A conversation with Khanyi Chaba – Head Responsible Business, Old Mutual, South Africa

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LM:

Congratulations Sisi on another triumph, you have just returned from summitting the highest mountain peak in Europe. How do you feel? What was the highlight, lowlight and funny part of this journey? 

KC:

Thank you so much bhuti for your own involvement in this particular climb. Together with many others, your messages of support, encouragement and tracking our progress made a huge difference. It still feels quite surreal and has not sunk in properly yet. This was the biggest adventure and a self-challenge I have ever embarked upon and it took all of me to see it through. I have been privileged to partake in so many sports including Comrades Marathon as you know but this time around, the summit of Mt Elbrus seemed unattainable and was a monumental undertaking.

Mountaineering is thrilling and yet so unpredictable. Climbing Mt Elbrus was no exception. For starters, the snow was thick, the weather changed in seconds, the cold nipped bitterly, and the ascent got steeper with every step. Unlike climbing Kilimanjaro and running marathons, this was a technical climb, which required not only specific skills, but bravery at another level!

Mt Elbrus is steep from the foot of the mountain. This required extensive use of physical strength and different techniques as compared to running. For instance, I had to learn to step on the heels, whilst in running we use toes. This becomes harder on the ankles! There are parts of the mountain where the climb is on the edge with virtually no landing on each side. This is where we had to use equipment like an ice axe to stop one from tumbling down the mountain in case of a fall. We were also at some points, tied to a rope with harnesses to ensure that we can pull each other up should one of us slip off the mountain. There was a constant thread of snow blindness and skin burn for the ultra violet rays. On a daily basis, the routine of gearing up would take about 30mins in the cold trying to tie the ice boots, fit the bags properly and hold the climbing sticks. Every day, it felt like being a military and combat zone.

I took on Mt Elbrus to overcome my fear of the cold and, on summit night, the temperature ranged between -20 and -24 degrees. The ability to push through the cold whilst facing the steepest slopes, to surge forward through icy winds – digging into snow in double layered ice boots, weighing 5kgs on my feet, with a heavy backpack and reach the summit of this mountain is my highlight and my biggest thrill!

My lowest moments however got to me the day before summit night where I found myself alone at some point on the mountain. I had been caught in thick clouds that made it impossible to see or have a sense of direction. This was during one of our long acclimatization days. I had stayed behind from the group to fix my boot thinking I would easily catch up. But, that was not to be. Much as I tried to stay calm, it was impossible as my heart started pounding faster and faster as I was worried about getting lost. Death seemed like a reality and I could see myself as one of the statistics of Mt Elbrus. There are still climbers who lost lives, and some have not been found on this mountain.

By the time I caught up with the rest of the group, tragedy struck.  I had climbed faster than advised and it did not take long for my body to react. That was when I was hit by altitude sickness and fainted.

The last thing you need while attempting to summit is altitude sickness and worse, not the day before the final push. Well, mine hit at that crucial moment. That evening, I was inconsolable and could not sleep. This was on top of earlier difficulties in stabilising my sleeping pattern, as insomnia is the order of the day on high altitude! This was my lowest point.

Whilst this adventure was extremely dangerous, there were funny moments, which did not seem so at the time they happened.

Mountaineering requires one to be super-efficient and organised with no margin of error. The risk for oneself and for the group is real. I became that girl who somehow managed to get things wrong! The more I tried to put my best foot forward the more I got things wrong. This got our guides into a twitch, particularly the Lead Guide Vladimir! After the fainting episode, he (Vladimir) offered me tea to drink as the first emergency intervention for my situation (fainting). Still in a daze and facing possible death I still asked him what was in the hot drink, as I do not take sugar and caffeine because I am a health fanatic! I still wanted to die a healthy corpse!

His response to my questioning immediately transformed my relationship with him from Vladimir to Mr Vladimir – such was the tone of this voice and the stern look on his face, which made it clear I had to oblige. And oblige I did!

Moreover, on the eve of the summit, we were given strong instructions about not losing our stuff during what turned out to be a gruelling final stretch of the climb to the top as it would be very steep. Lo and behold, in the dark and early part of the climb, during a short break, my water bottle slipped out my hands and went on a free ride down the mountain. This time around, Vladimir looked like he would choke choke out of anger! As he was about to “scold me “I just gave him the most convincing look of an innocent six-year-old child who was about to cry. He just swore under his breath in his native Ukraine language. 

They say it takes a little of dose of insanity for a person to venture on such expeditions and mine came at just 300m below the summit point! I started a fight with our guides insisting on keeping on a big jacket I had planned to wear for the summit. This, in spite of the fact that the weather had changed for the better and that there was no need for the jacket! This was the hardest and most dangerous part of the mountain and I still wanted to look good! I was given two options, take on my final summit push or make a fashion statement on the mountain and risk summiting! With tears of a six-year-old again, I chose to summit.  One thing certain is that those guides will never forget me!

LM:

Let us start where it all began, describe your early childhood and family life

KC:

My life starts with the role my mother played and the impact she had on me. My mother raised thirteen children with me being her last born. She was in essence a single mother because my father was never home and did little to support her nor to be part of our lives. After subjecting my mother and us, to many years of abuse and neglect, my father would eventually abandon the family.  Like many families during that era, we did not have much. My mother was however undeterred. Over and above her own thirteen children she went on to foster many other destitute children whom she raised under one roof, in our tiny home in Soweto. Our home was always teeming with children and at some point, I think we must have been over forty people under my mother’s four-roomed house. No one though could tell who my mother’s biological children were because we were all treated the same. My childhood therefore was spent learning how to share and treat people the way I wish to be treated.

Growing up in Soweto was by itself an experience of sharing and belonging to a broader family. My mother did her best to raise my many brothers and sisters with her meagre income. Much as we did not have a lot in terms of financial means, I was always assured of my mother’s love. Her challenges in providing for us materially were hugely compensated by her love. So, I learnt early on in my childhood to be responsible with my life and use my God given gifts to help support our family and others… I also internalised not to expect to get what I wanted from anyone and to find ways to be self-sufficient…

Our family life was built around our coal stove where a pot would sit boiling for hours on end, without any of us questioning. My mother had perfected the art of making us believe that something was cooking until we would all fall asleep in empty stomachs. There were also many great moments where we would just sit around the stove, singing as if we were a choir and listening to her never-ending stories about her own upbringing.

There were a number of things I enjoyed about growing up in Soweto. The one thing about growing up in Soweto was the vibrancy and energy that permeated every aspect of life in the township. We were always in the streets, dusty, hungry but happy all the time. We played games with friends whom we regarded as family. There would always be a competition or street games of sorts which I rarely participated in because I was regarded as a non – starter when it came sports. I was that girl whose selection to a team would guarantee a loss. I had the misfortune of always being relegated to a spectator. Ironically, this gave me more time for books! Something I enjoyed and would later prove to be very beneficial.

LM:

What were your earliest influences and who were your heroes when you grew up?

KC:

My mother was undoubtedly the biggest influence of my life and choices I made from early on. She lived for us and the children that made up our neighbourhood. She worked several jobs at a time and all I saw as I was growing up, was how hard my mother worked. She was a domestic worker, a seamstress at a factory shop in Johannesburg and cleaned office buildings at night. She sometimes slept at train stations, so she could be on time for the early morning train for her domestic work. She and her co-workers would be harassed by both police and criminals. I often wonder what she must have gone through knowing the physical and sexual violence that took place on the street.

My mother was also one of the first women in our neighbourhood to own a sewing machine which she used to sew clothes that she sold on the weekends and during holidays. Some months would go by without us seeing her while she was away to sell her goods. All this influenced my perspective to life and what I wanted to be.

My other heroes were women like my mother.  They too were raising children outside of their own many of whom have become highly acclaimed members of our society.

The hard conditions under which these women raised us provided a direction that I was keen to follow. Briefly, I was drawn to and inspired by women, whom I witness overcome the very things that were trying to overcome them. These are women who come from humble beginnings yet pull through to break barriers and achieve what may seem unattainable – given where they come from. They were women I could pattern my life upon

One woman that comes to mind was Mrs Marina Maponya. Then there was Felicia Mabuza- Shuttle, whose unrelenting spirit always inspired me. I was a big follower of mama Helen Khuzwayo whose voice was all over the newspapers.

While these women gave me something to aspire to, there was some men who did the same. Men Like: – Aggrey Klaaste, Gibson Kente and off course I admired my beloved soccer team goal keeper, Patson Kamuzu Banda! Dr Eskia Mphahlele and Dr Khambule’s names kept me fired up.  Notwithstanding, there was my eldest brother who we lost tragically.

All these heroes made me want my name to appear in the newspapers like theirs. They had odds stacked against them, but they broke the ranks, crossed the lines, not only for themselves but taking many others along with them. Above all, the decisive and most impactful moment in my life was the loss of my elder brother who was our sole breadwinner.  His death left us even more destitute and it became the determinant of how I was going to live a purposeful and impactful life which would be built on the footsteps of the great women and men whom I came to know and admire. 

LM:

What did you want to be when you were young? Did you pursue that path?

KC:

Growing up we shared a home with a number of cousins, most of whom we did not even understand the lineage. My mother insisted they were her brothers and sisters and none of us dared ask exactly how! One my cousin, Uncle Joe, was a car mechanic who fixed cars at our home. He taught me how to work on certain parts of the cars that were stacked in plies in our small yard. As time went by, I came to enjoy it, and considered one day being a backyard car mechanic.

In and around our community there was limited exposure to career guidance, I was however exposed to great teachers and nurses. Although, they were good role models, and I had respect for their professions, I knew I wanted to be something different.

My very first job started me along this path. I took a job at a Construction company that required me to clean the offices and make tea for office personnel. I was diligent in my assignments and progressed quite rapidly. I learned a lot from the Contractors, Engineers, and Architects that worked at the company. 

The work I saw them do led me to an entry-level position at an Architectural firm. My proudest moment was to graduate as an Architectural Technologist – one of the first in the field, then!

LM:

You have always been passionate about sports, with Orlando Pirates being your favourite team, but I want to know more about road running and what it means to you?

KC:

I was introduced to road running by our family friend bro Mike. We met during one of my daily runs of 2 kilometres through our neighbourhood. Two kilometres was exhausting, and at the time I thought it was a marathon.  A marathon is a whole 42 kilometres and I had no idea what that meant in terms of running. He coached me to run further until I could finish a full marathon! A real marathon this time around! At some point, bro Mike challenged me to run the 90km Comrades Marathon. He thought it would be cathartic as at the time, I needed help to deal with the trauma of my divorce, following a difficult and challenging marriage. This experience had le left me scarred, insecure and self- doubting.

As unthinkable as it was, I ran my first Comrades in the year 2000 carrying all the emotional burden and baggage of my past. As I approached the finish line in a time of eleven hours 30 minutes, every ounce of self-loath, doubt and condemnation changed to self-belief, acceptance and self-forgiveness. I crossed the finish line knowing I had defeated and surmounted the trauma I suffered from my first marriage.

I have since completed 10 Comrades Marathon, 10 Two Oceans Ultra-Marathon, including several other local and international marathons. Over the years, running has become part of my life and it serves as a daily marker of how much power we have within us to overcome.  It is a constant reminder that I can work through pain and transcend obstacles. Each completed run is a big affirmation that I am all-good!   

LM:

What major marathons have you run over the last 5 years?

KC:

My running has taken me to some of the most prominent cities in the world. I have completed the six World Championship Major Marathons, namely; New York, Berlin, London, Tokyo, Boston and Chicago. The result of which is that currently, my name appears as the only black South African woman, to be inscribed in the Wall of Fame of World Major Marathon finishers.  I have also run the Paris and Great Wall of China Marathons.

All these marathons have their own stories. They gave me perspective and unique experiences.  I have since discarded what I am sure you will agree was a “misconception” about me being a non-starter in sport when I was growing up.   

LM:

How did you move to Mountain climbing and what mountains have you climbed?

KC:

Together with a group of friends, we embarked on a journey to hike one of the toughest trails in the country-Otter Trail a few years ago. Most people go there for a hiking adventure and, I on the other hand, was there to confront my fear of facing life without my mother. She had just been diagnosed with cervical cancer. After five gruelling days of hiking the Otter Trail, I was ready to face the cancer that was devouring my mother every day.

She succumbed to the disease in 2009 and my life has never been the same. Her passing took all the strength and resolve I thought I had. So, I took off to running again, only this this time it would be by way of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro which proved to be a tremendous challenge. Emotionally, I was in a lot of strain and Mount Kilimanjaro challenged me to face the most painful period of my life. Every metre I climbed, and every difficulty encountered on the mountain became symbolic of the life my mother had lived. It also became emblematic of how she had climbed all of the mountains that life put in front of her. Summiting Kili was representative of how my mother had ultimately summited her own mountain by leaving a great mark in so many people’s lives. She left a legacy of loving and serving others, especially destitute children.

LM:

How does running marathons and climbing mountains help you conquer your own personal and professional mountains?

KC:

Running is a personal journey that no one can be forced to go through. It takes self-discipline and self-drive to wake at 4 am in the morning in the middle of winter, run and train sometimes in the rain.  This taught me that what the mind could conceive, one can achieve. So, I put my mind to it knowing that it’s going to be painful, with the knowledge of the joy I would receive when I cross the finish line or reach to the top of the mountain. That is why I run.

With running comes a sense of personal power. As a result, I am able to dress up and face any situation, at any given time.  This includes, making tough decision, having the discipline of getting things done, building the staying power, developing the skill of pacing oneself, the patience of focusing on your race, ability to stretch oneself even further and being able to stay focused no matter the circumstances. I have learnt through running and climbing that situations that look big at first do become insignificant at the end. effort

Yet, there are times during the runs where I want to give up, and I would know that I could not. This is because there would be, too much that has gone into it, especially the knowledge that there are others who are depending on me to finish and to finish well. The amount of preparation, planning and many sacrifices would make it difficult to quit.

It is no different in my life and profession.  I know I must put the time and the work into it and when I do, good things always happen. One cannot finish a marathon or summit a mountain without putting in the work in a consistent manner. It is very easy to lose fitness in sport if there is no regular effort made just as it would be easy not to achieve the desired results in business if there is no commitment. 

Finishing Comrades and summiting a mountain predispose me not to limit or succumb to work or personal pressure.

Somehow, I always know I will overcome as long as I trust the time, the effort invested, and the discipline required to deal whatever issue will be in front of me.

LM:

Your mother, Maye was a very special person, tell me the best memories you have of her and the lessons she imparted in you.

KC: 

Maye was a prayer warrior. Serving God, people and her church was her life! Three words that describe her: – love, generosity and compassion. Maye had an exceptional gift of giving and forgiveness. She was a home and community builder, the glue that kept all of us together. She demonstrated this well when my father came back home after years of absence. He had literally come back home to die because his health was failing. My mother embraced and looked after him as if he had never done her any wrong. 

While growing up, we were not allowed to refer to her as “my mother” because she would say “what about the other children who do not have mothers’? We would not use the term “my shoes or my food” because to her, none of us were supposed to own material things for ourselves. Everything was meant to be shared so that we would all feel equal. 

Our home was known as a place where destitute strangers would be directed to and we would then have to make way for them. My siblings and I often found myself giving up our favourite sleeping spot, so a stranger could be accommodated.  Some of the people looked so dodgy but my mother would always say they too are children of God and ours was to love them.

She was a great storyteller with great humour which gave way to peace despite the many challenges our family faced… Her way of describing things was unique to her.  She once promised to hang my 4-year-old niece with pegs on the washing line for the whole day for being naughty! The poor child could not wait to tell her mother that Maye was a gangster who needed to be arrested!

LM:

What have been the lowest point in your personal or professional life, how did you cope with such a setback? Who were the people who supported you through such difficult times?

KC:

The lowest point in my personal life occurred during the passing of my mother and two of my siblings.  Our family was big (thirteen children), and we were all very close. When they passed, a certain part of me went with them. Now that they are gone; the closeness that we all had and felt for each other can be very painful for me at times.  If it were not for family, faith, church, and friends, only God knows what kind of emotional wreck I might be. Thank God for His grace as well as my remaining sisters who are my rocks and shelter in the time of storm.

Such is life that there are highs and lows. One such low point in my professional life occurred when I decided to leave a company and a job I was passionate about. I decided to leave because of the people I worked with and reported to at the time. I was actually leaving those people and not the company.

I am grateful however, that this occurred because it advanced me to play a role that is so aligned to who I am and has so much meaning an impact in business, and our society. This is a great lesson in knowing that sometimes we have to lose something in order to gain more. A lesson I value and keep every day.

LM:

You are the Head for Responsible Business at Old Mutual, what does this role entail?

KC:

For Old Mutual, Responsible Business is a principle and a value. It talks to our commitment to conducting business in a manner that spurs growth whilst making positive impact for our customers and the society. We do this through value driven long-term investments that promote overall sustainability. We do so mindful of the importance of acting with integrity, contributing to solutions with long-term positive gains to drive human development, uplift our communities, save guard future generations and invest in protecting the environmental for long term sustainably of our planet. 

My role is to orient and drive the Old Mutual’ s Responsible Business strategy and ensure that our organisation delivers on these principles, values and outcomes.

LM:

What role do you think business should play in society?

KC:

Whilst the role of business in a society can be defined in terms of wealth creation with a profit-making objective that enhances the productive capacity of an economy, recent environmental and socio-economic mutations are challenging us to act differently. The focus of business should therefore, go beyond offering products and services but to participating in the construction of means and assets that assure sustainability of their operations by advancing the functionality of people, our societies and the safeguard of the environment.

The days of making profit first and “what else needs to be done after” are over. Concerns related to climate change, respect for human rights, anti-corruption measures and social cohesion can no longer be left out of business decisions. These issues dictate a fundamental shift in how businesses should be managed.  Essentially, business should never lose sight of the bigger picture as the role of business should include mitigating the risks and creating opportunities for the socio-economic development of the markets we operate in.

Business needs to create growth whilst remaining committed to being a socially responsible corporate citizen. This is by creating a sustainable business and  having regard to the Company’s economic, social and environmental impact on the communities in which it operates. In essence creating shared value whereby business derives growth by creating long-term sustainable value for their customers and society.

To this end, the United Nations has been driving the Sustainable Development Goals to which every business should contribute. These entail amongst others: – poverty alleviation, education, health, infrastructure, human rights, clean energy, sustainable cities and climate change. The ability of business to respond positivity in activating these goals is what will make a difference in the sustainability of business itself and the markets in which we operate.

LM:

You have spent time in different countries on the African continent, what are the things that South African corporates can do to succeed on the African continent?

KC:

Old Mutual has recently been listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. This gives our organization a permanent place in the South African business community. As a Responsible Business, we are demonstrating our confidence and our ability to create business growth that is beneficial to the geo political and economic growth of South Africa. We do however understand that Africa is not one big country and that what works for South Africa does not necessarily mean that is how things work across the continent. 

Moreover, South African Corporates need to approach our peers in business with respect and willingness to learn, co create and collaborate. It is not about how much we think we know and therefore ready to export to our fellow countries but how we learn from our peers and share expertise and knowledge.

I do have to say though that operating on the continent outside our shores requires one to be passionate about the continent, appreciate and embrace the diversity within which people and businesses operate. This requires staying power to work through our differences to reach a common goal with the view to creating long-term positive and sustainable impact across the continent.

LM:

I was blessed to be at your wedding a few years ago to the love of your life, Malose Chaba. How do you manage your hectic business schedule, your passion for road running and mountain climbing and your extensive networking of friends, whilst being a doting wife to Chaba and a loving Makoti to your in laws?

KC:

You were not just at our wedding; you literally ran the whole thing! I lost all my make- up and sense composure in the process! To be honest, it is not an easy manoeuvring. There are times when I get it right and often times I get it wrong. The point though is to never cease to try and do things right as growing together and maintaining a good relationship is continuous work.

You were not just at our wedding; you literally ran the whole thing! I lost all my make- up and sense of composure in the process! To be honest, it was not easy manoeuvring everything and everybody around but that is what I do. I try to do the best I can with what I have. Sometimes I get it right, and sometimes I get it wrong. One should never though stop trying to do the right thing when it is the right thing. The point that must not be missed is never cease to try and do things the right way. This principle is crucial to growing and maintaining a healthy relationship. 

I have been fortunate in that my husband who is a runner too (albeit shorter distances and fewer races). We have had great opportunities participating in great and amazing running events, which have enriched our lives. What is most gratifying is that our lifestyle has helped create a family of many runners, particularly our nieces and nephews. Our family outings often include walks and runs, from the youngest to the eldest members. So, there are many fellow nut cases and sufferers who thrive on this self-inflicted pain.

My work schedule has meant that I sleep fewer hours in the morning, as I must put in training time before going to the office. By the time, most people start work it is almost a good afternoon to some of us. Running has become my way of life in that wherever I travel, the first thing I pack is my running shoes. I have also been blessed with friends who share the similar passion as I have. It makes things easier then to stay connected as some of our catch up is literally done during runs or climbing mountains. 

LM:

You have an extensive group of women that you support and have fellowship with, what makes you to do that Given your seniority and what you have accomplished in your life?

KC:

I am not sure about seniority and accomplishments, but my energies have always been fuelled by being one with others. I am blessed to still have relations with women I grew up with. Those relationships have matured, and I’ve added knew relationships via school, church, work and my sporting adventures and travel around the world. 

I am particularly passionate in staying connected with young women from who I learn a great deal whilst at the same time I am given an opportunity to share based on my life experiences. Nothing brings joy to my heart than to see young women thrive in business, work and family life. Whatever I can contribute to their life brings leaves me fulfilled. I am also joined to the hip with much older women whose tenacity and zest for life inspire me to do more. I am always sensitive to women who come from similar background to mine. They always keep me grounded and a constant reminder that it is not seniority or accomplishment that matter but who we spend our time with, how we touch each other’s lives and how we all strive for one thing – to live a fulfilled and impactful life in all aspects.

LM:

You have a number of children, both here and outside of the country that you support? What drives you to extend your love to all these children?

KC: 

One of my biggest dreams was to beat my mother’s record of having thirteen children! As God planned it, it was never to be. I was not however going to let that dream go by. Having been raised in a large family, with many of the children fostered by my mother I was always conscious of the needs of others. My upbringing also makes it difficult for me not go back to where I was raised and schooled in my early life. As a result, I am a foster mother to thirteen children whom together with my close friend Dr Thandi Ndlovu, we provide for their tertiary educational needs. 

I am proud to say most of my children are now graduates who are making their way into the world of working. My mother’s love for destitute children taught me that motherhood is not only by birth but by love as well. I am grateful for the love I receive in return as that so makes up for the thirteen I did not manage to birth.

LM:

What advice would you give to your 21-year-old self?

KC:

I would probably tell myself: – There is no need to try to be someone else. God made me the way I am, and I’m ok with that. Secondly, I would tell myself not to be worried about things outside my control and what is yet to come. Life has a way of filling in all the cracks. Lastly, I know life will throw all kinds of challenges my way, but I am not going to give up… The only constant in life and moving forward is aging. Therefore, what is common to me is common to all. So, I keep telling myself to keep it moving girl, and never stop being who you are. I would add that things will change, and the only constant will be me. That is the only thing I can control. Therefore, it is important to always guard that. Being me.

LM:

When you look back in your life, what are the 3 things that you have done or accomplished that give you so much joy?

KC :

  • Many years ago, I found myself delivering an impromptu speech on national television after being voted as a Woman of the Year! That one single moment gave me an opportunity to let the world know about my mother, which in a small way, wiped away all her secret tears from the hardship she suffered in raising us.
  • Attaining my academic qualification in a male dominated industry Architecture through self – funding and,
  • Other than summiting the highest peak in Africa and Europe, attaining a permanent number at Comrades Marathon for completing 10, it makes me joyful to be one of the less than 30 South African runners and only black woman (for now) to have her name engraved as finisher in the Wall of Fame of the Six World Major Marathons!

LM:

As a person who is a leader in the corporate world, there is currently an outcry among young professionals, particularly Black that they are “invisible “to our current male and white dominated leadership group. What advice would you give to these young people? What message would you give to your leadership colleagues about how to manage young talent?

KC: 

On issue of domination by a group and based on gender, although this is unfortunately this the case – in many respects, I have been privileged to mentor many young people and professionals in the corporate world. Corporates in South African and indeed the world over, have over the last few years made strides to address this. We see this in many Corporate Policies that have been revised to promote equity and incentivise business to attract and retain young professionals. Similarly, it has been assuring to see the number of young people entering the Corporate Industry and making their mark.  It so encouraging to see the boldness which many young are approaching and delivering on their business role. h We must also acknowledge that unlike our generation and the ones before, the business landscape is constantly changing to embrace an inclusive working environment as per the legislation and regulations.

Against this backdrop, I think that young black talented men and women should stake their claim and lean into the critical role they play in business.

It is however, important to get the basics right: Expertise and competencies often get us through the door. Once inside, work ethic, rigor and results orientation are a must. But! these are never enough because over time things equalise. What typically differentiates professionals is how we bring our leadership to bear and use it manner that allows others to see beyond the technical aspects of their work and produce results beyond what is in their KPIs. I am sure you would know that using one’s leadership beyond technical aspects of work starts with self-awareness and emotional intelligence. The ability to identify, own and use our uniqueness to infuse creativity, have the courage to stretch some boundaries and produce extra-ordinary results is what our country needs from our young professionals.   So, I normally encourage young people to bring their uniqueness into work and business. The manner in which they do that will determine whether they book a place for themselves at the main table. Questions they need to ask themselves before evoking or zeroing into the issue of “being invisible” should include:

  • What is that one thing about you that makes you noticeable?
  • Why should you be given the platform and not others?
  • How do you show up and how do you leave people feeling about you?
  • How do you use the challenges to learn something new about yourself?
  • Who do you have on your side as a mentor and coach to help you navigate the way around the world of work, especially, business?

As for leadership and business, we can only thrive through developing and nurturing young talent, from the early stages of joining an organisation. That being said, I find that young professionals have a high degree of creativity and are also very innovative. Business can only gain and benefit from this by being open-minded and creating spaces for listening, learning and promoting what I call “organisational intrapreneurship”. In my experience, one of the best ways to leverage young talent is by setting them free to be who they are in business environments.

LM:

There is scourge of abuse, sexual harassment and discrimination of women in the workplace. What should corporates and corporate leaders in South Africa do to create an enabling and empowering environment for women, particularly in senior management and executive management positions?

KC:

Sadly, there is still a lot of sweeping this subject under the carpet because of fear of reprisal. It is also, often a risky undertaking for many women. This is further exacerbated by the fact that, as a country and as citizens, we have not been able to muster our courage to address the issue head-on. What is happening in work places reflects what is happening broadly, in our society. Remember that who we bring to work is who we are in other areas of our lives. 

It will take courageous leadership to deal with sexual abuse at work. This will have to start with creating safe environments for those who have been violated to speak without shame nor fear of reprisal or of being victimized further. There should be a clear and unequivocal message to perpetrators that such behaviour has no place in our society let alone in the work place and that there will be immediate consequences. Corporate South Africa may have to embark on a massive sensitization campaign about what sexual harassment is – its manifestations and impact on others so we have a common understanding beyond the set of company policies.  This is my view, would go some ways in ensuring that the subject becomes part of normal business discussions where open communication is encouraged to address this unacceptable and hurtful behaviour.

LM:

Thank you so much Sisi, for a wonderful and illuminating conversation.

Regards

Lincoln

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