A conversation with Nape Nkadimeng – Manager, Merchant Services, Africa Regions, Standard Bank

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NN:

My Leader, Thank you so much for the opportunity to engage you on this platform. 

LM:

It is my pleasure My Leader, I hope our conversation will contribute to better knowledge and more deeper conversations among young leaders. 

NN:

How do you give future leaders the development & breadth of experience required to maximize their potential?

LM:

At a very young age I was made captain of sports teams, I was asked to lead people who were older than I was. During my time in the student movement, I was a leader at a very young age, at a local, regional and eventually at a national level. When I started working I was trusted by the first Minister of Education to be his spokesperson, media advisor and speech writer. I effectively became the voice and face of the education system at 26 years old. In the Standard Bank Group, I was appointed an executive at an early age and was given responsibilities, in various roles at a very young age. 

This happened because there were people who trusted me enough to appoint me or select me to these roles in spite of my age. In addition to this, there were people who were much older than me, who we willing to be led by one so young. Through all of these opportunities and these roles, my responsibility was to repay the trust others had in me by giving my very best, by working diligently, by acting professionally at all times and by achieving results through others. 

Given my own experience, as I grew older and assumed more responsibilities, I found it very easy to work with younger people and found it even easier to appoint young people to senior positions. The vast majority of those I appointed went on to achieve great results and over time, my teams started to have more younger people in critical positions. In addition to this, I also gave young people challenging assignments that make them to grow and mature more faster than the normal career journey, examples of these are the assignments I have given to our young Grads and how fast they are maturing. One of the methods I’ve used is to also include young people into our Exco to learn about decision making and leadership with the guidance and counselling of more senior executives. When I look at our team now, I am proud to say that many of our young people have been taking on more and more responsibilities from a very young age. If I could be more specific in your case, you have moved from being a Grad, to running a very significant portfolio across a number of countries across Africa, you have been able to run key projects for the Standard Bank Group working with a multiple of stakeholders and you have spearheaded major budget drives to our Exco team. 

If I were to sum up my philosophy on young people, it would be: 

  • the world is changing at a rapid pace, we need the minds, views and energy of young people to cope with these changes; 
  • the best teams have a combination of young people and more mature people and they learn from each other; 
  • people have different potential and are endowed with different skills and attitudes, there are young people, whose corporate journeys will be faster than most, they should not be held back only because of age; 
  • we as leaders must fight the horrible practices that come from status and hierarchy as these practices shut our young people; 
  • we must promote and advocate for more empowerment and trust and do away with the archaic “command and control “culture; and lastly 
  • young people must be allowed to challenge the status quo, change the culture of our teams and bring their own swag and zest to the working environment. 

I was given amazing opportunities in my early life, I am determined to do much more to create opportunities for young people in my areas of influence. Walking onto our floor today, I can feel the change, young people are starting to make their moves, I hope we can accelerate the growth of young people even more. 

NN:

What books on leadership and growth, which are less theoretical & more practical would you recommend to a young self-aspiring leader and why those books?

LM:

There are a number of books that I found very good when I was a young leader, I would certainly recommend them very highly. These include: 

  • Who says elephants can’t dance – Louis V Gerstner (This book tells the story of IBM’s competitive and cultural transformation. In his own words, Gerstner offers a blow-by-blow account of his arrival at the company and his campaign to rebuild the leadership team and give the workforce a renewed sense of purpose.
  • Principled-centered Leadership – Stephen R. Covey (The key to dealing with the challenges that face us today is the recognition of a principle-centered core within both ourselves and our organizations. Dr. Covey offers insights and guidelines that can help you apply these principles both at work and at home — leading not just to a new understanding of how to increase quality and productivity, but also to a new appreciation of the importance of building personal and professional relationships in order to enjoy a more balanced, more rewarding, more effective life.) 
  • 360 Degree Leader – John C Maxwell (This book applies to everyone because it addresses how to lead people from above, below, and next to you. It’s a very holistic approach to managing people like your boss, your co-workers, and your underlings) 
  • Developing the leader within you – John C. Maxwell (In this book John Maxwell shows you how to develop the vision, value, influence, and motivation required of successful leaders) 
  • The Leadership challenge – Barry Z Posner and James M. Kouzes (This is a clear, evidence-based path to achieving the extraordinary—for individuals, teams, organizations, and communities. It turns the abstract concept of leadership into easy-to-grasp Practices and behaviours that can be taught and learned by anyone willing to step up and accept the challenge to lead.) 

NN:  

As a well-seasoned executive in the bank, you have endured several milestones and challenges, how key or vital is adaptability?

LM:

I fully agree with you Nape, our world is changing at such a rapid pace, leaders have to be very adaptable to all the changes that are impacting on the business. Let me give just a few examples to illustrate the point: 

  • The digital technologies require more self-managed teams that can work in an agile manner to deliver solutions that matter to clients – leaders will need to adapt to manage in more empowered ways. Deploying in an agile manner will not work well on a command and control culture. 
  • The advent of Fintechs have changed the competitive landscape, organisations must decide whether to partner or compete with Fintechs – leaders will need to adapt to deal with the paradoxes of collaboration versus competition. As Standard Bank, we have partners who are Fintechs, we have bought some Fintechs whilst we compete with some Fintechs. 
  • Organisations that work in different markets will need to master the art of having global practices whilst having the freedom to enable local relevance- leaders will have to adapt to leading in ambiguity and develop skills to influence beyond their area of expertise and control. KPMG, McKinsey, SAP, Gartner and other companies are implicated in huge corruption scandals in South Africa that will affect their reputations both in South Africa and around the world. 
  • Organisations are moving to becoming more diverse in their staff and customer base, this means that leaders need to adapt to manage more diverse teams and to create a sense of belonging and inclusion for all staff and customers. An example was the South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE) that had to terminate Manglin Pillay’s position as chief executive with immediate effect, this followed public outrage over his comments questioning whether women are suited to high-powered careers such as engineering. 
  • The phenomenal growth of social media has created huge pressures on organizations on matters such as ethics, values, environmental concerns, security concerns or data breach concerns, this means that leaders need to adapt to a different world where the interests of a multiplicity of stakeholders must be balanced at all times and leaders must be able to adapt to either crisis management or reputational management. Two practical examples are the controversy over Momentum’s repudiation of a claim for someone who was killed in a hijacking or robbery and the Facebook controversy about a child being sold in Sudan through an auction on Facebook, the post stood for 15 days. 

So, all of us Nape, must review the changes we face, and adapt to the changing environment. 

NN:

Your leadership style varies from the common traditional leaders within banking sphere which is mainly authoritative, democratic & pacesetting. Throughout your career what style or form of leadership have you experienced/witnessed which has allowed to bring people together & yielded a favourable desired outcome?

LM:

I have been blessed to work for amazing leaders, I learnt a lot from them, and I have also followed leaders I admire and learnt a lot of traits from them. I have also been influenced by my father and other people who have touched my life. A summary of the key traits I admired and wanted to follow are: 

  • humility
  • service 
  • probity 
  • hard work 
  • treating everybody with respect and dignity 
  • a sense of fairness, equity and justice
  • integrity 
  • focus on continuous learning 
  • empowering people to do more 
  • creating a sense purpose and 
  • creating fun at work 

I continuously learn from my experience and from the people I work with to become a better leader and a better person. Finally, when I look back at my career, it is not the financial results that I remember and that make proud, it’s the growth, development and prosperity of those I have worked with that I look back to with fond memories. Our role as leaders is not only to produce great bankers, but to help develop some of the finest people. Those who have contributed to my development helped to make me a better person, I would like to do the same thing or better to you and your colleagues in our team, in our bank, in South Africa and across Africa. 

NN:

You can have a look at just about any successful person on the planet and all of them have something in common, a burning desire to become better or to become the very best at what they do. They always seek to empower themselves by investing in Personal Development. what system did you develop in your life stage to internalize the “I can” attitude?

LM:

I am very proud of my background, there were many obstacles in my path, there were many reasons that could have made to be another statistic of a failed life; death at an early age or unrealized potential. I was fortunate that there were people who believed in me, who supported me, who challenged and pushed me towards success. But over and above all this help, I had a burning desire to live a life of significance, to become a better person, to rise beyond my past and to play roles beyond what could have been imagined. This required me to adopt lifelong learning as my personal mantra – this has seen me study and qualify with academic and managerial qualifications from both local and overseas universities whilst I was working; this has seen me take on roles and have to learn to reinvent myself; and this has seen me broaden my skills to lead different teams across different geographies. 

There were difficulties on my path, but that burning desire drove to always overcome such challenges as they were mere tests of my resolve. I have had moments of doubt or failure, but again, those could not deter me from my chosen path. I have also had to go into uncharted waters where I have had to learn, unlearn and relearn to succeed in completely different environment. 

Part of my leadership and career journey was to set myself very lofty goals and very high standards of performance. This required that I maintain this regardless of the challenges I faced, the changed circumstances and the teams with whom I worked. 

As I reach the twilight of my corporate career, I want to light that same fire in the bellies of many young people. If someone with the limited talent and challenged education system that I had can reach the levels of education I have reached and the success in the corporate sector as I have, then it is possible for more young, driven, ambitious and passionate young people to achieve much much more. 

NN:

In the context of South Africa’s challenging history, several millennials are trapped in a paradigm of blame and entitlement, since you were part of youth uprising in early 90s, how did you shift the way you think about these issues?

LM:

I think every generation has its mission, its core purpose and its priorities. My generation’s main focus was liberation – at some point we wanted liberation even before education. Our tactics were not acceptable to our parents and even to those in the liberation movement that broadly supported our cause. Those parents, like my father, who were prepared to engage us, persuade us and influence us were more effective than those who sat in judgement on the side-lines. My father, and others, showed us that we could fight an even bigger fight of changing ourselves to be the future we wanted to create, they invited us to stay at school and at universities to develop the key skills we would need after freedom. They had the foresight to see what we could become more than focus on what we were and what we were doing at the time. 

I think today’s youth is going through their own debates, defining their priorities in the context of a democratic society. They are genuinely and justifiably arguing that they have not received the true benefits of freedom, and they correctly articulated that they were untitled to a better education system that they can afford. They have surfaced huge issues facing students such as fees, accommodation, rape and sexual abuse of women, the content of the curriculum and the need to transform the higher education system. It is fair and legitimate to criticize some of the methods used, the violence, intimidation and the respect of the rights of others. But I think that South Africa needed the student uprising to highlight huge issues that may affect South Africa’s growth trajectory. 

Being a student is one of the most exciting times in the life of any student. Students should extend themselves to explore all facets of university life, challenge the status quo, examine their own paradigms and to test their intellect. Part of that includes being involved in student activities, I think we should see that as a positive rather than a negative. People do change, and those young people will change. If I Who was expelled at high school could eventually graduate and have an MBA from HENLEY Management College; if I who was in and out of jail at 17/18 could study and pass law ; if I who received a suspended expulsion at Rhodes University can get a leadership award from RHODES university and if I who just wanted to skip the country to fight the apartheid system can graduate with an AMP from the Harvard Business School and be elected a Class Speaker. 

I think we need more interactions between ourselves and the current students to share ideas and help grow the capacity of the youth to see the world differently.! 

NN:

Everyone hopes to maintain a reputation that communicates trustworthiness, confidence and most importantly, influence. As a millennial one of our downfalls/challenges in pursuit of success is that most of us want a quick fix, how do you manage being influential through every word you speak and every movement you make, Monday to Monday?

LM:

This is a difficult one, and it may be subjective, but I would highlight about 6 key things that I try and focus on every day, that I’ve learnt from successful leaders: 

  • Successful leaders love being leaders – not for the sake of power but for the meaningful and purposeful impact they can create. When you have reached a senior level of leadership – it’s about your ability to serve others and this can’t be accomplished unless you genuinely enjoy what you do. I have had the privilege to do this across 20 countries on the African continent. 
  • Leading by example sounds easy, but few leaders are consistent with this one. Successful leaders practice what they preach and are mindful of their actions. They know everyone is watching them and therefore are incredibly intuitive about detecting those who are observing their every move, waiting to detect a performance shortfall. Being my authentic self helps me to be aligned in my thoughts, words and actions. I bring my true self to work every day. 
  • Successful leaders create a positive and inspiring workplace culture. They know how to set the tone and bring an attitude that motivates their colleagues to take action. As such, they are likeable, respected and strong willed. They don’t allow failures to disrupt momentum. As a leader you create the vibe and Gees in your team environment, you are the custodian of the “Gees “in your area of influence. 
  • Successful leaders take the time to mentor their colleagues and make the investment to sponsor those who have proven they are able and eager to advance. Successful leaders never stop teaching because they are so self-motivated to learn themselves. They use teaching to keep their colleagues well-informed and knowledgeable through statistics, trends, and other newsworthy items. This is such a neglected area of leadership, but time spent with colleagues to share thoughts, to individuals, to teams and sometimes to the whole team are invaluable. 
  • Leaders share the harvest of their success to help build momentum for those around them. 

Successful leaders don’t focus on protecting their domain – instead they expand it by investing in mutually beneficial relationships. Successful leaders associate themselves with “lifters and other leaders” – the types of people that can broaden their sphere of influence. Not only for their own advancement, but that of others. People will see if you have only superficial relationships, but respond much better if you build deep, genuine mutually beneficial relationships. 

  • Successful leaders ask questions and seek counsel all the time. From the outside, they appear to know-it-all – yet on the inside, they have a deep thirst for knowledge and constantly are on the look-out to learn new things because of their commitment to making themselves better through the wisdom of others. 

NN:

Thank you so much My Leader, I appreciate your insights and experiences, and your willingness to share so much. 

LM:

Thank you for the tough questions, I really enjoyed the conversation, I hope we can start more conversations with other young leaders.