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7 Questions on Leadership with Farouk Khan


Name: Farouk Khan


Title: Manager; Asset Realibilty Engineering Section


Organisation: Rand Water


Farouk Khan, Asset Management & Innovation Specialist

Passionate about optimizing maintenance practices in high-intensity institutions, I am currently seeking new career opportunities that allow me to leverage my extensive expertise.


With 28 years of dedicated experience in the water sector, I have honed my skills in maintenance, innovation, and strategic leadership. My commitment lies in spearheading maintenance initiatives, formulating robust strategies, and integrating cutting-edge technologies to ensure operations remain efficient, cost-effective, safe, and reliable.


As a seasoned professional, I hold an MSc degree, coupled with a solid foundation as a Qualified Boiler Maker. My diverse background includes comprehensive training in Project Management and Continuous Improvement methodologies, adding a layer of strategic insight to my approach.


Throughout my career, I have consistently demonstrated my ability to lead the introduction of impactful strategies, plans, and improvements. This is complemented by my record as a presenter at conferences focused on water-related maintenance, showcasing my commitment to staying at the forefront of industry trends and contributing to thought leadership.


In summary, I bring a unique blend of hands-on experience, academic achievement, and a proven track record of innovation to any organization, ensuring sustained excellence in asset management and operational efficiency within the dynamic landscape of water services.


Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!


I hope Farouk's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Cheers,

Jonno White



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


One of the most significant leadership challenges I've encountered is navigating the dynamics with individuals primarily driven by the pursuit of higher salaries rather than genuine passion for their roles. This situation often leads to employees who are more focused on seeking the next lucrative opportunity than on continuously improving and excelling in their current positions. Unfortunately, this mindset can have detrimental effects on the organization, resulting in a workforce that may not be fully committed or engaged in their roles.


In my experience, fostering a work environment where individuals are genuinely passionate about what they do is crucial. When employees love what they do, they are inherently motivated to continuously improve and excel in their responsibilities. This intrinsic motivation goes beyond monetary incentives and contributes to a more vibrant and dedicated team.


Addressing this challenge involves not only recruiting individuals who align with the organization's values and goals but also cultivating a culture that nurtures passion and dedication. Encouraging open communication, recognizing, and celebrating achievements, and providing opportunities for professional development are key elements in fostering a workplace where individuals are driven by their love for their work rather than just the pursuit of financial gain.


Ultimately, creating a culture where passion for the job is valued and rewarded contributes to a more engaged and high-performing team, positively impacting the overall success and longevity of the organization.


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


My journey into leadership began at Rand Water, where I initially joined as an Artisan Boilermaker responsible for maintenance in the Boiler Plant, spanning from the coal and ash plants to the boilers propelling the turbines, starting in 1995. My evolution into a leadership role was a natural progression rooted in my proactive approach to my work.


As I diligently carried out my responsibilities, I found fulfilment in sharing my knowledge with my assistant, who eventually advanced to become a shift supervisor at the pumping station. This collaborative spirit and willingness to empower others set the stage for my transition to a maintenance foreman, where my leadership journey truly took shape.

Crucial to my leadership style were several key traits. Firstly, I upheld the principle of treating all staff equally, avoiding favouritism. I fostered a culture where interpersonal issues were encouraged to be addressed maturely between individuals, promoting open communication. If conflicts persisted, I intervened with fairness and honesty, ensuring a resolution that benefited all parties involved.


Another integral aspect of my leadership approach was humility, coupled with a profound emphasis on respect. I recognized the importance of leading by example, showcasing strength where needed, empowering my team in areas of my own weaknesses, and cultivating an environment where learning from mistakes was valued over punitive measures.

In essence, my leadership journey was marked by a commitment to equality, open communication, humility, and trust. By embodying these principles, I not only led by example but also fostered a cohesive team that collaboratively worked towards shared goals, learning, and growing together along the way.


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


My approach to structuring my workdays revolves around a flexible routine that aligns with both personal and professional priorities. Each day brings its own set of tasks and challenges, and I've found that adaptability is key to maintaining a balanced and fulfilling life.


My day typically kicks off with an early start, as I believe in the power of a productive morning. After waking up, I engage in a morning routine that includes a refreshing shower and performing Fajr Salah, the morning prayer, before sunrise. This sets a positive tone for the day ahead. Following this, I have a wholesome breakfast to fuel myself for the day.

As a parent, I ensure to dedicate quality time to my family. This includes taking my son to school, fostering a sense of connection before diving into work responsibilities. While I have the option to work from home, I prefer being at the office with my team. I find that face-to-face interactions enhance efficiency and team collaboration, making the work environment more dynamic and engaging.


Regular exercise is a non-negotiable aspect of my routine, occurring four days a week either in the morning or afternoon. This commitment to physical well-being contributes to my overall productivity and mental clarity.


During work hours, I prioritize proactive approaches to minimize unplanned tasks. I firmly believe that a well-executed job leads to fewer issues, reducing the need for extensive reports on what went wrong. This not only streamlines our workflow but also allows my team and me to leave work at the office, enabling a seamless transition to quality time with our loved ones.


After work hours, I make a conscious effort not to encroach on my team's personal time. This boundary fosters a healthy work-life balance and contributes to a positive team culture.

In summary, my approach centres on flexibility, proactive planning, and a commitment to personal well-being and family time. This combination allows me to navigate the demands of work and life with resilience and purpose.

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


A recent leadership insight that has resonated with me underscores the detrimental impact of autocratic management styles. I've observed instances where certain managers, tasked with leadership roles, veer towards autocracy, issuing directives without a thorough understanding of the underlying problems. Even more concerning is their reluctance to solicit input or suggestions from staff members when making decisions, essentially stifling the team's ability to contribute valuable insights.


This form of managerial behaviour, where authority is wielded for the sake of displaying power, can have profound negative consequences. It discourages team members from thinking independently or proactively offering innovative ideas. Instead, a culture emerges where employees become passive recipients of instructions, ceasing to engage in critical thinking or providing valuable input.


The lesson learned here is the importance of fostering an inclusive leadership style that values collaboration and input from the team. A leader's role should encompass not only providing guidance but also creating an environment where every team member feels empowered to share their perspectives. Encouraging open communication and embracing the collective intelligence of the team can lead to more informed decisions, increased morale, and a culture of continuous improvement.


In essence, effective leadership is about harnessing the strengths and insights of the entire team, rather than relying solely on positional authority. This lesson serves as a reminder that a leadership approach Centered on collaboration and inclusivity not only enhances organizational dynamics but also cultivates an environment where creativity.


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?


One book that has significantly shaped my approach to leadership is "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" by Stephen Covey. The profound impact of this book on my daily leadership style cannot be overstated.


Among the seven habits outlined by Covey, the one that has resonated with me most profoundly is "Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood." This habit serves as a constant reminder to approach situations with empathy and open-mindedness. It emphasizes the importance of truly understanding others before attempting to convey one's own perspective.


The impact of this habit on my leadership is evident in my commitment to walking in the shoes of those I work with. Before passing judgment or making decisions, I strive to gain a deep understanding of the perspectives, challenges, and aspirations of my team members. This habit encourages a shared understanding and ensures that we are all looking at the same picture, reducing the chances of misunderstandings or miscommunication.


In practical terms, this habit has transformed how I approach problem-solving and decision-making within my team. By fostering an environment where individuals feel heard and understood, we can collectively identify more effective and sustainable solutions. It has also enhanced communication, trust, and collaboration among team members, ultimately contributing to a more positive and productive work culture.


"The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" continues to serve as a guiding light in my leadership journey, reinforcing the principle that seeking to understand before seeking to be understood is not just a habit but a cornerstone for building successful relationships, both in the professional and personal spheres.


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


For aspiring young leaders, my singular piece of advice is to fully embrace and live out the principles outlined in Stephen Covey's "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People." Beyond mere learning, incorporating these habits into daily actions is crucial. Among them, the habit of "Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood" stands out, emphasizing the importance of empathy and active listening. By internalizing these habits, young leaders can establish a strong foundation for personal and professional growth, fostering positive team dynamics and contributing to organizational success.


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


One poignant story from my leadership journey reflects the resilience and determination forged through a challenging past. Born in Apartheid South Africa, my educational path was disrupted, and I faced adversity, being banned from school in grade 10 during a period of unrest in our country. Undeterred, I entered the workforce as an assistant to a boilermaker in a small engineering company.


Fortune smiled upon me when my supervisor recognized my potential and sent me to a trade school at the age of 17. Four years later, I emerged as a qualified boilermaker, armed with practical skills but lacking the ability to articulate my experiences effectively.


Undeterred by this challenge, I decided to pursue further education at the age of 47.

The turning point came when, at the age of 50, I graduated with a Master of Science degree. This academic achievement marked a transformative phase in my career, allowing me to seamlessly blend theoretical knowledge with decades of hands-on experience. The synergy of academic insight and practical expertise elevated my leadership capabilities to new heights.


This journey underscores the power of continuous learning and the profound impact that education can have on personal and professional development. It serves as a testament to the idea that it is never too late to invest in oneself, and the fusion of academic prowess with real-world experience can be a potent force for growth and leadership excellence.

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