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How Can Scholars Prepare Themselves For The World Of Work?

Make A Difference – Young Leader’s Launchpad.

David Hatherell

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The narrative that we have expanded on over the past few weeks has highlighted the importance of considering the fundamental principles of entrepreneurship and not the general definition of just “starting a business.” Furthermore, we have emphasised that South Africa is fortunate to have a diverse range of perspectives and skill sets that we can use to benefit society, and allow the youth of this country to take a leadership position despite their age, circumstances or financial means. Through the various topics that have been discussed, we have hoped to expand on your knowledge through a range of insights, perspectives, and lessons learned. Which leads us to the topic of what it takes, as a scholar, to prepare yourself for the world of work.

Make A Difference Leadership Foundation (MAD Leadership Foundation), in partnership with their fellows, have launched a diverse initiative which aims to prepare our scholars for the world of work in the general sense. We will expand on some of these learnings below, highlighting the four key lessons we feel are most applicable.

Work Becomes Our World – Lessons Learnt

Lesson one – Create a Community of Support

When entering the working world, it is easy to get caught up in the pressure of your nine to five position. This may mean that you leave your dreams behind and focus all of your attention on the role you have within the company you are working for. Creating a supportive space, with your peers, where you can discuss your dreams and/or goals which are not directly linked to your workspace will continue enforcing a sense of achievement in your private life without neglecting your work. In creating a community of support, it will allow you to explore your “dreams” in a way that will make them feel more achievable and obtainable.

Related: 10 Young Entrepreneurs Under 30 Share Their Start-Up Secrets

To encourage this concept of a supportive community the MAD Leadership Foundation fellows have implemented a concept called Dream Enabler. This initiative aims to select a “dream” or initiative that the MAD Leadership Foundation scholars would like to pursue. We review these dreams and find ways to convert them into actions for the next year. The initiatives chosen are presented back to the alumni forum and implemented in the year after each Annual Leadership Summit.

A little collaboration will go a long way in giving each dream that little something extra.

Lesson two – Bring Focus to Different Aspects of the World of Work

The working world can be subdivided into three broad sectors which include those who enter the workforce, those who start their own businesses and those involved in the creative arts or cultural sectors. You can focus on these different sectors by creating two main archetypes, letting your goals fall into two broad categories:

  • The Career Driven Professional
  • The Independent Creator

By highlighting the importance of both archetypes, we can develop into well-rounded individuals. For example, an actuary in the corporate field may grow by focusing equally on his/her career as a “career-driven professional.” Once qualified, he/she may benefit by attending workshops aimed at the “independent creator” archetype. It is essential for scholars who are soon to be entering the working world to allow themselves the flexibility of focusing their attention on both archetypes and to strategically plan their time given to each respective archetype.

Lesson three – Learn to Face Failure

Many individuals are funneled into a particular career path and then experience challenges that they would have never thought of. That being said, every challenge brings an opportunity, and every failure has a learning curve. The compilation of these challenges and failures will form our world of work. It is important to consider these failures as an integral part of your journey through the working world. If you are not failing are you genuinely pushing yourself? The MAD Leadership Foundation alumni have learned that vulnerability is a strength and that you will show the most growth by failing and trying again.

Lesson four – Fail in a Safe Space

Highlighting failure as an integral part of your journey to success doesn’t mean that you should throw yourself into unplanned, risky ventures. This just means that when you are entering unknown territory, you are bound to encounter some failure. This is a testimony to you having the wherewithal to push yourself. However, there are some areas you can explore further, and find out more information on, with your community of support, to allow your journey to run a little smoother. Areas to consider further:

  • Financial and Time Management
  • Building and Maintaining Your Personal Brand
  • Influencing Others
  • Knowing Your Value and Making Your Environment Work for You.

MAD Leadership Foundation has created a safe space for their scholars, through the creation of a simulated gaming and learning experience. Where scholars can explore the concept of failure by addressing potential hurdles in their day to day lives, and how these would impact them personally, professionally and otherwise. Together as a cohort, they can address these hurdles and how they would overcome them, with the support of the experienced alumni. This helps to ensure that we are prepared and aware of some common pitfalls that one may encounter when leaving university.

Earning money and supporting yourself is tough and many experience difficulties in getting up after each failure. For this reason, it is important to create a culture of “failing forward” in that you need to learn from your challenges and continue on a path to your dreams and successes.

Related: The Kindling Of The Entrepreneur Spirit

Bringing It Together

These core lessons will allow you to have the foresight to plan and prepare for the world of work. Many might be known or assumed, but until you delve into each lesson, you might not be as ready for this journey as you might think.

We aim to prepare our scholars as best as we can with the knowledge, ability, and power to enter the working work as prepared as possible. Many youths, however, do not have the structure that MAD Leadership Foundation offers, and we, therefore, encourage you to be that support structure to each other. Lean on your peers and share insights through shared learning and support, through this the youth of South Africa can be assured of their readiness for the world of work.

David has a predictive modelling background and was previously employed by a large South African bank. Being the Head of Capital and Provisions in the retail mortgage space, his main responsibilities included guiding the model calibration process for IFRS9. He is currently working in the prescriptive modelling team, assisting with IFRS9 related financial modelling and has proven experience in modelling and data analytics. He is currently the national co-ordinator of the Make A Difference Leadership Foundation Fellow Programme and he has a passion for starting initiatives that add value to society.

Leading

What A Grade 1 Sticker Business Taught Me About Business

It’s the very fundamentals that are frequently overlooked amid ambition and “blue sky thinking” – yet, these remain the most crucial element of any business.

Grant Field

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When I was a kid, my father believed that instead of getting pocket money, my brothers and I should learn how to make money. Stickers were the school craze when I was in Grade 1, and we wanted a collection for ourselves, so Dad said if we wanted to buy the stickers, we needed to make the money. So, logically, we started a sticker trading business. Dad gave us the start-up money and took us through the basics of business.

We had a cash float for purchases, and learnt about cost price, mark-up and selling price – very basic accounting. We kept recycling that money, making extra and using it to buy more stickers. Then we worked out that if we increased the mark-up, we’d make a bigger profit – so why not make the mark-up as big as possible? The obvious happened. Our prices were too high, and we lost customers.

Valuable business lesson learnt, we came back down to a mark-up that other kids were willing to pay for.

More lessons to learn

Then people came to us and asked if they could take a sticker today and pay us tomorrow. We saw no reason not to trust them. Guess what? They didn’t pay us back. We had bad debt on our hands. When we sold out of stickers, we had cash-flow issues and couldn’t buy more stock. Dad was there to help us out, though, so we received another capital injection to get back off the ground. And this time, if we did extend credit, we loaded it for the privilege of “buy now, pay later” – another lesson learnt.

We ran a proper ledger for the business, tracking our inventory, sales and profit. Even if our “bank” account was a piggy bank, we had a clear record of what was going on. When I look back on it, none of what I learnt was irrelevant.

Today, I run a leading financial services company with billions of rand running through our bank accounts. Even though the finances of the business are run on a much larger scale, the principles of business – those basic principles that we learnt trading stickers – still power our company. And when I see entrepreneurial ventures failing, or when friends come to me for advice because their business is struggling, it’s almost always because they haven’t got these basics right.

Related: Successful SA Entreps Share Their Most Valuable Business Advice Ever Received

Clarity

One of the most important lessons I’ve learnt is that if you don’t fully understand how the money is being made, walk away. Whether you are dealing with stickers or financial services, the business principles should be straightforward: money coming in, money going out, and profitability.

Every day, I look at an Excel statement of my company’s forty bank accounts. Every day, I look at the cashflow, and unusual big-ticket items get a note so I know what’s going on. It’s just like that Grade 1 business, only on a bigger scale.

Entrepreneur, thwarted

Once the other kids saw the success of our sticker business, they started to want to get in on the action, so they came to market with their own competing products. At first, we were able to innovate as the competition squeezed our margins and started to impact on our profits. Eventually, the whole situation got completely out of hand and the school banned sticker trading for profit.

While I didn’t become a sticker magnate, the lessons I learnt in Grade 1 remain central to every business I am involved with – get the basics right.

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Leading

How To Handle A Director Who Always Says No

Diverse opinions on a board is a good thing — but is it boosting your business, or hindering growth and decisions?

Carl Bates

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Do you have that director on your board who always says ‘no’? Regardless of what the issue is, regardless of the context, who raises it or whether or not it is indeed a good idea, their response is either a simple ‘no’ or an elongated perspective on why they disagree? It can even feel at times that they are actively working against the company and against the board. Although they obviously do not see it that way.

Experienced directors will have multiple war stories related to this subject. Aspiring directors should be aware of how to approach these situations when they arise and how to avoid becoming the subject of such stories.

Develop a culture of trust, candour and professionalism

A board’s conduct must be characterised by trust, respect, candour, professionalism, accountability, diligence and commitment. It is the board’s collective responsibility to build this culture and to engage with one another in a productive and effective way.

Dissent should be welcomed when it is constructive and engaging. The idea of being the ‘devil’s advocate’ for the sake of it however, is not the best way to approach this. Dissent should be based on a real belief that the issue has not been fully debated or creates a real challenge for the company going forward.

If you have a director who genuinely believes a different path is right for the company, hear them out and engage in the discussion. In my experience, this often opens up an issue or changes a detail that when taken as part of the whole, improves the decision-making outcome for the board and the company.

Related: Contributing In The Boardroom

Remove the politics from the boardroom

At the heart of this issue is often politics. Politics between directors, who are also shareholders or executives. Politics between the ‘new guard’ and the ‘old.’ Regardless of the genesis, politics really do not have a place in the boardroom and directors who engage in it should be called out by the chairman or another senior director.

In local government I have heard stories of councillors who always vote ‘no,’ so that whenever something goes wrong, they can say “I told you so,” and show the public why they should be re-elected. But that is indeed politics. The boardroom is a very different space. It is private and discussions should be confidential.

Board rotation, a simple solution

While the removal of an errant director should never just be left to resolve itself, there is a simple solution that can support the easy removal of the most difficult directors. The challenge is that it requires forward planning prior to the appointment of any new director.

Directors should only ever be appointed for a predefined term, with automatic rotation at the end of that term. This does not stop you from reappointing a director for a further period. It is, however, always easier to ask someone to consider a further term than it is to tell them that their time has come and they should resign from the board.

Having a predefined term for a director essentially ensures an automatic resignation period. A simple rotation policy for directors is not just good governance, it is a practical step you can take to provide a way out of a sticky relationship.

Ultimately the board as a whole must address issues that detract from the board fulfilling its function as and when they arise. A rotation policy might provide an effective backstop. A high-performance board is one that will tackle the issue head-on.

Read next: How Diversity Drives Board Performance

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Leading

The Power Pose: Using Body Language To Lead

Use the way you move and stand and interact with others to become a better entrepreneur and leader.

Howard Feldman

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In 2012, the power pose became a global sensation. A Ted Talk by Amy Cuddy hit a staggering 46 million views and became the second most popular Ted Talk in history. The premise was simple – hold a powerful pose and it will not only affect the way you behave but it will even change your body chemistry. Since the talk, the power pose has met with heavy criticism and been labelled as nothing more than pseudoscience. Fortunately for believers, they were proven right. Amy Cuddy released further research this year and it fundamentally proves that this bold stance works exactly how she said it did back in 2012.

The power pose isn’t something that you’d adopt in a meeting or around the office but the science behind it shows how important it is to pay attention to your body language as it can fundamentally change how you are perceived.

Notice how you are noticed

People spend a lot of time reading one another’s body language and the way a person stands or holds their hands or moves can influence how others see them. It’s very natural to judge someone else’s posture, but what about the way they are judging yours? Few people look at how their body language is affecting the way people engage with them.

Related: [Quiz] How Good Are You At Reading Others In Business?

So, what are you supposed to do?

Fake it until you make it

Want to know how can you adapt to become a better leader? You can fake it.

The power pose isn’t the only way to change your mood. Research has shown that whether you laugh naturally or put on a smile and make yourself laugh, your body still releases the same levels of serotonin.

Whether you are really laughing or just pretending to laugh doesn’t matter – they both have the same impact on your demeanour.

Change how others see you

Think about the pose that every athlete adopts when they win a race or achieve something that’s been physically taxing. They hold their hands outstretched in the air. Even blind athletes hold the same pose. It’s big, it’s bold and it’s a physical manifestation of success.

Now consider the defensive pose. The tight hunched shoulders or inward curve of the spine. These poses immediately make a person look nervous, afraid and lacking in confidence. Like the porcupine curling in on itself for protection.

The same ideas apply to daily business life. While the power pose and the athlete pose are not necessarily a team activity, ensuring that you hold your body upright and with confidence means that you’re conveying an attitude of strength. You come across as confident and capable and positive. You are ready to take on anything and overcome the odds.

By contrast, if you are hunched and withdrawn, you come across as nervous and lacking in confidence and these are not the qualities you want associated with you as an entrepreneur and a leader.

Related: (Slideshow) 5 TED Talks That May Change Your Perspective on Life

Body language for entrepreneurs

  • Shake hands like a hero. The way you shake hands with someone is very significant in terms of establishing equality. Be even, be firm but don’t pull people towards you or turn their hands under your own. This makes them feel like you are trying to establish dominance.
  • Create an atmosphere of openness. Maintain eye contact, say hello to people with warmth while holding a strong posture. A warm and open greeting is essential to establishing trust.
  • Do the power pose for two minutes before any meeting or interview. This will get those chemicals stirring and make you feel confident and in charge.

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