WHAT DO YOU STAND FOR?
Most people would quite easily state that they are against terrorism, discrimination on the basis of sex or race, the exploitation of the Earth, and cruelty to animals. But knowing what you stand against doesn’t make a tangible dfference – if it did, the world wouldn’t be in the position it is right now. What prevents something like poaching is those who stand for something; the sanctity of our ecology, environment, and biodiversity. They become the rangers, found and fund the anti-poaching organisations, place their lives on the line to defend their belief, and make a lasting impact on our natural world.
It takes knowing what you stand for in order to make a difference.
It’s easy to know what you stand against. We are raised in communities, political systems, and economies that create a baseline for our lives. We inherit trauma, fears, ideologies and beliefs. We learn norms and standards; what’s acceptable and unacceptable. And for the most part, we consent to and accept these collective representations as absolute truths, never questioning whether there might be better alternatives.
Never be so sure of what you think you want that you wouldn’t take something better.
– Chris Voss (adapted)
Voss simplistically makes a profound point for the value of questioning our beliefs. We can remain constrained, or, if we are prepared to be wrong, we can do better. Going through the process of re-evaluating what we believe, we arrive at a more confident conviction of what we stand for.
At TPA, our business is premised on being better; it’s built not only into our brand but into all we do. At its essence this means acknowledging the status quo and being prepared to reject it (even one that you are very attached to) in order to create a new version – a better version. I – and TPA as an extension – have never been afraid of change, of letting go of what we believe to be an absolute truth in favour of better.
Agency life has offered me the privilege of learning the most incredible “better” lessons, facilitated by people who are bigger than the world in which they arrived. They’ve taught me not just lessons, but ways of being.
This Insight is dedicated to these people, the Wonder Women who have and continue to help me shape not what I stand against, but what I stand for: Carola Cavell-Clarke, Pamela Barletta, Lindiwe Miyambu, Ogothle Sathekge and Thokozile Lewanika Mpupini.
Carola Cavell-Clark was my first encounter with real leadership, a marketing genius who redefined the value proposition of the insurance industry in the early 1990s. In an environment dominated by men, she always wore six-inch heels and her signature velvet-red lips; a declaration of being. She showed up for herself – intellectually, spiritually, physically, and emotionally. Doing so, she showed up for everyone she met, giving us – giving me – permission to be unapologetically me. Carola compelled me to be absolutely clear on what I stood for over what I stood against. I learned to put myself out there, risking ridicule, rejection and failure. I learned that a life without standing for something was one not worth living. “There’s hope for the flowers,” she would always tell me.
Pamela Barletta was the brilliant HR director and executive for the biggest retailer in South Africa. She was – and still is – bold, determined, bright, and bracing in the best way! She defied convention and in absolute terms knew what she stood for. She believed that leadership is not about being in charge but about taking care of those in your charge. She called out the organisation’s historical executive leadership style of control and command. Under her leadership, 30 000 hearts were won, 30 000 minds convinced, and 60 000 hands placed behind the wheel, driving the most successful customer experience transformation in South Africa’s retail history, and our most compelling case study to this day. Pam redefined the boundaries of what it meant to be gutsy; the conviction and courage she rallied remain a source of inspiration to me to this day.
Lindiwe Miyambu – Group Executive of Human Capital at African Bank – has been a champion for transformation at a critical time in the bank’s history. She has led some of the greatest reforms in leadership, culture, and change I have ever seen, as part of an executive leadership team mandated to lead African Bank from curatorship to becoming South Africa’s most-loved bank. Not only did they top the 2020 SACsi awards for customer satisfaction, they made the transition from a credit-only to a fully digital transactional bank. Lindiwe achieved this through her courage and unshakeable belief in a better future and bank, one that can and does represent the hopes and dreams of South Africans. Lindiwe embodies the African Bank purpose of humanity through banking; empowering a 4000-strong army of South Africans to serve by reflecting the humanity of their countrymen. Our four-year working journey has been a profound union of ideologies, and confirmation of the Agency’s core purpose of creating a better workplace for better performance with better possibilities.
Ogothle Sathekge – General Manager for Group Talent Management & Transformation at Transnet – is a five-foot dynamo, and just as high-octane when it comes to knowing what she stands for. Her conviction that our value is determined by how we empower others and that leadership matters disproportionately has driven her to push boundaries and question existing paradigms. She does so irrespective of opposition not only to what future leadership should look like but also to unconventional ways in which it can and should be developed. Under her leadership, Transnet is birthing the future leaders of South Africa, leaders who will bring about an infinitely better tomorrow. Ogothle is not just unencumbered by boundaries, but driven to disrupt long-established rules and norms, both in public and private spheres of business. From our partnership I’ve learned to push harder and further, go where we’ve never gone, and shape not just the space we have, but the space that isn’t yet ours.
As Absa Group Head of Leadership, Learning, and Talent, Thokozile Lewanika Mpupini stands for liberating the possibility that lives in Absa’s greatest strength; its people. She is the powerhouse bringing to life Africanacity; an ideology at the core of Absa’s current employee value proposition. In just two years, she’s reshaped the 100-year-old story of how Absa is engaging not just current employees, but future talent it hopes to attract. In Thokozile’s world, “no” is redundant and anything is possible. She invigorates everything and everyone with which and whom she comes into contact. Her sheer will, determination, and absolute genius has on more than one occasion taken my breath away, as has her overwhelming resilience to pursue what she stands for. Thokozile has redefined the parameters of possible, and so doing has given me the freedom to do the same.
Working deep within male-dominated spaces, these five Wonder Women – Carola, Pamela, Lindiwe, Ogothle, and Thokozile – find the broken-yet-accepted contexts of doing business.
Authentically themselves, they know what they stand for. They work furiously and unapologetically to affect not just their immediate environments, but create enduring, exponential, and sustainable transformation.
They are the change they want to see in the world and they inspire others to do the same. They modify the world and give it hope. They lead with love and truth. Hardship and persecution are incidental. They are Wonder Women.
The 2017 film, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is a love letter to the DC Comics superhero. It follows the genesis of Wonder Woman – her creation as the Amazonian-Olympian goddess with a golden lasso that compels one to tell the truth. The narrative of the film (based on a true story) follows William Marston and his wife Elizabeth who start a lifelong relationship with a student – Olive. As the film unpacks the influence, evolution, and love of these three characters, the best qualities of the two women ultimately inform William’s idea of a new superhero – Wonder Woman – a supreme being and leader for the entire world to look up to. She embodies the ideal qualities of a human: intellectual, physical, spiritual, and emotional strength. She seeks to liberate, she stands for truth, and she affects lasting change.
William, Elizabeth, and Olive are deeply ostracised because of their unconventional relationship. They lose their jobs, opportunities for further education, friends, communities; their children are bullied, and they are beaten. We witness their humanity being tested and tried, and how they overcome their obstacles together. Eventually, they choose their truth over the pressures of the conventional world and live authentically, certain of what they stand for.
It’s a stand that generated a new role model for the world, a new way of being super and heroic; one that has informed and inspired the changemakers of today. “Wonder Woman is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should, I believe, rule the world,” Marston says in the film. And I believe it too!
At TPA we know what we stand for, not just what we stand against.
We believe in a better workplace for better performance with better possibilities. We believe in Africa and her possibilities. We believe it together, as a Tribe. We believe in the Wonder Women and Men we work with every day who act tirelessly to leave the world better than how they found it.
It starts by figuring out what we stand for. Become crystal clear on that. Then stand for it. Imagine the things only you can imagine. Dig deep and find the courage to overcome whatever it is that stops you from living authentically. Living this way changes not just your life but the lives of those around you. Burn through boundaries. Go where you’ve never gone. Obliterate “no”. Keep moving forward as you redefine possible.
Changing the world starts with you … what do you stand for?
Wonder Woman image by: Sarunyu L