Leadership stories: Yetunde Hofmann stands up and is counted on to empower black women

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Having overcome a life-threatening health challenge and drawing strength from her faith, Yetunde Hofmann has gone from leading from the front, charging ahead, holding the energy of the team to leading from behind. She founded Solaris, a global executive leadership development programme, to empower black women and help organisations on inclusion.

What does leadership mean to you, and how has your approach or style changed over time?

Leadership to me in the first instance is this: It is having the clarity of understanding of where you want to go, the knowledge of how you want to get there and the ability to, with love and without condition, mobilise people to follow you. It therefore is about love and service.

It is about putting the interest of the team, the organisation, the community it serves and ultimately, our society above personal interest. It comes with a self-acceptance of all of who I am because it is only from that place, that I can create an environment for others to fully accept all of who they are. It means being able to separate the behaviour from the human being and appreciating that we - me and others – are not always our behaviours.

My style and approach have changed over the years from one of leading from the front, charging ahead, holding the energy of the team to one that is all about leading from behind. Because of my race and gender, it has also become one that demonstrates a willingness to stand up and be counted. To have a voice for others like me who are earlier in their career. Whilst being myself with skill, it is walking and working in awareness of who I represent and the messages I may send. It is also walking in alignment with who I am. My values and my personal purpose, which again over the years I have come to believe without a doubt, are central to leadership.

What have been the biggest challenges and the biggest successes in your life, and what have you learned from them?

Two of my biggest challenges have been professional and personal. On the professional front, it was stepping out of the corporate world at a senior level without a job to go to, or a clue as to what I would do next. I did have to step out. I was tired. I felt unvalued. I had lost my mojo and drive. It meant digging deep to believe in myself, lean on my faith and know that I had what it takes to stand up.

The second biggest challenge was personal. It was to do with my health. I was diagnosed with cancer and then survived it. It felt like my life – all of it – flashed past me in a few seconds. What I realised then was that again with faith, trust in God, a change in diet and a determination and energy that I did not know I had, I was able to fight it. I am pleased to say that I am cancer free!!

My biggest successes are both professional. The first is becoming a Non-Executive Director and Remuneration Committee Chair on the board of a listed company. It is a big success for me because not only does it prove to me that “I can do it”, as a role model to black women in the earlier stages of their careers, it says “it is possible”. If I can do this, they can do it too and much more.

My second one is launching and becoming the proud founder of Solaris. It is a global executive leadership development programme for the black woman executive, or the woman who identifies as black, in an organisation. It is designed to empower the woman to advance her career beyond the black concrete ceiling. It enables the organisations that believe in inclusion to genuinely “walk their talk”.

It is a passion for me because it is in that sweet spot of combining what I am good at with what I love to do. I help people and organisations get the best out of all of who they are. The community of black women holds a significant meaning for me and it is the most underrepresented demographic in the world of work.

What advice do you have for younger women aspiring to leadership roles?

Never allow the feedback you are given by another person outweigh the feedback you give to yourself. Otherwise you may risk being tossed and turned like a dandelion in the wind. You are more than enough. You are more than others say that you are and much more than you believe you can be. Do not allow yourself to be defined purely on the grounds of your gender or your race. Be clear on your purpose in life and in work. Be clear on your personal “why” and you’ll always remember the reason you choose to do what you do. This will be especially helpful when the storms come.

In addition, let no one, no matter how powerful they are or instrumental to you career, steal your JOY. This is not happiness. Joy is that combination of knowing who you are; your own unique purpose in life and the unconditional acceptance of all of who you are and who others are. It is appreciating that everyone without exception has something to contribute and has leadership in them.

Finally, strive to develop that most critical leadership capability – the ability to love without condition, to see the human being in everyone. As it is this quality that will help you in forgiving others, focusing on the positive and the strength of others and the benefits that come from the belief that the success of your team is your success and vice versa and in so doing, everybody wins

With love and without condition, mobilise people to follow you.

Yetunde Hofmann
Yetunde Hofmann

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