Mbewu Movement closed 2015 off with a tremendously successful year of Mentor events. This past Thursday, in partnership with the African Leadership University (ALU), Mbewu hosted both a Mentor event and a panel discussion. The discussion for the evening was about the all-important topic of “Taking your career to the next level”.
The audience comprised of young professionals from a wide range of career and academic backgrounds, all eager to learn from our diverse speakers but equally ready to question and share their personal experiences.
Our keynote address for the night was delivered by Fred Swaniker, Founder and CEO of ALU. Fred began the evening with some qualities that we as young professionals need in order to realise our career aspirations. These skills included and are not exclusive to: innovation, passion, sound decision making, and vision. The audience suggested that all of which could be cultivated through formal education, learning from mentors and coaches, forming networks, and being provided with the ability to constantly measure ones progress.
To realise our dreams, to take our career to the next level, it is important that we mature the skills we need to establish ourselves as leaders in any kind of organisation. Fred shared some of what he had learnt from his experience while pursuing his MBA at Stanford Business School.
It is important to build and maintain networks; Fred’s experience at Stanford proved this to him when he started the African Leadership Academy (ALA) and again later ALU. The networks we establish through past professional experience, university, and social organisations such as Mbewu Movement contribute towards your aspirations. The networks expose us to potential future investors, mentors and partners.
The networks however, are only a foot on the threshold; to realise the aspirations one needs a broad view of the business world and to understand various parts of the business works; Fred advised. Having a broad knowledge, knowing something about everything is a wise trait of leadership.
Maya Angelou said: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”, how we treat others, how we evoke emotions in others matters in the work place. Skills that we seldom put much effort into, and are often regarded as “soft skills”, are what Fred called “Touchy Feely”, and regard it to be very important. How we interact with the people we work with is equally as important as how we understand the business works. The people you work with, the people who will ultimately work for you respond to the way you treat them and how you make them feel. As young professional we need to cultivate a strong sense of self-awareness, buy doing so we become aware of how people around us react to our actions and mannerisms. Positive interaction with people yields positive response.
Fred closed off his address by announcing some exciting news – the African Leadership University is launching an MBA programme that will have an “Africa” focus. The ALU MBA combines curricula from world-leading institutions to create a uniquely innovative Africa-focused programme. The programme will be launched in the next few weeks, the details will be on the ALU website and their Facebook page.
Our master of ceremonies, Ayanda Bam – a seasoned management consultant, facilitated the panel discussion for the evening. The panel was made up of powerful young executives i.e. Nhlanhla Dlamini, Ntokozo Mbuli and Naseera Ebrahim. The discussion started with the panelist sharing some of the challenges that they have faced in their journey to the top; which resonated with the young professionals in the room.
Key take-outs from each of the panelists:
Ntokozo spoke about finding the access gap for media in the corporate world, being able to articulate and impress the importance of media to the corporate world. These are skills that the job does not teach, only experience can teach. Her advice was to believe in what ever craft you do.
Naseera stressed the importance of surrounding yourself with like-minded people, making full use of your immediate and extended network – it takes an army to build a successful career. She added that while climbing the professional ranks executive presence is important from the very beginning, keeping score of yourself and how you interact with fellow and senior colleagues will help you maintain the standard of executive presence and confidence you desire. Lastly, Naseera pointed out a bad habit that women, herself included, have and that is to ruminate. This erodes our confidence and causes us to second guess our ability. Be aware of this, ask for feedback and improve your interaction.
After a humorous comment around ‘black tax’, Nhlanhla closed off the discussion with some strong advice: “You will never have the full skills set, play to your strengths”, back your deficiencies with diligence and hard work.
The evening was filled with rich gems of advice and shared experiences, many of which those who attended will not forget soon. Our keynote speaker as well as our panelist’s shared similar words of advice.
I could sum up the evening by quoting John Donne: “No man is an island entire of itself, every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main”. Indeed Fred and our panel stressed the importance of networks, human interaction and a support system that will back up your deficits.
If we as young professionals could take anything away from the last Mbewu event of 2015, it is that no encounter with any human, is a useless encounter…every interaction counts for something whether towards that person’s life or your life, it is up to you to make it a positive interaction. Lastly, the evening demonstrated that there is no formula to success, just common ingredients.
On behalf of Mbewu Movement
Thabisa has recently completed her MA in International Development Management.