Femme Fatale, CA (SA) | Women Leaders

Adel Du Plessis CA(SA)
In this blog, I would like to share about the Femme Fatale definition that relates to South African Women who deal with leadership issues and social justice in a deadly manner! I want to clarify that my definition of Femme Fatale does not relate to deadly or seductive women in comic strips and movies like Tomb Raider and Transformers.
I am passionate about it, and for the last 15 years, I have researched and analysed it in the financial, accounting & auditing profession. During my research, I found ordinary women in these professions who deal with leadership issues and social justice in a deadly manner!  
Now the funny thing is that some women have different opinions about feminism, some are whining about men, and some believe women and men lead differently. But there is one group of women, the Femme Fatales, who believe that being a women leader has never really been the point for them. Their focus is on doing their jobs well and leading well, and they happen to be a woman.  
They believe we need to stop asking the question:" Is it ok to be or follow a woman leader?” When we keep asking this question, we get ourselves stuck! Since the 1960’s the question has been asked, answered, and confirmed. The question should be: "How do I lead well, considering I have been given this gift or opportunity to lead?”
Being an analyser and researcher at heart, I explored this question further and interviewed, read up on, and listened to groups of leaders at audit firms, the public sector, universities, entrepreneurs, private companies, and listed companies to ensure I got a realistic picture, I also interviewed their leaders, peers, and followers. 
Now these leaders and their teams are very diverse in terms of personal lives, strengths, roles, leadership approach, team size, organisational culture, and industry. 
Some are married, some not. Some are parents, single parents, or not parents. They are from different generations, some are extroverts, and some are introverts. Some detailed-oriented, some big picture. Some fast and furious, some cautious and reflective.   
However, they all make it work and lead skilfully! Why? Well, irrespective of the fact that they are all quite diverse in many ways, some skills are evident in all of them. These 10 skills go beyond diversity, it’s skills that each great leader needs to lead well, regardless of what your generation, gender, culture, or profession is.  
Great leaders have a solid foundation when it comes to values and beliefs. There is something deeper within their souls and minds that guide them each day.   
Leaders and team members stated they believed their success is attributed to their strong moral values and beliefs that they live by and act out daily. They are not the CEO of their own lives. Leaders try not to rely on their strengths and abilities because that sets the course for selfish business decisions.
Chantyl Mulder CA(SA) emphasises: "Walk closely with your God. There is a Master Plan". 
The benefit of having a clear inner moral compass that drives your decisions and actions is consistency and decisiveness, two important laws of great leadership. If we want to lead, we need to develop the ability to consistently know what is right and what is wrong in life and business. We need to have the courage and perseverance to act on that knowledge.  
Great leaders are the most self-aware people in the room. They are very comfortable in their skin.  
The leaders identified their brokenness and acknowledged that they have blind spots and are aware of them because they invite feedback from their teams. They know their team members are aware of it, and they are comfortable with that. And because of this realness, their teams compare them to gifts that fit them quite well! Here are some gifts that teams compared their leaders to.  
One team said their leader brings the gift of "Insight" because she drives innovation & brings change. One team compared their leader to the gift of a “Brick” because she is solid and unpretentious. She is versatile that fits into any situation. Another team said their leader is a “God send” gift because she came at the right time to transform the complexion of our Profession.
Great leaders find their calling in their careers through passion and hard work. It was clear from all the leaders interviewed that to get to the point where they felt this is my calling, they had to start at the bottom and work themselves patiently and with perseverance to where they are today.  
Anneke Andrews CA(SA) was the 1st female grade 12 student who received a study bursary in 1985 at an audit firm. In her first year of articles there we were only 3 women and today the ratio of men and women trainee accountants is about 50/50. Through hard work, she became a Director at the audit firm. She believes that to be successful you need to be confident, keen to learn and grow, love a challenge and be resilient. She also believes that it is crucial to love what you do because enthusiastic people are fulfilled, people.
Great leaders know what their strengths are, their teams know what their strengths are, and they capitalize on them. The leaders that were interviewed lean into and lead out of their strengths. Let’s look at 3 leader’s core strengths:
Alsue Du Preez CA(SA) is a Developer and Strategic.  
Her ability to plan strategically makes that she is always prepared, and has a clear picture of where she and her team is headed, she is hands-on, informed, and therefore more confident and professional. Planning and being organised gives her the space to be flexible when it is needed to invest in people and build good relationships that are important to her.
Amanda Dempsey CA(SA) is focused & adaptable  
Her ability to focus on a vision, live in the moment, and be adaptable contributed to her leading her teams through major mergers. Her inherent ability to expect unforeseen detours enables her to change her focus as a leader, respond willingly to the demands of the moment and take her team with her.  
Manda Smit CA(SA) Consistent & Disciplined 
Her ability to instinctively bring structure and set up routines is a core strength needed in her role. She brings balance and consistency to her work, her team, and the business by implementing a systematic approach and adhering to quality. Valuing precision ensures that there are no grey areas. 
Hope gives us the courage to move forward, and it dispels fear. Hope and leadership are inevitably linked! Each of these women leads well because they possess the strong belief that their best days are ahead of them. Let’s look at what drives some leaders:
Jackie Arendse CA(SA) is driven by her hope to help students unlock their potential to ultimately create a better future for themselves and our economy.  
Chantyl Mulder CA(SA) is driven by her hope to transform and ultimately bring hope to our country.  
Shirley Machaba CA(SA) is driven by her hope to help aspiring Chartered Accountants make inroads into and ultimately become successful in business.  
And that is NOT the Position. It is the People.  
All the leaders agreed that they experienced this saying firsthand: If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far go with people!
Leadership is relationally intensive. It was evident from all the interviews that each leader’s role is about motivating, supporting, taking care, mentoring, coaching, nurturing, developing, sharing experiences, and giving wisdom to their team members.  
We should not make the mistake of ignoring relationships and focusing too much on systems and data. It’s so easy to lean into those things because they tend to be measurable, and they rarely argue back. Great leaders focus on the relational part because they mostly want to! It was clear from the interviews that the leaders make it a priority to enjoy being with their people.  
A great leader is the kind of leader who strategically selects great people, takes them on the journey, and gives a clear direction to achieve the vision and make it a reality!  
Many of the leaders voiced that you will not move forward in the way you are hoping to without the right people on the” bus” – the right people in terms of integrity, giftedness, energy, initiative, drive, and team player mentality. A great leader needs to identify what skills and strengths are needed on the team and who the right fit should be. And when you need to move someone off the team because of a bad fit, a great leader dares to do so for the sake of the team. 
Leading well also requires a structured collaborative approach to the strategy to make the vision a reality. Entrepreneur Annalien Carstens CA(SA), shareholder and managing director of her own company, confirmed this in her interview: “Being democratic on the strategy with our managers is important, however, to avoid messiness there comes a point when the team needs clear direction and drive. You need to develop the ability to know when to consult and when to direct, when to ask and when to tell, when to listen and when to speak.”
It was evident from the interviews that a remarkable leader is not only a remarkable mentor because of grey hair! It is also because they do everything in their capacity to learn from other people and therefore, they are also remarkable mentees! 
Anneke Andrews CA(SA) shared: “In the earlier years of my career, there were not many females to use as mentors. There were many valuable lessons learned from several colleagues over the years. I am grateful for men like Giam Swiegers who believed in my potential in 1985 and took a bold step to give me the first “female” bursary and appoint me. I also feel quite strongly about sharing what I have learned, repeatedly and continuously, to make the world a better place for all.”
Lindiwe Manyika CA(SA) shared:” I have two mentors, a female and a male who are both very senior. What I gain from the mentoring relationship is completely different but useful in different ways. Find a mentor who believes in you, an experienced and older person who is willing to transfer their skills and wisdom to you. A professional coach is also highly recommended to empower you to move from “good” to “excellent.” 
A social entrepreneur is a person who runs a sustainable project for the greater humanity. Almost all the leaders that were interviewed are involved as social entrepreneurs in sustainable projects.  
When Farah Ballim CA(SA) was 24 years old while doing her day job as a trainee accountant she raised her funds, shared her vision, and got the buy-in from 21 trainee Accountants who volunteered with her by offering mentoring in Mathematics and English to 40 Grade 8 kids and we saw Farah each Saturday volunteering at her post teaching the kids!  
When Evelyn Donkor was 28 years old, her day job was as a Financial Accountant, and she co-led an Accounting Mentors group for young women at a public school on Saturdays. She drove 200 km each month to volunteer, mentor, and be at her post, helping the kids, she was the sole sponsor and influenced her employer and 24 colleagues to support this group for Mandela Day!    
Great leaders build unity and try not to cause disorder – they try to lead with 1 tribe in mind and to live St James’ words: “Where you have envy and selfish ambition there you will find disorder and evil practice.”  
Some of the leaders that I interviewed shared that the people who made it the hardest for them to grow in their careers were their closest team members because of envy and selfish ambition. What is up with that? We are not helping one another. We are often one another’s worst enemies when it comes to supporting or rooting for one another. To be a great leader this needs to change! Because it has a major impact on business success!  
I’d like to use the HP story as an example. Carly Fiorina former CEO of Fortune 500 Company, Hewlett-Packard shares in her book, Tough Choices: 
” The business challenge was that the great HP Brand consisted of not one but a thousand tribes, meaning that a business has a marginalized approach to strategy. In HP’s case, each of the 87 product divisions had its HR team, IT team, finance team, marketing and sales team, and Research and Development, team. They all had their way of doing things and did everything on their own. Heads of divisions and teams mostly talked about “my products” and “my guys,” far too little about our customers, and our competitors and not at all about the rest of HP and the HP brand. Each division could have been a stand-alone company. The result was divisions competed instead of collaborated, and that resulted in HP not meeting its targets and that resulted in HP losing its market share.”
I have learned many valuable lessons from these Femme Fatales! And great leadership is hard, and we should stop being surprised that it is hard.  
If you have been given the gift or opportunity to lead and decide to do it, you may have signed on for one of the toughest jobs. But the combination of “good at” and “hard work” is amazingly satisfying. Let this inspire us as ordinary citizens of our country to lead well from our ordinary places in South Africa because that will make us great leaders.

|Hope and leadership are inevitably linked!

Meet the author

Adel Du Plessis CA(SA)
Adel Du Plessis is a qualified Chartered Accountant CA(SA) since 2002, qualified at Deloitte SA (entrepreneurial services division) and has a master’s degree in Higher Education Cum Laude. Her passion to contribute to exceptional education and performance management has resulted in her published articles for the Accountancy SA Magazine, her contributions to 2 books and her presentations at national and international Education conferences.  Adel is an involved member of the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA), and she believes that giving back in a calculated way is a non-negotiable for each CA(SA).  She has volunteered in various education projects over the last 20 years and received 2 awards for her contributions.