Pearls of Wisdom - Claudelle Von Eck

Claudelle Von Eck is the former CEO of the Institute of Internal Auditors. In addition to her responsibility of implementing the strategic imperatives of the Institute locally, she was also responsible for the Institute’s international relations. Claudelle joined the IIA SA in the capacity of COO before taking over as the CEO. After ten highly successful years, she stepped down from her role in Aug 2019 to pursue other interests. She is now the founder of Brave Inflexions - a practice which focuses on leadership, governance, change management, ethics, whistle blowing and culture. She’s a Strategic Advisor, Executive Coach, Facilitator, Trainer and Keynote Speaker.

Claudelle Von Eck - A C-suite Trailblazer

She has served on the Unisa School of Business Leadership (SBL) Board and Audit Committee. She also chaired the SBL’s Alumni Association’s Executive Committee. She has served on the Unisa Council as well as its Audit Committee. She currently serves on the Advisory Board of the Business and Economic Sciences faculty of the University of Pretoria. She serves as Chair of the Unisa College of Accounting Sciences Advisory Board.

She was a member of the Public Sector Audit Committee Forum’s executive committee and chaired the Anti-Intimidation and Ethical Practices Forum. She served on the King Committee. She currently serves on DIRCO’s Audit Committee, the South African Qualifications Authority’s Qualifications and Standards Committee as well as the Gauteng Ethics Advisory Council onto which she was appointed by the Premier of the province.

Internationally she has served on various committees and task teams.

She has been a speaker at many conferences and other events, both locally and internationally. She is also a published author. She is the 2016 Country (SA), Regional (SADEC South) and Continental winner of the Africa’s most Influential Women in Business and Government Awards in the category Agents and Regulatory Authorities.

Her academic record includes a BA degree obtained through the University of the Witwatersrand, a 3 year business management diploma obtained through the Institute of Administration and Commerce, a MBL degree obtained through Unisa’s School of Business Leadership and a DPhil obtained through the University of Johannesburg.

She is a member of the Institute of Directors and is a Certified Director under the IoD. She is also a member of Coaches and Mentors of South Africa (COMENSA).

Have you always had leadership qualities and are leaders born or made?

I’m an eldest child, so was forced into a leadership role from the time my siblings arrived. My parents always reminded me that I am the leader and must look after the little ones. Sometimes I think that it has led to an overdeveloped sense of responsibility.

There are many different opinions around whether leaders are born or made. I don’t think that there is a straightforward, neatly packaged answer to that question. Firstly, I think that leadership is often poorly understood. Some people think that it is an easy task. I think that it is a huge responsibility and that assigning someone to a leadership position, does not make that person a leader or guarantees that the person will exercise good leadership. I also think that you can exercise leadership in some positions and fail to exercise leadership when you are put in a position that is too complex for your skills set or you have not yet attained the right level of wisdom.

My personality type often rise to leadership positions, but we tend to be reluctant leaders. In other words, we don’t actively seek out leadership positions, but when there is a vacuum (either there is nobody to step in the position, or whoever is there is doing a poor job), we step up because we hate seeing things not going as they should. I am often fascinated by people who chase leadership positions without counting the cost. Leadership is not a position, it is a huge responsibility. You have the power to make or break people and organisations.

For me, the true leaders are separated from bad leaders in the midst of challenges. The current pandemic is a very good example. We can clearly see who is stepping up and is exercising great leadership and who is out of their depth. Everybody being a leader is a misnomer. Throw people in a crisis or give them a challenge and the true leaders will emerge.

Define a great leader—what are some traits you think great leaders possess?

I think that great leaders understand that it is never about themselves. Their role is to serve the greater good. That means having the ethical courage to stand up and do the right things for the right reasons. Being able to help people become the best versions of themselves and build them up to become valuable contributors in the organisation and society.

Great leaders have vision. By vision I do not only mean the ability to craft a picture of a compelling future state, but more importantly, the ability to SEE. In other words being able to see the lessons learned from hindsight, have insight and foresight and connect the dots so that you can lead people through change and uncertainty. We live in a world where volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity is the order of the day. I refer to leading people through a maze with moving walls, which is the reason why your vision (ability to see) is so important.

Great leaders have a sense of humility that comes from having learned that they are only tools in the hands of the greater good and they have been given their intellect and talents in order to serve the greater good.

Great leaders have the ability to inspire others to rally around a purpose and help them to see how they contribute to a worthy cause that is bigger than themselves.

Great leaders inspire and empower other leaders to step up when they need to.

Great leaders know that they sometimes need to hand the baton over so that others can learn or when someone else would be able to do a better job.

Great leaders know when they need to deconstruct and reconstruct what they have built when circumstances change. They are flexible and help others through change into new pathways.

They use power wisely and don’t let it control them. Playing political games is not one of the great leader’s tools.

Very importantly, great leaders understand that they are the ceiling and therefore constantly develop themselves so that they can raise the ceiling for others to grow under.

What are some of the strategies that can help women achieve more prominent roles in their organizations?

The glass ceiling is real. However, if you keep on staring at it, you will never break through it.

Build yourself constantly and don’t be afraid of your own power. Use your voice wisely. Competence combined with confidence (not arrogance, there’s a huge difference) gives you credibility. Make sure that your confidence stands on substance and that you are not only blowing hot air.

Get a coach to walk alongside you to help you see yourself better (good coaches are good mirrors), develop and become a better version of yourself. How serious you are about your progression is evident in how much you’re willing to invest in yourself. Let me use the analogy of a building. The maximum height of the building is determined by how deep the foundation is.

The more credible you are, the more you will excel and the more people will be drawn to you. There will always be men who do not want to see you advance simply because you are a woman. But, those who will actively work against you are in the minority and will not be able to stop you if you see your life in its full journey as opposed to getting stuck in one set of circumstances.

Build a strong network, but make sure that you are seen as a valuable resource in the network. In other words, don’t just take. Help others and it will come back to you.

What’s one leadership lesson you’ve learned in your career?

Being purpose driven is all important. Know your purpose because that determines how you fit into the collective. When you are clear on your purpose, you can focus on the things that are right for you and the role you were born to play.

What are, from your perspective, the biggest challenges for women in leadership roles?

I think that it often depends on your personality and your ability to deal with patriarchy. I, for example, am very straightforward. A trait that many men who are steeped in patriarchy do not appreciate in a woman.

I think that the way we have been socialised in a very patriarchal society has resulted in some men not being comfortable around strong women. They would then do everything in their power to cut her down to size.

I have seen too many women trying to fit in with their male counterparts and start acting in a masculine manner. In the process giving away their much needed feminine power.

Personally I think that feminine leadership is needed for the complex world we are in now.

What are the 3 Pearls Of Wisdom from your journey and life in general that you’d like to share with our members to encourage them in their careers?

a. Find your purpose. Only pursue those things that fit your purpose. Life is too short. Don’t waste it on things that don’t serve your purpose.

b. Invest in yourself and be clear about how and where you should invest in your life. For example, I spend a total of 13 years of tertiary studies beyond Matric, and topped it off with my doctoral degree. That is besides the host of short courses, workshops, seminars and webinars I have attended over the years. I continue to invest in myself, because the day I believe that I have arrived, is the day my journey to irrelevance start.

c. Surround yourself with people who do not only have your best interest at heart, but always challenge you and won’t allow you to settle for less than your best or a lesser version of yourself.


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