In late 2013, a graduate of the Gordon Institute of Business Science in Johannesburg was named the world’s MBA Student of the Year. South African Glad Dibetso signed up for an MBA having just gone through an insolvency because it simply seemed like a good thing to do. The experience changed his life.

Dibetso, who’s now based in Nigeria as MD: West Africa at Dimension Data, describes the investment in himself as an amazing journey. “I don’t regret my MBA for a second. It was giving me a return on investment [ROI] while I was doing it… within two months, I was already getting an ROI in terms of my approach, how I looked at things, my confidence levels and my knowledge. The ROI is unbelievably high because of what it demands of you in terms of time, relationships, etc – all those things around you.”

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This example epitomises what Malcolm Pannell, MD of the Hay Group management consultancy in Johannesburg, stresses with regard to ensuring career longevity. “If you’re talking about professionals, careers and being relevant, the idea that the professional should look to anyone else to do anything is probably the first mistake,” Pannell says.

“My observation is that the people who do the best are the ones who have taken responsibility for their own careers. The idea that, at that level, it’s dependent on the organisation or someone doing something for you is a complete misnomer.”

This view is echoed by several professionals in the leadership development arena, including Michelle Moss, head of assessment at Talent Africa, who noted in a recent opinion piece: “If business has to be future-ready, so does the individual… [a] career is driven by an individual’s own values and goals. The individual’s eager to try new things to foster personal growth.”

SELF-IMAGE IS KEY

Dibetso’s story exemplifies the concept of investing in oneself as the most effective way to future-proof one’s career. “The people I see who are successful, who do the best, achieve this because of their personal characteristics,” stresses Pannell.

“They’re the ones who have made the effort, and it wasn’t because of the organisation they were in, necessarily. A lot of that comes down to self-image. If you don’t see yourself as a highly successful, international professional, you’d probably never accept a job in Lagos or wherever. Self-image is a huge issue.”

South African businessman and author Dr Reuel Khoza touched on this in a 2001 speech entitled Being African and Being Globally Competitive, reproduced in his book, The African in my Dream (published by African Morning Star in 2004). The current Nedbank chairman made the following point:

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“At a personal level, we must all cultivate an appropriate attitude of commitment to the vision. Whatever we do, we must do it with energy, focus and commitment. Our attitude must be one of excellence, always striving for the best. Study to improve yourself.”

Khoza continued with this advice: “Enhance your productive skills. Enhance your value to your organisation and your country by becoming multiskilled. Apply yourself with vigour.”