Name: Thabang Ngwenya
Title: Founder and Lecturer
Oranisation: Founder of Own and Manage Pty Ltd, Co-Founder of Keep That Gold Shining NPC, and Lecturer at University of Pretoria
Thabang Ngwenya is a noted Systems Engineer, a dedicated lecturer in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering at the University of Pretoria, and a forward-thinking PhD candidate. He stands at the helm of his own entrepreneurial venture, Own and Manage Pty Ltd, showcasing his leadership and business acumen. In addition, as the co-founder and co-chairman of Keep That Gold Shining (KTG), Thabang demonstrates his commitment to the ever-evolving landscape of education, emphasizing the need to bridge generational knowledge gaps through active community engagement, educational advancement, and the nurturing of entrepreneurial spirit. His ambition is not only to explore the depths of economic systems and sustainability in his teachings but also to apply these concepts practically to better comprehend and address the complexities of engineering. Thabang confronts the world's increasing challenges, such as climate change and political volatility, with a unique blend of academic insight and Systems Thinking, believing that only through such holistic perspectives can sustainable solutions be found. His multifaceted involvement in systems engineering, robotics, and artificial systems research, coupled with a passion for engineering education, drives his quest to influence industry, government policy, and academic research, especially within the African continent. Additionally, Thabang's leadership role in community outreach, executed through Keep That Gold Shining NPC, further emphasizes his passion. He is deeply involved in empowering high school students through initiatives including tutoring, mentorship, career guidance, and coding, driven by a profound belief in the power of community engagement to transform lives
Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!
I hope Thabang's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!
1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?
One of the most formidable challenges I face as a leader is navigating the complex dynamics of multi-generational spaces. It necessitates a fluid adaptability to the distinct perceptions and communication styles of each generation before embarking on co-creating solutions that serve all ages. This task is consistently challenging due to the varying methodologies and worldviews across generational lines. In an era where technology advances at breakneck speed, the digital divide becomes increasingly apparent, with the older generation often finding it difficult to keep abreast of these rapid changes. This gap represents a significant challenge and underscores the importance of my daily pursuit; to bridge this divide by facilitating knowledge transfer and fostering understanding. It is an endeavor that is constantly evolving, demanding continual innovation and patience. Yet, it remains one of the most critical and fulfilling aspects of my leadership role.
2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?
From an early age, the seeds of leadership took root in my character, blossoming through the trials and triumphs of childhood into my adult years. Reflecting on my journey, it is evident that responsibility chose me early on, particularly in 2004, at the tender age of nine, when my mother fell seriously ill. With my father attending to her needs in the hospital, I found myself at the helm of our household, ensuring my siblings were cared for, the house remained orderly, and that we had food on the table. I also became the linchpin for communication with our support network. This crucible of early responsibility ingrained in me a profound sense of duty that matured as I grew. My adolescence was marked by this ingrained sense of discipline, which drew praise from teachers and made me a natural choice for leadership roles, such as class representative in grade 8 (14 years, 2009). This discipline, paired with academic excellence, set a precedent that I carried with pride into my matric year (Grade 12). In 2013, buoyed by the confidence a teacher placed in me, I began to encourage my peers to share their strengths by teaching subjects they excelled in. Our initiative expanded, visiting numerous schools to collaborate with like-minded individuals. This collaborative spirit continued into 2014, when my friends and I, all attending the University of Pretoria, co-founded Keep That Gold Shining NPC. This venture was a manifestation of our collective desire to give back to our community and provide the youth with access to the opportunities that had opened up to us through higher education. My time at university was not just an academic endeavor but a period of profound community involvement and leadership development. It was here that I honed my ability to innovate and seek out solutions for the communities from which we came, addressing the gap in access to information and opportunities. Serving various student communities, I was fortunate to engage with exceptional leaders who further shaped my journey. The drive within me has always stemmed from an unwavering commitment to serve, a commitment that not only defines my past and present but also guides my future as a leader.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
My daily routine is underpinned by a strategic focus on activity management, which hinges on effective prioritization. I do not subscribe to being particularly an early riser or a night owl; instead, I orient my schedule around the priority of tasks for each day. This approach means that I start my days at varying times, sometimes early, other times later in the morning—whichever suits the day’s objectives and maximizes efficiency. Central to my productivity is ensuring adequate rest. I believe that quality rest is crucial, though I reserve structured activity management primarily for workdays. The flexible nature of my schedule is instrumental in my ability to accomplish more, providing a stark contrast to the rigidity of a fixed timetable. This flexibility, however, does not extend to all aspects of my professional life. Lectures and a number of meetings punctuate my calendar with non-negotiables; these are set well in advance and stand as fixed points in my otherwise fluid schedule. Above all things, I leverage the malleability of my daily structure to align with the prioritization of tasks. Depending on the day's predetermined priorities, I may find myself immersed in back-to-back meetings or deeply focused on work that requires undivided attention. The blueprint of my day is, therefore, a reflection of my prioritization, guiding me through varied rhythms of meetings and concentrated work sessions. In sum, my days unfold in accordance with a well-considered hierarchy of tasks, which dictates the tempo and flow of my professional endeavors.
4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?
The importance of being able to hold a safe space for the next person. Core to what I do the constant reminder points me back to being empathetic and extending grace to the next person.
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 memoir "Doctor of Hearts," which chronicles the inspiring life of the late Dr. Bongani Mayosi, penned by Dr. Judy Dlamini and Dr. Kopano Matlwa Mabaso, stands out as one of the most impactful reads for me. Encountering this book came at a critical juncture in my life, as I grappled with confusion and a waning hope regarding the efforts invested in Keep That Gold Shining NPC over nearly ten years. The parallels between Dr. Mayosi's life and my own were uncanny; as I turned each page, I found reflections of my ongoing narrative and a shared dedication to uplifting others. Dr. Mayosi's legacy, one of selfless mentorship and profound care for others, resonated deeply with me, echoing the core tenets that I embody as a leader. The book reignited a flame of hope within me, reaffirming my faith in the path I have chosen. It did more than just resonate, it validated the significance of my endeavors, reinforcing that the work I do is not only necessary but noble. This biography didn’t just tell a story; it served as a beacon, compelling me to persevere in my quest to make a difference.
6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?
Be patient and intentional in your actions and in choosing the company you keep. Personal growth relies solely on yourself and those who align with your aspirations. Above all, recognize that personal growth enhances your ability to express your ideas more clearly to others. With growth comes a heightened ability to articulate your vision, and innovation naturally follows from a deepened level of understanding. Regarding leadership, venture capitalist Vusi Thembekwayo articulated it well when he said that being misunderstood in one’s time is okay. These words resonate with me because I’ve often faced criticism as a leader for being true to myself. As someone who leads with their genuine personality, there will be those who may criticise you. When you create safe spaces as a leader, conflicts may arise when certain personalities clash due to your influence. Therefore, it’s essential to have the ability to manage high-level conflict conversations. My advice as a leader is to be your authentic self and understand that to the world, it is merely an extension of your personality. It is crucial for others to grasp this and learn to coexist harmoniously with different personalities within your sphere.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?
The continued triumphs emerging from Own and Manage Pty Ltd and Keep That Gold Shining NPC are a testament to our ability to construct platforms that resonate with and realize our collective visions. These two entities stand as beacons of hope for our communities, especially within the townships and rural areas. It is particularly gratifying to witness the transformation of learners who have been empowered through our programs into leaders who are now at the forefront, spearheading initiatives within these organizations. This cycle of empowerment and leadership is not just a measure of our success but also a promise of sustainability and growth for the communities we serve.