Graduating as South Africa’s first black woman Chartered Accountant from the University of the Transkei (now Walter Sisulu University) in the mid-1980s, Nonkululeko Gobodo’s public career has been fraught with challenges from the start.
“There was a lot of responsibility on us at the time,” she reminisces, “We were the pioneers of black reformation, but our biggest challenge was that no one took us seriously,” adding, “But I’ve always wanted to challenge the status quo, so I didn’t let that get in my way.”
Recently, after three decades in accounting, Gobodo has shifted into leadership consulting – a whole new industry to conquer. “The truth is, I never enjoyed the accounting profession,” she says, “I always found greater fulfilment in development.” To Gobodo, establishing Nkululeko Leadership Consulting is pivotal to fulfilling her “whole life’s purpose” by helping to empower Africa’s business leaders.
So, what is Nonkululeko Gobodo’s recipe for leadership success in Africa?
1. Focus on the bigger picture
In 1989, eight months after completing her articles at KPMG in Mthatha, her boss offered her a partnership. “It was a position I should have had ten years’ experience for,” she says. But the fact that someone saw enough potential in her to offer her such a position opened her eyes.
Driven by a bigger dream, she turned the position down and in 1996, established her own accounting firm, Gobodo Inc. Later, in 2011, she went on to change the South African business landscape when she led a merger between two of South Africa’s biggest black-owned firms to establish SizweNtsabulaGobodo – South Africa’s fifth largest accounting firm after the “Big Four” – PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte, Ernst & Young and KPMG.
Almost every bold move she has made in her career has paid off – largely due to her unwavering focus on her overall goal. “I realised early on that I have to be part of something that makes a difference to the world.”
2. Challenge the status quo
High ambitions are, by nature, difficult to achieve – but in Africa, they can prove impossible without the right direction. Africa’s challenges are unique and, therefore, require unique solutions.
“We have to build our own framework for leadership to pioneer change,” says Gobodo.
To innovate your business in South Africa, Gobodo urges business leaders to focus on the economy first. “We need to repair the relationship between government and business,” she says.
In Gobodo’s mind, the more capable leaders we are able to nurture – both in government and in business – the more successful we will become as a country and a continent. To achieve this, leaders from both sectors need to collaborate, challenge the status quo and come up with solutions that will bring about real change.
3. Innovate change
Apart from repairing the relationship between government and business, Gobodo believes that prejudice still stands in South Africa’s way of becoming truly integrated and of growing inter-cultural relationships. “We can’t continue to dwell on the past,” she says, “We need to work together to fix our problems.”
What, then, is South Africa’s biggest obstacle in improving the relationships between its people? “South Africa’s future is entirely dependent on its political situation,” Gobodo says.
“People are tired. People are angry. University students, especially, are so angry – they start their careers angry,” referring to the recent outbreak of student riots on many of the country’s University campuses.
Through her personal investment in empowering South Africa’s leaders, Gobodo has always sought to foster the kind of leadership practices that would help to mend the country’s interracial and intercultural relationships.
“We have to move forward as a country and a continent – and we need good leaders to do so,” says Gobodo.
4. Connect with the people you are leading
Gobodo has identified a common thread pervading current leadership practices: “Almost without fail, I find there’s a disconnect between leaders and the people they are leading,” Gobodo says, “They’ve got all these to-do lists, which are not based on an understanding of the people that work under them. Leaders need to be more conscious of the impact they have on organisations – especially their people.”
When asked what she considers to be the most challenging aspect of leadership, she laughs, “People! Without a doubt, people are the most complex and difficult component of leadership, but,” she adds, “in people lies one’s greatest opportunity for growth.”
5. Invest in yourself
Good leadership is a fine balancing act. On the one hand, a leader’s interpersonal relationships can make or break a business. On the other, a healthy dose of introspection and self-interest is also called for.
“Invest in yourself,” Gobodo advises young business leaders. “Find out who you are and face every challenge that comes your way. But most of all, never allow anyone to stand between you and a good opportunity.”
Nonkululeko Gobodo will be speaking at nlighten’s business leadership event, Exec Think Tank, on 11 August 2016 at Equinox, Alice Lane, Sandton. To find out more about the event, visit http://bit.ly/1ZbeAkT or contact Nicola on 021 794 7533 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.