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YOUTH Corner: Leading in a space of crisis

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Yoliswa Msweli

At the start of 2018, my reflection for the year was to: “Only speak when I have conviction.” It has guided my posture for the most part of this half year. It stemmed from a realisation that there comes a time when the right thing to do, or the thing that only you can do, is evident. While your actions might appear somewhat illogical to others, who might question your decisions or judgement, these actions resonate from the depth of your soul.

This has been my experience as a young leader in the midst of organisational trauma. It has taught me the great lessons of what organisations and leaders ought to value, if there is any chance of navigating murky waters:

  • Embracing counter-culture within:the biggest danger an organisation can face is to create an echo chamber for itself, silencing contrarian views that serve as “the canary in a coal mine”. Over and over again, I have learnt the wisdom of bringing those that think differently to us, closer to us to allow us a window of what we would otherwise not see coming.
  • Strength of a values-based community: it is often easier to set boundaries between our personal and business communities than to engage communally. Leveraging the quality of a community such as YALI has been invaluable. It is both an advisory and accountability platform. It is a community that on one hand provides a mirror of public opinion, whilst on the other equips us to stand boldly in times of adversity.
  • Connecting the dots – seeing the bigger picture context of your crisis: the deep realisation that an organisation is indeed a living organism with fluidity and complexities, with an ability to get itself sick, has been astounding. The awareness of how organisational ills are a microcosm/proxy of a society we have created, and ought to correct, has birthed an awareness of the need for renewal and deep reckoning with the self. Being in the arena has rebirthed a higher purpose to truly use the institutions we have built, to serve something greater than ourselves: the good of society.
  • Understanding individual purpose: being called to service is universal, but knowing what your particular contribution ought to be in that moment requires clarity of purpose. The thing I have found interesting about individual purpose is that even though it remains unchangeable, the modalities through which it is expressed do change. Amidst a crisis, it has been important to be conscious of how our journey, experiences, skills, talents, and burden lead us to re-evaluate the expression of our own purpose, channelling it to areas where the gravity of our voice and actions can actually have an influence. It is important for leaders to be awake and recognise these opportunities in themselves and in others, as in that way we all lead from the position of what ‘only we can bring to the table’, allowing diverse solutions to emerge. Most importantly, as a young leader, being acutely aware of how that opportunity is my preparation for the next thing to do has been the greatest lesson – and has helped me to achieve clarity on why I need to be in the arena.

I have learnt to redefine success as not so much the outcome of what I do, but as being sure that I have contributed all that I can and am ready for the next challenge of service – whatever that might be.

“There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.” Martin Luther King Jr.

Yoliswa Msweli, KPMG Associate Director, a social and economic justice practitioner and a 3rd-year YALI Fellow.

*  The views expressed are personal and not reflective of the views of Yoliswa Msweli’s current employer

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