Do you want to dance? Boardroom dancing is for any corporate activist who cares about transformation and giving diverse stakeholders a seat at the table. In this age, ‘it is easy (necessary) to be a corporate activist.’ You, too, can be a powerful corporate chief who overcomes the resistance, the age-old roadblocks, and dance at the Boardroom table. Nolitha Fakude is an outstanding dancer and leads and dances by example. In her 30-plus years in the corporate world, she has served on multiple multinational, multi-listed company boards, asking new and tough questions, giving voice to the voiceless, developing allies and partners, and supporting other champions of change. She is a renowned, respected authority on transformation, empowerment, and the upliftment of women and diverse previously marginalized groups. In this episode with Anne Pratt, Nolitha explains her construct and analogy on leadership as a dance with insights from her book, Boardroom Dancing: Transformation Stories from a Corporate Activist. She also sheds light on her corporate activist work and what it’s like to be a leader and courageous change agent in the boardroom – and like you did in those carefree years, let’s dance the night away.
Listen to the podcast here.
Boardroom Dancing with Nolitha Fakude in South Africa
Transformation Stories from a Corporate Activist
Our bold leader joins us from Johannesburg in South Africa on the Southern tip of the African continent. She’s a shopkeeper’s daughter who is no stranger to hard work serving others, living, and leading with humble, clear values. In her thirty-plus years in the corporate world, she has served on multiple multinational, multi-listed company boards listed on the London, the New York, and the Johannesburg Stock Exchanges, including the big global mining giant Anglo American.
As a Non-Executive Director, she sat on the Anglo American Plc London Listed Board. She was Chairperson of the South African Management Board and the Former President of the Minerals Council of South Africa. In her previous position, she was an Exec Director and Executive Vice President for strategy and sustainability for another global giant, Sasol Limited, an energy, and chemicals company.
Other boards, she served on include the Johannesburg Stock Exchange Limited and the International Women’s Forum of South Africa. She has received multiple accolades, including the financial and most influential businesswoman. In her former life, she was the President and Managing Director of the Black Management Forum in South Africa. She’s a respected authority on transformation and empowerment, the upliftment of women and diverse previously marginalized groups. She is the author of Boardroom Dancing: Transformation Stories from a Corporate Activist. She spends reflective time in bed with books in her spare time. We warmly welcome Nolitha Fakude.
Nolitha, it’s always such a joy to speak to you. It’s been so long, but I’m happy and blessed that you’re coming to have this conversation to share your remarkable stories, insights, and wisdom about leadership and leading boldly into the future. Thank you.
Thank you very much for thinking of me and including me in this amazing journey you are embarking on. It’s been a long while since we last saw each other because we’re far away, but I’m excited to see what you’re working on. Thanks again for inviting me to be part of this process.
Nolitha, I was so excited when you published your wonderful book about boardroom dancing and transformation stories told through a corporate activist’s eyes, mind, and heart. I thought how you define a corporate activist would be a wonderful place to begin.
In South Africa, for me, particularly being a corporate activist, someone who knows you are there as a change agent when you come within the corporate environment. I started working in 1990 in South Africa. This was six months after Nelson Mandela came out of prison. I knew, as a Black person, coming into the world of work, that, as part of the transformation journey, I was there representing others who were not there. The journey that I and many others of my generation were about how we transform and change the culture within Corporate South Africa to be all-inclusive and make sure that Black people and women like myself would find a home.
Nolitha, I remember the first meeting when you were still the Managing Director of the Black Management Forum in South Africa. I remember your wonderful keynote when you were the President of the Black Management Forum. You came and spoke for Totsie Memela, my dear friend, and I when we launched Memela Pratt & Associates.
I remember the passion you shared around this journey of transformation and change. We also worked together on the topic of boardroom dancing and how boards transform. That’s not only relevant for South Africa. That is relevant in many countries, including the United States of America. What is the key premise of your book, Boardroom Dancing?
In each organization or institution, there is a different culture. As a board member and a leader going into that organization, you always find different leadership styles in present cultures that are dominating. As a Black South African coming into the White corporate environment in the boardrooms, I came with a mindset saying we used to dance on the streets toyi-toyi in protest, and I wanted to include it. When you come inside the boardroom, what is your toyi-toyi? The analogy was that you do boardroom dancing. You come to one boardroom, and you find the dance of the culture on the walls. How do you then engage within that culture so you can still state who you are and what you stand for?
Also, very importantly, we think about ballroom dancing or boardroom dancing. Those are fundamental steps, for example, whether they’re doing the waltz or cha-cha-cha. Therefore, from a transformational perspective, the fundamental steps that I talk about in the book are about values, knowing who you are and where to stand for, and always leading based on principles and values. Remember to bring an implicit agenda of those not at the table or in the boardroom.
Being a lead dancer or a follower, can you draw that distinction for us in terms of dancing and being the lead dancer? How’s that different for you and the experience you’ve had in boardrooms, not only in South Africa, but you’ve also served on Plc boards of companies listed on the London Stock Exchange? What is the distinction between being the lead dancer or leading and following?
There’s a huge difference. I strongly believe that we always find situational leadership wherever we are in an organization or an institution. Depending on the issue on the table for me and how strongly I feel about the issue, that’s when I decide, “Am I going to be the one who defines the rules of how we conduct the engagement? Am I going first to understand what the rules are at play within this organization?”
When you understand those and the values at play, you see which ones resonate with you that you want to support and champion and which ones you feel are important to challenge. For example, getting on most boards throughout my corporate career, you come in, look around, and say, “Where are the people who look or sound like me? Who are different from the ones we’ve got around the table?”
Asking that question and being the person who consistently asks the questions around what are we doing to include others, those who are not there become the lead dancer type of engagement. Having said that, you find that in some organizations, you come in and find colleagues who are passionate about the same issues that you’re passionate about. Therefore, you support them and ensure that you amplify and continue to support that particular agenda as part of a collective. For me, the whole leading and following, and sometimes being there to cheer on the others, are all about the entire activity of being in a boardroom.In some organizations, you come in and find colleagues who are passionate about the same issues that you're passionate about. You make sure that you amplify and continue to support that particular agenda as part of a collective. Click To Tweet
Nolitha, it’s such an important conversation. I know that you have been a remarkable trailblazer in South Africa. Can you take us back to a specific time that was a difficult moment for you? You’ve mentioned that as a Black woman, often, you’re the only person of color and sometimes the only woman around the table. Is there a specific transformational story you can share with us, your own account, and in what time, place, and organization? How did you feel at that time? How did you navigate part of that, and how did you transform that?
There are plenty of those to think of. Let me pick up one which I’ve spoken about publicly. That way, we are on safe ground, so to speak. When I was elected as the National President of the Black Management Forum in 2003, not only was I getting into the organization that had been in existence for 27 years. I was also coming in as the first woman to be the organization’s president. I could not have made it that far had it not been for my colleagues nationally, who had voted for me and elected me to become the president. In the presidential term, you had two terms of office of 3 years. The intention was always that coming in, and I would continue to champion the agenda of women’s empowerment in terms of economic inclusion.
However, because being the national president was a non-executive role during that period, I was also an executive director elsewhere. I was the Executive Director at Sasol, a huge multinational company then. I am also listed on the New York and Johannesburg Stock Exchanges. Here I was with two roles that I had to work through, besides the fact that the Black Management Forum as an organization at that time was also transitioning to reflect what was happening in the country in terms of politics, like the changes from President Thabo Mbeki to President Zuma.
As the leader, I was required to be part of these engagements. I felt that, at that time, when my first time in office came to an end, I was still ambivalent about whether I continue for the second term or not. I felt I had left it for too long to decide. Eventually, by the time I was making the call to say, “I cannot take on the second term of office because I’ve got this other challenge from a work perspective,” there were other dimensions and discussions that were already bubbling within the organization that was causing us to be dysfunctional.
Can you share examples of those so we can understand the context?
The issue of succession was the big issue. Who would then be the leader or the next president of the organization? When you work within an organization like that, where you let people from their regions broadly, and then they come through to the national role, you do have to talk to your stakeholders. You need to lobby and advocate for the candidates. Because I was preoccupied with my values, the organizational issues of succession within the Black Management Forum took second place. As a result, when I was trying to catch up with that bus, it was too late for me to influence who and what type of a leader should be in the organization.
More importantly, the role of women in the organization and continuation with the agenda was one of those moments I felt that I had let myself down in terms of my commitment to this particular agenda. Also, I let down many other people who had hoped that, in the future, the organization would see more women in leadership positions. I didn’t communicate my intentions of not continuing or continuing as a president of the organization early enough. It took us, as the organization, quite a long time. It’s almost another six years to turn things around.
How did you turn that around? What were the key steps, and what can we learn from them?
Part of attending that process around was to make sure that by the time I left the organization at the end of my term, I still had made it very clear to any leader within the organization that I was committed still fully supportive of its values, and what the organization stood for. I would continue supporting the organization if I was formally in a position. I had made that commitment at a personal crisis level and followed it through.
Secondly, by making sure that the new leadership knew that I was there, I continued to attend functions when I was invited, made sure that I championed the programs that they were running, and challenged them on certain issues as colleagues and peers when there were issues that I felt were not appropriate. I remember there used to be issues reported in the newspapers about what the organization had said about a particular topic that I knew was not in line with who we were as an organization.
I would call the president and other leaders, “This is not who we are. This is not what we stand for. Let us sit down, talk, and call in former presidents.” As a result, we formed an advisory committee of former presidents and the star ones of the organization to be almost the sounding board for the new board and the subsequent boards. That advisory board is still there. It’s not a formal structure. It doesn’t have formal recognition for constitutionality, but it’s a very powerful body for the organization. Since then, all presidents have used it to engage with us when they believe that a matter needs to be dealt with or even the sound of a particular issue.Where possible, sit down and have conversations with former presidents and leaders in the organization. Form an advisory committee to be the sounding board for the new and subsequent boards. Click To Tweet
That’s a wonderful example of how through difficult adversity comes opportunity. I’m curious. You said that within six years, you turned it around. How did you measure the turnaround six years down the line? What were your measurements of success in terms of “We’ve got to where we want to be in terms of the turnaround?” How did you feel then?
For an organization like that, the issues were around feelings and the sentiment out there rather than anything else. Six years before, the sentiment among members and other stakeholders externally was very disappointing regarding the organization’s direction. There were concerns about the role of women, participation, and visibility of women within the organization. Again, you go back to the sentiment in terms of understanding whether the level of credibility with stakeholders is still as high as before.
It’s even better than it was in 2006 because we even brought in younger people. Some young people are leaders. Within the context of Mandela, one would reflect. I kept on going back to the point of thinking when Mandela decided that there was only going to save one term as president. When you could have served two terms, he was allowing younger leaders and new leaders to come through and be in a position to support them as elder statesmen. For me, the lesson, the a-ha moment, has been to say, “You can still play a role within an organization without a formal position. Also, be in a position where you can influence, support, and shape those organizations’ future strategies if you’re connected and are seen to be a constructive part of the organization.”You can still play a role within an organization without a formal position and influence, support, and shape the future and the strategies of those organizations if you're connected and seen as a constructive part of the organization. Click To Tweet
Did you measure that sentiment as you alluded? Was that measured in surveys, general feedback, or anecdotal feedback?
Unfortunately, we don’t do formal surveys for such business associations because it’s our association. It’s more anecdotes and also the feedback that we receive as individuals or even the organization from key stakeholders in government, civil society, labor, and business. We measure it by seeing how the organization’s corporate membership grew over the years in terms of support and how younger people and women are visible, as I say, in leadership.
Now, you will find that most of the provinces and the regional chairpeople or branch chairpersons are women in the organization. That has been part of that measurement. There’s still a disappointment that I was the last female president fifteen years later. There’s still some work to be done there.
There’s some lobbying to do. It’s something that struck me. I remember, at that time, people were quite surprised. I was a member of the Black Management Forum. This is important because many people don’t realize or perceive that the Black Management Forum is open to all races. Can you briefly talk about the pointers to what was important for the Black Management Forum, firstly to be available to all races, and secondly, what is the significance of having multiple cultures and races represented in the forum to help with the transformational agenda of an organization like the Black Management Forum?
We’ve got to think back to when the BMF, Black Management Forum, was set up in 1976. For South Africa, in 1976, we know a lot was happening politically. The Black professionals who came together were mostly those working for multinationals based in South Africa. It’s people like Eric Mafuna, Reuel Khoza, and many others.
The BMF’s vision and commitment are to the leadership development of Black professionals so that they are prepared to become leaders in corporate when the opportunities present themselves. Secondly and fundamentally is that around the change management. It’s to change the culture of organizations as change agents wherever they go. To do that, you need to change the culture. We’re talking about boardroom dancing. You need allies and partners.
For the BMF, the issue of non-racialism was important then and still is important. Therefore, membership has always been open to all South Africans, or anyone for that matter who aspires and supports the vision and the values of the BMF and also is an ally to transformation and change. People like yourselves and many other White compatriots in South Africa supported the BMF not only as members but sponsors, mentorship and coaching were new.
Totsie Memela formed a company, Memela Pratt, which was a search firm. That was also an important step because you were using your organization to identify Black talent. That would ordinarily not have been seen or accessible to corporates in the country. You are showcasing these talented people and placing them in key positions in the country. You are coaching a lot of people. I know you did a lot of mentorships. You coached and mentored me quite a lot. I do know that you did the same to many others.
It’s an important conversation in value systems even to talk about worldwide because we keep discussing inclusion and diversity as we move forward. Without focusing on inclusion and diversity, you can’t have a non-racial or non-sexist society. We can’t even talk about transitioning into the future in a way where you bring in others who are different if you do not have organizations that advocate, champion, and lobby for that type of change to happen. The Black Management Forum happens to be within the space of corporates.
Nolitha, your career has been remarkable. As you’ve said, you’ve transitioned through the amazing work of the Black Management Forum. You were doing remarkable change programs on boards of internationally listed companies then. As this corporate activist, to what extent are you still this corporate activist?
Also, the corporate world, which holds the power of the purse, has often been a critical stakeholder at the table. What big leadership challenges do you think corporates could and should address, and what keeps you awake at night? What conversations do you still bring to the table that you think corporates ought to be addressing?
Nowadays, it’s a little bit easier, or maybe it’s because of age that I feel it’s getting easier to become a complete activist than it was many years ago. In that, we’ve got a lot of governance standards and principles that are in place. Even as a board member, if you’re a non-executive director on a corporate board or even an executive, you have some frameworks that support you in championing inclusion and diversity. Secondly, if we’re talking about the future sustainability of the world now, we are talking about the issues of ESG, which are Environment, Social, and Governance.
Those issues are around being a corporate activist, even internally, to make sure that as a board member, you continue to ask the difficult questions to management and of management in terms of, “Do we have programs that support young people, young entrepreneurs, or women? Do we have programs that support communities in a way that will leave a long-lasting impact in terms of social support and social impact?” We also have frameworks for the sustainable development goals of the United Nation’s SDG 2030. Those frameworks now make it easier as a board member because your voice becomes much louder.
You’re able to say, “We are not complying. If we comply with some of these calls and principles, how do we ensure that we become the best of breed in a particular area?” For me, the areas that keep me awake at night are the areas around bringing young leaders into key senior roles operationally and women into those positions. We look at the stats in most of the top hundred listed companies on the China Stock Exchange. We still have a handful of women CEOs. That situation has got to be dealt with because there are enough competent, qualified, and experienced women who can be leaders in those positions.
What do you think the barriers are? Why do you think there is still this resistance? Is there an example where you’ve been able to break through those barriers to get a woman CEO elected?
I will talk more broadly about the barriers. Getting women CEOs elected is about how the board sees its commitment to transformation and change and how you make sure that you not only demonstrate that through the policies that you have but also by holding management accountable. When searching for a particular role, it’s to be clear about what you’re looking for. If you cannot come up with the specification we’re looking for; it’s to be able to push back. I find that in most instances, goodwill and sometimes politeness happens around the boardroom.
People say, “We’ll look at it next time.” We’re finding more often, shareholders and stakeholders are asking about gender equality, pay equality, fair pay, and all those other issues around the ESG. It’s thriving the behavior of management to deliver to those issues. One of the barriers for me for a long time had been pay (remuneration). This activism was based on individuals and how passionate they felt about issues. Now that even the shareholders are asking the questions, the tone at the top is changing.
Shareholder activism is important in shaping the conversation.
Very much so. It’s also as important. The tone at the top is the tone that the leaders set at the board, the chair of the board, the CEO, and our directors. Suppose they do not demonstrate how seriously they consider diversity to be. In that case, you will see that reflected in who gets appointed to an organization and promoted into key positions. Sometimes, even to the point of not seeing the traction where people stay within organizations because of the retention issues.
If you ask me what the issues that keep me awake at night are, it’s around the future challenge. Do we have the right talent in terms of leadership? Also, the future talent. It’s not only about race and gender now. It’s also about competencies. Do we have the right type of leaders? Do we have the values of integrity? Do we have the core values of being leaders who are global leaders and leaders who are also allowing themselves to be vulnerable so that they can be able to lead the change that is required in the different organizations that they run?
Even how we develop leaders in organizations or academic institutions is as important as it was many years ago because then, those leaders now are in the pipeline should be set up to the leaders who will be thinking about the future more than the short-term type of leaders. Leaders who think about the future, talent, who will sustain this organization for the next hundred years, and their practices regarding ESG issues. We need those types of leaders to build resilience in our organizations into the future.
Nolitha, we share a great love and passion for our beloved Nelson Mandela, or Madiba as we call him. You referenced him early in our conversation. Do you think Madiba’s leadership example and competence are still relevant now? If so, why?
Madiba’s leadership competencies are still relevant for all of us. He had the kind of value systems that were universal and, hopefully, timeless. Moral courage is a very important value system that one has to have because we have to have courageous conversations as a leader with our stakeholders, whether it’s unions, communities, employees, or shareholders. To have those courageous conversations with humility, integrity, and also a genuine belief in knowing that you want to build bridges or change the status quo is important. For me, that’s one of those reasons I’m saying the leaders of the future, even in business, having and onboarding those types of leadership competencies is important.
Business leaders now engage with governments of the day locally and globally (a closer PrivatePublicPartnership) Even if there’s a leader, you must engage with other leaders, whether in government or business, in a way that enhances their relationship from a courageous conversation perspective and an integrity perspective. Also, saying, “What is the win-win for all of us?” We’re not going to be the leader of the future.
I conversed with Thuli Madonsela, who has been a great moral compass and authority for South Africa in her former position as public protector but continues to be a moral compass in many ways, not only for South Africa but setting a turn internationally. One of the things that she was talking about, which I’m curious to hear your response, was how many leaders had lost their way in these times. There’s been an erosion of values that you’ve spoken about as well. How do we turn that tide? How do we reshift?
Can you give us an example where you have been able to halt a trend of self-orientated values looking after me and my materialistic image versus being of service to the stakeholders and the people out there who have put us in positions at par or people who depend on us as directors of companies? What are those strategies to stop the current trend of me versus the empowerment and the service of we? Do you have an example? Have you done that before? How do we do that?
I’m so happy you continue to engage with our sister, Thuli Madonsela because she’s an amazing anchor point for many of us in leadership. Not only how she carried herself when she was the Public Protector (of South Africa) but also how she continues to challenge us always to seek to do the right things as leaders. The conversation around values for me is a fundamental and important value conversation, even at a personal level.
When I documented my journey through the book, one of the intentions was to have conversations with young people to say, “Let’s have these conversations around the values and the journey, and more importantly, about the identity of whom we would like to be as South Africans and be seen in the world and also amongst ourselves.” Identity has everything to do with values, what to stand for, and what you believe is reflected. Therefore, it represents you in having those conversations. I’m not even selling the book (but you should because of its’ powerful message), but the last chapter is titled, We Need to Talk.
For me, it’s about the fact that dialogue is important. I’ve had the opportunity to meet many young people through book clubs. It’s amazing how it’s worked during the COVID lockdown. I never realized how many book conversations you could have with groups of 20, 30, or 40 young people, athletics teams, and different people to discuss the value system. With COVID-19, one of the topics globally that everyone has been talking about is the fact that COVID has brought to the surface all the inequalities that we see in the world.
It goes back then to the values. That opportunity for me is always to say to young people, “What are the values that you believe are important?” The values that mean broadly are, “You are because we are,” and no man is an island. We cannot be successful in isolation. It’s very important to continuously engage across the generations and reach out to others to understand where they are coming from so we can talk about whether the future is common and what that shared future is.
Young people are much clearer about what the future should be. It’s not about they want a future that is much more inclusive than before. They want a lot that has got more inclusive economic growth. They want a future with fewer inequalities, fairness, justice, and fundamental principles. What does that mean? It comes back to the issue of all these young people. How do we then engage them in conversations that will help shape their leadership thoughts and styles for the future? I engage with young people through the BMF.They want a future that is much more inclusive than before. They want a future that has more inclusive economic growth, where you have fewer inequalities, and more fairness and justice. Click To Tweet
Still, we have student doctors, so I engage with those. I envy people like Prof. Thuli Madonsela because she always engages with young people. That two-way engagement also helps people of my generation to think differently and also understand what it is that we, as leaders, are expected and should be expected to do if we don’t think that we should be doing to do it differently.
Nolitha, you’ve struck an important point. It’s super encouraging that young leaders have all the values you’ve discussed. Very often, young people look up to our generation and say, “What are you folks doing?” My question very briefly is, what is it that our generation ought to be doing differently? Good people, who exemplify many of those values, and somehow as they’ve moved up the wealth scale, have lost sight of that. Young people look up and say, “You are indulging in all these more self-serving luxuries.”
Not to say one shouldn’t have luxuries that one enjoys, but one should have a semblance of balance and responsibility, and one should be the example. The fact that “Let’s not forget where we came from. Remember those core values that helped us in this fight for transformation and liberation. Let us still continue to live, act, and lead in a way that pays tribute to those values.” What should we say to our generation, and what should we do to transform this trend?
Many people, especially the younger generation, talk about the inaccessibility of people of our generation. They say we never get to talk to you. We never get to engage with you because we read about you or see you in the media. One of the things that we have to continue to do as leaders is to be accessible. Accessibility either through these types of shows that you’re doing or coming out plowing back into the community. When you are accessible, you can have conversations with young people who ask, “How did you get here?” The question that most young people still have is, “How did people get to where they got to? “
Suppose they do not understand the struggle or the journey that the role models or the visible people have gone through over the years. In that case, they think that the quick way of going about it is to emulate the people who get that through corruption because there’s no other public narrative. I’m afraid one of the basics is to remain visible within communities, return to the schools and communities where there are younger people and other people, engage on a personal level, and listen because it’s also by listening.
You don’t engage to go and tell people, “Do not do this.” You go and listen. By listening more, we can understand and read where everybody’s at so that whatever interventions we put in place as government, civil society, business, and general society, then at the right interventions. We could be saying there’s a perception. It becomes too anecdotal because people say, “I want to go and live by the sea because that’s what I’m seeing on social media.”
If they’re not having conversations with real people rather than people behind the screen, we’re not going to have the conversation. I do encourage participation in organizations. There are organizations like the International Women’s Forum. For leaders, we need to be out there. There are other organizations, coaching, and mentorship there that are accessible and available.
You’ve climbed up that ladder. I want to return to that little later, but how have you anchored your values? You are consistently a woman of morals, courage, authority, and integrity. What practices do you do to anchor those values and to keep you committed and disciplined to those values in your daily life and leadership?
I come from a mother who would say to you every day, “Make sure that you are not the kind of person that when someone sees you and asks who that person is, you are going to be embarrassed to say, ‘I am Nolitha, and I’m so and so’s the daughter.’” Having said that, surrounding yourself with the people who keep you grounded is important because those who keep you grounded and challenge who you are and what to stand for are the people who know you best. They are your friends, family, and people who’ve known you for a long time. Also, allow yourself to be vulnerable. Every day, I struggle with keeping my true North Star in many decisions I make as a leader.
“What has worked and what has not worked?” I do that almost daily. It drives me crazy because sometimes I beat myself up for many things. When I do that, I can say that that decision was based on principles. If you do not know what those principles hold you together as a person are, then it becomes difficult. Continue to spend time in reflection. I’ve come to appreciate more and more that being able to reflect inwardly about being by yourself, where you are at within, as a person, and around the future helps.If you do not know what are those principles that hold you together as a person, then it becomes difficult. Click To Tweet
How often do you do that? Do you have a ritual?
I have rituals that I don’t think are normal. Most people say they think best when they are in the shower. My ritual is to sit in bed, surround myself with books, and believe all that information will come through. I cocoon a lot with books. It gives me contemplation. My spiritual life is also important. I do have the spiritual practices that I engage in.
Can you share and engage some of them?
It’s being able to acknowledge with gratitude. For me, it’s my ancestors. Over the years, I continued to talk to my grandmothers and shout at them. I also laugh with them and ask them, “Is this all supposed to be about any issue?” To be able to do that, you need to know that it’s about having that relationship. That has been one of my anchors. I’m talking to my grandmothers. I have grandmothers that are very special whom I continue to talk to.
That’s wonderful. What is your definition of vulnerability? Can you share it with us? People use this word, and for so long, people have perceived that being vulnerable is a weakness instead of a strength. There’s a shift in that thinking. Can you give us a brief example of how that vulnerability has shown up at some point?
Vulnerability, for me, is more about self-awareness and being able to talk to others and say, “I don’t know or help me. I don’t have all the answers.” As a leader, being in a position to be able to say, “I’m sorry, we made a mistake,” and ask for people’s input. As a leader, telling people, “I don’t have all the answers. Give me your input,” is also part of that vulnerability.
That’s a key skill and competence required for future leaders. Only when people around you realize that you’re open to receiving feedback and getting inputs can they give you those inputs knowing that it won’t be a career-limited move or they won’t get them into trouble. Vulnerability in leadership and in life generally is being able to see, “I don’t have all the answers.” I’m sitting here with you and feel I don’t have all the answers to some of the questions you’re asking.
Nolitha, you alluded to your relationship with your mother. Can you take us back in time to a childhood defining moment? What was that for you?
My father passed away when I was eight years old. My mother was widowed at 28 years old. As the eldest child, I had to start helping and supporting her at home. It meant that I started working as an eight-year-old. That changed my life because we ran a general dealer shop at home. It meant I went into the shop when I was eight.
That is an incredibly powerful example of indelibly imprinting, hard work, all sorts of things, and dealing with great losses. I’m sorry about those losses at such a young age… Talking about Mandela, what was your Mandela Moment?
It goes back to when he retired earlier than we all wanted him to. He was a leader who was at the top of his game and him leaving power behind. That is a lesson for all of us as leaders. It’s to know when to leave. Also, make sure you leave on a high note when you step back.
It’s very powerful. Many people out there could take stock of that. What final thoughts do you want to leave us with?
The issue of being accessible as a leader is important because being accessible means that you don’t lose touch with ordinary people. As leaders, the minute we forget the day-to-day reality of ordinary employees and communities, it’s the day we lose touch and make the wrong decisions. His humility and accessibility are something that I admire.
Nolitha, thank you so much for your accessibility and vulnerability. I so look forward to sharing more with you. Do come back again, but bless you. Keep up your amazing work in the world. Keep dancing in those boardrooms. We need more corporate activists like you. Thank you. God bless you.
Thank you so much. All the best to you too. Lots of love.
I love Nolitha’s book title, construct, and leadership analogy. Leadership is dance whether you are toyi-toying in the streets of South Africa, in Iran, in the United States, in China, or a nightclub, in a ballroom, or even if you’ve stepped onto the balcony to watch the dance and get a better big picture view. It could be a Dance of Anger or a Dance of Intimacy. It could be a tribal rain dance of thanksgiving, praise, and hope. Being a young dancer myself and on the Durban City Hall stage from an early age, dancing with a top ballet company where at age three, I could certainly move in step, but I often missed the beat;
I learned that the leadership life dance is a partnership. It is ‘give and take.’ It’s often ‘hard work,’ but when we move with the groove, we can energize, galvanize, and mobilize while uplifting ourselves and others too. As the global hit song, Jerusalema sparked a worldwide dance challenge and took the world by storm at the height of the global pandemic, leadership like dance can ignite and unite.
It was a call to connect and to move in step.
It was a global dance, a movement, and a call for action and change. Like the Japanese football fans who cleaned up after their FIFA World Cup matches. While dancing the night away celebrating their win over Germany, they still practiced their leadership dance and their Japanese culture of “Atarimae” (roughly translated, it means, ‘certainly’) to clean up, leave the space, and place a little cleaner and better than they found it.
In this dynamically changing world, let’s move with the groove and let us dance to this new beat. Whether in your communities, the halls of Parliament or Congress, corporate boardrooms, schools, universities, or football fields. Even if you’re feeling a little shy or unsure how, you can get up, dance, and lead.
Until next time, remember that leading boldly is about making thoughtful, clear choices. It’s about bigger and better thinking. Bold leadership is about taking bold action, one small dance step at a time. One small step for you but together, a global dance for humanity. Come back soon, share with your friends, and join this global dance movement for change, because if not you, then who?
If not now, then when? Take care and take joyful, bold action.
- Nolitha Fakude
- Anglo American
- Boardroom Dancing: Transformation Stories from a Corporate Activist
- International Women’s Forum
- Thuli Madonsela – Previous Episode
About Nolitha Fakude
Nolitha Fakude is the Chairperson of Anglo American’s Management Board in South Africa and the Group Director responsible for South Africa on Anglo American plc’s Group Management Committee (GMC). Nolitha has recently joined the Anglo American Platinum Board as a Non-Executive Director and served on the Board of Anglo American plc from 2017 to 2019.
She has held senior executive positions in various industries and sectors, including Retail, Financial Services, Mining, and Oil and Gas. Until 2016, Fakude served as an Executive Director at Sasol Limited and Executive Vice President (EVP) of Strategy and Sustainability.
Nolitha was the President of the Black Management Forum (BMF) from 2003 to 2006 and its Managing Director between 2000 and 2003. She now serves as a member of the Council of Elders and is a respected authority on transformation and empowerment in South Africa.
Currently, Nolitha serves as the President of the Minerals Council of South Africa (MINCOSA), Non-Executive Director of the JSE Limited, Discovery Bank Holdings, and International Woman’s Forum South Africa (IWFSA). She is a Patron of Guild Cottage home for girls.
Her previous board roles include serving as Deputy Chair and Lead Independent Director of Datacentrix Holdings Limited, Chairperson of Sasol Mining, and a Non-Executive Director of Harmony Gold Mines and Woolworths Holdings, amongst others.
Her accolades include The 2004 Most Influential Businesswoman by Financial Mail, the Impala Platinum Young Entrepreneur Award and the National Honor by the Golden Key Society of the University of Johannesburg.
Nolitha is an author of a book titled “Boardroom Dancing – Transformation stories from a Corporate Activist,” published in 2019.
She holds a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) degree in Psychology from the University of Fort Hare and completed the Senior Executive Programme at Harvard Business School in the United States.