I have never written such a difficult discussion note in my life. I know God Jehovah wanted me to write on this but somehow it has been a struggle. I feel I have not clearly articulated what He wanted me to share in this blog. It is a hard read – please bear with me and continue reading I am sure God Himself will somehow help you understand what I was trying to say. Should you understand please help me articulate it better by sharing back, asking questions or sharing your story. Be blessed!
The past sixteen years that I have been a corporate leader, first at the Development Bank of Southern Africa (for nine years as a Group Executive) and currently at Bigen Africa (for seven years to date as CEO and now Executive Chairperson), have been an amazing journey. I look back and ask myself ‘how did I get there?’ Did I get appointed to these positions because the senior leaders in these organizations who interviewed me believed I had the requisite skills, qualifications, competencies, experience, character and attitude to occupy them? Were these appointments just meant for me because I was ‘lucky’ or just ‘liked’ by the interviewers? What made me serve in them as one of the top leaders? These questions are fundamental to me and I am sure many people would also ask themselves such. My main question however is, ‘Is leadership a calling?’ What do you think? Let me share with you my leadership journey and my approach to it so we can debate this question as part of the Leadership SHARE discussions.
Allow me to put my thesis down for you so you can understand where I am coming from. Please always remind yourself that for this discussion I am not referring to church leadership calling. I know we tend to believe that church leaders are called by God Jehovah. (side remark: The existence of all sorts of faiths and called church leaders around the globe and my understanding of the Bible e.g. Matthews 24:11 and 24, can only be left to the well qualified to write on these issues and for God be the Judge). I am thus referring specifically to public and private sector corporate leadership regulated by governmental laws and policies – where employers and employees in organizations for example, have a service delivery contract. In addition, my perspective of these types of organizational leadership as you would read in this blog, is completely different from theoretically defined leadership that has been written about in many literature and spoken about in many courses, workshops, seminars, conferences, and the media. In most cases, organizational leaders are judged or judge themselves based on their profiles, qualifications, capabilities, experiences and so on. Not that these requirements are not important, they are definitely important but should they be the main and only requirements for leadership positions? I know you might be saying ‘how will organizations know these leaders are called?’ Or you may think capabilities, competencies and character are enough. You might be knowing a number of leaders who are leading great organizations without these requirements yet they are very successful. Or you might be knowing leaders with great qualifications, competencies, character and experience but who failed to lead their organizations. I know this sounds contradictory, confusing and unclear as to where I am going. Where I am going is – is it right to say that not all leadership positions have to be filled with only leaders who have qualifications, competencies and experience? Some positions might require these. Shouldn’t these also be part of a calling by God into these corporate positions? Others may be called and qualified by experience with no qualifications but God qualifying them? Now I can see your smile and saying ‘what?’ Okay, we getting to the point of my thesis – I am giving you my experience in these two organizations above that I worked in. All what I will share is my own thesis and what my exposure taught me. I learnt that ‘corporate leadership is a calling from God.’ Really? Really. You might not agree – it’s fine, I understand.
NOTE: I want to emphasize that although I mentioned the Development Bank of Southern Africa and Bigen Africa here, the process I went through to get there and know that I was called to be in these corporates, has nothing to do with any of the two organizations mentioned, but, have everything to do with the calling on my work there and my role as a leader there. This is my journey alone. It is my journey as a Christian who believes that God my Creator knew me before I was put in my mother’s womb. He predestined me to be there at that particular time, moment, season and role. He orchestrated every plan of my life and work, ordering my steps there as well. Without His plan for my life I would not have been there, nor succeeded nor stayed there for that long. As the Author and Finisher of my faith, He put people in my path to guide and support me, He gave me wisdom, strength and passion to deliver the mandates of my responsibilities, and He kept me steadfast to remain in His will. All these are to His glory alone!
WAS I CALLED?…
1. Asking God for guidance and confirmation on my calling
When I was approached to take up these positions the first thing I did was to ask God Almighty what His will was. This I did because I wanted to make sure that I will be able to do His will and not my will. To some readers this might seem silly but for me it was what I did because I wanted God to give me guidance and confirmations knowingly that it is His calling for me to be there. For the DBSA position I asked my family, friends and church to pray with me. For the Bigen Africa one I went to Ireland to pray for two weeks seeking God’s guidance in this regard. One thing that the Lord said to me in both occasions was ‘be still and know that I am God. I have called you by name to these positions. There I will never leave nor forsake you. Go and be bold. Don’t forget who I am to you – Your Farher who loves you dearly’. Did God come to me in a vision and loud voice? No. He gave me His Word in the Bible. I read these verses over and over to myself and imprinted them in my spirit. The peace that surpasses all understanding covered me from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet at both occasions. I had no fear as I knew that God wanted me to take up these positions and that He alone will be with me to do the right things at work to glorify His Holy Name.
What am I saying? I am saying, when you get invited to a leadership position don’t just be excited about the title, status and money. Don’t even think it is all about your profile, qualifications nor experience but God who called you to the position. In fact ask God Jehovah if this position is His will and calling. If it is His will and called you, you will know that He will be with you through it all. You will be able to take the position mainly because you want to make a difference in improving the quality of lives of people generally, and not because it is a nice position to have. Knowing that in everything you will do in that position, you will always remember who put you in that position and whose will are you serving. In my case, I thank God every single day for calling me in to leadership positions that I was and I am at. I know that I was chosen by Him alone to be in those positions. I know it was not because of my profile, qualifications, and experience. I know it was not because the leaders who interviewed me liked me or that I was just lucky (or blessed as I would prefer to put it), but it was God Jehovah who called me.
In short, check with God Jehovah first if you have been called by Him to be in a leadership position.
2. Writing my Vision from God
As I accepted positions of leadership in these organizations, I asked God Almighty to give me His vision to do His will to execute the mandate given to me by the leadership of these organizations. The vision He showed me was of a happy society where every need from food, water, sanitation, transport, energy, houses, schools, hospitals etc were in existence as a ‘normal’ life. I am convinced that God Jehovah (who took me out of poverty, saved my life during apartheid days and school/university boycotts, living in a home with pit latrine, no running water, far placed schools, clinics and hospitals, unemployed alcohol addicted uncles, and raised by a pensioned grandmother who received R90,00 every second month) wanted to use me to make a contribution in the lives of those who are facing the same conditions I have faced growing up.
While these sad challenges are still going on in our beloved continent, there are a number of many organizations such as the DBSA, Bigen Africa, governments, private sector companies, NGO’s including donor communities, and many people volunteering their time, opening their homes and sharing their daily meals with the needy. All I know is that all of us who are called have to find ourselves burdened by all these challenges – poverty, unemployment, disease, lack of infrastructure etc. We have to find it very difficult not to do something about these unfair conditions people on the continent live in. Our calling cannot be that easy and simple. We have to wonder why should people suffer? I asked God why did He call me to be part of organizations that have to solve these challenges. God said to me He called me to work there because I have lived this difficult life, I should understand what these poor people are going through. He called me as a survivor of poverty and I survived only because He put people in my life to take me out of it. Therefore it was my turn to do the same and even do more by being part of improving the quality of life on the continent.
A calling therefore has to come from God and it is not easy. Remember Moses when he was called to lead the children of Israel to Canaan? He gave God all the reasons why he can’t do it but God promised that He will be with him and he should not be afraid. Indeed He was with Moses who wrote his vision down as he received it from God – The Ten Commandments.
My vision was – Improving the quality of life by doing good in business to provide basic infrastructure in my continent. Indeed at the DBSA it was about infrastructure financing in Sub-Saharan Africa and at Bigen Africa it is about infrastructure development on the continent. Both organizations believe in development impact outcomes – reducing poverty by creating jobs, food security etc. and I was and am still privileged and blessed to be one of the leadership team members called to serve God’s people on the continent.
In short remember that without vision people perish. Ask God for His vision, write it down and execute it according to His calling for you in your position.
3. Trusting God for Wisdom, Courage and Resilience
In most cases from a distance when we look at people in leadership positions, we assume that they have it all and together. Yet in truth in these positions it is not easy to stay focused on God. Many people I know who loved the Lord before they took positions of leadership ended up turning away from their God-given visions mainly because bad environments (where pride, greed, stealing, corruption, lies and lust) have destroyed their inner being. While some of the leaders lost much of their dignity and integrity, a number of them have through the encouragement of their spiritual leaders managed to return back to God and are now doing the right things in their lives. Many others who knew their calling from the beginning, remained steadfast in executing their God-given mandates without turning to the left nor to the right. They remember that they were put in positions of power by God Himself and they serve to His glory alone and not to themselves.
When I started working in these organizations, I have always been reminded by God that ‘it was not by might nor by power but by His Spirit’ that I have been called to serve. God reminded me that He is the One that puts people in positions of power and removes them. I remembered why Moses and David were put and removed. I remembered Deborah and Esther that wisdom, courage and resilience come from Our Almighty Jehovah only. The truth of His Word that He will go ahead of me to remove mountains, that no disaster will come near us, that even in heightened waters we will not drown, no fires will burn us and that we will troddle over snakes they will not bite us; gave me courage and hope that I will make it no matter how difficult it might be in these positions.
in short, trust God and ask Him for wisdom, courage and resilience as it is very easy to forget ourselves in leadership thus fail to execute God’s calling.
4. Unashamedly acknowledging God in my leadership journey
God’s vision was clear in that at the DBSA, the CEO allowed me space to acknowledge God Jehovah through the Christian Forum where a group of us met to share the Word and pray every lunch time – work permitting. This group would pray for the leadership, staff, families, projects successes and blessings. At Bigen Africa, the leadership team embraced the idea of corporate prayer and starting all our meetings with prayer allowing anyone to pray. For me, both these organizations have allowed me to unashamedly acknowledge God at work which is in line with our country’s constitutional rights. Given these privileges in both organizations I realized that there was no way that I cannot put my whole being to deliver best company results to thank God for the privilege to serve. When I look back I truly appreciate God for these two organizations for I have seen His goodness in them. I have seen great leadership teams working together to achieve the organizational strategies, good corporate governance, responsible risk management frameworks, supportive human capital management, frugal financial management and focused development impact delivery. Many of these could have not happened if God Almighty was not present in these organizations. The fact that as leaders we acknowledged the existence of God in our lives and being unashamedly bold to pray for our organizations is truly a blessing to be a part of.
The book ‘God is my CEO: Following God’s Principles in a Bottom-Line World’ by Larry Julian encouraged me that I was not confused or insane as the world would want me to believe that there were few corporate leaders who are running their businesses God’s way. I knew that Romans 8:28 refers to corporate leaders too. Knowing that as we are called according to His purpose we can serve a higher purpose of God while making money.
In short, being unashamedly bold is to let other people know that God is the one who gives us strength and wisdom to do our work. Jesus said to His disciples, should you be ashamed of me before men, I will be ashamed of you before my Father!
When I look back where I started and ended, how I made it to date, only God made it with and for me. No knowledge of the business, qualification, competency, capability, connections could have helped me but only God did. On my own with all these I would not have walked this journey thus far.
So, what do you think? Is leadership a calling? Who qualifies the called? What is your leadership journey like? Did you do it because you were qualified with these requirements? Did you do it on your own, no God, but only your qualifications, competency and experience for example? Or, do you also like me believe you were called into leadership by God? Please either way, send me your comments on shares so we can engage and learn. If possible please share your story of corporate leadership calling with us so our young readers can learn how to know when they are called by God to serve in the public and private sector.
Please remember don’t share on church leadership calling – there is a lot already in the Bible and many called church leaders have written about this on their books/websites.
Thank you for reading this difficult blog. May God shine His face upon you and your loved ones.