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Ken Borland

Lions CEO Leaf-Wright provides an education in leadership 4

Posted on July 10, 2023 by Ken

Central Gauteng Lions CEO Jono Leaf-Wright is usually the first to arrive and the last to leave the DP World Wanderers Stadium.

The finals of the Diadora Jozi Cup over the Youth Day long weekend drew the curtain on another jampacked, successful season at the DP World Wanderers Stadium, all overseen by CEO Jono Leaf-Wright, who continues to provide an education in leadership through his passion for Lions Cricket.

Just as the Diadora Jozi Cup brought together over 1800 players in 110 teams in a phenomenal competition for clubs, so too has Leaf-Wright united the talents of his staff and players as the union continues to lead the way in South African domestic cricket.

A good leader plays a pivotal role in setting the climate and reputation of their organisation, as well as affecting the attitude of its members. Leaf-Wright has been able to surround himself with good people in an empathetic environment that values integrity and does not waver when it comes to quality.

“Jono has such respect for individuals, it doesn’t matter who you are, he makes you feel amazing. He has time, compassion and appreciates everyone who works at Lions cricket and beyond, irrespective of your role in the ranks,” Chief Financial Officer Brecht Mohonathan says.

“He has resilience, he deals with difficult people and problems daily, but he doesn’t give up, he bounces back and manages to look at the bigger picture. It’s a refreshing new style of leadership at Lions Cricket, one that was needed.

“Jono brings the organisation together – all teams work together, towards a common goal. All ideas are considered, he has an open-door policy and never professes to know it all. Everyone feels included,” Mohonathan says.

Busi Radebe, an Independent Director of the Central Gauteng Lions, has been highly-impressed by the CEO’s influence at Board level.

“Working with Jono leaves me in awe all the time. He has amazing leadership ability and is a visionary and innovator of note. His committed focus on community, family, transformation and empowerment is always evident in all the events and was clearly visible throughout the Diadora Jozi Cup Finals.

“Jono’s leadership and passion seem to have permeated his entire Lions team. It has also been interesting for me to see the values of Central Gauteng Lions Cricket (PRIDE)  come to life in all that they do no matter how small. The Passion, Reliability, Inclusion and Innovation, Dedication, Excellence and Enjoyment that they exude in their delivery cannot be missed,” Radebe says.

Great leaders are also visionaries and one of Leaf-Wright’s strongest attributes is his ability to make other people believe in his vision. It’s also a lot easier to believe in someone when they lead from the front in terms of effort and dedication. Like so many of his DP World Lions players who put in hours of extra training at the nets, the 40-year-old Leaf-Wright is always willing to go the extra mile.

The CEO stayed at this year’s Lions awards evening at the Wanderers Club almost till the bitter end – carriages were preparing to turn into pumpkins – but the next day (a Sunday) he was up bright and early like on any work day and off to see as many of the 27 venues being used for the Jozi Cup as he could.

“Jono is a very hands-on CEO who constantly leads by example, he is often found on the ground welcoming people and making them feel comfortable. His compassion and respect for players, the spectators and cricket is truly rare and is appreciated by all,” 2022 DP World Lions Ladies Players’ Player of the Season Jameelah Shaikjee says.

“Because of his professionalism and perseverance, Jono pushes through despite late nights, early mornings and weekends. It’s thanks to his passion for the game and the people that he has this dedication – he leaves home early and gets back late every single day,” Mohonathan points out.

“Jono always shows such diligence – he does things properly and makes sure things are done properly. He also shows doggedness when he stands up for people, he doesn’t cave in, he’s courageous and meets challenges head-on. Jono just has that drive so he keeps pushing through in order to make sure it all gets done.”

Leaf-Wright speaks often about how important a balanced life is; despite the many times he no doubt wanted to spend more time with his wife, nine-year-old son and four-year-old daughter, he also is keenly aware that other families are depending on him to ensure Lions Cricket is economically thriving.

And his Midas Touch has been evident on the books with the union enjoying a financial turnaround despite the ravages of Covid. When Leaf-Wright took over, they were declaring losses of R12-14 million in consecutive years. In May 2022, after the redesign of the stadium and the implementation of his vision and business plan, Lions Cricket declared a nett profit for the 2021/2022 financial year for the first time since 2017, and it is set to declare another nett profit after this current 2022/2023 financial year.

A successful businessman and entrepreneur in his own right, Leaf-Wright always wanted, however, to be involved in elite cricket and he has worked his way up from carrying drinks and cleaning shoes as a changeroom attendant at the self-same DP World Wanderers Stadium.

Leaf-Wright coached at every level of grassroots cricket and has a CSA Level Three Coaching Qualification, has been a national U19 talent scout for 11 years and coached the Lions U19 team for 11 years as well. He was the manager of the Jozi Stars in the Mzansi Super League and spent time with the Royal Challengers Bangalore from 2009 to 2011 assisting the IPL side.

Under Leaf-Wright’s watch, Lions Cricket have won over 10 trophies since the 2019/2020 season when he took over as CEO at the back end of 2019.

In his business endeavours, Leaf-Wright has shown himself to be a disruptor, not always sticking to the norms and traditions, but trying things. But he has always wanted to do things for the right reason – to serve his organisation. He has said that the biggest part of leadership is the care factor for other people.

The all-round sports fan is on a journey that is not his own, the colleagues that travel with him are just as important.

“Jono is an incredible leader with great people skills. It doesn’t matter which walk of life you are from, he will make you feel welcome and special and go out of his way for you. His vibrant positive energy is infectious. He’s an out-of-the-box thinker, always looking for ideas to make things better and improve situations,” Reeza Hendricks, DP World Lions stalwart and Proteas white-ball star, says.

Leaf-Wright understands that he cannot do his job alone, that would be a very lonely task. Instead, he empowers the people around him to help achieve their common goals and the big dreams they have for Lions Cricket.

It is an approach that has certainly impressed the Lions’ chief sponsors, DP World.

“Jono has been integral to the ongoing success, strategic direction and innovation of the DP World Lions family and DP World Wanderers Stadium,” says Esha Mansingh, the Executive Head: Corporate Affairs and Sustainability sub-Saharan Africa at DP World.

“As a key partner to the stadium, we are proud of the immense growth of Lions cricket over the past few years, extending its footprint and impact both on and off the field, driven by Jono’s exceptional vision, passion and support of both professional and community cricket. Jono always ensures that the requirements of Lions Cricket’s partners, such as ourselves at DP World, are accommodated and that we work together towards a common goal that not only drives results but also supports our teams and communities,” Mansingh says.

Throughout his tenure, Leaf-Wright and his team have managed to attract multiple proud partners and built solid, genuine and mutually beneficial relationships with global brands such as McDonalds and Coca-Cola as well as many other brands just as impressive in the likes of Telkom, ENZA Construction, Sun International, Fidelity ADT, Masana Fuels and too many more to mention.

Lions Cricket is on a good wicket, enjoying their purple patch and clearly have no intention of stopping any time soon.

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