I have been so excited about penning this article because I had the opportunity to interview one of the most phenomenal women I know, and I am so humbled that I get to do life with her.

Ladies and Gentlemen please allow me to introduce Dr Siphokazi Joy Ntetha (Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership – Pepperdine University).

So yesterday I had the great privilege of doing an unconventional interview in a Jacuzzi in California Los Angeles with Dr Ntetha. The unconventional nature of the interview is synonymous with Dr Ntetha as she is an unconventional scholar-practitioner who lives life outside the borders of normality. She embodies the true definition of ‘Black Excellence’. As its Africa Month we continuing to commemorate great stories and her life and work gives hope to the global village. This is her first interview since she received her doctorate this past Saturday and it is a great privilege and honour that PenTheVision was first in line for the interview and below we share highlights of the conversation.

Bongeka: Firstly, you’re looking very beautiful, *share laughs* I’m just so honoured that you gave us this time for us to get into your heart and mind. I think your life is real especially to those of us who are close to you. But to other people, they may look at the glamorous pictures on social media and think, ‘Wow, Joy is living it up in L.A’, which you are, I mean we in a Jacuzzi in LA- *share laughs* but I also know that you’ve gone through lows in your incredible journey. So my first question is, having gone through this journey, what is the one thing you know for sure?

Siphokazi: This is going to sound pretty hectic and I don’t know how to say this without sounding very gospel but I think for me the greatest truth is that this was a consecrated journey about divinity, purpose and daring to dream. What I know for sure is that God is real. And that he is everywhere. I know God is real because I’ve had the honour to experience His powerful and fearless spirit alive within me. There’s no way that I could have done this without that divine spirit in me. It’s so phenomenal to actually see the presence of God around the world. I’ve also experienced God through different representations of people that have come into my life. While I am not sure what it will look like exactly, I know in my gut that with this journey I am moving towards my calling.

Bongeka: That is powerful my friend and I was just thinking that you are the epitome of this whole movement around “wokeness” black excellence. But is there a difference between excellence and black excellence? Excellence is excellence right, should we put the word black in front of excellence?

Siphokazi: Yes, because unfortunately we live in a society where race dynamics are still a big social ill. But it’s not just a black and non black thing for me. At the core you know my thoughts around humanity. Yes colour is real, and colour is important, but as a humanity I feel like at the core we are all the same highly dignified human beings. We are vessels of divinity. Am I a representation of black excellence? Absolutely yes! Although, I do get a bit uncomfortable with the ‘hashtag black excellence’ because I feel it can be limiting and alienating, I understand why it’s important. I came in this form, in this beautiful, melanin radiant African butter for a reason (Bongeka- Halleluya sister) *share laughs*. I suppose I haven’t answered the question in a very straightforward way because I think it is a bit of a complex dynamic but it does boil down to a yes, excellence is excellence as you have said for sure, because that’s what I hope we strive for as a humanity. But black excellence is a very important thing for black people as we come into our rise at this point in time particularly.

Bongeka: There’s this book I’m reading titled “Advocates for Change- How to Overcome Africa’s Challenges” which notes amongst other books the crisis of leadership in Africa. This book highlights that Leadership requires at least three capabilities: 1.Capacity to innovate, 2. Ability to implement by mobilising the required resources; and 3. Capability to create followers. Looking at the work that you’re doing with the Connecting Greatness Organisation, would you agree that that’s what we probably need in Africa? And how does your work fit into that definition? if it does fit.

Siphokazi: Your points makes sense and they make me think of what Fred Swaniker of the African Leadership University is doing. The Connecting Greatness leadership definition is about a collective, holistic and inclusive leadership practice. And that is very different from what we have understood leadership to be. In my practice and research, I’ve found that the most important question when it comes to leadership is: What is leadership in service of? Let’s say in this case it’s in service of innovating for African Renaissance. Usually we expect to have that one main and stable leader, e.g. the president or CEO who is the visionary or transformational leader who then delegates to people to execute. But the emerging definition which Connecting Greatness hopes to foster includes a mindset shift from an individual leadership base to a collective leadership base where many people are able to influence the leadership process rather then participate through following commands. It’s about demonopolising leadership outside of formal positions and empowering individuals to participate in social influence.

Bongeka: I hear you and that sounds really good and its relevant, but how do we do that practically, especially in Africa?

Siphokazi: It’s already happening. It’s just that we’re not seeing it in that light and because we not seeing it in that light, we not evolving and growing to the highest potential of collective leadership. It begins with each individual seeing themselves as a leader with innate greatness and power to influence beyond your job title. And if a problem arises and I already see myself as a leader, I know that I’ve been given rights to do something about it, and not wait for commands. This means to some extent dismantling the expectation that someone else is going to do it. I mentioned ALU, because I love the work that they are already doing in this area. Its a developmental space for African Leaders. As students enrol, they’re not being asked what major they want to do, but ‘What’s your life mission? What’s the problem you want to solve in Africa? What’s your innovative idea that you want to implement in Africa? That becomes the major and everything else is in service to that, which encapsulates this collective and situated view of leadership.

This emerging understanding of leadership is referred to as post-heroic leadership, and powerful conversations are beginning to happen around the world about how the individual to collective shift in our understanding of leadership can work together as social influence. But in summary, all three points , innovation, implementation and follower-ship are key parts of creating a systemic view of leadership.

Bongeka: So I had this great privilege of attending the Pepperdine University graduation ceremony. The view of the ocean was magnificent and I so wish South African Graduation ceremonies were like that, * share laughs* Malibu is absolutely stunning…But for me what stood out the most (besides your Winnie Mandela moment with you on stage) was the Key Note speech by Dr Betty Uribe. I loved the simplicity yet powerfulness of Dr Betty’s speech. As a word of wisdom to the graduates she said, ‘You need to surround yourself with people who are kinder, people who are smarter and people who are more knowledgeable so that they challenge you to grow.’ Who are the people in your village who challenge you to grow?

Siphokazi: Where do I begin? I love that question because at the core of my dissertation was the finding that I am because we are, ‘Ubuntu’. There are so many people who play such diverse roles in my life. And I love how Dr Betty said that its not only about only being around smartness but also kindness because that is something I learnt through my doctoral process. There are so many smart people around me because I’m such a sucker for smartness. But I’ve realised that the power of kindness is at the core of my village. Its the energy I’m drawn to, and it includes honesty, integrity, and courage.

My village begins at home with my grandmother who bought me my first computer, my mother who is so free spirited and supports my wild visions. The rest of my family also keeps me grounded. I have my two friends who are refer to as my ‘wives’, you and Zama – we challenge each other with a lot of humour and love. I love to laugh. We enjoy music and we just love exploring new things, we’re sitting in the Jacuzzi right now in L.A having this beautiful, intense, and meaningful conversation with a glass of wine. I’m big on work life integration and my ‘wives’ help me integrate my life. Loyalty and authenticity are also important factors of my village. I have the most beautiful friendships stemming back many years of growing together who embody that- unfortunately if you are not growing and challenging yourself, my relationship with you usually won’t last. My newly developed friendships have also been very deep and real – it feels like everything is coming together, and those who are in my life are exactly where they should be, a part of my village.

It’s been an amazing exchange of ideas, cultures, and energies with points of connection and beautiful diversity.  And I think at the core of my village is the integration of our greatness.

Bongeka: It’s been such an honour to have you for two hours, my last question is, What is your message to yourself and what is your message to the world?

Siphokazi: I think as weird as it might sound my main message it, ‘Get intimate with your truth and follow it’. This is what my wife, Zama likes to say. I have overcome many of the challenges I have gone through because I continue to choose my truth. I continue to choose my truth because I’ve given it room to be louder than all other voices. The world has many ideas of who and how you should be, but the moment I connect with my truth is when I truly step into my authentic power.

My message to the world is the same message to myself. We are all connected. When we do not move towards actualising our greatness because of fear (or for what ever reason), we halt the process for others who need to connect to our greatness. There is something interesting that one of my professors said to me at the end of my graduation, she said ‘SiphokaziI know that you are very humble and I can see that the attention is getting too much for you, but this is your moment in time so receive it. Going forward you are a Doctor and a Fulbright Scholar, use that, and don’t try to lessen the power of who you are. This does not mean you are letting it get to your head but you say that because its the truth of who you are right now’. And I just loved that, which is why I am choosing to own fully that I am indeed Dr Siphokazi Joy Ntetha.

To connect with Dr Siphokazi Joy Ntetha and the Connecting Greatness Organisation:
Website: www.connectinggreatness.org
Facebook: Siphokazi Joy Ntetha
Instagram: the_zuluacademic

Images courtesy of Velaphi Thipe