Master your self-awareness for success, says former UP Chancellor

Posted on August 26, 2022

Professor Wiseman Nkuhlu, former University of Pretoria Chancellor, passed pearls of wisdom down to first-year students in the Department of Accounting during a talk on 17 August 2022.

The revered accounting professional, academic, author, and business leader used his childhood experiences to impart valuable success tips to aspiring accountants. He implored the students to cultivate principles and values in themselves that will elevate their success. He recalled how his mother and aunt bolstered his confidence with rewards and propelled him to excel at school.

Having served in various leadership positions throughout his career, he noted that he constantly had to visit his childhood experiences when confronted with moral or intellectual challenges, as these shaped his paradigm on how he views life.

Prof Nkuhlu, who currently serves as Chairperson of the KPMG board, was South Africa’s first black qualified chartered accountant (CA) in the 1970s. He made it his life mission to develop the next cohort of successful black CAs and was devoted to the empowerment of these professionals. He stated that his successes and achievements in the accounting profession were a result of his consciousness and self-awareness, which he learnt to master at a young age.

Of course, this was not always easy, noted Prof Nkuhlu. “As I became more aware of the power of my independent will and also actively enriching my conscience with exposure to uplifting experiences, my success rate improved,” he said.

At the height of his career, he fulfilled multiple roles as a father of four, campaigner for the demise of the apartheid regime, an activist for the education of talented young black people in critical fields, and Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the then University of Transkei. Fulfilling these roles with distinction and integrity was a complex task that required great self-awareness and integrity. He sourced wisdom and inspiration from renowned leaders and philosophers, such as Stephen Covey, Abraham Lincoln, Marcus Garvey, and Martin Luther King, amongst others.

Prof Nkuhlu highlighted that with the endowment of self-awareness, “you have the power to manage and even resist your feelings and to evaluate and even resist powerful influences from others, including ideas that are popular but not congruent with your inner beliefs, principles and values. You have the power to resist all the above from determining the paradigm through which you see the world and make choices.”

Reiterating the essence of self-awareness and taking a jab at corruption and unethical conduct, he urged the students not to take shortcuts to success and to have the power to know what is right and wrong. “You have to sit, crawl, stand then walk before you can run. These are natural laws that you cannot short circuit. Therefore, to achieve success and enduring contentment as a professional and business leader, your life has to be anchored on the correct principles and values,” advised Prof Nkuhlu.

The values and principles on which he centered his life and career were accountability, integrity, independence, compassion, competence, excellence, diligence, courage, generosity, lifting as you rise, self-restraint, respect for the dignity of others, open-mindedness, and listening with the intent to understand.

In his address, he challenged professionals and business leaders to be agents of change who are driven by higher aspirations, founded on the challenges we face as a nation in a quest to effect positive change and enable the participation of marginalised groups in the modern economy. However, self-awareness and self-integrity need to be integral to this change.

“It is only when you have mastered yourself and you are effective in leading and managing yourself that you can successfully and sustainably influence others and be a force for positivity to others – your family, friends, colleagues, the community, and the world,” remarked Prof Nkuhlu.

- Author Refilwe Mabula

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