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Thank you to the 1646 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 questions! I hope reading 7 Questions with

Sipho Gift Simelane

helps you in your leadership.

Sipho Gift Simelane

Sipho Gift Simelane

Name: Sipho Gift Simelane

Title: Manager: Legal, Policy and Intervention

Organisation: Financial Services Regulatory Authority

I am Sipho G. Simelane, presently the Legal Manager with a financial regulatory authority. I was born in April, 1987 in a sugar cane plantation, Big Bend. I graduated for a Bachelor of Laws degree in 2011 [University of Swaziland] and a Master of Business Administration in 2022. As a continuous learner, I have acquired certified competencies in project and strategic management, foundational data analysis, and building effective teams. One of my driving aspirations is to lead ultra-diverse teams globally.

As someone who is passionate about grassroots development and social programs, I have helped establish and manage several not-for-profit organizations (both religious and otherwise). This passion align well with my desire to be a leader with global influence and impact. One of my key achievements to date was working with unemployed youth and through that work, building a home for an impoverished elderly while providing school shoes for destitute children.

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?

The biggest challenge I have faced is that of removing my biases from decision-making. As someone who leads teams, I tended to rely on my understanding of the circumstances to make decisions. This understanding, unfortunately, was informed by biases (past experiences), perceptions, and belief systems. While a leader is expected to decide based on reason and rationale, perceptions, feelings, thoughts and emotions play a significant role in that process. To fully become more efficient in decision making, I have to acknowledge the key drivers of my decisions, including the possibility of bias. Once the awareness was made, I went through an evaluative process where I consider the significance of that bias in my decisionmaking process. Over time, I coined an approach, I.A.M. to help me address and remove (as far as is possible), bias from my decisions. Identify bias, Assess the bias and lastly, Manage the bias (I.A.M.).

2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?

My leadership journey began curiously. I was a high scholar, at Ubombo Technical and Commercial High (U-Tech) around 2003. A group of classmates, 8 girls to be precise approached me and requested I help them establish a community charity group, YOTTAH. From our inception meeting, I was appointed the Vice Chairperson of the organization and thus began my journey. Through this appointment, I would be exposed to organizational ambassadorship, team coordination, public engagement, activity management, conflict resolution, and communication. These skills would later become key to my progression as a leader. This organization became the first of many that I either helped establish or manage.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

This is still a progressive skill. As of 2020, especially when COVID hit, I had to create a routine that allowed me to still perform at a certain level, despite the chaos and uncertainties that prevailed at the time. My normal day starts with music. The transition from waking up to productivity is daunting, hence to confront it I chose high-tempo beats to help me prepare for work as I dance (an idea I stole from aerobics). When I get to the office, I have 30 mins to either read a book or listen to an audiobook.

I generally listen to stoicism, Friedrich Nietzsche, Albert Camus, SadGhuru, etc. This information helps me shape my psychology towards accepting whatever happens in the day and readjusting my emotions towards endurance and seeing through my plans regardless. The first 4 hours of my day are generally dedicated to what I wish to accomplish that day (my planned work), be it a report, a project plan, etc. I am at my most efficient hence I optimize that period. Since leadership is about people, I do my rounds, greeting the teams, and assessing if my plans still align with their needs.

I typically close off my work day by reviewing if I've met my targets and a quick view of the next day (rough sketch of how it looks from meetings to quick wins). When I get to the house, I focus on my daughter, listening to how her day went and helping with homework. Though she is 6, the stories she has can produce novels. When every one sleeps, sometime around 9, I go on my self-paced learning platforms and close out my day.

4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?

Phew, the harshest of lessons. Even the most well-meaning thing you do can rub your colleagues the wrong way. That unintended consequences of our actions. I recently engaged my team in personal development discussions. The objective was to have each person identify their development needs and capacitate themselves accordingly. However, the process requires one to be comfortable with their limitations. One teammate took this to be an attack on their competencies. While that was a possible effect of the exercise, it was not the objective. It came from my desire to build a proficient team.

5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

John Maxwell: Talent is Never Enough. I come from an environment where a lot of emphasis was on talent and intelligence. "X is successful because he is smart, or talented." As a result, a lot of my focus on dedication was on that. However, leadership is about so much more. This book then confronted and dismantled how I viewed my talent, as one of the many ingredients required to succeed as opposed to THE INGREDIENT required. During my law school days, I did not bother to foster good relationships with the ecosystem of my profession. I focused on good grades and the accolades that follow. So when I faced unemployment with those good results, I struggled to understand. That was when someone recommended the book and I was confronted with the ugly truth, talent is not everything. My people skills needed work, I was impatient and lacked perseverance. I also got to understand myself, as someone who lacked the courage to try new things, and take risks. All these would later prove crucial in my leadership path.

6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?

You can never lead people beyond your own experiences. Every step of the leadership journey or pipeline is about experiences; with each experience exposing you to a part of self, you are either uncomfortable with or did not know existed. So, young leaders must not shy away from uncomfortable, novel experiences as they become the reference point later. So it is important to be explorative and try new things and experiences as this sharpens your understanding of your strengths, limitation, and opportunities. But be responsible in so doing, get a mentor or coach to help you enhance or enrich those experiences.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?

One of my direct reports got a scholarship to study overseas. In her speech (I had left the organization for almost a year), she said I dug the gold out of her. I prize my success as a leader by how much I enriched one's path, so to hear someone as talented as she said I did that was beyond anything imaginable. As leaders, we tend to focus too much on the hard things, deliverables, and deadlines. But our true work is people, and stories like that reaffirm that.

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