The African philosophy of ‘Ubuntu’ means showing humanity to others.
As an activist and campaigner for universal access to education, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the former United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Deputy President of South Africa, is an incredible leader who practices Ubuntu in everything she does.
Listen to the story behind her leadership journey on the latest episode of the Positive Leadership podcast.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Hello, and welcome to another edition of Positive Leadership, the podcast that helps you grow as an individual, a leader, and ultimately, as a global citizen.
PHUMZILE MLAMBO NGCUKA: In politics, you serve people. In the end, those are your bosses. And so, when people fuss around you, treating you like an important person, it’s important to always remember, this show is not about me.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Servant leadership is an essential element of positive leadership. By putting the needs of others first and prioritizing collaboration and community building, leaders can help to create a more just, equitable, and sustainable future for all. My guest today, Doctor Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka, truly embodies the characteristics of a servant leader—humility, empathy, and a willingness and commitment to listen and learn from others. She grew up in Durban in South Africa. Living under the apartheid regime drove her activism, and since then, she has dedicated her career to issues of human rights, equality, and social justice. A former United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director for UN Women, she was the first woman to hold the position of Deputy President, the highest-ranking female political leader in the whole history of South Africa.
Women leaders have been underrepresented and undervalued for so long, so it was a real privilege to speak to Phumzile to find out more about her leadership journey and philosophy. We dig into lots of different areas in this discussion—the woman who inspired her activism, the leadership skills needed when your focus has changed, the value and benefits of mentoring, and of helping communities embrace and use new technology. There really is something for everyone in this episode, and it’s packed with wisdom and so much learning. So make sure you stay with us until the very end.
Phumzile, a very warm welcome. Thank you so much for spending the time with me today.
PHUMZILE MLAMBO NGCUKA: Thank you very much. It’s good to see you.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Phumzile, I was very interested to read a little about your parents, who I believe had a huge influence on you and who instilled in you a servant leadership. Can you tell us more about those early years and when your incredible dedications to leading and serving others came from?
PHUMZILE MLAMBO NGCUKA: My mother in particular was a nurse but also a community worker. She taught literacy in our dining room, and we used to have to support her in that work. She was active in our church and was engaged with young mothers on family planning in particular. Now, as we know, reproductive rights are such a key issue for women. So it felt to me in those early days that taking part in what is happening in your community is just a way of life. I think I only realized when I was much older that these are things you choose to do or not to do. I grew up knowing that this is just an extension of my life.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: It was kind of a calling, if I hear you well, right? Seeing your mother as a role model, as you said both at home but also in the community, I’m sure has given you and your siblings a lot to think about early on.
PHUMZILE MLAMBO NGCUKA: Also, my father was a teacher. A lot of times at home it was school meetings of parents coming in many cases to tell him that they didn’t have money to pay the school fees. So it was constant managing of all those issues. You’d have thought our home was an office or an NGO.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Now I understand why after, we’ll come back to that later, you’ve been interested in joining NGOs and setting up your own foundation. So, very involved with the core of your family already in the roots of your community with the teacher and nurses, really taking care of others.
PHUMZILE MLAMBO NGCUKA: Yeah.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: So, 1976 was, I believe, the first year of university for you, but it was also a very special year for the Soweto Uprising in South Africa. There was a lot of brutality, lots of students lost their lives. You are part of the generation devoted themselves to fighting for their country, to end apartheid, and to address all manner of human rights. In your life, and I know you had events going on through your life, how significant was that lived experience of the Soweto Uprising in driving you forward to seek for a change.
PHUMZILE MLAMBO NGCUKA: Yes, 1976 was a very big year in South Africa. And for students in particular because whether you were at high school or at university, all of us were affected with all the schools closing as well as all universities in South Africa closing. And that was the time when we had to sit as young people to consider what will our role be in the struggle and what is needed from us. And looking back now, maybe in not a clever way we decided “liberation first; education last” which was not quite the thing that our parents would have chosen for us. But it felt like it is not possible to spend so much time at school and not carry on with the project for liberation. But of course, the call at that time for the ANC was that they do not want a country in which there is no education. So we have to figure out how to do both.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: But you made it clear with your friends at that time that liberation had to come first as a first fight.
PHUMZILE MLAMBO NGCUKA: Yes, and that was a popular slogan. And of course, quite a number of the students of my time dropped out of school at that time. They left the country, went into exile to dedicate themselves to the study. I also left the country; I went to study in Lesotho. But that gave me more time to be in close contact with many of my colleagues who were in exile who we needed to confer with and plan with, so I sort of was the lucky one who managed to do both.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Should we say, Phumzile, that at that time really for you there was no turning back?
PHUMZILE MLAMBO NGCUKA: Absolutely. That I was very clear about, that I can never do anything that takes me away from the struggle. If I was to be in education, where there was no possibility to confront apartheid, I probably would have wanted to focus on apartheid. In a sort of a funny way, I had a boyfriend who jilted me because he said, “I am tired of this struggle of yours. There’s nothing to talk about with you. That is all we talk about. I’m sorry.”
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: This is the only obsession you have.
PHUMZILE MLAMBO NGCUKA: That was my first time to face rejection.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Even as a young woman, it was clear Phumzile was laser-focused on achieving objectives. After graduating from university with a degree in arts and education, she began a career in youth development and education. She faced various challenges, including the lack of resources and support available to the carers. So she pushed for change and improvements in the education system, all the while remaining an active member of the anti-apartheid movement in the youth wing of the ANC. In 1984, following South Africa’s first democratic elections, Phumzile became a member of parliament and played a key role in the drafting implementation of a number of laws and policies aimed at promoting women’s empowerment.
Being part of the first wave of politicians to enter parliament post-apartheid must have been so exciting, and yet, there was an enormous amount of work that needed to be done. So I wanted to ask Phumzile about the particular leadership skills required in that moment to help the country through that historic period of change.
PHUMZILE MLAMBO NGCUKA: To be engaged in any organization, including political organization, is one of the best platforms on which you can acquire leadership skills. In the struggle where your focus is changed, that also prepares you for leadership in the community. I can say the things that I learned in the struggle: how to negotiate and relate to the people I was with; how to handle disagreement, because we were fighting for the same things, so even if you disagreed, you needed to find a consensus of some sort that you can all move together; recognizing that the work that you do does not necessarily give you benefits. It is delivering on the objectives you are about that is much more important.
Also, that teaches you to have all your energy thrown into whatever you are trying to achieve. So, a lot of the leadership skills that one needed you picked them up in the process of doing things. But also, you learn from people that you are with, isn’t it? You make mistakes; people will tolerate you and teach you. You fall; you rise. That is the best lesson. And you then also develop the need to do the same to others, the ones coming after you, is you are bringing the next generation, so to say, that sharpens your own leadership. Because you are able to think about where you are going and who you are bringing with you.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Wow, that sounds like wonderful, accelerated-leadership kind of learning in-flight as you deal with all of that. Would you mind sharing with us a moment of coaching you got from someone supporting you as you may have made a mistake? Because obviously you were young, you were driven and with a purpose, and you learned that, hey, maybe Phumzile you need to do something a bit differently now moving forward.
PHUMZILE MLAMBO NGCUKA: You know, somebody that stands up for me is a lady called Brigalia Bam. She was working at the World Council of Churches at the time. That’s a very male-dominated environment. In those times it was even worse. But she held her own very well there and was very impressive to me. But the one thing that I learned from her is how important it is to be humble.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Humility.
PHUMZILE MLAMBO NGCUKA: Absolutely. And not to take yourself so serious that you can’t even laugh at yourself.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: I love that.
PHUMZILE MLAMBO NGCUKA: For her, every step that you took, no matter how much in public or in a place of importance you were, you always have to put the people in front of you above you.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: What sets a servant leader apart is that the put the wellbeing and success of those they lead and manage before their own personal ambitions. Their success is measured by other people’s successes. So they have a great incentive to lead by example and invest in the growth of others. They are in front but leading from behind. Someone else who influenced Phumzile’s leadership approach was Nelson Mandela. In 1986, President Mandela appointed Phumzile Deputy Minister in the Department of Trade and Industry. It was an area she had not worked in before. And Mandela could see she was nervous, so her took her aside and gave her some very personal advice.
PHUMZILE MLAMBO NGCUKA: And he just told me, “I have been a prisoner for a long time, so no one trained me on how to be a president, but I was determined to learn and to do it. So go and be a deputy minister of trade and industry. You will learn. We are all here. We will support you.” The rest was history.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Wow, that’s a wonderful moment of deep confidence of course shown by your leadership and the way you’ve been reflecting on it. Sometimes, just one person saying, “I’ve got your back,” exactly what you said, “you can do this,” can make all the difference in helping someone feel confident, to give them the boost they need to succeed. Because the fact is, there’s lots of people who feel unsupported in their lives. I know you’ve been taking mentoring very seriously. Who have been your most important mentors—you mentioned already one example before—and what have you got out of them? And because I think mentorship is a two-way street, what have you got out of your mentees as well? So if you could share both sides of the coin in terms of you as a mentor and from a mentee perspective as well.
PHUMZILE MLAMBO NGCUKA: Actually, I find when you are mentoring you absolutely get more out of it, especially if your mentee is younger than you. Because there’s certain freshness of perspectives that you get there. It’s important that in that relationship you are able to provide your insights that you have gained because of the experience of having lived longer, as well as showing them what they are likely to come up against as they go back. And always going back to paraphrase to them and say, “This is why I did this and this and this, then this is where it is taking me. So remember, when you ever find yourself in this situation it would lead you to this.” I always find that taking time to do that is always important.
And then sometimes what you have taken for granted is the results you are expecting is rejected or questioned. And that also opens up a new world for you that you have never thought of, new possibilities. And that’s the freshness that comes with the innocent enquiry. That kind of like says, “Hmm, I hear what you are saying but I think you could also do it this way.” That engagement I find is always important. But also, I think it’s always important as you are mentoring to be reminding yourself and your mentor that wherever you climb, make sure you’re not climbing alone. Always lift as you climb. Because it’s very lonely at the top. Always make sure that you never put yourself in the situation of being the only one. You get into this, “I am the only woman who has done this. I’m the only...” That is absolutely denying society the talent that is out there.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: The talent that surrounds you, that are supporting you in that ascension, yes.
PHUMZILE MLAMBO NGCUKA: Because also for people of my generation I don’t think that there has been any step that you have taken that is significant without the help of somebody, without the help of other people opening the way. They may not have succeeded; they might have gone before you preparing the ground and never benefiting from preparing the ground. And you are the one who gets there, and you are able to get the full benefit of the work they’ve always done. So it’s always important to always remember that you are where you are because somebody else got there first and made it possible that future generations will take it to the next level.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Wonderful confirmation of humility as a core value and growing on the shoulders of others—giants, not you but others who made it possible for you. I’m with you, Phumzile. Now I’d like to change direction and talk to you about the importance of upskilling and digital literacy in particular. In a previous podcast, I spoke with Reshma Saujani, who so far found that a disproportionate numbers of women to men in computer programming class in the US. She then went on to designing and writing out an initiative called Girls Who Code, you may have heard about this initiative, I guess-
PHUMZILE MLAMBO NGCUKA: Yes.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: ... designed to increase by millions the number of women who can actually code in the world. And here at Microsoft, my company, we believe everyone deserves access to the skills, knowledge, opportunity, to achieve more, including translating those skills into meaningful jobs. So since leaving office, I know you’ve set up your foundation, the Umlambo Foundation, right-
PHUMZILE MLAMBO NGCUKA: Yes.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: ... which is dedicated to digital literacy, training for educators. You are focusing on schools’ improvement, you told me the other day, and teacher upskilling and building capacity as well, including behavioral training, such as positive masculinity you told me other day as well. So can you tell me more about why you decided to set up that foundation in the first place, and what kind of impact are you the most proud of?
PHUMZILE MLAMBO NGCUKA: My foundation works in schools to improve the quality of learning and teaching. We believe that the use of technology in education is crucial in order to expand the access to knowledge that teachers may need for themselves, that learners also need for themselves, so that people are not only dependent on the lessons that they get with a teacher in front of them. On their own, they can also be knowledge seekers and knowledge creators, and they can collaborate with other people in their schools and people who are far away from them. And of course, you probably know much better than I do, as Microsoft, that the future will be, and is already, for those who know how to use technology effectively.
For me, it’s important to close this gap in our schooling system and make sure that the gender digital divide in the school is also closed, making sure that when we manage to get gadgets you make sure that the girls get them first. Because at home if they buy a phone the first one to get it will be a boy. And also, I wanted to push as many teachers as possible to be competent users of technology because they are role models to the learners. When the girls see that their female teacher is doing this so well, that is a good lesson. And I am very excited to see that in the schools we work with the female teachers are just leading. They are really, really doing well. That is encouraging. But also, we teach the children to take the skills they pick up at school home, especially to their mums.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: So they can educate their mums.
PHUMZILE MLAMBO NGCUKA: Don’t just use the phone for talking. You can also do this. And in the majority, women use their phones to check medical information as well as financial literacy. Because for many parents the receipt and exchange of money on the phones is now a way of life. So it’s important that your grandmother, your aunt, knows how to receive this money, knows how to send you money. So it’s a very dynamic learning space to try and impart all those skills to the teachers, to the children, to the parents.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: I love the way Phumzile talks about the work of her Umlambo foundation and the importance of creating a virtual circle—teaching the value of the technology and services all the way from the teachers to the kids to the parents and to the community, empowering them and helping them to use technology to do more in their lives, which is something I, and we as a company at Microsoft, and many of my guests, including Sal Khan, are very passionate about. And with generative AI, there’s so much exciting potential to help people, adults and children, have self-paced learning and also to develop critical thinking skills, thinking through issues collaboratively. That is creating huge value in the community. It’s so wonderful to see the impact Phumzile is having on education, helping people move beyond a basic understanding of new technologies and getting them to proficiency.
Let’s shift gears now and talk again even more deeply about women’s rights. “Women’s rights are human rights,” proclaimed then First Lady Hillary Clinton in September 1995 at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. And this groundbreaking speech marked a turning point for feminism in an international effort towards gender equality, articulating women’s rights as a basic fundamental concept of civil rights. During this conference, 189 countries unanimously adopted the Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action for women’s equality.
In 2013, you, Phumzile, became United Nations Under-Secretary-General and executive director of UN Women. You played the leading role in the development of the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the UN two years later, in 2015, which included a very specific chapter and goal on gender equality. And reaching that goal today and now is really a question of implementation and scaling. It has proven to be very hard, especially through the pandemic and beyond the pandemic now. So, let me ask you a qualifying question, given of course the incredible fight you took on and the leadership you developed in that area: what is your perspective on how we could we push ourselves harder to really drive the gender equity and global diversity in the world so that we can accelerate our progress towards achieving the different Sustainable Development Goals? Because I think if you don’t get the gender equity as an anchor, as a base for many of the other challenges, we lose the opportunity to empower a lot more people to achieve those incredible goals. So what would you urge all of us to do differently?
PHUMZILE MLAMBO NGCUKA: Now my perspective, and I feel very strongly about that, is that I am not focusing on women now. I’m focusing on men.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: To change men’s behavior.
PHUMZILE MLAMBO NGCUKA: Yeah, because after all, gender equality is a man’s issue because they started the nonsense. So you have to get the men to be engaged in an effective way and to provide the possibility for women to reach the greater heights. Otherwise, if you think about gender-based violence, if men were to stop beating up women, the problem is solved. Men lead institutions, countries, and companies, and they choose other men to lead with them and do a bad job together. If men were to bring women and mix, and not just include the people who look like them, we could have something that will work for everyone. But you need to convince the men. The men but embrace the notion of equality much better and then take the next step. If you think about child marriage, it’s men who marry children. It is only girls who find themselves in relationships they don’t want that are forced into them. If men, fathers, brothers, can decide that “nothing of the sort will happen to my child, and I as a man I would also never do this to a child of someone else,” that changes the game. So there’s so much work that we have to do on men. I think feminists of my generation I think we missed it by having neglected to engage men for such a long time. And now we really have to focus on men.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: It’s wonderful. You and I had a discussion previously in this podcast, Phumzile, where you told me about this curriculum I think you’ve developed in your university for positive masculinity. Would you mind elaborating what it is? Because I think you are trying to address at the core the issue with boys, actually.
PHUMZILE MLAMBO NGCUKA: Yes, yes, positive masculinity for boys and men is really engaging men about the need for them to be proud of their masculinity but not to make it imposing to anyone, to look at their masculinity as an equal set of values that they could have towards women or people of any other gender. Men in marriage situations never doing anything at home to help to run a home because they think that it is masculine to just sit and eat and do nothing. You see in rural areas young girls fetching water, little girls carrying big buckets of water and muscular men sitting at home watching these little girls doing all of this. Positive masculinity is going to the river yourself and making sure that you do not give that as a task to your child, who needs to play because the child is still growing. Positive masculinity is getting at home and washing the dishes and not expecting that it’s a given job for somebody else, “It’s never a job for me.” It’s finding ways to bring all of those things at home that we actually need to be working together.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Wow, that’s a big agenda, and I’m sure that with all the work that you are doing with your foundation there’s a lot to expect from that work and learning to be applied more broadly as well across South Africa, and honestly, all of our countries, actually. It goes far beyond South Africa. Great that you have this leadership in that area, Phumzile. It has been said many times about you that your purpose and passion for your work is grounded in your personal experiences, and we discussed some of those experiences already. And I spoke recently with Harvard professor Ranjay Gulati, who has been authoring a book called Deep Purpose. He was on my podcast recently, and he talked about the difficulties in embedding deep purpose for all employees working in large organizations—that could be a government organization; that could be an NGO; that could be a business as well—how the message can get lost and purpose decays exponentially as you go down the hierarchy from the top to the very first line. From your own experience, what advice can you give to our listeners about how you go about aligning people’s desires with the purpose of the organization that they belong to, that they work for and support? What has been your own approach from a leadership standpoint to get people with you—at UN, in your foundation, in the government—to really be aligned with a single purpose?
PHUMZILE MLAMBO NGCUKA: Most people are good people. They want to do the right thing. They want their work to matter, to bring about changes. I think that if you are in a leadership or in service, it is always important to create an environment where everyone can feel that they are serving their purpose and give them the tools to make them get on with that. Because you get much more in the job if your employees see that they are serving a purpose and that is appreciated. It helps them to propel.
Also, throw them at the deep end so that they can learn new skills, they can swim, swim up and come up with new ideas, and feel a sense of achievement and conquering something which they will be doing so that every year when they look at, “What have I done this year? Oh my goodness, look how many people we have given water to. Look at how many children we have enabled to stay at schools.” Their macro-purpose and their micro-purpose, those are important. Give people a possibility to do it in chunks, but also to see the bigger picture.
But most important for me is also to teach people to have the responsibility to be self-propelling so that you are not looking over them every time. It is obviously very distressing when you have to be checking all the time. The best work environment is when you know that, when you have said, “This is what we’re going to do. These are the tools. This is the path for you.” And then you just support people in the background to make sure that they realize their purpose.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: I love what Phumzile says here. And it’s really at the fundamentals of positive leadership, which is really about empowering people to achieve more and letting them grow, enabling them to take more control and to become stronger and more independent. Something else I wanted to speak to Phumzile about is what it means to be a leader in times of great uncertainty. Recently, she was part of the Africa Union’s mediation, which facilitated a peace agreement between the Ethiopian government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front. The war, which had been going on for two years, had killed thousands of people and left an estimated nine million people in humanitarian disaster. There were no guarantees that a deal would be signed and the stakes were incredibly high. So what kind of leadership was required to make that peace deal a reality and what lessons could Phumzile share from that very special experience?
PHUMZILE MLAMBO NGCUKA: My big takeaway from this experience is firstly, listen. Just listen. Because everybody wants to feel that their story was understood. Both sides had stories, and in some cases they both tell the same story but in such different way. But listen and make sure that nobody feels that their story is not valid. So, respecting that. The second thing is convincing people about the losses that they will accumulate as a result of being in a war, constantly bringing the examples of what they stand to lose as well as what they stand to gain, but making sure that you show them what steps they can take in order to go in the right direction. And to be tough with them.
Ultimately, it is obviously their own country, so there’s a way in which you cannot force them on everything. What I noticed in the case of Ethiopia was that, for the Tigrayans, the death and destruction in their community was too much. That was what was driving them; they just wanted bloodshed to be over. On the parts of the government of Ethiopia, the economic losses they were suffering as a result had reached a point where it was impossible. And of course, we were coming out of COVID, and so on. The more they were getting isolated was the more everything they were trying to do to rebuild the country was just not going anywhere. So it’s also important that both sides know and feel that the losses are just too much for them.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Love your insights, Phumzile, talking about listening, listening deeply the stories of both sides of the table, getting them to understand the perspective on losses in a much, they’ve lost and they can loss until there’s win-win, actually. And really at the end of the day really bringing some toughness as well in the process to make sure that they understand that the mediator can be tough as well to get to where the situation needs to go to. Wonderful, again, leadership lesson.
Last couple of final questions. I’d like to move to education, which I know is a passion of yours, we already discussed some of that, and it’s a shared passion, as you know, I have as well. Early on in your childhood I think you wanted to become a teacher, actually. And of course, now you’re the Chancellor of the University of Joburg. And in such a position, I’m sure you have a lot of thoughts on how to transform higher education. I happen to be, I share that with you as well, the Chairman of a global business school called SKEMA that certifies 10,000 students across campuses in five continents, including a campus in Stellenbosch in South Africa, actually.
PHUMZILE MLAMBO NGCUKA: Yes, I was so surprised to learn about that, I went to Google it.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Okay, you found it. Six months ago, we launched our first ever massive global online AI-enabled consultation called Youth Talks. And Youth Talks presents open-ended questions to 15 to 29-year-old kids across the world, and we got today more than 600,000 contributions, comments, from 197 countries. I wanted to share with you some early insights we had to get you to reflect on that. Again, we have not fully disclosed that, but in early themes. What did they tell us across the world? They told us, “First, we want to make a difference in the world. We want more humanity. We want to address climate change, the climate challenge, of course. We want to be in a position to change for the better and we want and we need to make higher education accessible to many more of us, many more who don’t have access.
So, as you hear those comments, and I’m sure many more from South Africa as well and across Africa, how would you redesign if you had basically a blank sheet of paper, you had to redesign the higher education system in response to the world youth talks and comments? In perspective as well, the UN, United Nations Sustainable Development Goals that you know so well because you are part of that, what would you do? How would look like in the university and the higher-ed system everywhere in the world? What would you do?
Certainly, this is the time to reimagine education and reimagine the future. If I were to redesign education, firstly it would be about ensuring access and making it as accessible as possible to all the children with a particular focus on the children who are poor because this is the one thing that can get them out of poverty. And with the technology you have now, you can facilitate lending for anybody, anywhere, anytime.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Access.
PHUMZILE MLAMBO NGCUKA: So I would be wanting to provide parallel, accessible learning mechanisms that makes education accessible, higher education accessible, to anyone who needs it. Secondly, I think I would have a generic course at first year that all the students must to, which has something to do with emotional intelligence, humanity, and all the things that we build society in, what in South Africa we call Ubuntu. I would have that as a generic course so that it doesn’t matter what you have come to do, if you have been able to work hard to qualify to be at a higher education institution, you have to have Ubuntu. Because that’s always a minority of the people in any country who make it to higher education, so you have to be very graceful to the rest of society because you are this lucky one.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Love those two fundamental principles, Phumzile. I love them a lot, actually. I’m sure we’ll get back to you in the future to talk more about what we can do together. Let me get to almost the close. You are someone, I can feel it during this discussion we had together, with a strong positive attitude. I can feel it; I can even feel the vibes all the way from Joburg to Paris. And I think it, to me, and it’s part of positive leadership, it’s essential for any success you want to have with others in whatever you do in your life. Is that positive attitude, positive leadership, something that has come to you easily, or something that you had to develop? And if so, how do you cultivate, how do you nurture and maintain such a positive mindset day after day, and particularly at times where you have to really tackle some very tough, sometimes tragic issues that we discuss during this podcast? How do you do that? How do you do that?
PHUMZILE MLAMBO NGCUKA: I have to say, you know the lady that I spoke to, Brigalia Bam, was one person who was very positive, in an infectious way. I learned a lot about staying positive because being negative and dwelling on the things that you cannot do wastes the energy you need to do the things you can do. So, preserve all your energy and your attitude so that that which you can do, you can do well. Just having the capacity to accept your failures and do that gracefully—sad as it may be, disappointing as it may be, but accept it and focus on what you can do. And that is what propels me not to dwell too much of what I couldn’t do and be the best at what I can do.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Focus on what you can control. And bring your very best to what you can actually control, your very best.
PHUMZILE MLAMBO NGCUKA: Absolutely. I’m lucky I have some education. I’m lucky I am not disabled; I can do many things with my hands, with my mind. I am here therefore in this world for a reason. And I have to make sure that I fulfill my purpose of being here because after all, I am just renting my space right now on Earth in order to prepare it for the future generations. So I have to pay my dues, and my dues is doing the best for the people that are around me now.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: I can’t imagine any better conclusion to our discussion. I got so much out of speaking to Phumzile and so many things to reflect on for my own servant leadership practice. And I totally agree with the sentiment she expressed just then, that we are renting our space on Earth, which means that we have the responsibility to nurture and protect our society and/or environment. It reminds me of that famous saying, “We did not inherit our future from our ancestors; we have borrowed it from our children.” I really wish you the very best in all the capacities you have. Thank you so much for your time today, Phumzile.
PHUMZILE MLAMBO NGCUKA: Thank you. Thank you very much.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: You have been listening to the Positive Leadership with me, Jean-Philippe Courtois. If you’d like more great tips to help you grow as an individual, a leader, and ultimately, as a global citizen, head over to my LinkedIn page to subscribe to my newsletter, Positive Leadership & You. If you have enjoyed this episode, then please, do leave a nice comment or rating and share it with many of your friends. Goodbye.