Dudu Msomi is CEO of Busara Leadership Partners, a company which facilitates the development and credibility of leaders. In 2013, Dudu was awarded the Laureate Award by the University of Pretoria in honour of her outstanding contribution in leadership. In 2010, she was selected by the US Consulate in South Africa to participate in the FORTUNE/US State Department Global Women Leaders. She was selected as mentee in the Cherie Blair Foundation programme in 2015. Dudu holds several Board directorships including on the Financial Services Board(FSB) and National Housing Finance Corporation (NHFC) in South Africa.
You’ve worked in a variety of industries and at different levels of leadership including at Board level. How would you define leadership?
Leadership is complex. It cannot always be captured neatly and succinctly into a definition. There are two essential conditions that must exist in an individual for me to see them as a leader – of oneself and of others.
- Leadership is about power. Power is the ability to influence behaviour by inspiring people to do things that they would not otherwise do. Power is the ability to cause or prevent an action and to have the discretion to act or not to act.
- Leadership is also fundamentally about character. Leaders need the courage, the willingness to do the right things and to make the right decisions even if it is difficult or unpopular. Fence sitting is not an option.
What are some of the obstacles you’ve faced in your own leadership journey and how did you work through them?
As a woman leader I have been fortunate to have been offered opportunities to express my views on media platforms. Generally though, the one aspect of being a woman and a leader that has not evolved much is the issue of how having a child or being married is always being brought into the discussion of women’s fitness or readiness for leadership positions. You get to the mid-30s and the whisperings begin about the health of your eggs and the running out of the biological clock. What to do!
In South Africa, despite the qualifications you may have, until a Board or a position needs to meet the Economic Empowerment targets for Africans, you are not top of mind as a leader in your field, but looked at more as a colour or gender. My colour certainly opened up opportunities for me to get into advertising as my first career and later to get opportunities on Boards that I would otherwise not have been sought for despite my Corporate Governance and MBA qualifications.
To overcome these systemic obstacles, you just have to continue expanding your diverse networks that will help open doors for you. Most importantly, constantly work on your skills and knowledge so that you are prepared when the opportunities come because they always do – eventually.
As an entrepreneur, early on, a contact I made was very enthusiastic about my expertise and wanted to recommend my coaching services to Board members of a company said he was working with. However, he told me “The problem is that you are a woman. I cannot promote your services as I do not think the males would welcome being coached by a woman”. Thankfully, there has been a change in such overt sexism since I started my company but obstacles created by blatant patriarchy perpetuated by both women and men still need to be eliminated from society.
You make the point that “choosing what not to do is as important as what to do”; clearly an important point on prioritization. What are your tips on how one can determine what not to do?
There are a number of things that Leaders should not do, but I will touch on three.
- Firstly you must start off anything in life, like life itself with the end in mind. What legacy you want to leave. I love the quote by Yogi Bera which says, “If you don’t know where you are going, you will wind up somewhere else”. You can waste precious moments if you don’t have a personal vision of where you want your life and leadership journey to lead you.
- Do not ‘kill’ the Goose that Lays the Golden Egg. A leader must look after oneself in order to contribute in the world and assist other people achieve their goals in life as well. The juggling act depletes my energy stores. As Ulla Moses says, “Wisdom is harder to do than it is know”. Creating firm boundaries and saying “No” more than “Yes” is an ongoing challenge.
- Don’t over-focus on the present. A leader needs to have a compelling vision of the future to lead your followers towards. Therefore you cannot spend too much time on crises and day-to-day operational tasks; but constantly push yourself to make time to research, forecast, work out scenarios and plan for the future.
Busara Leadership Partners which you head focuses among other things on research. What are some of the research findings that are influencing your work, your leadership?
One of the research studies that our company Busara Leadership Partners undertook was to obtain further insights into networking in order to provide tools for women to change their circumstances, enhance their knowledge and skills so that they can be architects of their own empowerment and change. Some key insights gained were that:
- Men have the ability to compartmentalise and spend time building relationships – indulging in networking activities such as golf, game farm weekends away, long lunch meetings – without guilt, as they have supportive structures in place; whereas women often see this as a selfish activity, not a ‘nice girl’ thing to do. Trying to balance quality time for both career and domestic responsibilities remains a daunting challenge, and a burden that many women carry.
- Women often focus on being friendly at the expense of supporting each other to grow. Women mostly evoked the excuse that they are too busy to actively help one another as women. This results in women perpetuating their own alienation, making them even more vulnerable when they occupy leadership positions.
- Men are better at passing on business leads than women because they treat their networks as business opportunities, whereas women tend to focus on the social aspects of networking. Men tend to be more upfront about the commercial needs whilst women are coy and not outspoken about the business exchanges that they would want to benefit from in the relationship.
Your contribution to leadership development is well noted. What keeps you awake about the status of leadership today and what are some of the ways to build the leadership pipeline early?
I am not kept awake about leadership issues. I do something about it. One cannot solve all the problems of the world but do what you can where you are at. I struggle with time pressures as I do make myself accessible to speak at business schools on leadership, write, mentor and make myself available for media interviews.
I also develop seminars and Masterclasses in Busara Leadership Partners that contribute to the building of the leadership pipeline. One of my company’s Masterclasses coming up soon will focus on Corporate Governance issues. Our mission is to inspire and facilitate the development of courageous new generation Board members, shareholders and entrepreneurs who are well equipped with not just with the appropriate technical knowledge, but also most importantly the consciousness and conscience to do what is best for the organisations that they lead for the benefit of our country.
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