CHRO Norah Sehunoe thrives on purpose-driven leadership

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Norah is poised to make a significant impact as executive head for human capital at Santam Insurance.

Norah Sehunoe is setting her sights on building further leadership capacity and competency at Santam Insurance.

Norah, a mother of three, has built an impressive career in human resources spanning more than 20 years. Armed with a master’s in industrial psychology and a postgraduate diploma in business management, she has served in various areas across the HR value chain.
She has worked at Hollard Insurance, Standard Bank and Etana Insurance before becoming the managing executive for human capital at Sanlam Corporate. Now as she takes up the reins at Santam, she sees an opportunity for learning, growth, and the potential of making a significant and lasting impact on others.

Making a difference

While growing up in the small mining town of Carletonville, Norah’s initial plan was to become a doctor. But after a squeamish experience in the science lab during her first year, she quickly realised that medicine was not for her.

Her interest in psychology and learning about human behaviour led her to HR, which she considers a profession that allows her to fully pursue her purpose of making a difference in people’s life. “HR is a profession in which you get to immerse yourself in understanding human behaviour and use this to guide and support people, while making an impact and adding value to the success of the business,” she says.

HR has taught her a tremendous amount, she says, and believes that every human being has something to offer and teach: “Life lessons are not always written in a book. Listening and being fully present is vital.”

Norah has had to balance the nuances of her personal and professional life in a myriad ways – which has not been without its challenges. However, she believes these challenges have made her a more empathetic and authentic leader.

She believes leaders need to be adaptable and flexible, especially since the Covid-19 pandemic, which made people question what was important to them. Before Covid, career ambitions drove people, whereas, during and after the pandemic, people have put their mental health first, and have become more curious about living a purpose driven life, she notes. “People have now seen what hardship genuinely looks like. They’ve had to adjust their lives while the economy is hitting them from all angles. Our survival instincts have been tested, and people know that they can survive, “she explains. She adds that leaders need to realise how vulnerable employees are: “The corporate world can sometimes be harsh, and the biggest lesson has been remembering that we never know how close someone is to the edge, and what the straw that breaks the camel’s back actually could be,” she says adding that it is important for leaders to find a good balance between driving exceptional performance and leading with compassion.

Her personal leadership journey is propelled by her desire to make a positive and lasting impact in people's lives. She believes that leaders need to be authentic, listen more, and balance their knowledge with reality and practical experience. “You need to listen and be humble enough to put your degree aside,” she says. “If we can look at people as human beings first, then we can do a better job of taking care of each other.”

With a penchant for celebrating all of life’s special moments and prioritising gratitude, Norah spends her downtime travelling with her children. As an avid runner, she has even conquered a few 10km races. This is something she considers to be very therapeutic: “I like to run my own race. During that time, I am able to do a lot of reflecting,” she explains.

Norah says she is driven by her personal experiences and values: “I want to continue living a purpose driven life by being in service of others, adding value, and doing more with my life,” she concludes.

 

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