In the media
Leading from the front26 October 2015
INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL not only broadens the mind, but being well-travelled provides leaders with a competitive edge in the workplace. Getting a view of the bigger global picture and learning adaptability are important milestones in the life of a leader. Dr Anna Mokgokong, or simply Dr Anna as she is warmly referred to, knows all about that. Born in Soweto and raised in Swaziland, the head of multi-billion rand investment company Community Investment Holdings [CIH], with holdings across the healthcare, technology, finance, logistics, and mining sectors, started off selling sandwiches and bags to fellow students while studying to be a doctor. She used her medical training as a launch pad into business, and has since developed interests in many different industries. She sits on numerous company boards locally and internationally and chairs AfroCentric Group and AfroCentric Health Group.
"l often meet CEOs who are capable and accomplished, but not quite 'leaders'," she says. "My own experiences have taught me that exposure to global strategies and infrastructure is the quickest way to learn and grow. To lead is not about how well you do in your job, but how you integrate the knowledge you have acquired for the benefit of the people you work with, and the environment around you."
Acknowledge your roots
Fundamental for a leader is the ability to reflect how you got there, because it is impossible to get anywhere on your own. You need people to support your endeavours, initiatives and vision. Dr Anna says it's important not to forget where you come from. "The people I first looked up to were my parents. I learnt from them how to be aware and conscious of my environment, which has served me well in life. We had a busy home, often full of people, and it used to annoy me that we had to share everything, but that is howl learnt to care for other people."
She recalls growing her private practice . from scratch as a community doctor, to a patient base of more than 4O O00 people, serving eight villages. "In the first three days, I did not have a single patient. On day four, a group of elderly women from the village came to see me. There was nothing wrong with them, but because they wanted to make it worth my while to stay and work in the village, they came for a consultation. That showed me how important it is to make yourself an integral part of the communities your work in."
"l often meet CEOs who are capable and accomplished, but who are not quite 'leaders'."
Be tough enough to bounce back
Dr Anna recently attended the Women Vendors Exhibition and Forum in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where she heard powerful testimonials by global entrepreneurs. She is firm about one thing - resilience. In 1999, when she was Businesswoman of the Year, and CE of Malesela Hospitals, she was named as a central figure in the collapse of Macmed healthcare group, which lost R1 billion.
"I was viewed with suspicion by the media, and my reputation was tarnished," she says. "What I took from that experience was the importance of doing research and understanding your environment. I was wrongly accused of mismanagement, but my biggest failing was ignorance - I failed to identify the problems within Macmed. I had to take the battering and move on."
Don't let gossip undermine the business
A problem-solver by nature, it's most likely due to her medical training that she likes to take a lateral view of challenges. She has little patience with people who talk to her about problems with others in the workplace. "l always ask, 'are you here to gossip, or to raise something of substance?'"
She believes that gossip at work undermines leaders and affects productivity, but it also indicates that employees are unhappy and unempowered. "It's imperative to improve that situation before it impacts your business. The best way to stop it, is to reveal both the gossiper and the subject of the gossip - people are shocked when I do that, but if there is a problem, let's get it out into the open, fix it, and turn our focus back to the business."
Talk less, listen more
Dr Anna prides herself on being a good listener. "Great leaders are great listeners," she says. "It shows a level of intuition and empathy, but it can also be an important strategic tool. The more you learn to listen the more you hear what is not being said."
Like most great leaders, she believes it is important to be a good communicator someone who does not talk 'at' people, but actively engages with them. "Hearing is more important than being heard," she maintains.
"As a leader, you need to be sure that you understand, before you can insist on being understood."
Be willing to learn
Ask her what her message is to young South African entrepreneurs, and her answer is 'get an education'. By that she means learning about the business world. One of the first mistakes she made as a young entrepreneur in pharmaceutical supplies, was to trade with a customer on handshakes. She trusted him, and when he asked to triple his regular order, she took a leap of faith and was burned.
"He could not pay, and there was no contract in place to help me recoup what he owed. I cannot stress enough how important it is to know the law, as it applies to business, and to familiarise yourself with critical elements like the Companies Act, King Ill, and what it truly means to be a director."
It's advice that's as relevant for established business owners who want to grow their organisations. "To survive in business today, you need to be a sharp thinker. The environment changes all the time and to stay on top, you need to be smarter than the rest. Most importantly, take yourself seriously because if you dont, no-one else will." EM