Posted on November 30th, 2023 by Jane Robertson
A few years ago, I returned from a two-week safari in Botswana, which was not a holiday, but an adventure. This turned out to be an opportunity for profound leadership reflection. We woke up before the crack of dawn, spent hours in a game vehicle spotting game and then finished the day, with our vehicle parked under a baobab tree, watching the sunset over a waterhole. On many of the days, we saw lion, leopard, hippo, elephant and giraffe, not to mention the many antelope species.
After an eventful day of game spotting, we knew when we arrived back at camp that it would be an industrious evening preparing dinner on the campfire and, once again, while there was still daylight, planning for the next day. Such active days made me appreciate the sunset break every evening, as this gave me the opportunity to reflect on the day, have a drink, and chat to my friends about our game sightings, all while watching the sunset… and what a sunset it was! Each day the golden ball descended beyond the earth and I watched as the rays reflected on the water for the last few minutes of the day.
Back at work, while sitting in my office, I couldn’t help but think of that evening ritual and how it relates back to the workplace and leaders. How often do leaders, at the end of the day, hold out a mirror and reflect on the day? Joseph Raelin, in 2002, wrote “
“Is it possible that the frenetic activity of the executive is a drug for the emptiness of our organisational souls, that constant action may merely serve as a substitute for thought?”
The Essence of Leadership Reflection in Today’s Dynamic Work Environment
Leadership reflection is much more than thinking about the day’s work during the commute home. It requires a lot more thought than that. What is reflection? What does looking in the mirror involve? It is the practice of every so often stepping back to contemplate the meaning of what has recently transpired in our lives and in that of others. It involves thinking about our thinking – resulting in an understanding of an experience that may have been overlooked in practice and is hence a form of deep learning. It is this deep learning that helps us understand ourselves.
It must be acknowledged that the act of leadership reflection is not easy and takes time to master. We are not accustomed to reflecting, as we spend so much time taking action. And when we do reflect, we do not always like what the mirror tells us, as the wicked queen in the tale of Snow White discovered in the Grimms’ fairy tale when the mirror spoke. But it does allow us to see the truth. Reflection is a way for leaders to gain a genuine understanding of themselves and their environment.
Reflection therefore gives leaders increased awareness in critical and complex situations, as understandings are reframed and action can be taken. In today’s world of work, we need leaders who are aware of the dynamics of situations and who allow for questioning to take place, making it possible for people to challenge without fear.
Tips for Applying Leadership Reflection Whilst Looking in the Mirror
1) Choose a time of day that suits you:
Spend quality time when you are not interrupted. Build in reflection time into your daily planning. Take time to think, otherwise, you rush from one activity to the next without pause. One of my participants on a leadership course mentioned that he spends 10 minutes sitting in a boardroom with no computer or paper so that he can think about his thinking. Another mentioned that she walks around the park at the end of the day to reflect before she goes home.
2) Re-run in your mind the events that took place during the day:
This provides insight into your own strengths and development areas, thus enabling you to be more effective in the future. There are many sources for reflection such as everyday events, positive experiences, negative experiences, eventful incidents, unusual incidents, routine activities, important events and meaningful events.
3) Apply a model or framework:
Driscoll’s (2000) three questions of WHAT, SO WHAT and NOW WHAT.
What is the purpose of returning to this situation, what happened, what was my reaction?
How did I feel, what were the effects of my actions, what have I noticed about my practice?
What are the implications of this analysis – for me and others, what is the main learning from this experience and reflection?
4) Reflect through writing
Journal your thoughts. Writing using a waterfall technique – where you do not censor your thoughts – is a common and easy technique.
5) Reflect with others
Reflection does not have to be individual. Ask for feedback: Just as I chatted to my friends at the waterhole every evening, chat to your colleagues. Ask for feedback by engaging with trusted colleagues. Feedback is necessary as it positions different viewpoints for you to consider while you are reflecting.
6) Link your leadership reflection to action
Don’t just leave ideas in the air. Once you have finished thinking about your thinking link the thinking to actionable items.
If you can take these simple tips to heart, it will help you develop the skill of reflection that is necessary for the 21st-century leader. Even more, it will embed your deep learning, as learning can no longer only be something you do when enrolled at a university or on a course.
Posted in Skills Development, Leadership |
Posted on November 2nd, 2023 by Sarah Babb
In the 2023 Global Gender Gap Report from the World Economic Forum, Sub-Saharan Africa’s parity score is the sixth highest among the eight regions at 68.2%, ranking above Southern Asia and the Middle East and North Africa. However, progress in the region has been uneven, revealing persistent gender disparity. Namibia, Rwanda and South Africa, along with 13 other countries, have closed more than 70% of the overall gender gap. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali and Chad are the lowest-performing countries, with scores below 62%. Based on the constant sample, this marks a marginal improvement of 0.1 percentage points. At the current rate of progress, it will take 102 years to close the gender gap in Sub-Saharan Africa.
In South Africa, a nation known for its dynamic diversity, women hold only 28% of business leadership positions, as reported in the 2016 McKinsey Women Matter (Africa) Report. While some contend that progress is being made towards achieving gender equity in leadership roles, the numbers tell a different story. The question that demands our attention is whether women still find themselves underrepresented in senior management positions.
The answer, backed by a barrage of data and research, resoundingly affirms that gender inequity persists, and it is costing us dearly.
The Gender Disparity Stakes Are High
In an era fraught with economic and political challenges, strong leadership is the bedrock of resilience and success. Yet, a staggering 18% of women leak from professional positions to senior management, representing an alarming loss of leadership talent—an opportunity missed.
The picture becomes even bleaker at the board level. While women initially comprise 47% of the professional workforce, this figure plummets to a mere 13% in boardrooms. McKinsey’s research reveals a striking correlation: companies with at least a quarter of women on their boards boast an average earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) margin a remarkable 20% higher than industry averages. This glaring disparity not only signifies lost opportunities for business but also underscores the financial benefits of diversity.
Beyond the Gender Disparity Numbers
While correlation doesn’t imply causation, interviews conducted by McKinsey with industry leaders highlight the multifaceted benefits of diversity. From improved risk management to more informed decision-making and enhanced board dynamics, the ripple effects of diversity extend far beyond financial performance.
The March 2017 Grant Thornton International Business Report reinforces these findings. Surveying 5,500 male and female business leaders, it revealed that as boards diversified, risk management became more robust. This observation is underpinned by the distinct responses to risk brought by women—a nuanced and balanced approach.
However, the challenge transcends mere numerical equality. Gender bias woven into workplace structures erects invisible yet formidable barriers for women. The gender wage gap, where women globally receive, on average, 77 cents against every dollar earned by their male counterparts for similar work, stands as a stark testament to this bias. Research by Eagly & Heilman identifies disparities in opportunities, rewards, access to networks, and support systems for women.
Making Bias Visible
To confront gender bias, it must first be made visible and addressed through education for leaders and staff alike. Cultural assumptions inadvertently favor men while disadvantaging women. Business landscapes often lack female role models, perpetuate gendered career paths, limit women’s access to networks and sponsors, and subject women to “double binds.” Traditional notions associate leadership with masculinity, constraining women who excel in male-dominated domains.
Unconscious bias further manifests in the “glass cliff” phenomenon, whereby women are disproportionately appointed to organisations in crisis or at risk of failure. Coupled with the “savior effect,” it perpetuates the myth that women leaders are weak and less capable.
Women as Token Appointments
Decision-makers often reserve plum positions, including leadership roles, for in-group members, predominantly men. When women ascend, they may feel like token appointments based on quotas rather than competence. Increasing the visibility of women leaders can alleviate the pressures of tokenism, expand their professional networks, and bolster their performance.
Building a Leadership Identity
Stepping into leadership roles necessitates women to internalise a leadership identity—a challenging feat that requires credibility establishment. Companies should foster communities where women in similar positions can exchange experiences, offer emotional support, and facilitate mutual learning.
Turning the Tide on Gender Equity
The path to gender equity demands concerted efforts:
- Engaging in open conversations about gender bias and its repercussions, emphasising the risk management, innovation, and transformative potential lost to gender inequity.
- Encouraging diverse leadership styles that break free from traditional stereotypes.
- Revisiting workplace processes related to recruitment, promotion, and placements.
- Promoting sponsorship, not just mentorship, for women leaders.
- Aligning leadership purpose with business leadership strategy.
- Creating “identity workspaces” through women’s leadership development programs that support leadership transitions.
McKinsey offers four essential actions for businesses to combat gender imbalance:
- Making gender diversity a top priority for boards and CEOs.
- Anchoring gender diversity strategies in a compelling business case.
- Challenging limiting attitudes towards women in the workplace.
- Implementing fact-based gender diversity strategies, tracking pay levels, attrition rates, promotions, and organisational health.
Diversity and inclusion are no longer mere HR programs; they have become central to successful business strategies. As companies move toward gender equity, built-in gender bias is dismantled, unlocking the full potential of women in leadership. With greater representation, businesses gain broader perspectives and innovative problem-solving approaches.
Diversity is the key to success—a key that unlocks the full potential of the talent pool, rather than depriving organisations of half of it. As the world grapples with complex challenges, addressing gender disparity and achieving gender equity in leadership is not just a moral imperative; it’s an economic necessity.
Sarah Babb is a highly experienced executive and organisational and leadership change specialist. Read her Bio here.
Posted in Leadership |
Posted on October 26th, 2023 by Prof. Renata Schoeman
In an era characterised by rapid change and constant upheaval, the art of leadership has taken on new dimensions. Today, we find ourselves navigating a world defined by volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity—a VUCA world, the term first coined by Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus in their book, “Leaders: the strategy for taking charge.” Against this backdrop of evolving economic, sociopolitical, and environmental challenges, it becomes clear that conventional leadership paradigms are no longer sufficient. In this crucible of uncertainty, the ability to foster human potential and manage change is paramount, highlighting the significance of resilience in leadership. Yet, our capacity for creativity, risk-taking, and growth often falters in the face of adversity.
Significance of Resilience in Leadership
However, hope shines through for leaders who harness the power of resilience. This quality can serve as a steady, unwavering compass in turbulent times. While traits like authenticity, integrity, vision, strategic acumen, and decision-making prowess remain indispensable for leaders, the demands of the modern world necessitate an additional layer of soft skills, the most vital being personal mastery.
Understanding Resilience in a Changing Landscape
Personal mastery, as conceived by Peter Senge, extends beyond mere competence and skills. It involves nurturing a profound self-awareness, inner fortitude, and an innate sense of control. Remarkably, these attributes equip individuals with the ability to not only weather uncertainty but also respond effectively to disruptive events—a phenomenon commonly referred to as resilience.
Shift in Focus: Protective Factors and Resilience in Leadership
Resilience has emerged as a critical concept spanning diverse disciplines, including business, public policy, and psychology. Researchers have shifted their focus from vulnerability and the negative repercussions of trauma to emphasise the “protective factors” that enable success in the face of adversity. These protective factors fall into two categories: individual psychological attributes and external environmental elements.
The Evolution of Resilience: Nurturing vs. Inherent
In the realm of leadership, resilience translates to adapting to constant change while unwaveringly pursuing strategic objectives. It means evolving through adversity and setbacks, not merely bouncing back to a prior state, but bouncing forward. Successful leaders owe their accomplishments not in spite of challenges but precisely because of them.
While early theories on resilience once emphasised genetics, asserting that some individuals are inherently more resilient, an ever-expanding body of empirical evidence suggests otherwise. Resilience, whether in children, survivors of harrowing circumstances like concentration camps, or even in the context of businesses rebounding from the brink of collapse, can indeed be nurtured, and learned. For instance, George Vaillant, the director of the Study of Adult Development at Harvard Medical School in Boston, notes that over a 60-year span of studying various groups, certain individuals markedly developed greater resilience over their lifetimes. Other psychologists posit that individuals initially deemed not resilient may, in fact, be more receptive to acquiring resilience skills. This is compared to those who seemingly have an early advantage.
The Search Institute, a nonprofit organisation based in Minneapolis specialising in resilience and youth, has discovered that highly resilient children possess an uncanny ability to enlist the support of adults. Furthermore, separate studies have revealed that resilient inner-city youth often showcase exceptional talents. These talents, such as athletic prowess, naturally draw others to them.
Fortifying Leadership with Resilience: Three Key Steps
Drawing from Diane Coutu‘s insights, three key characteristics define resilient individuals and organizations: an unflinching acceptance of reality, a deep belief in the meaningfulness of life reinforced by strong values, and an exceptional ability to improvise.
To fortify our leadership capacity with resilience in today’s world, three pivotal steps beckon our attention:
Developing Emotional and Cognitive Awareness
Resilience begins with recognizing when challenges knock us off balance. It involves proactive steps to regain stability. Understanding emotional and physical stress symptoms is paramount, as is identifying potential thinking traps. Countering these traps involves gathering more information and considering alternative scenarios.
Nourishing Connections and Harnessing Support
During stressful periods, the temptation to withdraw and isolate can be strong. However, the wiser course of action is to seek help from others and engage with those who offer support. Robust social support systems not only provide encouragement but also serve as a wellspring of novel ideas and inspiration.
Prioritising Self-Care for Resilience in Leadership
In times of heightened stress, neglecting physical well-being is counterproductive. Maintaining healthy routines, including regular exercise, a balanced diet, and adequate rest, is essential. Engaging in activities that foster well-being, creativity, and introspection complements this regimen.
Conclusion: Cultivating Resilience in Leadership for Sustainable Success
As Victor Frankl astutely observed, “Our freedom to choose our attitude and response to any situation represents the purest form of freedom.” Although resilience is integral to business success in our dynamic VUCA world, it often garners insufficient attention. Leaders must actively cultivate their own resilience and that of their teams. This effort helps establish organizations that are not just successful, but sustainable and resilient.
Achieving resilience requires the courage to remain vulnerable, empathetic, and robust enough to embrace uncertainty and ambiguity. It necessitates flexibility to grow through adversity rather than succumb to its pressures. By nurturing resilience, we can not only survive but thrive in the ever-changing landscape of the modern world.
Prof. Renata Schoeman is a renowned authority in the field of leadership and resilience. This article draws on her extensive research and expertise to illuminate the vital role of resilience in modern leadership. Read more
Posted in Leadership |
Posted on November 12th, 2019 by SBS-ED
This post is part of the Leadership in
Africa Series by USB-ED. As part of our commitment to providing transformative
executive education, we shine a spotlight on the most innovative people and
extraordinary concepts coming out of the continent. This is episode 3 of the series.
The annals of famous female leaders in history include
the indomitable Katharine Graham, who became the first female CEO of a Fortune
500 Company – The Washington Post – in 1972. Since then, a lot has
happened to drive equality in the workplace and catapult more women in
leadership roles, including awards events that recognise exceptional women in
business and their leadership skills, like the Namibia Economist’s Businesswoman of the Year Awards.
Now in its 19th year, the event recognises the innovation, perseverance
and creativity of successful women in business across the categories of
Business Owner, Young Businesswoman, Community and Government, Private and
Corporate Sector, as well as an overall winner. This year’s winners have
amazing stories to tell; here are lessons from their leadership styles for
other leaders to emulate.
What leadership skills and
lessons can we learn from great leaders?
Purpose + Service =
Hendrina Hango-Ndakola, the CEO of Natu
Pharmaceuticals, walked away with both the Business Owner and the Businesswoman
of the Year Awards. In her acceptance speech, Hango-Ndakola emphasised purpose and
service as the key attributes to her success. “Having found my purpose in life,
I’ve also found means to encourage other women, especially young women, to find
their purpose,” she says. “I feel finding your purpose is the beginning of
truly living your life.”
Through her determination to promote health in
people’s lives, Hango-Ndakola founded Natu Pharmaceuticals in 2004, which now
serves pharmacies in Oshakati, Ondangwa and Eenhana, all in the north of
Namibia. The pharmacist and business owner also says that once you find your
purpose, it will lead you to serve your community in a significant way and,
ultimately, catalyse success: “Greatness is determined by service so I would
encourage the young women of today to serve… wholeheartedly, in their purpose”.
Allow your people to think
The winner of the Young Businesswoman Award, Hilja
Eelu, is passionate about levelling the playing field for young people in
business. Having completed her Bachelor of Science (BSc) Honours in Molecular and
Cell Biology, this scientist now serves as the Director: Programs at the African Pathfinder Leaders Initiative (APLI), which strives to develop, empower
and mobilise young innovators, change-makers and leaders across Namibia. In
this role, she’s found that empowering a team to be proactive in their
positions is the key to good leadership.
“As a young person myself, I know that we all have
different ideas and different visions as to how to do things so I tend to work
with more proactive people,” she says. She also believes that a self-leadership
model drives success. “My leadership style has been relaxed… I don’t have to
force people to do what they need to do. I’m not an authoritative leader… but
it’s been really important for me to find other young people that are actively
Find – and give – support
Ester Kali, the CEO of Letshego Holdings, is no
stranger to big business, having previously been the chief executive at FNB
Namibia. Yet, the winner of the Private & Corporate Sector Award remains
humble, describing a support system as a number one tool for success. “As a leader, I believe in coaching and
empowering my team, thereby helping them to set smart goals and give them
constant feedback,” she says. “You don’t need to be a ‘boss’; you need to be a
And it goes both ways for Kali, who has identified a
need for a women in business support network: “We need to come together and share
common interests and learn from one another. [I want] to engage with women on
various levels [so we] can help one another in order to grow.”
Passion leads to success –
At the end of
the day, business success is often fuelled by an authentic desire to make a
sustained difference to other people’s lives. Uajo Akwenye, winner in the
Community and Government Sector, is chief executive at the One Economy
Foundation. She firmly believes in the organisation’s mission and it is this
passion that has helped her become a leader that her team fully supports.
belies all the hard work done behind the scenes, which she says is what gives
her real joy. “My colleagues and I are driven … [When we] come to work, [we ask
ourselves,] How can we make lives better for those in the grassroots
communities? We really see ourselves as a bridge between the dual economy.”
At USB-ED, we strongly support women in business. We believe that a good leader is the basis for a good team – and great work. Our Executive Development Programme (EDP) helps prepare you, as a senior executive, with the necessary management skills to accomplish your objectives.
Posted in Leadership |