Name: Noncedo Dlamini
Title: Technology Strategy and Planning Valuations Lead
Noncedo Dlamini is a Technology Strategy and Planning Valuations Lead at Aramco, a role she's been holding since beginning 2023. In her capacity she is directly responsible in influencing the Investment decision making for Innovation technologies in Aramco and support the performance management of the innovation portfolio.
Before that she was the Southern Africa Regional Head of Strategic Planning and Performance Management at bp (british petroleum) and held various commercial finance and performance management roles at bp.
She is a Chemical Engineer by trade, her career started at Sasol as a process engineer and she has over 17 years of experience in the Oil&Gas, Petrochemical and Manufacturing sector. Some of her career highlights include being a commissioning lead for a petrochemical plant at Sasol and supporting the Performance Chemicals, catalyst strategy formulation. At bp she was instrumental in managing refining costs to budget in difficult operational environments and supporting efficiency improvement programs. She has served on several Finance Committees and business committees during her tenure at bp.
Noncedo earned her BSc Chemical Engineering and MBA in South Africa and Data Science and Business Analytics from University of Texas at Austin.
Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!
I hope Noncedo's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!
1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?
Leading in an ever-changing environment is one of the challenging aspects I have encountered in my career. As an integrated planning professional, budgeting and resource justification is always based under certain assumptions. Since COVID period there has never been a time in which I can say the world has been stable. This period impacted businesses in various ways, but most were under margin strain due to drastically reduced sales volumes. Businesses that have and had a low cost base are the ones which survived, but I also saw many that closed or sold as well. Needless to say I had to lead the cost reduction activities that would enable business to ride the tide. As can be imagined, cost reduction comes with resource constraining and doing trade offs of what could be done and what had to be delayed. This is never an easy exercise to conduct and some of the choices were not well received.
2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?
Early in my career, I had the opportunity of being a commissioning lead, leading teams with a wide range of experience; ranging from those that recently graduated, doing in service training to senior operators some close to retirement and professionals. This role taught me how I needed to adapt and use various styles of Leadership to achieve the objective of commissioning the plant and it go live within the planned time. This experience taught me that Leadership is a highly hands on role and requires create conviction to be able to succeed and achieve goals on time while taking people along with you.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
I am generally a structured and disciplined person and generally follow the below structure to maintain productivity to my days and effectiveness, whilst also striving for a balanced wellbeing.
My day generally starts at 6am, by getting ready for work and helping my kids get ready for school as well. I have a cup of coffee before driving to work. I generally do not have breakfast and my first meal is around 11am.
Early Morning Activity:
When I get to the office, I prioritize my day and check the status of the projects I am working on and set some goals of what I would like to get achieve by the end of the day.
I normally take my first meeting from 8am. I prefer taking my meetings in the afternoon but make exceptions for high priority projects. If I work across borders with some colleagues in the USA, virtual afternoon meetings work well.
Afternoons I use for meetings, make enquiries to progress projects and work on strategic initiatives or projects that enable process improvements. Before leaving for home, I check if I accomplished my to do list and quickly check my calendar for the following day.
Evenings I use to help my kids with homework, take them for extra-murals and also to prioritize my own extra murals for 3 times a week. I enjoy outdoors so my extra-murals include playing tennis and taking long walks whilst listening to my favorite music.
I aim to have about 7 hours of sleep a day, so I go to sleep around 11pm.
I avoid taking work over the weekend and use my weekends for family time, leisure activities such as watching some sports, reading, catching up with friends and going to church.
Midweek, I also connect with my church group for Midweek fellowship and prayer. I also try to use my weekends for reflecting, personal development and growth.
Maintaining this structure in my life I find keeps me grounded and enables me to manage my responsibilities effectively while balancing my work commitments with my personal life and also striving for professional and personal growth.
4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?
One of my mentors about 8 years ago whilst I was still working at Sasol once said that the role of leaders is to help the teams to move from the grey zone of their work to black and white. Whilst this does not mean you do the work for the team, but helping and supporting the team to be clear on what is expected of them, enables them to deliver on their respective tasks sooner. When the teams are not clear in an activity or objective, it can create paralysis and wasted time. I value time and efficiency, so I always aim to make sure that the teams are clear on the expectations at the beginning of the task and not towards the end.
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?
The one book that really made a lasting impression on my leadership is "Pep Guardiola The evolution" by Marti Perarnau. Being the sports fan that I am, it is no wonder I would draw inspiration from a football coach. Pep Guardiola has had a very success rate as a coach and got me wondering how he does it. This book clearly spells it out. He is the Epitome of Excellence and does not dwell too much on his wins or allows them to get to his head. The book teaches you about Strategy, teamwork and managing excellence. It has helped me to define my own framework of leadership.
6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?
Define your own growth path and try to stick to it. There will be distractions and challenges along the way, but try revisit your growth plans regularly to check if you still staying the course.
We live in constant flux in an ever changing world, try make your skills to be adaptable and build on them such that they are transferable to any environment. Creativity is the greatest form of intelligence and growth, try out different things.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?
It was a period during COVID and my previous employer was restructuring and downsizing most of its departments. It was a difficult time for most people including myself. One never understands the impacts of restructuring until they are impacted. My department was impacted, I was impacted and so was my team. The period required that I lead with empathy to support my team during this time, whilst managing my own energy and mental health. This difficult period taught me that, as much as business does not like to invest in uncertain environments, people also do not like to be subjected to uncertain environments too. As leaders we have an obligation to provide stable work environments to employees as much as possible for optimal output, even though it cannot be guaranteed. Change management is a difficult thing to do, especially if the impact is vast. It requires constant communication to manage expectations, enabled by systems to support it. Needless to say, I lost some of my good team members; talented people always find better environments to go to. The key lesson I learnt from the experience is that the aftermath of a huge restructure is never easy especially if systems are not in place.