Leadership in SA business

A perspective on leadership

(as a first-time manager)

19 / 01 / 2021
South African leadership
Karabo Mafojane
Production Manager


I’m sure I am not alone in saying that 2020, more than any other, was a rollercoaster ride of one challenge after another. It was also my first year as a production manager and while the first year as a manager/leader is daunting enough, in 2020, it turned out to be a real baptism of fire. I have no doubt however, that I grew more as a leader this year than I would’ve, had things been “normal”. These are the three lessons I am taking from the experience.

Doing and managing the doing are two different things
The first lesson I learned was that I needed to change my mindset. It took a while for me to understand on a fundamental level, that the nature of what was expected of me had changed. Before becoming a manager, working hard was centred around the creation of a body of work; being directly responsible for the production of a thing and the “doing” needed to make it happen. What I needed to understand and accept was that while I am now ultimately responsible for the production of the ‘thing’, I am no longer the doer. It was a hard lesson to learn, and one I find myself being conscious of still, lest I slip into old habits.

Even managers make mistakes
The second thought I would like to explore, isn’t so much a lesson, as it is a feeling. Stepping into this role feels heavy. There is not a day that goes by where I don’t feel the pressure – pressure to learn on the go in a very fast-paced environment; to do and say the right things; to not mess everything up; to live up to my own expectations; and to prove to those who don’t have high expectations that I can do this. There are days that I feel I can’t make a decision because I’m too worried about being wrong, sometimes to the point of indecision. This early on in my journey as a newly minted manager, I’m learning that I can’t let the pressure get in the way of me “failing forward”. Making mistakes is an important part of learning. If I am to get better at this, I must make the mistakes and have the humility to take responsibility for them. (Ok I lied, I guess this was a lesson after all.)

There is a limit to what one person can do
If we are speaking of lessons, I would be remiss to leave out the idea of capacity, or going beyond one’s limits. I sort of knew what I was getting myself into at the beginning of all this, so it’s not that I didn’t understand that there was a certain amount of stress involved, but living through it was a whole other thing, especially in Corona-season.


Surprisingly, what stands out to me is not the stress I have experienced or even the amount I am capable of doing after all, but rather the resilience of my team members, and the supportive nature there is at the office.

Last year was unpredictable at every turn and in every way, with pitfalls around every corner, but we’ve made it through each and every one of those obstacles. I am both in awe of and grateful for the people around me. Their capacity and grit is inspiring and I’m lucky to be in a space where I feel supported enough to explore beyond my boundaries and push through my own limits.

Ultimately, the biggest thing I am realising about leadership and management, is that the two are not the same thing. I may have the title of a manager, but being a leader is something entirely different. From where I am now, at the foot of the mountain, the path to being a leader is both the most daunting and the most exciting challenge I have faced. I have no idea how this will turn out in the end, but I for sure know that I am excited to find out.

Back to Blog