MOST INFLUENTIAL WOMEN 2015/16
CASE IN POINT | NDA
by Valdi Pereira
In many respects good leadership is about creating opportunities for those that need to follow in your footsteps. Dr Vuyelwa Nhlapo, Chief Executive Officer of the National Development Agency believes that providing opportunities which are aligned with the overall objectives of the organisation, is an ideal way to ensure those around you are constantly being developed.
“Ensuring your team enjoy exposure to situations and challenges that remove them somewhat from their ordinary responsibilities, is a good way to promote development,” she notes. “Generally speaking good leaders are holistic individuals. While it is important to have sound technical knowledge or underpinning in your primary field of expertise; it is equally important to be well-rounded, particularly when it comes to your ability to interact with people. Leading people is often about dealing with diverse opinions and views. One can only develop the ability to deliver results in such a situation if you’re exposed to a variety of situations.”
The NDA’s work compels its employees to understand various perspectives within a community. The ultimate vision of the NDA is to develop a society free from poverty. As Vuyelwa has rightly said: “By its very nature poverty is a multidimensional state, that affects individuals burdened by it on many levels. It therefore requires multi-pronged interventions that culminate in sustainable independence.”
Established 16 years ago, the NDA had some teething problems in its formative years. These have since been ironed out and in recent years there has been a renewed energy within the organisation. In terms of the NDA’s 2011/2016 strategy, there has been, and continues to be a specific focus on rural development to achieve sustainable livelihoods. Granting funds and providing capacity building support to civil society organisations is also recognised as important.
Another area of focus is supporting organisations that are dealing with vulnerable groups and early childhood development to nurture social cohesion.
The NDA requires the commitment of its staff towards their own continued development. Vuyelwa is a firm believer in encouraging her team to continually invest in themselves through ongoing learning and development.” We all live in a world where the environments we operate in are changing at a rapid pace. It is important that you keep abreast of professional development needs and I always encourage my staff to study further and develop themselves. If you were to visit the NDA today, you will discover that many of the staff are committed to some form of training or development.”
Between the Lines
According to Vuyelwa, men possibly need a little more exposure to the development of softer skills than women. She is of the view that women are far more adept at reading between the lines than men.
“I intend no disrespect when I say that men tend to look at the ‘lines’ and be very factual and occasionally emotionally distant when dealing with challenges.
“This is not always the best way of getting the most out of people or a situation. Women have an innate ability to understand what the real challenges in a situation are and what the future impact of certain actions will be. It is an ability that I believe should not be underestimated or undermined.”
Values Driven Approach
Asked about those values that she believes leaders should espouse at all times, she answers without hesitation. “Honesty, integrity, transparency and the ongoing pursuit of excellence is in my opinion some of the most important characteristics that leaders should demonstrate.”
In her opinion a dearth of these values is often at the root of many challenges in societies. “If you reflect on what appears to be a lack of leadership in a particular situation, you will find in most instances, that leaders have abandoned these values and that their followers are suffering because of it.”
She points out that progressive organisations, often take time to consider not only the technical prowess of a new leader they wish to hire. They also consider the leadership characteristics and values driven approach of the individual under consideration for a leadership position.
“The quality of leadership is a very important determinant in the performance of an organisation. Leaders set the tone for behaviour and it is critical that they not only fit into the culture of an organisation, but that they are able to add value to it through their own values.”
During her formative years growing up in Wattville township outside Benoni, in the Ekurhuleni Metropolitan municipality, Vuyelwa experienced first-hand the devastation wreaked by Apartheid on the people and communities in this area.
Former ANC president Oliver Tambo also lived in Wattville during the 1950s. Despite the fact that his work took him and his family away from the township, this community remained in their hearts and minds; and they attempted to serve the community after their departure. Vuyelwa also shares another aspect of her heritage in common with the struggle hero; like Oliver Tambo she was born and bred in Bizana in the Eastern Cape.
Vuyelwa has followed this example and continues to serve her former community through church activities and participation in various programmes aimed at youth development.
“I believe it is important to give back to your community,” says Vuyelwa. “Wattville not only has a rich history, but it formed me and provided me with an understanding of the challenges that so many people face and the consequences they bear today because of an unjust system.”
She is philosophical with respect to the demands that are made upon leaders and the expectations they often have to meet: “No matter how good you strive to be and the challenges you overcome and in some instances, the sacrifices you make, you will come in for your fair share of criticism as a leader. I have learned that one needs to embrace criticism, try to understand where it comes from and respond appropriately. Most importantly, I have realised that this must not deter me from doing good, because as a leader, that is my responsibility.”