Leadership requires boldness

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Juba Mashaba has learnt that effective leaders are principled and treat stakeholders fairly.

Juba Mashaba, CHRO at Cell C, considers his role as leading people performance and strategy and does not see it as being limited to the execution of the mundane HR policies and processes. “It’s critical that HR professionals assume a leading role in collaborating at a strategic level and help develop and execute a clear strategy for success for the business,” he says.

Although he has decades of experience in the HR space, he studied law and then later completed an executive leadership programme in HR at Michigan Business School, where he was lectured by the renowned Dave Ulrich.

“I started my corporate career as a graduate trainee at Eskom’s legal department. The graduate programme entailed exposure to various parts of the business which subsequently led me to the labour relations department. This was at a time when there was a build-up to the democratic dispensation in 1994, when the political and labour environment in the country was highly charged and volatile. This situation called for calm and measured leadership to defuse tensions and find an amicable middle ground between parties that were in polar positions in terms of both labour relations and political direction,” Juba recalls.

Key to this was facilitating opportunities for the meeting of minds between the company’s management and the union leadership, along with making recommendations that would enable concessions on both sides. This played a huge role in defusing tensions and beginning the process towards constructive dialogue. These engagements ultimately resulted in a collective agreement outlining the rules of engagement from that point onwards.

Four years later, he was appointed the chief industrial relations officer of Eskom and two years later as group human resources manager.

Juba was subsequently head-hunted by PepsiCo and appointed as HR director for their then recently acquired Simba snacks business. He credits PepsiCo for having offered him the most impactful learning and development opportunities and experiences in his entire career.

In his corporate journey which subsequently took him to Arcelor-Mittal, Aveng and now Cell C, Juba has learnt that effective leaders are those who are principled, treat stakeholders fairly but do not try to please everyone. They also do not shy away from taking hard decisions when the situation requires, carrying them through and doing the right thing, while continuously finding a balance between competing stakeholder interests.

At Arcelor-Mittal, which he joined after leaving PepsiCo, he was confronted by a clash of cultures between the Iscor culture and new Arcelor-Mittal culture, which required significant change management and engagement to develop a new common purpose high performance culture.

Now at Cell C as chief human resources officer, Juba has again been tackling a challenging business turnaround and transition where his many years of experience in similarly complex situations have come into play. He has led the right-sizing and repositioning of Cell C, which has resulted in a 53 percent headcount reduction, despite a challenging labour relations environment, through robust stakeholder engagement. The labour relations environment has since stabilised and there has been no further labour unrest over the past two and a half years as the organisation has refocused on stabilisation and growth.

This has entailed the implementation of a new fit-for-purpose operating model and organisation structure, the elimination of functional role clutter and duplication, and delayering the organisation. In addition, he has led the review of all roles including job descriptions to ensure that they are aligned to outputs relevant to the strategy. Organisation-wide assessments, to determine role fit for all incumbents and to inform talent deployment and development priorities, have been conducted.

Another key part of this turnaround has been the resetting of performance and behavioural standards to begin building towards a sustainable high-performance culture. The commencement of the shift in culture has been confirmed by the latest employee engagement survey results.

Juba’s leadership style

Juba describes himself as a decisive leader who does sufficient research to understand any issue he is dealing with. “I make sure I know where the risks and opportunities lie, where the barriers and levers are, to understand the implications, before I decide and act. Juba believes in transparent, decisive leadership that employs a high level of emotional intelligence.

“I thrive on high performance and believe that everybody has the ability to deliver at their very best if given clear direction, support and held accountable,” Juba says.

He is also a big advocate for maintenance of good health and wellness, so much so that he has a diet and fitness regimen that he strictly follows. His message to all executives is: “Eat healthily, drink enough clean water, (and the occasional whiskey and red wine in moderation), exercise regularly, get enough sleep, find time for yourself, and do regular health check-ups. You must listen to your body because it gives you signals,” he advises.

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