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Young Leaders Connect anniversary

Imagine a world where leaders would not be helping those following in their footsteps resulting in senior people driven by greed, self-gratification, status and money.

Imagine a world where leaders thought only of themselves and not in terms of being motivators helping those following in their footsteps. The consequences would be senior people driven by greed, self-gratification, status and money.

These observations emerged from the recent maiden anniversary of Young Leaders Connect, an International Women's Forum South Africa initiative that connects rising women leaders and promotes inter-generational mentorship with established leaders.

According to Unilever South Africa chairman Marijn van Tiggelen, the issues that drove him in his early career currently held little consequence, because leadership demanded making a transition from serving yourself to following an inner compass to serve others.

In assessing leadership skills daily, van Tiggelen now paid scant attention to candidates' curriculum vitae, believing the most telling ability of good leadership was understanding what motivated a person.

"What stage have they reached in their leadership journey? Are they serving themselves or has their focus shifted to driving others? These are the more valuable assets in leadership and it is a transition far easier made by women than men," he said.

In observing the 100th International Women's Day and recognising the role that still had to be played by women in society, Unilever recently hosted the International Women's Forum South Africa as they engaged with young and senior women leaders in KwaZulu-Natal on leadership development.

The forum saw women leaders discussing the future of women leadership in South Africa and the role both young and senior women leaders had to play in it.

Launched last September, Young Leaders Connect has among its objectives connecting women leaders across South Africa, Africa and globally and creating an environment for learning, inspiring and exchanging ideas.

Former International Women's Forum South African chapter president Namane Magau previously said that as women leaders had journeyed in their careers, they had had women ahead of them who "held our hands and showed us the way in business and in life in general". However, a gap had developed between senior women leaders and the young leaders now emerging that had to be bridged.

This was the role Young Leaders Connect could play. During the forum discussion, International Women's Forum South Africa president Dr Vuyo Mahlati said when considering the necessity for changing lives in South Africa, it was critical to make that discussion a personal one. That meant recognising no-one could call themselves global leaders if their backyards were in disgraceful states.

"There is a desperate need for ethical, good leadership in South Africa and Africa. Self-leadership means leading yourself well before leading others, because delivering authenticity requires leadership that starts with the individual," Young Leaders Connect steering committee chairman Nobuntu Webster said.

Echoing that commitment, KwaZulu-Natal first lady May Mkhize said authenticity meant not faking lives to do what others expected of you, but rather embracing leadership that understood what it meant to lead. This only emerged when leaders realised their own values and knew who they were and what they stood for.

However, underpinning sound leadership skills were grounded value systems. Non-negotiable in life was defining the principles by which leadership decisions were taken and drawing strengths from those commitments.

"It means going beyond the self, knowing there are generations coming after you who will look to you for their inspiration and guidance. However, life throws many issues into our path that would exhaust if you tried fighting each one - choose your battles in line with those that are important and impact on your personal goals and vision," Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine head Koleka Mlisana said.

Yet, anchoring the ethereal discussion was a concrete story of how sound leadership could change the lives of other people. Van Tiggelen was previously Unilever Vietnam chairman during which tenure the global fast-moving consumer goods company elected to shift its procurement decisions for tea towards local production.

That decision saw the Vietnamese tea industry escalate from contributing nothing towards Unilever's local sales to 15%, effectively injecting thousands of jobs into the economy and boosting the lives and livelihoods of millions of people.

"I shall never meet those people, but their lives were changed through leadership focusing on the inner compass and promoting sustainable business. As leaders, we know we have to be part of South Africa's solutions," he concluded.

For more information contact:

Unilever South Africa - Unathi Mgobozi External Affairs Manager

+27 31 570 3000
031 570 2470
Unathi.Mgobozi@unilever.com

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