Thursday, 7 December 2017

An enlightened view of transformation

So I was minding my own business the other day while the new executive team at Collective ID were discussing the upcoming launch and who should speak at the event. I immediately started looking on my phone for names of accomplished speakers when I heard my own name mentioned.

Looking up, I saw one of the executives beaming from ear to ear as he said, “Brilliant idea. Mosidi – you’d be a great speaker – you can talk about inspiring transformation.”

My heart started beating furiously. Before I could come up with one good reason why it shouldn’t be me, there were high fives and back pats and that was that. I was it.

It wasn’t so much that I didn’t want to speak, more that the topic of inspiring transformation wasn’t exactly new. The more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that there wasn’t anything I could add that hadn’t already been said.

Finally after a long day and late night at work, I found myself at 2 o’clock in the morning with a blank piece of paper and an unwritten speech. Just as I was about to throw in the towel, a single thought hit me right between my eyes – I am living proof of transformation and mentorship. I am an example of what true transformation can achieve. I need to tell my story and how my own journey, once set in motion, lead to continuous improvement.

Growing up in Alice, a small town in the Eastern Cape, I felt like I had a very protected upbringing. My parents were both in teaching – my mom as a high school principal and my father as a physics professor.  My mother and her grandmother, who were evicted from Sophiatown, grew up in difficult times and placed great importance on education.  I even got the nickname “no-College” for being a constant shadow at my father’s side. I was lucky to be exposed to reading at a young age. I was curious about everything and hungry for knowledge. My parents instilled in me the drive to want to do well, to succeed against any odds, to think independently and stand on my own two feet.

While I completed my BCom at Rhodes University, and was well-equipped with theoretical knowledge, my practical experience and understanding of how big corporations work, was very limited.

Despite this, I got lucky – really lucky – because my very first boss at Unilever, Claire Hooper, mentored me from the very start. She saw qualities in me I didn’t even know I had and pushed me to do things I wasn’t sure I would be able to do. She taught me to use my skills and abilities to go after what I really want. She helped me get my first car and advised and supported me in getting my own flat.

I learned to thrive on challenges and find solutions to problems. I was given the space to make mistakes and to grow at every opportunity. This was my first experience of real authentic transformation and a mentorship.

Years later I would find myself rising up the corporate ladder, taking more and more senior positions, leading teams and achieving success for the brands and companies I worked at.

But something just wasn’t right.

Here I was with everything I thought I wanted and yet I felt unfulfilled. It played on my mind a lot, because I knew I loved my job but I just couldn’t shake the feeling that something was missing.

And that’s when the light went on … I realised that part of my role was to contribute meaningfully to my country by mentoring others, tapping into their hidden talents, empowering and guiding them to reach their full potential and in turn pay it forward to the next generation.

Transformation is about removing the barriers to prosperity – it’s not a hand-out, it’s about giving a helping hand. It’s about giving people a fishing rod and up-skilling them to fish, encouraging and guiding them.

My journey has not been all plain sailing, I’ve stumbled along the way, fallen straight into the trappings of success and power in ego-driven, highly competitive business environments. This taught me humility and the importance of valuing others. It helped me connect better by being more vulnerable.

I realised that enabling others to succeed not only grows them, it grows you and the team and the company. It creates a culture that taps into the talents of the collective, not just a selected few.

My experience reinforced my viewpoint that transformation is about more than codes and charters and levels and points – while they play an incredibly important role, authentic transformation happens when everyone benefits.

People are at the heart of transformation. Embracing diversity, nurturing talent and investing in training and development encourages employee engagement, which increases performance, giving the company a competitive advantage and a more profitable bottom line.

Transformation is about growth, which it leads to on all levels. It’s about economic empowerment – economic participation and enablement.  Fronting and window-dressing have cast long shadows over the true meaning and beneficial nature of transformation, enriching a few and empowering even fewer.

True transformation is inclusive, tapping into the talents of each individual to benefit the collective. This is where the playing fields shift, this is where the magic happens, where collaborations and partnerships are created to benefit all parties involved. It’s a win-win.

In my opinion, we need to look at transformation in this light – as a dynamic platform that enables each of us to contribute and grow, and in so doing, create jobs and future opportunities that cultivate our country’s economy as a whole. 

For many years now I have continued my journey of empowering others by connecting talented people with business opportunities and introductions that enabled them to expand their network. By shining a light on people’s potential, businesses grow, thrive and succeed.

Through my very own personal experience, which afforded me the opportunities to work at forward-thinking, progressive companies like Unilever and SAB and now my role at Collective ID, I have seen that real transformation builds brands, companies and communities with profitable results.

-Content by Mosidi Seretlo, non-executive chair, Collective ID

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