Economist Sifiso Skenjana shares his thoughts on leadership and the future
Sifiso Skenjana, 32, is quickly becoming one of the country’s leading voices in economics.
The thought leader and chief economist at a management-consulting firm is a regular columnist for leading publications.
Skenjana is also a PhD candidate, with a master’s in finance from ESADE Business & Law School in Spain.
He shares some of his thoughts with us.
We ought to think of ourselves as current and potential value creators and education as an enabler. Maybe the question to ask is, “What value do I want this qualification to enable me to bring?” That framing starts to force us to think about attaining education as a tool for value creation and not an end in and of itself.
For me, it’s never been about the certificate or qualification, but rather how it fits into the world I imagine for myself. The danger of not doing that is finding yourself expecting a certificate to speak on your behalf.
It is critical for the “layman” to understand the economy of the country. In fact, the industry is to blame for continuing to make itself exclusionary and unrelatable to the ordinary person. The economy is everyone’s problem. Therefore, it is up to us as industry practitioners to make the work relevant and relatable.
Economics is in everything we do. The purchasing choices we make, why we substitute the things we consume when prices go up or down, why big businesses can bully small businesses. It’s all explained in economics. So really, the profession should help everyone understand their immediate environment a little better.
Societies are not a natural state, which means that we first imagine the kind of socio-economic society we want, then we ought to work to put in place the necessary infrastructure to ensure that dream is realised. South Africa is certainly one of those countries that needs the right level of commitment to inclusive and broad-based participation in the economy, and as a result the economic outcomes would theoretically change for the better for everyone. I am certainly not as fearful about the future as many might be, but I also do understand that we are still in for some tough times. My intention is never to stop working to ensure we ultimately journey towards an inclusive economy.
As a young, black man in corporate spaces, identity plays an incredibly important role when trying to navigate corporate life. It is important not to lose yourself and stay true to your own values. You will get boxed into many things, but if it is not you, refuse it and use your work to prove it. The second challenge is that corporate workplaces are not innately designed for you specifically. That means that for a while you are likely to feel like another number. Use that to your advantage while you build skills and relationships.
With an ever-changing world, read, read, read, read! And when you are done, read some more. Secondly, learn how to write. It helps you package your thinking, which is a critical skill in any role you will occupy. And then read some more
Leaders are certainly born and made. There’s a leader in all of us and we lead in official and non-official capacities. A lot of the leadership we channel in non-official capacities will be characterised by the leadership talents we are born with. However, institutions require a structured and measured approach to leadership, and many leaders have to learn this. They learn through both exposure as well as official training.
When it comes to nurturing my leadership, I water that plant as often as I can. I try to reflect on and study my choices so that I can get better, and more importantly, lead with purpose and with empathy. I certainly do not get it right at all times but I am enjoying the learning experience and the ability to impact other people’s lives in both big and small ways. As a leader, never fail to apologise or acknowledge when you get things wrong. Never fail to solicit the input and feedback of others, and never stop learning.
The challenges facing our communities, industry, country, and the continent need as many subject matter experts as possible occupying platforms that will inform and guide the choices needed for sustainable growth. Thought leaders should leverage their knowledge of their industries to be positive agents of change.
This article first appeared in the June 2020 print edition of S Mag. The Sowetan’s quarterly lifestyle magazine.