Lerato Thekiso is the Founding Director of Thekvest Legal Advisory Services, and an alumni of the US Department of State and Fortune magazine’s Most Powerful Women mentoring programme. She advises clients on corporate governance, with a strong emphasis on ethical business practices, and is an active founding member of the Unleashed Leadership Development Foundation. This summary of her interview for the VUCA series was written by Ziwani’s Lise-Marie Keyser, and you can watch the full video here.
“The law is often perceived as a reactive tool,” comments Lerato Thekiso. “People generally approach attorneys when they already have a crisis. But our positioning in the legal advisory space is to think about the future, and plan for it.” Founded by Lerato in 2016, Thekvest Legal Advisory has grown into a sought-after consultancy – supporting business owners as they implement their growth strategies within the ever-changing legislative climate of the various industries in which they operate.
But her journey hasn’t been a straightforward one, as Lerato herself attests. “My legal career started at a commercial legal firm, and similar to most of my peers, my ambition was to work my way up and become a senior partner as soon as possible – to essentially ‘bill those hours’,” she acknowledges. “But God challenged me about my vocation, and I knew I had to explore other options.”
She moved into the social justice and advocacy environment, specifically in the mining sector, and was part of a few landmark cases that established the rights of those communities who did not have ‘a voice’ before. “It was a heady and exciting time,” she remembers, “but then I became curious about what the big companies were thinking. Why was there so much resistance to change? Why couldn’t there be real engagement across the board – by regulators and communities, by non-profits and business?”
Searching for a new way to address the challenges in the sector, she decided to explore first-hand what was happening within the mining companies. “I needed to understand what was influencing the decisions, and to learn how I could influence the decision-making,” she says.
Over the years, Lerato became more and more convinced that leading a business well starts with leading yourself well. “You have to take self-responsibility seriously, before you can lead others.” Here are nine healthy rhythms that she has adopted in leading herself.
1. Spend time with God
“The Bible commands us as believers to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, minds and souls. And then to love others as ourselves (Mat. 22:37–39),” Lerato reminds us. “It is really important to invest sufficient time in understanding who we are and what we are called to, and then ensuring that we can translate that to those we are leading.” She continues, “There is absolutely no substitute for spending time with God. In his presence I am refreshed. I find perspective, clarity and insight, and even wisdom. I spend frequent time, solid time, unrushed time – reading the Bible and being in his presence.”
2. Commit to accountability
The second healthy rhythm is submitting to authentic accountability relationships. She explains, “It doesn’t have to be a big group of people. I’m referring to walking with people you know and trust – other leaders who recognise and understand your struggles, who have experienced the same kind of tensions, and who can hold you accountable. We all need someone to ask us: Are you meeting your work deadlines? Are you spending time with your family? Are you prioritising the things that are not screaming for your attention, but are critical in the long run?”
Lerato ensures that she finds a way to fit it into her busy schedule, because “we go through so much as leaders, and I know how important it is for me to process.”
3. Pursue joy in your life
“If an environment sucks out all the joy, count me out!” she exclaims. “Joy is a fruit of the Spirit. We don’t have to conjure it up. It lives inside of us, so that we can create an environment that brings forth joy, that brings forth hope.”
Lerato is adamant that everyone needs to cultivate joy in their lives, especially in their personal spaces. “This looks different for different people. Some people pursue extreme sports. For me, it’s time with my family. It’s time with good friends. It’s time traveling. It’s time that allows me to step away from work.”
4. Get enough sleep
An important rhythm that is neglected by many business leaders, is getting enough sleep. “Honestly, when I don’t get enough sleep, it really affects me,” Lerato admits. “I’m unable to function optimally, and to ensure that I’m actually fruitful and productive in my endeavours.”
Research has shown that getting enough sleep improves our mood, reduces our risk of disease, helps us to maintain a healthy weight, and helps us to think clearly – all of which enables us to better lead ourselves and others. It might be one of the most practical, but disregarded solutions to leadership challenges.
5. Take regular time out to evaluate
Lerato also prioritises quarterly retreats, because it forces her to take time out for reflection and evaluation. She admits that “it is difficult to find the time though, especially when you’re running around and it’s busy and there’s a lot on your plate”. But that is the very reason for taking the time out. “Precisely because you have so much to do – you need to think properly through your decisions. Are you still on track? Are you still doing what God has said to you? Are you still upholding the values that you have committed to?”
In this rhythm, Lerato takes her cue from Jesus. “As leaders, we are called to serve others. Jesus was the ultimate servant leader, but he knew when he needed to retreat. He showed us that, at times, we need to walk away to regain our strength. That is because we don’t have anything to give those we’re leading when we’re not being replenished ourselves.”
6. Delegate responsibilities
“As leaders, we have to recognise that there is a risk of wanting to do everything ourselves,” Lerato cautions. “So it is important to build a team around you, and delegate where appropriate. Let your people help you in the areas where they are strong.”
She continues, “I trust God with my life, and that includes my business. The Bible speaks about how God maintains my lot (Ps. 16:5), so I don’t have to worry about keeping it all together. He is the one who doesn’t slumber or sleep (Ps. 121:4) and he is always with me (Ps. 46:1), so I can rest. I can trust the people around me because ultimately, life will go on without me. It is really humbling to recognise that.”
7. Adjust your rhythms according to the season
Different seasons require different rhythms. “But it begins with recognising the season you’re in,” Lerato comments. “Often, we look at what other people are doing, at the spaces they’re in – and we evaluate our lives on that basis. Yet the Bible says that there is a time and a season for everything under the sun, and that God makes everything beautiful in its time. (Ecc. 3). Do you know the season that you’re in? Because when you know that it is winter, you put on that jacket, you take that scarf!”
She emphasises that leadership doesn’t happen in a vacuum. “We bring our whole self to our leadership – I cannot ignore the fact that I am a wife, and a mother of two small girls. I cannot lead as if I don’t have a family,” she says. “We first need to recognise the season, then determine the non-negotiable rhythms for that season, and adjust accordingly.”
8. Maintain healthy boundaries
Having healthy boundaries is another secret to successful leadership. “The Bible speaks about a man without self-control being like a city without walls (Prov. 25:28),” Lerato states. “We need to be those men and women who walk with self-control, and who know that ‘No’ is also a good answer.” She believes we live in a time when we are often expected to be everywhere and please everyone, but that “we need to manage our own ambitions – often we’re trying so hard in our own strength to achieve and accomplish and establish ourselves”.
“We all need boundaries, and I think the root of this issue lies in understanding our purpose. When we know our purpose, where we need to put the boundaries becomes clear,” she explains. “Knowing our purpose also gives us the courage to put that boundary in place.”
9. Be consistent
Lerato firmly believes that “we cannot expect to see results when we haven’t put in the time and effort”. This is probably the underpinning secret of success – doing the important things consistently, as opposed to a once in a while. “It is one thing going to the gym on a Monday and then going again in a month’s time, versus doing a 30-minute run every day,” she explains. “Investing in healthy rhythms consistently over the long-haul yields more, and more sustainable, fruit.”
“So take the time to ensure that you put in place the right structures to support you over the long term – to ensure that you are able to consistently invest in spending time with God, in your core relationships, in your emotional and physical well-being,” she concludes. These are the private healthy rhythms that are hidden behind a leader’s public success.
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