A conversation with Dudu Nhlabathi Madonsela – Product Head FNB Connect



Lincoln, I had to really apply myself to come up with these whilst dealing with this unruly person inside of me, the joys of pregnancy. 


My Sister, Firstly Congratulations on your pregnancy, a very special time in the life of any woman and for any family, the privilege to bring a life into this world. 


What is a leader’s biggest asset?


The greatest asset for any leader is the size of his heart. A leader with a big heart gets to understand, get to know and appreciate the people he or she leads in the deepest possible way. This goes beyond a superficial grin-based relationship, this has more to do with genuine and authentic empathy with the people you lead. When you have these attributes, you can really get the best from you people, they can give you more than what us required and they trust that you are primarily there for their welfare she succeeds before yours. 

In a world driven by short term results, I’ve seen young leaders commit the fundamental flaw of putting results first, in my career, I’ve tried to put people first, lead from the heart, he prepared to be vulnerable and strive to be real and authentic with those I lead, at all times, the results come and they are way beyond what was expected. This is so because you connect with your team in the most intimate way through how you see them, relate to them, appreciate and love them, for who they are first and only for the task at hand afterwards. In such an environment people feel loved, appreciated and understood- people grow, prosper and succeed because of the connection they have with one another, with their leader, with their families and with their communities. If we lead from

the heart, we will do what Susan Steinbrecher says is to “lead by encouragement and inspiration, not by fear and control.” Our heart, not our status, power, role, or position is our greatest leadership asset, I’ve embraced this asset and through that I’m proud that the people I’ve worked with did not just win on organizational goals, but they are becoming or have become better husbands, wives, daughters, mothers, fathers, citizens etc. 


Technology and innovation are changing the way we do things, work and relate as human beings. It is predicated that the introduction of artificial intelligence will even see us rewrite constitutions as we would need to redefine what it means to be human. Do you think leaders across all industries are in tune with this and is there enough being done from a Human Capital management, organisational policies and organisational design to gear up for the inevitable?


In the words of Klaus Schwab, “The Fourth Industrial Revolution, finally, will change not only what we do but also who we are. It will affect our identity and all the issues associated with it: our sense of privacy, our notions of ownership, our consumption patterns, the time we devote to work and leisure, and how we develop our careers, cultivate our skills, meet people, and nurture relationships.” 

You are spot on Dudu, the harsh reality is that there is much that will be different, that will change and that will make us to think differently about both the opportunities and potential pitfalls of the new technologies that are reshaping our society.

The current and more importantly the upcoming innovations in artificial intelligence, biotechnology, robotics, and other emerging technologies are going to redefine what it means to be human and how we engage with one another and the planet. Our capabilities, our identities, and our potential will all evolve along with the technologies we create. 

The truth of the matter is that we have not thought long and hard enough about the moral, cultural, philosophical and ethical issues that we will confront in this new world. I think that we should be bold enough to start to think about the possible guardrails that will keep the advances of the Fourth Industrial Revolution on a track to benefit all of humanity rather than harming society. We need to approach this change with a cold, sober and dispassionate manner so that we may recognize and manage the potential negative impacts they can have, especially in the areas of equality, employment, privacy, and trust. In our workplaces, we have to consciously build positive values into the technologies we create, think about how they are to be used, and design them with ethical application in mind and in support of collaborative ways of preserving what’s important to us. Off course this means that there will be lots of pushback from those who would argue that these technologies should have free reign. I strongly feel that we require all stakeholders—governments, policymakers, international organizations, regulators, business organizations, academia, and civil society—to work together to steer the powerful emerging technologies in ways that limit risk and create a world that aligns with common goals for the future.

I think we have not thought enough about how we can shape this new world, and how we can retain some of the best values of this current world, whilst benefiting from the advances that will shape a new world. Klaus Schwab leaves us with a timely warning, 

“The Fourth Industrial Revolution can compromise humanity’s traditional sources of meaning—work, community, family, and identity—or it can lift humanity into a new collective and moral consciousness based on a sense of shared destiny. The choice is ours”

We as leaders across all industries need to better understand the impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution on Human Capital management, organisational policies and organisational design to gear up for the coming changes. I would however argue strongly and passionately that this must be preceded by more clarity about what we want to preserve for our children, what values we would like to hold dear – this will help us put in place the correct guard rails for the changes ahead. There is no time to waste Dudu, the future is now! 


There have been some surprising leadership changes in the global political sphere that have taken place lately. Some critics even suggest that some parts of the world are regressing with regards to electing leaders who are inclusive in decision making and who respect basic human rights. As observed in the past, politics often influence how corporations are run and the leadership there off. In your opinion do you think such observations are anything to worry about and will they have any impact in how organisations are run?


Well Dudu we have witnessed major backlashes against the economic and political elites in 3 major geographies across the world. These events that completely shocked the political and economic elites happened in the Middle East (Arab Spring), in the UK (Brexit) and in the USA (Trump victory). The question we should ask ourselves is, how could these elites (with their sophisticated think tanks and advance intelligence capabilities) miss the signs, how could they not anticipate these developments and why could they not hear the frustration and anger of those who felt “left behind”?

It may well be that the political and economic elites heard but did not listen. On the other hand, it may be possible that the danger posed by the discontent was underplayed or under estimated, or worse still, it may well be that the narrow political or economic interests blinded the elites to dangers they faced. Historians will eventually answer these questions, but what is clear, is that these movements, had a lot to do with anger, resentment and frustrations about inequality, unemployment and an overriding disgust of cosy relationships between political and economic elites. 

We have now seen the same impact in countries such as Mexico and Brazil where they have appointed radical left or radical right leaders to change the status quo. Will Gore argues that, ironically, globalisation was meant to make us look outwards, but nations are now turning in on themselves: insularity rules. Will Gore concludes, “it is surely undeniable that at least a portion of the respective British and American electorates were motivated by shared concerns: disgruntlement over the effects of globalisation; rising inequality; unease about immigration; and dissatisfaction with a seemingly self-perpetuating establishment. These historic votes in the UK, USA, Mexico and Brazil were all, in their own ways, a response to the same question: are you happy with the status quo? The answer now is abundantly clear on both sides of the Atlantic.”

As you can well imagine Dudu, all this has enormous implications for South Africa’s socio-economic trajectory South Africa remains one of the most unequal countries in the world, with the largest part of the population suffering from unemployment, poverty and under-development. Overlay this with racial, gender and youth dynamics, then you have a huge challenge facing us. If the people in the Middle East had a case to be aggrieved, or if the people of Britain voted against the status quo, or if the anger and frustration propelled Trump to power in the USA, or of Mexican and Brazilian voters upended the status quo- how much resentment, anger and a brewing frustration do we individually and collectively think there in South Africa? 

The difficult questions we fear to ask are – Do we, as those who are in fortunate positions of economic and political power, understand this, are we able to see the warning lights, do we have the finger on the pulse of our staff, customers and society? Do we read anything from the Vuwani burning of schools, the xenophobia attacks, the municipal election results, the recent political killings, the Fees Must Fall and Rhodes Must Fall movements? Do we think that we are more attuned to these signs than our counterparts in the Middle East, USA Mexico, Brazil or Britain? I would like to submit that we as political and economic elites are no better off than our counterparts in the Middle East, USA and Britain, instead we seek to play the blame game.

Regardless of who is to blame, the current South African socio-economic trajectory will have disastrous consequences for both the current government (ruling party); the corporate and commercial sector and for the population as a whole (rich and poor). It is not sustainable. Everybody understands that, but few genuinely appreciate it. Our long-term interests as people, parents, leaders, and stewards of such a large corporate are at risk unless we start to take urgent and bold steps to lead the process of addressing some of the most urgent socio-economic challenges.

I would strongly argue Dudu that we are unfortunately caught in a trap as individuals, as corporates and as leaders – we know what needs to be done, we appreciate how difficult it will be, we dread how long it will take, we are wary of the drain on resources and the time required to make this really work. I would argue that the government (or the ruling party) finds itself in the same trap, albeit for different reasons. The harsh reality is that these are our challenges, our common problems. This is our country, and each of us (economic elites or political elites) has to play a role in building this society.

The challenges we face are enormous; the path ahead is long and arduous, but as seductive as they may seem, shortcuts are not the answer.

We as the elites, the most fortunate, societal leaders, must engage our fellow South Africans who are less fortunate. We must demonstrate, through words and even more so through concrete deeds, that we hear their desperate cry as they toil daily through a life of misery, poverty, and hardship. We must accept that their patience is wearing thin. We must articulate a clear path towards prosperity for them, with clear timeframes and milestones. Our failure to do this will see our version of the Arab Spring, Brexit or Trumpxit.

Finally, and probably most importantly, the men and women who lead corporations must re-evaluate the way they lead, the broader purpose of such corporations, the kind of new leaders they will groom, the relationship between these corporations and the societies they serve and the ethical standards by which they will be judged. Failure to do this may result in considerable losses for all corporates, the disruption of business as we know it and the advent of adhoc and capricious government actions.   


As much as there are visible efforts being made by some organisations nurture female talent, there are still many hurdles female leaders have to jump through to be on equal footing with their male counterparts. In my observation this is because not only are the expected to compete and thrive in a system that was not designed initially with the female in mind. Patriarchy and the manner in which in some cultures socialise the male child to view women as more helpers that equal and able contributors in the workplace, still sees a lot of male leaders’ design processes that are not inclusive of the needs of the female. Do you think the solution to this lies in the resocialisation of the male or is there still more to be done?


You are spot on Dudu, although much has been done to improve the level of engagement, involvement and growth of women into leadership positions in corporate South Africa, we are hopelessly too far from where we need to get to. I strongly feel that the focus on women in the workplace has to go beyond the month of August- it has to be a daily focus on the real challenges facing women in our organisations. Our duty as leaders is to create an environment where women will not only succeed but thrive because:

  • Their voice is heard, loud and clear
  • The work environment takes into account their family commitments
  • We are brutal in taking action when there are incidents of sexual harassment, sexual discrimination, corporate bullying and abuse of positions by those in leadership positions
  • There are clear career opportunities with visible progress and promotions into senior roles
  • Women are paid in a fair, transparent and equitable manner and are not prejudiced because of their gender
  • We are supportive when women are going through a divorce, are in an abusive relationship, can’t have children, have a child with disabilities and are balancing their work, home and studies
  • Young women can see many women role models in key positions in our organizations

This is only part of the barometer by which we should judge our progress or lack thereof. Such a barometer must evaluate all of us from the highest levels of organisations, through to business units, to individual teams and to the lower levels of organisations.

This can only be done if this becomes a daily and regular focus and not something we focus on only in August. Finally, Dudu, although we have some pockets of progress in certain organisations, we are way behind from where we need to be. We have to tackle women empowerment with the speed and urgency this deserves, beyond mere lip service and public relation exercises.

I think we need an honest reflection as men, to ask ourselves some deep searching questions about our mindsets and attitudes towards women: 

  • How many of us see women as equal, competent, skilled and experienced to take on the most senior roles in our organisations? 
  • How many of us see women as being capable to lead our organisations during a crisis? 
  • How many of us use our culture, religion and traditions to deny women progress and development within our organisations? 
  • How many of us have a track record of appointing women to key positions, who have women in our talent pool and have prioritized women in our succession planning? 
  • How many of us have all male teams in our leadership team? 
  • How many of us are role models to young women and how many of us coach and mentor young women with no nefarious motives? 
  • How many of us are supportive of women after they are appointed in key roles? and lastly 
  • How many of us look the other way when sexual jokes, sexual harassment and sexual discrimination occurs within our area of influence? 

Dudu, Ialso believe that women leaders cannot escape scrutiny. They also have to answer some key questions: 

  • How many of you have made changes that favour women in the environment where you are a leader? 
  • How many of you have lifted up women to senior level roles, or you still leading all male teams? 
  • How many of you are role models to young people and how many of you are mentors and coaches to young people?  

We all need to be held accountable for our actions, we need to role model the right behaviours, we need to guide our young boys and young men on how to treat women and we need to accelerate women empowerment and leadership across all our organisations. I think you can feel the powerful young women movement across the country that is daily fighting patriarchy and all forms of discrimination. We must also continue to teach our young girls to be feisty, independent, assertive, beautiful and to take up any role, task, job or any endeavour that aligns with their passion and interest. 

The battle lines are clearly drawn, women empowerment and leadership are inevitable. 


Do you think our education system is designed to produce leaders and visionaries, or is it even unrealistic to expect that of our education system? 


Our current education system is not geared to produce leaders and visionaries, there is much that needs to be done to deal with this. Fortunately, I’ve heard a lot of positive views across the education system, more and more people involved with the education system are starting to question the efficacy of the system and are putting viable options on the table on how the curriculum can be changed to produce more leaders and visionaries. The current scandals in sports, religious institutions, politics, business and even within the NGO community make this an urgent need for us to reorientate young leaders to lead in a manner where: 

  • They respect and honour the oath of office they take on assuming office; 
  • They lead on the basis of strong values and a solid ethical underpinning; 
  • They respect the resources entrusted to them and do not use those to ever benefit themselves, their families and friends; 
  • They do not use their position of power to abuse women and children; and
  • They grow other leaders and leave the organisations or institutions they lead better than how they found them.

I sincerely hope that these changes will happen, that we shall change Africa’s view of leadership to no longer be the “Big Man” syndrome that has plunged us into wars, plundered our precious resources and that have left us poorer. I hope we will produce leaders and visionaries such as Albertina Sisulu, Ruth First, Albert Luthuli, Nelson Mandela, Florence Matomela, Dulcie September, Oliver Tambo, Govan Mbeki, Desmond Tutu and many other selfless, visionary, humble, honest and principled leaders. 


Thank you so much My Leader, I certainly enjoyed this discussion, you know this is the first of many conversations that we should be having. 


Thank you, Dudu, I truly hope that more young leaders will benefit from our conversation.