend reading.
Performing At My Peak | By understanding that it is impossible to always perform at my peak! At least not at the same time in all areas of my life.
There are several skills I need. Some days are better for writing, others are better for conceptual work. I accept this, so I can perform at my peak doing what I do.
Having that said, when it comes to coaching top executives or facilitating workshops/seminars for top leaders, I can always put me in a state of peak performance. I have my routine to get ready for it, so I can give 100%. Because I enjoy this work so much, it often doesn’t feel like work, which makes it easy to perform at a peak level.
Being an ultra marathon runner, Comrades and Two Oceans Marathon are my favourites, I know that peak performance requires the right balance between hard training and relaxation.
Resources I Use To Stay Inspired | My dog walks with our Magyar Viszla became part of my educational time where I listen to audio books. Most recently I listened to “Predictably irrational” by Dan Ariely. I read a lot, approximately 40 books per year, mostly about mind, neuroscience, leadership but also biographies.
The Meaning Of Life | Being able to say in the end “I lived a life filled with life” and having inspired and positively influenced the life of other people.
Advice On Building Wealth | Find a niche you like and do what you love – so you can pull through during tough times – and don’t waste your life living someone else’s life.
Whenever someone tells you “you can’t do it”, what they really say is “I believe I can’t do it, so please don’t show me that you can”. So just say “thank you” and carry on. If they have an advice you can turn into a lesson you can learn from to reach your goal even faster, the opposers even become your supporters.
Never ever focus on building wealth first! If you do what you are great at and you invest your money wisely (by doing both saving and investing in yourself and your employees), wealth will be the result.
On Inspiring Others | Inspire them, give them confidence in their own abilities, and assist them in breaking through their own limitations. You don’t need to motivate a fish to swim, so find the people who like doing what they do and what supports your mission, and help them grow. If you lead them properly everyone is going to reach her/his goals – including you.
I Am Inspired By | Tony Robbins has always been a big inspiration for me, but also great leaders like Nelson Mandela or Richard Branson.
The Legacy I Would Like To Leave | In general: Having made a positive difference in the life of others, primarily for my wife and my family, but also friends, clients and people who get influenced by my work and/or sports activities.