Interview with Lindiwe Sadza: Communications Specialist & Leadership Trainer

“Women should be more willing to take risks in order to create a new style of leadership that works for them… not try to emulate men”

Lindiwe Sadza is co-founder and Managing Director of the Leadership Legacy Initiative. She is a Communications Specialist with over 35 years experience working with high profile global organizations. Lindiwe is passionate about Leadership and Women Development and Community Partnership Initiatives and an independent consultant to several other organizations in these areas. She was previously Director of Communications in the Zimbabwe Government and Head of Leadership Development for the International Women’s Forum (South Africa).  She has also held directorships in several other companies and trusts. 

You’ve dealt with women’s leadership issues for a long time. Why did you find establishing the Leadership Legacy Initiative important and necessary?

I felt that after having worked for a women’s non-profit with a specific focus on women’s development issues for almost 15 years I needed to start my own organization taking women leadership issues throughout Africa.  I also wanted to establish an organization that would enable me to leave a legacy through leadership and development programmes and community partnership initiatives.  While I know that there are several well-developed programmes in these areas already out there, I wanted to leave my mark and enable people who were not able to easily access these programmes to have a chance to do so. My home country, Zimbabwe, is a perfect arena for these programmes and has been the launch pad for my initial programmes.  Africa is ripe for a new generation of leadership, leaders who are keen to leave a legacy of exemplary leadership.

The impact of your work has been considered transformational. In designing leadership programmes what do you take into consideration to ensure impact?

Designing leadership programmes requires that you have a solid understanding of key issues affecting the leadership space and remain current around the thinking and learning.  When designing an effective leadership programme it is important to give the individual an opportunity to actually experience being a leader.  The programme should allow for syndicate learning, enabling each participant a chance, or several if possible, to lead a group through some form of experiential exercise.  Only through the challenge of hands-on leadership will participants understand the true meaning of what it takes to negotiate and manoeuvre through realistic scenarios.

What advice would you give someone who wanted to take responsibility for developing their leadership?

I tell the people whom I mentor that leadership begins with them.  They have to develop themselves in order to be able to effectively lead others.  This means they have to have a clear vision of where they want to go and what they want to achieve so that they can lead others there.  They also have to be passionate and enthusiastic about what they are doing because this becomes infectious and spurs others on.  They must understand their strengths (and weaknesses) and be able to set realistic goals and direction.  It is essential that anyone who wants to grow their leadership potential must continuously seek to further their education and network with people who will help them grow.  Having good mentors is also a must for anyone interested in growing their potential.

What would you say leaders especially those at the top need to learn/keep learning?

Leaders, more than anyone else, should know that in order to remain on top of their game, it is vital that they make the effort to continuously learn.  They have to be able to continuously come up with better ideas and innovations and they can only do this by learning and keeping abreast of new learning. With so much information available through various technologies these days, it is easier to access information and learning.  It is important for leaders at the top to have knowledge of finance, politics, world affairs and key topics affecting humanity and also more than a working knowledge of key languages as the world is now a global village.

You’re noted for your negotiation skills. What would you say is the best approach to developing this skill and what other skills do you think would catapult women’s leadership?

It is said that men are able to more effectively negotiate than women because they rely less on emotion when dealing with matters such as these.  However, I believe that as long as women are properly prepared and fully understand what they are negotiating for, they can do better than men. Traditionally, through their family roles, women have handled numerous negotiations on a daily basis.  The best way to become a better negotiator is to understand the various ways of negotiating, be clear about the steps in the negotiation process and be aware of the possible barriers to the process.

Negotiation is often a skill learned by observation rather than participation. Make sure you have numerous opportunities to observe people in this process, discuss their processes with them and understand the possible scenarios that can impede the process as it is a dynamic situation.  I think basically apart from the usual skill-sets required of any leader, women must continue to play on their strengths: being more inclusive and having more empathy, being more persuasive and resilient and more willing to take risks in order to create a new style of leadership that works for them.  Women should not try to emulate men in their leadership style but instead create a style that is tailored for women, by women!

Someone described you as having ‘’many skills often not found in one person’’- quite an accolade!  What are some of the challenges you’ve had to overcome; which of your skills-sets have helped you do that?

That is definitely an accolade I wonder if I rightly deserve.  I think I’ve had to develop numerous skills-sets in order to recreate myself and meet the challenges of the shifts in my career.  I found myself working in a predominantly male-dominated department when I started my career.  I had to learn to have a ‘’voice’’ which meant being articulate and knowledgeable about relevant issues all the time to be considered a serious player. I also had to develop skills outside my normal career development to have an added advantage and become more marketable. I think that being a good communicator and listener, a hard worker and a person who is able to build effective teams has helped me a lot.  I continue to learn and know that I will have to continue to build my leadership skills to become the leader I want to be and be able to leave the legacy I want.

How much of what you’ve achieved to date was in your career plan and what do you know for sure works in achieving a strong career/professional life.

I think that as much as you may plan your career, sometimes life throws you curves that shift your plans and your goals.  I am a trained communications person and thought that I would either be a great journalist or published and well-known author.  My life shifted in a major way in the early 2000s when I joined a women’s international non-profit organization, the International Women’s Forum (SA), focusing mainly on women’s issues.  In that role I found myself focusing on the development of women leaders and issues affecting women in leadership positions.

This also subsequently enabled me to get interested in youth development and community partnership projects through a strategic leadership programme that I helped develop and run.  I think that although you might end up in a career you may not necessarily have planned for, it is imperative that you find some interest in that career by researching, learning more about it and surrounding yourself with a network of people in this field to assist, advise and guide you.  We have to continuously grow with our careers and embrace new learning and opportunities that arise around them.  Very often it is the unplanned that impacts on our lives more and cause life-altering career shifts.

Passion is a word that comes up repeatedly regarding you. How do you describe yourself and where do you see yourself in say next 3-5 years?

I guess the word passion is closely linked to me because I totally love what I do.  I think I am living my dream as far as my work is involved.  I love dealing with women and youth issues. I love looking for ways to grow a new generation of leadership on our continent and I absolutely love working on partnership programmes that will benefit communities everywhere.  I think I’ve used the word ‘’love’’ so much here…..anyway, it’s true, I love what I do!!  When you do what you love there is no room for giving up or going on retirement.  There is only room to keep doing it until you take your last breath!  I know that in 3-5 years I will be still growing my organization, taking our programmes to more countries in Africa, partnering with even more like-minded and passionate people and creating that legacy of leadership I would like to be remembered for.

For more information on Vera Ng’oma’s work and resources in leadership, personal and career development and excellence building, click here.

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