The Regenesys Leadership Conversations are a series of seminars that promote networking with high-level decision makers from business, government and developmental sectors. Abiel Mngomezulu, the CEO of Mintek shared with us his views and personal experiences on leadership at the ‘conversation’ held at Regenesys Business School on 26 June 2012. His vast experience and extensive knowledge of minerals exploration, mineral economics and strategy development are what made him the perfect guest speaker covering the topic leadership and strategic development.
Abiel is a deeply humble man, and through his comical anecdotes, he talked about his experiences and life lessons. The main focus of his talk was how to, as a leader, develop a strategy and take an organisation to the next level, whilst communicating the changes effectively to internal and external stakeholders in order to ensure that everybody buys into that strategy.
He began his talk by giving us a sourced definition of leadership: influencing people by providing purpose, direction and motivation while operating to accomplish a mission and improve the organisation. He spoke of different leadership styles – authoritarian, participative or democratic and delegative or free reign, humorously describing himself as a mild dictator. Abiel then went on to say that, through his own initial interpretation of leadership and the sourced definition, there were a few key areas of leadership that he would focus on.
Abiel Mngomezulu used his role at Mintek to demonstrate how good communication is a key aspect of leadership. “When I began working there, there was no communication or free flow of information. I decided to make the effort to meet all the employees at the organisation in person and in their own work spaces. This took over three months to complete.” says Abiel. He continues, “I then put mechanisms in place to open free communication channels such as a web-based system for feedback and suggestion boxes.”
Abiel also prioritised reporting back to the staff every quarter, and answered any questions that his staff members posed, sometimes tackling difficult issues. He says, “These efforts may not have made me a good leader, but it became about being a good communicator, which is an essential quality for any leader to lead successfully.” He adds, “In any environment, you cannot be liked by everybody, especially when keeping your communication honest, but a good rule of thumb is, try to keep the number of those people who do not like you under 10%. A good leader effectively communicates what he expects from his employees and then allows them room to grow and sometimes an opportunity to lead too.”
Abiel talked about how every organisation needs to work with a long term plan or policy. “If you do not plan, you plan to fail.” Individual goals, collective goals and organisational goals are all important but might not be aligned. A strong leader manages conflicts of interest and differing goals. When leading, you should be able to speak out about what you admire and what you despise.
On the subject of motivation, Abiel mentioned that it participative behaviour from all employees and understanding the organisational goals and where the organisation is going is crucial. “We have a tendency to build walls between ourselves and other people. What we need to do instead, is to share information and help each other as company values rest between the ears of its employees.”
Leaders need to know who their important stakeholders are and how to behave around them. Abiel quips, “You must never surround yourself with people who compliment you but rather with those who complement you.” He explains, “If you are not strong or gifted in a certain area, then you need to surround yourself with people who are better at it than you. Their good qualities will have a ripple through to you.”
Abiel stated that an exemplary leader needs to know how to trust: “You need to be led by other people at times. Trust has to be earned.” He added “Another important thing to remember in life is to say thank you and to acknowledge the people who passed you the ball. But it is equally important to not shy away if someone has done something wrong. You need to let that person know.”
“It is cold and lonely up at the top. If you are a leader, you need to have guts and goals. Be tough at times and do what you believe in, despite what people say. A leader does not deserve the name unless he or she is occasionally willing to stand alone.” says Abiel.
In closing, Abiel pleaded with the leaders of today to help new graduates with employment. Each leader must do their bit to ensure these graduate do not exacerbate the unemployment crises, but rather begin contributing to the economy directly after their studies.
In answering questions from the audience regarding the future of state owned enterprises and their responsibilities to the surrounding communities, he explained the difficult contradiction these organisations are often faced with in terms of making the choice between being developmental in nature or business minded. In his opinion they need to separate the two mandates and use state funds for developmental aspects and ensure commercial success in order to cover other expenses.
Mr Abiel Mngomezulu’s simple life truths and key focus areas for sound leadership can be applied to anyone at any point in their careers. He shared the secrets that make him the modest and well rounded person he is today, reminding us that even as leaders, we should not take the things for granted and the difference made by basic interactions with the people around us.