Now more than ever, everyone is searching for ways to be more productive in a world that has become rather unfamiliar to us. So we decided to ask some our inspirational female ambassadors and mentors who are part of SAICA’s Mentorship Programme to share some of their secrets to their success, from career to children.
After reading through these inspirational tips you sure to have a couple more practical ideas and ways to overcome your productivity and personal challenges and optimise the way you work in these uncertain times. Take notes and be encouraged by these 20 phenomenal women who are also mentors for industry leaders of the future.
1. Focus on what you can control
The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented event and each of us will have our own perspective of the experience. What can we do to succeed now, especially when we don’t know long it will last, or how bad it may get? The key for professional coach Fiona Watt is to identify what she has control over (and what she does not).
‘Activities such as deep breathing help me find peace in this tumultuous time, and I use my available resources to explore, create, and stay curious,’ says Watt.
‘I have control over how I react to what is going on around me, how I use media and social media, and how I put boundaries in place to keep my sanity.’.
You have control over how you engage with others and with whom you stay in touch. Keep busy and productive, and use downtime to recover. Contribute to your community and those in need.
2. Be true to you
There is much noise telling each of us who and how we should be in the world, as well as many opinions and expectations.
‘Knowing yourself is to know how to be your best self. It is the greatest gift you can give yourself, those you care about, those you lead and, ultimately, the world at large.’
‘I’ve learned that you (that is, me) is a work-in-progress,’ says executive coach Jane Woodhouse of JW Business Consulting. ‘Me today is not the same as me last year and will not be the same as me a year from now. Being true to me means becoming self-aware, being consciously responsible for my choices and actions in real-time and reflecting on the consequences of my actions with a view to strengthening me,’ she says.
When you do this honestly and in alignment with your principles, you make decisions that you won’t regret and learn valuable lessons to take forward.
3. Be kind
The stress levels during lockdown are high. We may forget to take time out for ourselves and those closest to us.
‘When lockdown hit, we were all so busy keeping our businesses alive, teaching our kids, working hard, cleaning the house, cooking and planning, that I sometimes forgot to be kind,’ says says Karen Clarke, finance director, Publicis Commerce.
Being kind means that school homework is not always the best your children can do, and that’s OK. Being kind means that some of your staff will battle, and that’s OK.
‘Being kind means that while our business was going through retrenchments, we had to empathise with our remaining people and keep the team going,’ says Clarke. ‘Being kind means taking time out for myself, going for a walk at lunchtime to regroup, and not pushing myself, as we are going through so much already.’
4. Run your own race
Do you compare yourself to friends, family, and peers who seem to have it all? There have been times in her career that Marlize Radjoo, director at LeadStrong Business Consulting, has done this.
‘Define what success looks like for you, as that will define the race you run. You can only deliver your best when you are authentically you.’
Radjoo has worked with teams and leaders who were constantly doing what they thought was expected of them instead of including the strengths of the people around them to create the best team possible. ‘It takes self-awareness and character to admit your weaknesses and limitations,’ she says. ‘However, if you allow people to operate in their strengths and passions, and allow them to come alongside you, you and your team will be so much stronger.’
Defining what success looks like for yourself and your family will allow you to embrace your uniqueness, to express who you are, and to have a positive impact on the world.
5. Learn, unlearn, relearn
Commit to the industry you are in and remain relevant by continuous self-development.
‘Show up, be reliable and be prepared,’ says Lindelani Gumbo, risk analyst at the Prudential Authority of the South African Reserve Bank. ‘Embrace the diversity of thought within your team and collaborate with your colleagues.’
‘My boss would always say, “You need to operate at my level and work me out of my job,” so I was continuously thrown in the deep end.’
Take advantage of every opportunity that will contribute to the advancement of your career, sometimes this includes the ‘not so glamourous’ tasks. If you can be trusted and deliver on the little, greater things will follow.
6. Keep learning and growing
COVID-19 has forced us to change our thinking. It has required businesses to change existing models, forced people to work remotely, and encouraged us to try different ways to manage our work and family life. It’s OK to feel overwhelmed.
‘When faced with these significant challenges I have learnt to ask myself, “what is this experience teaching me?” I challenge myself to understand what I can do differently to improve the situation, says Ayesha Ameer, director at SNG Grant Thornton.’
In these tough times it helps to develop coping strategies that work for you. Being mindful of your internal dialogue can help to change your attitude.
‘By adopting a positive learning attitude, I am able to take control of my reaction, says Ameer’. ‘I understand that no matter how difficult, painful or stressful the experience is, I am learning something valuable by developing a new skill or teaching myself to think differently. Taking small steps by prioritising three key areas each day helps me to feel accomplished, even on difficult days. I have learnt that we grow through adversity.’
7. Leave space for doing nothing
The messaging we receive from a young age is that the more productive we are, the more successful we will be and the greater our contribution to society. A great example was at the onset of lockdown when we were encouraged to ‘use this opportunity’ at home to learn something new, or better ourselves’, says Kate Combrinck, investment principal at Kingson Capital.
‘I believe most of us were in shock and needed space to process the implications of the pandemic rather than to crowd our minds further.’
Combrinck recently read The Joy Diet by Martha Beck, and the first principle of her diet of happiness is doing nothing for 15 minutes a day.
‘Doing nothing for even five seconds as a working mom of two little darlings (5 and 3), particularly with the whole family at home 24/7, is difficult (and I can seldom escape my four dogs!) but I saw the benefits straight away,’ says Combrinck. ‘My family now knows that mommy is going to do ‘her Nothing’ and they dare not disturb her! It brings clarity of thought, a pocket of joy, and makes me feel a small part of my day is just for me. I encourage anyone who is feeling overwhelmed, and honestly who isn’t at the moment, to try it.’
8. Focus on a positive purpose
Faeeza Baba, principal specialist at Vodacom and board of trustee member for the Vodacom Siyanda Employee Trust, says we should focus on the big issues, avoid distractions, and maintain a clear perspective.
‘Having a positive purpose encourages positive performance and brings out the best within people.’
By focusing on creating new and improved solutions, a new energy is created bringing about new ways of working and introducing new mental maps.
Instead of continuously probing ‘Why is this happening or why did this happen’ rather focus on asking ‘What can we do about this or how can we fix this’.
COVID-19 has had an impact on many lives, emotionally and financially. Reach out to those in need, uplift others and stay in touch. We should not expect a revisit to pre-lockdown; embrace the technology changes, mobile apps, webinars, and online conferencing. At Vodacom, for example, the group CEO hosts weekly fireside chats via webinar, bringing together around more than 5 000 employees and strengthening connection to the business.
9. Show up as your best self no matter what
How many times did you feel like not showing up at a meeting because you anticipate a tough one? Showing up to every situation you are faced with, good or bad, demonstrates your emotional and mental strength. This will be a reminder to yourself that you are an epitome of bravery.
‘Obstacles are inevitable; rather than despairing remain positive, become solution oriented and ask for help,’ says Rosta Mahlaba, financial director of Kaefer Thermal Contracting Services.
You need to prepare yourself for all seasons of life; nothing is permanent and whatever season you are faced with will pass, says Mahlaba. Teach your mind to learn to turn negativity into an opportunity. When faced with obstacles always ask yourself, ‘what am I supposed to learn from the situation?’ Most of all, be kind to yourself and look after your body.
10. Don’t let a good crisis go to waste
We have all heard the saying that no crisis should go to waste. This is true not only in our current situation but also throughout life, personally and professionally.
‘Being the mother of a new-born and a toddler was a demanding job that really stretched me personally and professionally. I surprised myself when I realised how strong we as women can be and what we are capable of, says Jeanne Viljoen, project director: practice at SAICA.’
‘You don’t walk away without scars, but it makes you stronger and prepares you for the next challenge. Prioritising and focusing on what will make the biggest impact now is something I live by. Taking note of even the smallest thing but knowing when to act is key.’
11. Don’t change to fit in
Don’t change to fit in. That’s a lesson Nombali Sihlobo, group financial manager at Hulisani Limited, has learnt.
‘Always be true to who you are.’
‘I was once advised that to advance in the corporate world I needed to try to make a conscious effort to fit in,’ says Sihlobo. ‘I understood that to mean that I needed to change who I am and become what an organisation perceives as suitable in order to see value in me. I do not believe that to be true. I understand the importance of making an effort to try new things and evolve as you grow but being authentic is the greatest value you can offer.’
12. Never stop moving
Life throws many curve balls our way, which can make us lose sight of it all. We break down, we lose hope and, in the process, fall apart sometimes. But we have to get back up and keep moving.
‘Never stop moving, tomorrow lives on’ is my mantra. It got me through difficult situations, be they personal or career related,’ says Zimkhita Matinyana, financial manager at Standard Bank.
Getting back up requires resilience, a shift in focus, or a change in perspective. We cannot let the current circumstances derail our future plans, says Matinyana .
‘It may seem as if this pandemic has killed our dreams, but every day must look beyond it, shift to the next gear, and realise that this is nothing but a detour. It is an opportunity to finetune our dreams so let us stand together, reinvent and reimagine.’
13. Believe in yourself and don’t let failure define you
‘As a young woman in a highly competitive industry, believing in myself has formed part of the foundation of being a successful CA(SA),’ says Candace Pillay, finance team leader at Vitality Group ADO Discovery. ‘No-one will take a chance on someone who lacks self-belief.’
‘List or vocalise your strengths and accomplishments at least once a week – even if it seems like a small victory, she says.’
Start work half an hour early to get a head start on your to-do list. Focus on implementing your plan and the resources you have. Remember, even if you are successful there is still room for improvement.
14. Stay true to you
When Yackshna Singh, divisional financial director at Datacentrix, found herself wondering if she had chosen the right career on day two of her articles, her dad said to her: ‘You can either choose to see this as a learning experience and make the most of it to grow, or else decide what you need to do to be happy, but only you can know.’
Only you can decide on your life path, so make a change when it‘s necessary.
‘I have had to balance being an effective employee and a work-from-home mom. I am grateful to work for a company that has made this a seamless reality on short notice. I have home-schooled my three- and six-year-old boys in between reviewing IFRS calculations and planning for a financial year-end. The times are unprecedented, but I do what works for me and my family. I can’t always get to it all and I have to constantly remind myself that it’s OK.’
15. Manage expectations by communicating clearly
Taking on so much responsibility that the quality of your delivery is impaired is not effective. Being busy, stressed and overworked is not healthy.
‘Be relentless in producing quality output every time; it speaks to your brand even before people see the face behind it, says Nolitha Matsolo, CFO, Client Coverage at ABSA.’
‘Be consistent at being a reliable team player to work with. Have an unquestionable work ethic and integrity. It puts people at ease when they know what to expect from you.’
When Matsolo has five urgent deliverables on her to-do list and her boss comes with two more, what she does instead of saying ‘no’ is communicate her plan for the day, offer to reprioritise her existing list, and possibly negotiate an extension with those involved.
16. Be disciplined, be resilient, be determined
Chartered accountants face many challenges in their endeavour to strive for excellence in everything they do.
‘Strive to uplift those around you that are on the same journey, motivate them and help them reach their goals, says Liezel Joubert, director at HL Incorporated.’
On her journey to become a CA(SA), Joubert learnt that she was more resilient than she would ever have thought. ‘After every failure, I learnt to get up and take a step forward. Sacrificing valuable time with loved-ones while qualifying was never easy, but those hardships cultivated my discipline and determination to succeed.’
17. Treat every day as the first day of the rest of your life
When you get stuck in a routine, it’s important to stand back and gain some perspective.
‘I remember the words “today is the first day of the rest of your life” which my father used to say as he dropped us off at school,’ says Denise Nel, co-founder and director at Tiisa Group. ‘That makes you feel motivated to take control and make the day count.’
‘Focus on what is in your control. It might be how you react to certain situations, or it might be a reminder to decide whether the journey you are on is right.’
One positive element about these strange times is that we are being forced to stop and regroup. Let’s remember to be intentional about our actions and inactions.
18. The opposite of a good thing can also be a good thing
Know yourself, be brutally honest, and identify your strengths and weaknesses. When faced with challenges, conflict, or other forms of adversity, use your strengths to overcome them.
‘Purposefully put yourself in situations where you can flaunt your strengths and surround yourself with people who complement your skillset,’ ays Sybella van Niekerk, financial services manager at Jaguar Land Rover South Africa.
‘I am a chartered accountant with over 10 years of finance experience who shifted into sales. During an organisational restructuring process, I identified an opportunity to move into a role where I could amplify my strengths. This move reawakened my passion for business and allowed me to excel in a new environment.’
19. Choose someone you respect as a role model
Caryn Maitland, founder and owner of Maitland and Associates Inc, has been in the accounting profession for over 20 years. ‘As a young trainee, one manager stood out for me. She was a newly qualified woman who embodied the life I wanted. She showed me a different definition of ambition, one that took into account family, career, and self’, she says.
‘To live mindfully, choose your priorities with deliberation, consciously hold your boundaries, direct your energy where you choose as it’s a limited resource. Work will always be there, but family and health are precious.’
The difficult part is acknowledging that there are seasons in life to focus on the different elements. We can have it all, just not at the same time.
20. Reflect on adversity, don’t react
In times of uncertainty, one of the easiest traps we fall into is simply reacting to everything around us. Reaction lacks intentionality.
Lynette Berger, project manager at ProBeta Training, says she asks questions about herself every day. ‘What happened in my world today? What did I learn about myself? What do I need to hear myself say? What is on my “I should” list that I am not doing? How can this reflection produce action?’
The lessons you learn today might be the truth that helps someone else years from now; hold fast to that idea and stay committed to your growth. When the crisis passes − and it will − your investment in yourself will pay off.
‘If we’re not intentional, we can end up doing the same things over again while expecting a different outcome – what some call insanity!’