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RYLP | How Siwaphiwe is keeping his head high as he climbs the leadership ladder

A wise person once opined that regardless of the disappointments that we encounter in life, we should always keep our heads high. That is literally what Siwaphiwe Somana did after receiving a “regret letter” from his HR department – following an unsuccessful application for an internal vacancy at his workplace, Foxtec- Ikhwezi, in East London.
Pinned on the notice board was a pamphlet calling in for applications for the Find Your Voice Rotary Leadership Programme and it piqued his interest. “The advert was on the notice board all along but we just didn’t pay attention,” he said.

After receiving the disappointing news that his application for the “team leader” position had been unsuccessful, he decided to inquire more about the programme.
“I was told that I do not have the required leadership skills for the team leader position. It was disappointing but I was not discouraged. So the HR department suggested I apply for the youth leadership programme. It was two days to the closing date when I applied and I was successful,” said the 32-year-old from Queenstown.

Fast forward to March last year Siwaphiwe and 21 other delegates were enrolled as the 2018 intake of the intensive seven-month youth leadership programme coordinated by the Rotary Club of Gately. He has a B.Tech in Mechanical Engineering from the Walter Sisulu University. He joined Foxtec-Ikhwezi in 2016 as a CNC machine operator. The company manufactures and supplies high-volume forged aluminium products to companies like Mercedes Benz.

The youth leadership programme, he said, taught him that: “people are very important to a company. It’s not like with machines and computers… with people, you have to get to know them personally. You have to take the time to find out how they are outside of work. It also taught me to appreciate diversity in the workplace. It makes you understand the shop floor dynamics better”.

As fate would have it, just two months after completing the leadership training programme the same position he had applied for earlier became available after the incumbent left the company. This time his bosses looked no further and he was promoted to team leader in January 2019. He is in charge of eight subordinates – including a machine operator, an assistant machine operator, four inspectors, a quality checker and one person responsible for delivering the finished product to the client.

He believes that without the youth leadership programme he would not be where he is today.
“The programme was very helpful to me. I started to be noticeable at work. My confidence grew as the training came at a time when I was starting to become despondent with life. The theme of the programme is about finding your voice and that is exactly what it did for me,” he said.

Besides the training, it was the high-powered speakers and mentors who inspired Siwaphiwe.
He said: “My mentor, Mark Currin, was really helpful and helped me, particularly with time management as I was struggling with having to juggle work, my studies and the youth programme. Suddenly I was on top of my game.“

Veteran East London businessman Vrij Harry, of Harry’s Printers, also left an indelible mark on Siwaphiwe’s mind.
“Vrij Harry was one of the speakers who came to address us. I loved how he equipped us with practical tools of how to overcome challenges in business. He also presented to us how we can use the different parts of our brains to resolve certain problems. He also shared a lot of leadership books. That’s what I needed, a lot of reading material on leadership,” said Siwaphiwe.

The programme coordinated by the Rotary Club of Gately and the Leadership Development Institute (LDI) Trust is aimed at ensuring that it produces well-rounded leaders – measuring two critical aspects of leadership. The first is individual growth of the delegates, through assessment of cutting edge leadership methodologies known as Leadership Fluencies. The second is the number of initiatives led by these young people, either in their respective businesses or in the community.

Through the programme, the delegates are made to understand that there is more to successful leadership than just skills from a course or a programme. They understand that leaders need followers and for leaders to realise their potential, they require support on their journey of leadership.

This is why Siwaphiwe now wants to lift others and make sure that they do not bend their heads when faced with life’s challenges.
“I want to be a leader who changes people’s lives. I want to be able to influence people better, even outside of work. I want to help them realise their dreams,” said Siwaphiwe.