A conversation with Cuma Dube – Director of SQ Intel Pty Ltd
CD: I look forward to this engagement to discuss issues that will benefit other young leaders and entrepreneurs.
LM: Thank you My Leader, I hope our conversation will be of value to others.
CD: The first question I have, based on my own experiences, would perhaps be around this perceived trust deficit and an almost reluctant support of youth agency and leadership, particularly in business.
LM: I think that we have an unfortunate trust deficit between young people and us as corporate executives. This trust deficit leads to suspicion, mistrust, misalignment and lost opportunities on both sides. In any process of change, we have to manage and balance the high levels of expectations and frustrations on the one side, with high levels of anxiety and fear on
the other. The fears and anxieties are real, they cannot and should not be wished away, at the same time, the high levels of frustration and expectations are present and growing and cannot and should not be dismissed or underplayed.
What is required to change this ?
• I think that some corporate and business executives need to embrace the new ideas, technology, agile ways of work and new business models that come from young business leaders and entrepreneurs;
• I strongly believe that some young leaders and entrepreneurs need to accept that some projects, or businesses, due to their complexity, duration of current relationships, costs and risks may require more continuity, or a partnerships between old and new players or may be left with existing players for longer term projects;
• I feel that in the next few years, mutually beneficial partnerships between businesses – local and foreign; black and white; current and existing; established and new, will become a winning formula for success;
• We will need to move away from labels, so that all business – new or old, established or new will have to be held up to the high standard of excellence, professionalism, delivery, diligence and execution that clients expect; and lastly
• The current commissions of inquiry reinforce the importance of having open, competitive, transparent, objective processes for evaluating business proposals. This will take away the undue influence on young businesses to partner with specific established businesses for non business related reasons.
Finally, and on balance, I foresee the following things happening ;
• more established business will give up part of their business to new partners to fit in with our BEE legislation – young business leaders must be ready to take up these opportunities;
• more established businesses will form partnerships with developing companies to win tenders and other procurement opportunities from both the public and private sectors – young business leaders must align themselves to these changes;
• Growing businesses that have overcome the start up and development phases will compete directly with more established businesses as they grow or will partner with established corporates in order to either move up the value chain, grow into new markets or to grow and get to the right scale; and lastly
• Younger and more progressive leaders are now taking up senior roles in corporates, this will make it much more better to make more lasting deals between corporates and young enterprising business;
• There are more entrepreneurs, some of whom I feature in our leadership conversations, who have now been in business over the last 5-20 years, who will provide invaluable lessons to corporates, to entrepreneurs and to the public sector on how to build more sustainable partnerships; and lastly
• The increasing customer demands for corporate accountability for their products and services and the legal and regulatory compliance requirements for corporates on their products and services means that corporates need to be more rigorous and aligned with their partners – this will enable more and better win-win partnerships and relationships.
I am optimistic that we may find one another, that corporates and young entrepreneurs can develop a better relationship of trust, we need this to take South Africa forward. People like me and you have a huge role to play on this Cuma, we need the best minds in the corporate sector and the best minds in the entrepreneurship sector to co create a better future for our country.
CD: What needs to be a feature of mentorship relationships and/or programmes that can bridge the gap between what we’re taught as young people in formal tuition and we need to survive in business and in our careers?
LM: I have been involved with the Graduate programme of my organisation over the last 17 years , I have made a number of observations of what could be done to close the gap. For the purpose of this conversation, I would like to focus more on the learning and development side and less on the corporate side. These are some of the suggestions I would make :
• our academic institutions are still focused on individual accomplishments and the very best students emerge with flying colors thinking they are ready for the corporate world. They immediately find an interconnected and interdependent team world that they find hard to navigate. We should place more emphasis on team work, team projects and team success as part of a student’s success.
• The academic world places a huge premium on High IQ, academic and sporting success. The world of work is increasingly demanding an equal measure of IQ ( Intelligent Quotient), EQ ( Emotional Intelligence) and now SQ ( Spiritual Intelligence) as being essential part of a successful leader’s toolkit. The EQ and SQ needs to start to be part of the curriculum of our higher education system as we prepare our students for not only corporate but overall social life;
• Unfortunately, because of our corporate failure to deal with transformation, inclusion and diversity in the corporate world, and the failure to deal with diversity and tolerance in society- some of our children start to encounter the tensions of employment equity, diversity and inclusion challenges only as they get into a corporate role. It is sad that our children have to contend with these issues almost 25 years after democracy, but the reality is that they are currently ill equipped to fully understand the nuances, sensitivities, opportunities and and challenges of this journey. So instead of unifying them in their diversity, this tends to further divide and polarize them. I wish that they can be better prepared through specific and targeted programmes during their academic phase.
• When we look at future leaders or people to employ, we typically look for attractive attributes such as integrity, team player, proactiveness, and probity- these should be part of the curriculum so that we can prepare young people for a better future.
As far as corporates are concerned, we have to spend a lot of our time preparing young people for the world of work. We have to ensure that we prepare them for the gaps identified above. Some of the current graduate programmes I have seen from many organisations are focused on the following issues;
• self awareness;
• Brand identity for the individual ;
• Getting to understand the business;
• Team work
• Social skills
• Mentorship and coaching
These are great steps, they are already bridging the gap between university and the world of work. Although there is much improvement in the learnership and graduate programmes, there could be more improvements by adding the following in the curriculum and programme :
• Corporate programmes to prepare students ( particularly from more disadvantaged schools) about job applications, interview techniques and social skills for corporate life to even the scales;
• Graduates who have already worked for a year or two should be part of the discussions on campuses about corporate life;
• University students to know more about corporates before the final year
I think that much more needs to be done to accelerate the closure of this gap between work and university.
CD: how do we reconcile our cultural norms in how we engage with elders and the leadership roles we may have of our elders in what are meant to be culturally neutral environments?
LM: I have had the fortune to have experienced working with elders when I was younger and now with much more younger people as I get older. I think the most important attribute and attitude we should all adopt is about working well with people regardless of their age; treating people with respect and dignity regardless of their or your station in life and a commitment to learn from others with new ideas or who have experience about life or about work.
When I was younger, I became a leader, I managed and led people who were more experienced, knowledgeable and considerably older than me. I accepted that there would be some doubts about my competence, skills, or capacity to lead and play the roles I was asked to play. However, the more I engaged people, the more they got to know me, and I got to know them, the age barriers vanished, and the suspicions and doubts became a thing of the past. I learnt so much from them about the institution, it’s history, ethos and the aspects of the jobs I would not have learnt in a formal setting. Till today, my relationship with many of those older people, or colleagues, is very strong, some of them have retired, but we have kept in touch. I have also been blessed to be trusted with key roles, significant projects and bigger responsibilities at a very young age, they believed that i could do more even when I myself though I was not ready nor capable.
I have become more mature and older, and i have become either the oldest member or one of the oldest member of each team I have worked with over the last 10 years. I have been blessed to work with and lead increasingly younger colleagues. My approach to working with these younger leaders and colleagues has been to :
• treat them as adults and who should be respected;
• appreciate their unique and different perspectives as young people ;
• embrace their innovative ideas and novel solutions to solve intractable problems;
• combine their new ideas and fresh perspectives with other more mature colleagues to come up with even better solutions;
• Coach, mentor and guide on both the personal and professional aspects of their lives;
• Promote them to more senior roles faster than the norm on the basis of their potential;
• Give them more challenging assignments as was done to me; and
• Create an atmosphere of creativity,
I think as older executives, we must challenge our own beliefs, traditions, stereotypes and cultural norms to create a conducive atmosphere for young people to thrive. I have benefited from this in my youth, I certainly see how this type of open, engaging, creative and less hierarchical approach would benefit young people. I hope other executives or elders like myself would do the same.
CD: plenty of young people I know are studying a lot more than what the generation before has had. There’s a pressure to have as many “qualifications” as one can get quite early in order to compete. I suspect this not necessary and we need to just get out there and learn while we do, so to speak, please advise…
LM: I am a firm believer of lifelong learning, that means that people, young and old, should be continuously developing themselves. I remember two stories that illustrate the value of education:
0. Mr Govan Mbeki, one of the ANC leaders jailed with Nelson Mandela on Robben Island taught us a lot about education. He grew up in a rural environment, but was able to study and graduate at the University of Fort Hare in 1936 with a degree in politics and psychology. Whilst being a very busy man, with lots of political and family responsibilities, being harassed by the police, he still managed to study and obtain a further degree in social studies through a University of South Africa correspondence course. On Robben Island, he continued to study and obtained a BA Hons in Economics. He was able to write a number of books, one of them smuggled from prison in toilet paper and published from London. On his release from Robben Island, after 23 years imprisonment, we met him as young activists in Port Elizabeth. We were drawn to him and we become his young protégés, he was always engaging us in deep discussions about freedom, our future and what he expect from us. Then one day, we were informed that the University of the Western Cape, under Prof Jakes Gerwel, which was pioneering transformation in higher education wanted to confer an honorary doctorate on Mr Govan Mbeki. We were appalled, because at the time we had a graduation boycott – this was premised on the notion that we cannot be graduating while we were oppressed, we argued passionately, in those days, that we were at university under protest. We approached Govan Mbeki to explain our graduation boycott, to him and attempted to persuade him to refuse the honorary doctorate. He listened to us patiently, then he started to school us about the value of education, he told us about the huge sacrifices made by the very poor rural people to send their children to schools and universities; he went on to describe how those who are highly educated were able to rise from poverty to help their families; and further told us about the role educated people had played a role in the liberation movement. He then challenged us to think about how people studied in prisons, on farms and in the mines and in difficult environments. He concluded by telling us about the joy of these poor people, when their children graduated, that they would slaughter their last chicken, cow, goat or sheep to celebrate. In his view, graduating under difficult circumstances, was precisely why we should attend graduation ceremony and why we should encourage more people to study.
0. Many years ago I worked for Prof SME Bengu, the National Minister of Education from 1994-1997. One day we were visiting my hometown, Port Elizabeth, and the Minister requested to see my home and my parents. After recovering from the shock, I told my Mum and she quickly arranged to clean the house and get our her best crockery and dishes for a visitor. My father who was retired was called from his favorite hangout to join us. They had a wonderful conversation about a range of life issues, political and cultural matters. Towards the end, my father asked the Minister, how he, as Minister of education, could employ an unqualified and uneducated person to work for his department. The Minister, surprised, told my father that he only employs suitably qualified and highly educated people in his department. My father, pointed at me, and said, “ what about him, he has not studied since he left university? “ the Minster promised to get me to start further, and I have not looked back since, and I have worked and continued to study. There is a key lesson for all of us on the need to keep studying and developing ourselves.
My strong view is that we must continue to encourage people to study, to develop themselves and to keep abreast of developments. The only caution would be :
• ensuring that one is to studying for the sake of studying ;
• Guarding against being overqualified with very little experience;
• failing to keep on track with developments in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
We need more, not less suitably qualified people in order for us to compete with the rest of the world.
CD: Is there really such a thing as a work-life balance? What does it look in practical terms?
LM: Yes there is my Leader, but it differs from one person to the next. The reality is that many of us are driven, passionate, competitive and we want the very best results. The more we achieve these results, we are lauded, congratulated, placed on a pedestal and receive high accolades and great remuneration and reward. From here we are the recognized stars, we have more people, organisations and society depending on us. We achieve more recognition, status, money, new perks and a better standard of life. The questions we have to introspect about are:
• what price are we prepared to pay for this lifestyle and these choices?
• Is this worth our deteriorating health ?
• Are we prepared to pay the price in terms of broken marriages, loveless relationships?
• Are we prepared to lose our children ?
These are some of the consequences of an unbalanced life, when we die, when we leave this earth, Prof Clay Christensen challenges us to answer this simple question – “ How will you measure your life ? “
I am persuaded Cuma, that those who will leave behind will not mention the hours we spent at the office, the air miles you had, the strength of your balance sheet, the size of your houses, the value of your cars or the value of your music or art collection. I am sure they would always talk about what you meant to them, the love you shared, what you meant to them and your contribution to their lives.
Each one of us, must them find a much more balanced scorecard in our lives. In my speech at the Harvard Business School, at our AMP graduation, I said , “ we, AMP 184, must become influencers. We must grasp our power to make a difference. As guided by Prof Kotter, we must have both the courage and the competence to bring about change towards a more balanced personal, business, societal and environmental scorecard.”
Our personal balanced scorecards are a choice, it’s unique to each one of us. I have personally chosen to have a more balanced personal scorecard. When I leave this earth, how would I measure my life:
• I would like to have had a loving marriage with my wife Sva;
• a beautiful relationship with my children, Lihle, Amara and Liam, who would be living their lives and building their personal balanced scorecards,
• for most people I’ve worked with to say I made a difference in their lives,
• to have the custodians of my organisation proclaim that I left it better than how I found it,
• and for my community and society to say I made a difference and
• for young people to say I was a role model. Those will only be possible because I would have lived a balanced life of purpose.
I am pursuing a more balanced personal scorecard, I hope others will do the same.
CD: Thank you so much for this deep and engaging conversation, I truly appreciate it.
LM: it is my pleasure, I hope young leaders and entrepreneurs will find some aspects to add to their own personal and professional journeys.