Straight after finishing his Masters in Civil Engineering at Stellenbosch University, and starting a new job, Rain Carstens had the opportunity to enrol in the Future Managers Development Programme. Read on as he shares his experience of the programme and how it has enhanced his learning and development journey.
I was fresh out of university, with minimal experience. I had a brand new job, I had just started out with my career, and I thought to myself, “Do I need to get involved in something else as well?” In the end, I just went for it. I didn’t know when, or if, I’d ever have this opportunity again. Looking back on it, being able to really think about my future and where I want to be in my career was far more valuable at that point than I realised.
The first phase of the FMDP considered the idea of Self Leadership and it got me thinking, “Woah! If I’m going to serve and lead anyone else, I first need to know myself!” It taught me that I need to be really solid, really organised, and certain within myself before I can be of real use to society. It pushed me to think about some really important, sometimes challenging, questions. I explored the kind of person I am becoming – professionally, personally, spiritually, and mentally – and how my mindset needed to shift.
The biggest shift was when I realised that you can’t get what you want if you don’t know what you want. You see, I am an engineer, and I am also a dreamer. I have big aspirations. In the civil engineering industry, as with any industry, you can contribute in thousand-and-one different ways. While it’s great to have grand goals, you need to have a plan of how you’re going to get there. It takes quite a bit of careful pondering and consideration before you really know, firstly what you want to contribute, and then, secondly, how you’ll actually contribute and then what actions you’ll take towards it.
The FMDP really challenged and inspired me to look at what kind of leader I want to be. I learned that it’s the things that I’m doing right now that are the steps towards becoming the leader that I see myself as in the future. In order to turn my dreams into reality, I need to build partnerships and relationships. I need to get more and more experience. I need to know what I’m talking about. I can’t just be a dreamer.
Even though I was walking into my career with a masters degree under my belt, I also needed to know my place. The FMDP really gave me perspective in that regard. I am working with brilliant minds – some of the top minds in South Africa – solving big problems for the whole of the country, but I had to know when to put on my humble hat and when to put on my feisty, excited, motivated leadership hat. I realised on the FMDP that I could learn so much from those in more senior roles to me. As a result, interactions with my managers and colleagues became more meaningful, because those with more knowledge, experience, and understanding will (generally) only teach you things when you are humble and in the learner’s seat. Since making that internal shift, I’ve noticed that I am given more responsibility. I am exposed to much more precious knowledge that I wouldn’t have had access to if I didn’t know how to effectively play this role that I’m in right now.
It’s also important to know that if you want to be a leader, the skills that you develop at university won’t be enough. You need to understand how things are in the current corporate world, and you need to attune and refine your goals so that you’re aligning with that world. The FMDP taught us balanced, futuristic-focused business skills – business skills unlike I’ve ever seen before. It is unlike anything that I’d learned in university. It’s really premium learning. The programme coordinators and faculty didn’t lecture us. Rather, they held space for us to ask questions. There was so much space for discussion and interaction, which I really enjoyed.
You needed to engage with the ideas and grapple with them, and this was where the FMDP faculty helped – just asking the right questions prompted excellent investigation and insights. It meant that the result is that your learning is actually up to you, which was exceptionally empowering. It gets you thinking about some really pertinent things; such as how to prepare yourself, in the best possible ways, to be a rock star in your field. I love the fact that I can log back into the learning portal website and I can go back to my assignments. I can reflect on my FMDP learnings as I make my way through my professional journey when I come across situations that speak to what we covered in the programme.
While you’re doing the programme, it’s almost like being a toddler playing with crayons. You draw, scribble, and learn as you go because you’re doing something new for the first time. But years later you come back to it, and you realise now you can actually draw something beautiful. This developmental journey has been somewhat similar for me. During the programme, I didn’t have the time to dive as deeply as I could have into every single section. Having the ability to go back to it, again and again, has helped me to continue my learning, even after completing the programme. We don’t stop learning just because we’re out of a learning environment, we carry it through with us.
The FMDP instilled in me that you have to generate your own motivation. Your mentors are not going to guide you along, holding your hand each step of the way. That’s not the job of a mentor. They’re there to help and guide you, but you need to do the work for yourself. Even if you’re doing the most amazing work in the world, you can become unmotivated, your priorities start to go elsewhere, and you start to do the bare minimum. What’s concerning for me is that I see this happen to quite a few graduates. They’ll come out of university and approach their jobs a bit like they’re still at university. They only do the minimum because that’s all they really need to do. That was something that concerned me about myself because I realised what that was communicating to those around me – what it was saying about my personal values. On the FMDP, I realise that if you are not defining some sort of target for yourself, outlining the person you want to be and what you want to do, you can’t be a badass. So for someone like a graduate, the FMDP is super useful as it helps you to cultivate your own self-driven motivation. As you get into the working world, no one is going to cheerlead you along. It’s not going to be done for you. While you may have company goals or a business focus, you need to set your own goals both personally and professionally. It’s so important to find a way to motivate yourself – because if you can do that, you can do anything. If you have something that excites and motivates and uplifts you, you can do anything – and you’re also there for yourself.
Through the FMDP, I realised that I needed to first look within myself and see where my insecurities lie, what’s blocking me, what my strengths are, and what I love to do, and then be creative in what kind of person I want to become, because that won’t ever end. It’s an evolving process. It’s an iterative process. It’s a creative process. Your external world continually evolves based on the evolution of your inner world. And that’s something that never ends. If you can make that practical for yourself, the transformation and the evolution just continues into more brilliant states which is what I’ve experienced since finishing the FMDP.
The Future Managers Development Programme helps graduate interns, young talent, and other emerging leaders in an organisation to master the first step in their development: Management of self. It aims to help participants understand who they are within the broader business environment, make them more employable, and help them plan their careers. It also complements existing graduate trainee programmes which mostly focus on in-house company-related matters and practical exposure through job rotation. The programme is structured around modules that equip potential future managers with critical skills for performing in a new world of work. To find out more about the programme, click here.