#LLA Interview – “To live an authentic life, I make conscious choices so I have no regrets.” Dudu Msomi

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Dudu Msomi is one of an awesome kind. She has built for herself a ground-breaking enterprise in an atmosphere where few men excel. We hope you enjoy this enlightening interview with her as much we did.

Who is Dudu Msomi, and what does she do?

Dudu Msomi is the CEO of Busara Leadership Partners, a research-orientated strategic advisory service and consulting company whose expertise is to facilitate the development and effectiveness of leaders to achieve their desired goals. Msomi is a Strategist, Leadership Expert & Coach, Business Advisor, Thought-provoking Speaker and Writer. Msomi was awarded the 2013 Laureate Award by the University of Pretoria as a GIBS Alumnus to honour her outstanding contribution to the field of leadership development, strategy and governance. She was selected by the US Consulate in South Africa to be part of the mentoring programme with FORTUNE/US State Department Global Women Leaders in 2010. Dudu Msomi was selected in 2015 as a mentee on the Cherie Blair Foundation. Msomi is an Institute of Director’s (IOD) Fellow.

I am a pragmatist and a lover of knowledge. The world is my classroom even though I do enjoy the formal education as well. My soul is light. Outside of the sadness that has touched my life with the passing of my sister and dad; I have been living an ecstatic life. A charmed life. I believe in authentic power which is the alignment of your personality with your soul. The Earth School is where your soul comes to learn and grow. I am fighting every day to follow my bliss. To live an authentic life. I have a diversity of passions. Make conscious choices so I have no regrets. It is intense living.

How did you come about the choice of BUSARA as your company name?

Busara means “wisdom, prudence and intelligence” in Swahili. We strive for wisdom and we endeavor to impart wisdom to the leaders that we serve and partner with.

What inspired your interest in leadership development?

One of the biggest challenges for South Africa and globally is that the demand for certain skills, qualifications and experience exceeds supply. There is a dearth of integrated leadership, strategy, and governance skills. Busara Leadership Partners has the competence and expertise to develop and inspire effectiveness in leaders using an integrated approach. We strive to offer a real option for leaders, namely board members, management and entrepreneurs, of necessary scarce skills that is better than the status quo. The magic of Busara Leadership Partners lies in the trans-disciplinary and multi-sectoral nature of the core team bringing forth an innovative way of thinking and seeing the same issues from different vantage points and knowledge systems. The various insights that the team brings to client challenges and problems ensures that the approaches and the solutions are always fresh, relevant and effective.

What basic experiences would you say have helped shape you to become the woman that you are today?

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity” – Seneca, Roman philosopher, mid-1st century AD

My outlook on life is that our life journey is peppered with guardian angels that lighten life’s load and help make things happen for you as you progress. When you live your life’s purpose, things seem easy for you. But in essence, it is the universe supporting your choices. My mindset is to be prepared to receive the many gifts, from those I know and do not know, seen and unseen and to pay it forward.

People struggle when they don’t fit neatly into a box. I do not. I am okay with it. I do not see things as purely black or white. I do see and acknowledge when something is wrong, bad and unacceptable. But I do not like staying on the surface of things. I see life as more intricate. So I also have much compassion for human frailty. So I tend not to fit a stereotype that goes with my sex, accent, age, race or culture. I really try and focus on following my inner compass on things. When I feel badly. Feel guilty. Then I know I have crossed a line. Otherwise I am happy go lucky. That mind-set shapes the philosophy I bring into my business. Start within and the impact will be felt without in a powerful and lasting way.

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You have worked with leaders on different levels. Based on experience, could you tell us what it takes to be a successful leader?

Integrity: A leader needs to have a zero tolerance for unethical behaviour, both for themselves, colleagues and the people they lead. They need to be authentic so that they endanger trust because what they think, say and do is in sync.

Value independent minds: A leader must surround herself with diverse minds that can even have superior abilities and capabilities than themselves. They must be comfortable in their own power and authority to resist encouraging group-thinking and to welcome dissenting views for the benefit of the organisation.

Have courage: Successful leaders must have the willingness to do the right thing and make the right decision even if it is difficult or unpopular (i.e., no fence sitting). They need to challenge not only their own assumptions and beliefs, but those of people around them to inspire innovation and creativity.

Must have commitment: A leader must have a serious understanding that being an effective leader requires the time, the heart, and the professionalism to make the organisation successful.

What do you consider to be the biggest challenge of any budding leader?

To continuously unlearn and re-learn. It is misleading to believe that one ever stops learning and developing the higher up the ladder you climb. This is when remaking yourself and your mind because the world is changing at break neck speed becomes a critical skill. To stay relevant and to be impactful, you need to keep abreast of the changes and sharpen your abilities to meet the challenges.

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How would you say more women can be encouraged to aspire to leadership?

Significant change has happened in many countries, including South Africa, with regards to women’s equality and emancipation, however, the leadership of corporates stubbornly evolves at a snail’s pace. Women should not feel pressure to occupy formal leadership positions. Every individual should and is a leader in their lives.

Though women are increasingly respected as professionals, very few are holding leadership roles in corporates. Companies benefit from their fresh perspectives and by understanding their customers better, who in the majority of instances are women, as most populations in the world have women as the majority, and therefore contribute to better decision making. Gender diversity has been proven to improve governance and financial performance. Research has been indisputable in the fact that companies with gender diversity on boards and outperform boards lacking women representation. Thus I encourage aspirant women leaders to aim for leadership echelons if that is what they desire. Female representation across all sectors in societies will ensure that all the available skills and talents are being used effectively to contribute to economies.

The cliché question: Is a leader born or made?

Both. A person can have a natural aptitude and exhibit leadership qualities that make them stand out regardless of not having a formal leadership position. There are people who may not have stood out as ‘natural born’ leaders and through a circumstances are thrust forth and stand out because they have been inspired or propelled by a situation that they feel very strongly about. Also people get promoted into a role and the qualities that may not have been outwardly become noticeable as great leadership qualities.

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You’ve won a number of awards based on your achievements, which do you consider to be your greatest achievement?

My greatest achievement has been living a life aligned to my personal vision: “To live my life with passion, integrity and ecstasy so that every day can be the last with no regrets and no fear”. I filter all my choices and decisions through my vision. So when my sister died in my arms and my father passed on, a year later, I was there. No work achievements will ever outdo living a life that honours my family and being there when I am needed most even at the expense of career achievements.

Name 2 women you admire and why?

My mother: Mrs Mamsie Msomi wanted a particular life for herself and she made decisions and choices that have made her dream life come true. I am sure not everything worked out as picture perfect as she had imagined, but from what she shares, it has come very close. That is determination and grit. She lost her parents young. To have created the life she has for our family has been miraculous. Had she not been born in Apartheid South Africa, I think she would have achieved much more.

Oprah: She has surrounded herself with great talent and generous people who share innovative and creative ideas that make her goals come true. I have observed from a distance that she does not have to be an originator of many ideas that have made her a very wealthy woman. However she has the capacity to appreciate ideas and she runs with great ideas. That is a keen heart and mind to be able to choose winners more than duds.

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In your opinion, do you think South Africa is ready for a female president?

The very fact that we ask such a question is a problem. After all, what does ‘ready’ look like? South Africa is more complex as a result of our racially divided past because if the issue was about having a female option; Helen Zille represented that opportunity in 2014. Women voters who outnumber men in the population did not use their vote across party lines to ensure that she would be President. There is no doubt that women have to overcome huge obstacles to stand out in order to be appointed or elected into any leadership positions. But let us never forget that women are individuals and are diverse. Thus any woman President though would represent a major achievement in breaking the glass or concrete ceiling, they are still an individual that must deal with greater ambiguity and more complexity like any male or female leader anywhere in the world and thus should be deserving and viewed fairly in that context.

How do you ensure that your impact is felt in an environment that is dominated by men?

I am not making my decisions and choices in consideration of men. I live a life that is authentic to me. If in the process I make an impact, great. My vision is “To live my life with passion, integrity and ecstasy so that every day can be the last with no regrets and no fear”.

African women usually seem to battle with major environmental and/or personal limitations. Which did you have to deal with more while starting out on the journey of leadership?

I am passionate about eliminating stereotypes about African people and the businesses we can create and succeed in. Knowledge firms with a strong unique value proposition that can survive and thrive without a black economic empowerment framework and a bias towards government projects are not common place in South Africa. I founded Busara Leadership Partners to be ground-breaking in how African people, particularly women’s impact and influence are appreciated in the leadership, strategy and governance space. Our aim is to be locally relevant and globally niched. Our black and women empowered status is just the cherry on the top and not our raison d’etre.

The fact that African South Africans, in particular, have not really been known and valued for their strategic knowledge and input in organisations, but rather for their networks and political influence, further inspired me to influence and shape the quality of leadership in our country and beyond because Busara Leadership Partners believes that effective leaders and managers have credibility because of their technical competence and their personal integrity.

What has been your most defining moment as a female entrepreneur and leader?

Starting Busara Leadership Partners in 2009. Understanding that corporate strategy expertise is not usually associated with Black talent and targeting the leadership level is the most calculated risk I have ever taken. I am aware that the journey to credibility and success is long. But I am up to the challenge.

Words of advice for upcoming career and business women?

Women who achieve success and touch many lives using their gifts despite the many obstacles that their time and circumstances present should be of great inspirations to us. The scale in which each of us will make an impact in the world may differ. Being a mentor is to be instrumental and active in increasing women representation in the workplace and in leadership positions, not just in South Africa, but as far as one can reach; to increase interactions, partnerships and trade amongst women globally and to build a pipeline of women leadership who bring a balance of technical competence and ethical decision-making to take their rightful places in business, politics and civil society.

Being too busy to actively help each other as women, perpetuates our own alienation and makes us even more vulnerable when we occupy the leadership positions. Change cannot be left to chance and self-promotion. Life is not always fair. In any case, studies have shown that women that self-promote receive a double standard backlash whereas it is more positively accepted of men because people, in general, perceive female leaders more negatively than ,male ones, even if both sexes behave the same. Thus as women we must not under-estimate our own power in taking on more active ambassadorial and guardian angel roles to ensure that other women are exposed to experiences and decision makers that will ensure their upward mobility.

The Leading Ladies Africa Series is a weekly interview series that focuses on women of African descent, showcases their experiences across all socio-economic sectors, highlights their personal and professional achievements and offers useful advice on how to make life more satisfying for women.

 It is an off-shoot of Leading Ladies Africa, a non-profit that promotes women empowerment and gender inclusion for women of African descent. 

Do you know any woman of African descent doing phenomenal things? Send an email to editor@leadingladiesafrica.org and we just might feature her.

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