Nizenande is a keynote speaker, facilitator and entrepreneur, whose speaking career began in 2002, when she became a member of the South African Guild of Speech & Drama. In 2007, she spoke at the ABSA Women’s Breakfast about the ‘Challenges on Youth Leadership’ in the presence of previous South African Reserve Bank Governor Gill Marcus. Her speaking career is vast, and includes her delivering an address at the SAICA Student Leadership Summit in 2011. It is this enduring passion for speaking that revealed to her her love for people development, thereby giving birth to Milani Development Institute in 2012. Milani was started with a vision to advance young South Africans in the areas of leadership and skills development.
In 2013 she joined the Gordon Institute of Business Science’s Spirit of Youth programme as a facilitator. In 2014, Nizenande was published as a co-‐author alongside former Minister of Finance, Trevor Manuel, and current Public Protector Thuli Madonsela in a book titled: ‘Inspired: Remarkable South Africans share their stories.’ Apart from growing Milani, she currently consults independently for Emzingo Group LLC, a global leadership development and community-‐building organisation, as their South Africa Programme Manager.
My Definition Of Success | This is an interesting question I’m struggling to answer because the term success is not really apart of my life; it isn’t part of my daily narrative. I don’t close off a day by saying it was successful or unsuccessful, so I can’t necessarily measure my entire life, and life’s plans, against that. More so, my definition for success has definitely changed over time. When I was younger, success used to mean having loads of money, being lauded by many and travelling the world.
Instead, nowadays I speak about my life in relation to victory and accomplishment – and for the sake of the question, I will use this as my definition for success. I feel accomplished when I do everything that I set out to do. I feel I’ve accomplished when I’ve challenged myself to do more and better than my own expectations of myself. Victorious suggests coming out on the other side of a battle; and I celebrate more momentous accomplishments as victories. These are the small/big wins, the things that took a lot more time and effort to accomplish, and often with much resistance. Because of my entrepreneurial flair I still believe in generating income and having financial freedom, but not at all costs.
The reason success has changed so much for me and become relatively unquantifiable is because the previous premises upon which it rested were flawed. I used to think being rich was having large sums of money, now I think it’s about being surrounded by things and people money can’t buy. I’ve also realized that people’s hearts are easily swayed, today they can praise you and tomorrow curse you. To have your value determined largely by their glorification of you can be volatile, and an ever-moving target. Of course, having the support of trusted companions is important and should not be disregarded. Lastly, I enjoy travelling the world, but I keep falling in love with South Africa and Africa at large, and that does not render me unsuccessful. The definition had to change, you see, because it was quite naïve and limiting; and now that I know a little better, I have relaxed my assumptions.
The Difference Between Good And Great | Passion. I think the current ideology around passion is warped; it has reduced the word to a feeling and an excuse for people to be non-committal to anything. This meaning is rather overrated.
The Greek root of the word “passion” is long-suffering. Hence: The Passion of Christ. Long-suffering is showing patience in spite of troubles, especially those inflicted by others. This meaning of the word suggests tenacity; it implies an obstinate perseverance towards your goal.
Passion separates those who are good at what they do to those who are great at what they do. The “good” person has the requisite skill, desire and effort-level to deliver well on what she does, but is often immobilized into inaction when she comes across obstacles. The great person in these times shows grit; she rolls up her sleeves and gets dirty. Great people know when to push, and when to pull. They know how to mobilise people into action, and they are great leaders of themselves first, and then others thereafter. A good person aims to delivers well; a great person aims to blow your mind away!
A Key Talent | I have a natural ability to build relationships and connect with people at various levels. It’s been critical in my success because forming relationships has embedded the understanding that I’m not using people for short-term gains, but rather I am invested in creating a mutually beneficial relationship for the long-term. I am now surrounded by people who have a vested interest in my success, who have taken it upon themselves to assist me and be my champions on my journey to success.
If you feel this may not necessarily be a strength you have, one way to develop it is at first, to start by expecting nothing from interactions with people, except to know the other party better. Building trust and rapport takes a lot of time, and regular interactions. Meet people outside of the regular “work” environments – go for lunch, dinner, invite them for a braai at your home. Creating relationships takes time, and sincerity; and so you must be committed to a cause greater than yourself, and that means knowing how to be present for somebody else.
I would say this skill is ultimate in any journey to success because all journeys will require interaction with people. And a big measure of this success will be the giants on whose shoulders you stand.
The Characteristics Of Success | I’m courageous and bold in my action; and I don’t particularly like operating in the mainstream. To date, my life is littered with very daring decisions: I got married during my third year of university, I landed my first job as an Executive Assistant after I badgered the Managing Director to hire me, I started a business immediately thereafter. I have often found myself to be the youngest person in a room full of some of South Africa’s, and the world’s greatest thought leaders. How that has happened has not been because I don’t take no for an answer, but rather, I just knock until the door is opened. To many, being courageous is too costly – it requires more time, effort, and attracts too much judgment. But for me, the cost of not pursuing my dreams is far more damaging because the idea of living a mundane life frightens me; it seems like a slow death.
I have habituated getting up and showing up. I get up early so I can plan my day, so that by the time the world wakes up to plan; I’m busy executing. I spend the days delivering and my afternoons debriefing. I also make my presence felt wherever I go, and ensure I am missed when I am not there. Lastly, I believe I cannot be a better leader than I am a person. Since I am living to achieve to inspire others, I exercise these behaviours and attitudes all the time, regardless of the context.
Lessons I Have Learnt | One of the most important lessons I have learnt to date is the value of humility. I believe the socially accepted understanding of humility is slightly marred, in that it advances an idea of appearing to esteem yourself lower than what you are. Appearances can often be deceiving and it also serves very few people for one to have a low esteem of oneself so as to be socially acceptable.
For me, humility refers to having a clear understanding of where you are and where you are not in your journey. Realizing that although you are achieving, or growing and developing as a person; there are still gaps in the knowledge you are yet to gain, there are skills you are yet to attain, there are things you are yet to learn. Humility, especially when not related to other people’s estimation of you, can be uncomfortable. It makes you aware of the fact that there are those who are more knowledgeable than you are, more advanced than you; and that you still have work to do. This lesson, which I have dubbed “The Discomfort of Humility”, has been pivotal in my journey, as it has made me focus on what I am doing and where I am going, and not necessarily on who is watching. It has put me in a position where I am honest enough to ask for help, or say I don’t know but I am willing/going to learn it. It’s something that reminds me that although I celebrate the small wins, I press on towards the goal.
Other lessons I have learnt are that it’s important to take yourself seriously (self-management), before other can do so. Prepare for your all your meetings, look the part, be on time, be present: people often take their lead from you. Also, be ever learning; don’t become obsolete in the knowledge and skills you have. Endeavour to be relevant and valuable in your offering wherever you go.
Dealing With Doubt | Self-doubt, fear and negativity are probably the most lethal killers of progress. Fear breeds self-doubt, which in turn breeds negativity. So often, when I find myself being negative about something, I try work backwards to uncover what I am fearful of at that point in time.
The best way I try to deal with fear is to bring light into the situation, in both the metaphorical and literal sense of the word. Fear is merely an absence of light, and when light is shed, it often diminishes. When I am fearful about a work decision because I have no knowledge of it, I try to get more insight on the subject matter. When I am fearful in my personal life, I read things that are encouraging. Also, I surround myself with people who provide fresh and enlightening insight, and spur me on.
I remember a time I was most fearful was when I started my business. I doubted myself because I took a leap of faith in deciding that I want to move from Executive Coaching into youth development. My last day of mainstream work was on a Friday, and by Monday, I was officially an “entrepreneur”. Boy was I terrified! But having come so far along, I look back fondly at how I tackled my fears one at a time, one day at a time. I had my husband who was my constant supporter. I read everything all the time, to keep show that I knew what I was doing. Also, I made sure I kept active everyday, to ensure hopelessness and negativity don’t creep in.
Performing At My Peak | I don’t always perform at my peak, and I’ve learnt over time that that is ok too. But that does not mean I ever stop striving to always perform at my peak. The difference is that I strive and structure my life to perform at my peak, and I do not let the things I have no control over affect my efforts.
To keep my energy levels up, I try to keep fit; I exercise every day of the work week. I also get at least 6 hours of sleep each day. In terms of enriching the value I add in my workplace, I stay abreast of current affairs, both locally and globally; with a particular focus on the African continent. I also read articles or books that enrich my knowledge in my areas of expertise and my ability to constantly deliver relevant content and use applicable methodology.
Spending time with family and friends, and doing outdoor activities and/or getaways really energise me to work like a mean machine when I get back into my “work-/ achievement-mode”! My biggest driver to perform at my peak is my faith; my absolute belief in the fact that everything I do, I do to the glory of God. Whatever I put my hands, heart and mind to must be to the best of my ability and show God off!
My Future Dreams And Ambitions | One of my biggest dreams is to build low-fee paying charter schools that use unconventional teaching methods. South Africa currently has an education crisis, the source of which dates back to inefficient education reform policies that were adopted in our transition out of Apartheid into a democracy. Many of the solutions that our governments to date have employed have been ineffective in dealing with the root cause, but have been aimed at soothing the symptoms.
My hope is to create schools that offer private schooling quality education at public school rates. I plan to build them in various countries across the African continent, including South Africa. One of the key drivers of poverty is a lack of (adequate) education. Thus, providing quality education to the young African populace will alleviate, to a large degree, how far the long tentacles of poverty can grow and reach.
Other than that, I have new dreams and desires every few months the more I see how big the world is! I want to own a wine farm, I plan to grow a teacher development institute with the same calibre of pedagogy as top-notch business schools; I plan to start a student scholarship foundation. I could go on forever! The main thing about being alerted to the world’s needs and challenges is that one cannot help but dream about how to solve them. I know that my heart is in education and entrepreneurship, but other than that, I believe the sky is the limit.
Advice On Building Wealth | At an elementary level, I would tell someone to understand the difference between being rich and building wealth. Wealth is function of knowledge/ understanding and money, whereas being rich is a function of solely money. You’re rich if you have accumulated a large stock of money for yourself that can let you acquire things; whereas you’re wealthy if you can live by a mentality of financial freedom, with responsibility and frugality, whilst hedging for the future. This is something one of my mentors, who worked in wealth creation and management, taught me.
So progressing from that foundation, I would say work hard and with integrity. In business, if you operate in the sweet-spot of where you desire to add value (e.g. health and beauty sector), where you are equipped to add this value (studied cosmetology) and if there is a market for this value (people will pay); then you will generate income with greater ease. Same rule applies even if you’re an employee and plan to climb the corporate ladder, you are financially rewarded where you deliver best, and prove that you are an asset to the organisation from day one. You must be vigilant, focused and resilient. Building wealth comes with proof of credibility, and that takes effort, hard work, consistency and time.
On Inspiring Others | I generally tend to be quite strict in terms of the networks I keep, and this is mainly because if something is not adding value, it is just depleting precious resources – which simply put, is a waste of time. One cannot waste time on the journey to reaching their goals, because it is so limited and valuable. Also, releasing a vision/dream is quite delicate, in that it requires other people to champion you, and be your sounding boards. So I find and keep people who display characteristics that are priceless. I put trustworthiness above performance, integrity above skill and honesty above shrewdness.
I also have an affinity towards those who are driven, enthusiastic, big dreamers but even bigger doers. Action is important to me, because it shows that someone adds deeds/physical effort to things they say, and ultimately hold themselves responsible and accountable for delivering. I like working with self-starters who have visions beyond themselves, no matter the field of interest, because it displays determination and perseverance.
The best way to motivate people is to alert them to their own capacity to achieve. To show someone that they are fully equipped to perform whatever task he/she would like to, is to open him/her up to a whole new world of their own potential. When you are enthusiastic, driven and hungry; being told that you can allows you to surprise yourself, and reach new heights. I believe in birthing a spirit of agency in everyone in order to achieve as a collective.