‘Leading beyond my business’

Updated on 13 September 2016

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'Leading beyond my business'

What does it mean to be an African leader? This is the question that Tumi Phake has been working to define for as long as he has been an entrepreneur.

Phake is the founder and CEO of Zenzele Fitness. The former banker was earlier this year chosen to participate in the Mandela Washington Fellowship Programme in the US along with 1 000 other young leaders from Sub-Saharan Africa, each chosen for demonstrating a commitment to bringing about real change on the African continent.

Phake is a trailblazing entrepreneur who is making enormous strides in the often still white-dominated wellness industry. Phake’s company designs, furnishes and manages wellness and fitness facilities to corporates, universities and government departments across the Gauteng province where they have nine wellness centres. They have also just launched their first commercial health club in the Limpopo province.

In 2015 Phake was also named one of the Mail and Guardians 30 under 30 and was commended for skillfully melding his finance acumen with entrepreneurial skills – demonstrated when he successfully raised R9 million within one year for Zenzele Fitness.

Leadership and collaboration

The Mandela Fellowship Programme is structured so that young entrepreneurs with the potential to become the next big thing on the continent or produce groundbreaking solutions, are able to hone their leadership skills and collaborate with fellow African entrepreneurs and innovators.

The 6-week academic program is based at a US higher education institution.

As a CEO and entrepreneur, Phake was in the Business and Entrepreneurship track at the Business and Entrepreneurship Institute at Virginia Commonwealth University in the US.

Here nearly every aspect of being an entrepreneur was covered – from leadership and development, entrepreneurship and innovation, brand and marketing and technology to banking and finance, globalisation and sustainability.

What may be the most valuable aspect of the programme, however, is the development of both leadership skills and fostering collaboration with other African entrepreneurs who are also working to solve the continent’s most pressing problems. A process that is ongoing.

“We are continually engaging to find solutions for Africa, collaborating through business and innovation to create sustainable models that could be impactful in our communities and Africa as a whole,” says Phake.

“I had the opportunity of meeting smart and forward thinking young African fellows and strongly believe that Africa as a continent needs more engagements to solve its own problems.”

This focus on the greater good is what Phake says he benefited the most from.

“My reasons for attending was to enhance my skills as a leader, not only in the company I lead but how I can be of service to my community and South Africa as a whole.

“Economic empowerment and entrepreneurship are some of the most important drivers in building a sustainable Africa and economy. We need to be innovative and support solutions that allow us to move in the directions that will take us to success and prosperity,” says Phake.

The other highlight of the program was being addressed as future leaders of Africa by President Barak Obama at the Presidential Summit, says Phake.

Phake shares with SME South Africa why collaboration should be at the heart of African leadership and the 9 lessons that have had the biggest impact on how he now leads.

1. Collaboration 

Collaboration is the keystone of leadership success for Africa. This is not about being best friends, or even necessarily liking everyone you’re working with. It is about putting all and any baggage aside, bringing your best self to the table, and focusing on the common goal.

2. Seek Alliances

Learn to draw people into an alliance and clearly articulate your vision within your business and community.

3. Be Solutions-Driven

Formulate viable solutions and opportunities in order to capitalise on strategies necessary to empower others as leaders.

4. Be of Service

To be a leader is to serve others.

5. Cultivate Self-awareness

Understand that the greatest power you have is not changing the behaviour of others, but rather your own.

6. Be a facilitator

Ensure that everyone’s viewpoint is heard and that solutions and resolutions come from a common ground.

7. Share responsibility and Accountability

This is in order to dependably achieve results for your team, stakeholders, community and country.

8. Creativity and Diversity count

Discover and nurture new ideas and innovations by consistently soliciting diverse perspectives.

9. Share a Common Purpose – Value and involve others in creating shared aims and values.

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