Leadership skills from Namibia's Businesswomen of the Year

This post is part of the Leadership in Africa Series by USB-ED. As part of our commitment to providing transformative executive education, we shine a spotlight on the most innovative people and extraordinary concepts coming out of the continent. This is episode 3 of the series.

The annals of famous female leaders in history include the indomitable Katharine Graham, who became the first female CEO of a Fortune 500 Company – The Washington Post – in 1972. Since then, a lot has happened to drive equality in the workplace and catapult more women in leadership roles, including awards events that recognise exceptional women in business and their leadership skills, like the Namibia Economist’s Businesswoman of the Year Awards.

Now in its 19th year, the event recognises the innovation, perseverance and creativity of successful women in business across the categories of Business Owner, Young Businesswoman, Community and Government, Private and Corporate Sector, as well as an overall winner. This year’s winners have amazing stories to tell; here are lessons from their leadership styles for other leaders to emulate.

What leadership skills and lessons can we learn from great leaders?

Purpose + Service = Success

Hendrina Hango-Ndakola, the CEO of Natu Pharmaceuticals, walked away with both the Business Owner and the Businesswoman of the Year Awards. In her acceptance speech, Hango-Ndakola emphasised purpose and service as the key attributes to her success. “Having found my purpose in life, I’ve also found means to encourage other women, especially young women, to find their purpose,” she says. “I feel finding your purpose is the beginning of truly living your life.”

Through her determination to promote health in people’s lives, Hango-Ndakola founded Natu Pharmaceuticals in 2004, which now serves pharmacies in Oshakati, Ondangwa and Eenhana, all in the north of Namibia. The pharmacist and business owner also says that once you find your purpose, it will lead you to serve your community in a significant way and, ultimately, catalyse success: “Greatness is determined by service so I would encourage the young women of today to serve… wholeheartedly, in their purpose”.

Allow your people to think for themselves

The winner of the Young Businesswoman Award, Hilja Eelu, is passionate about levelling the playing field for young people in business. Having completed her Bachelor of Science (BSc) Honours in Molecular and Cell Biology, this scientist now serves as the Director: Programs at the African Pathfinder Leaders Initiative (APLI), which strives to develop, empower and mobilise young innovators, change-makers and leaders across Namibia. In this role, she’s found that empowering a team to be proactive in their positions is the key to good leadership.

“As a young person myself, I know that we all have different ideas and different visions as to how to do things so I tend to work with more proactive people,” she says. She also believes that a self-leadership model drives success. “My leadership style has been relaxed… I don’t have to force people to do what they need to do. I’m not an authoritative leader… but it’s been really important for me to find other young people that are actively doing things.”

Find – and give – support

Ester Kali, the CEO of Letshego Holdings, is no stranger to big business, having previously been the chief executive at FNB Namibia. Yet, the winner of the Private & Corporate Sector Award remains humble, describing a support system as a number one tool for success. “As a leader, I believe in coaching and empowering my team, thereby helping them to set smart goals and give them constant feedback,” she says. “You don’t need to be a ‘boss’; you need to be a team player.”

And it goes both ways for Kali, who has identified a need for a women in business support network: “We need to come together and share common interests and learn from one another. [I want] to engage with women on various levels [so we] can help one another in order to grow.”

Passion leads to success – and Fulfillment

At the end of the day, business success is often fuelled by an authentic desire to make a sustained difference to other people’s lives. Uajo Akwenye, winner in the Community and Government Sector, is chief executive at the One Economy Foundation. She firmly believes in the organisation’s mission and it is this passion that has helped her become a leader that her team fully supports.

Her passion belies all the hard work done behind the scenes, which she says is what gives her real joy. “My colleagues and I are driven … [When we] come to work, [we ask ourselves,] How can we make lives better for those in the grassroots communities? We really see ourselves as a bridge between the dual economy.”

At USB-ED, we strongly support women in business. We believe that a good leader is the basis for a good team – and great work. Our Executive Development Programme (EDP) helps prepare you, as a senior executive, with the necessary management skills to accomplish your objectives.

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