Gladys Bogoshi was one of the few black physiotherapists in South Africa’s public health sector when she was thrust into leadership as CEO of two of the country’s largest public hospitals. Gladys spoke to The Thread about the surprising way she learned she would be CEO, how she deals with imposter syndrome and the very practical tips she has for women in leadership.
When you were appointed CEO of Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital, critics went as far as issuing a statement saying you were too inexperienced for the job in large part because you were a physiotherapist by profession. How did you handle that?
By the time that statement came out, I had already grown so much as a woman, and as a professional, and had seen so many criticisms in many areas. I come from a family of women who have double, triple, thick skin. My mum was an Ndebele woman who stayed almost 10 kilometres away from the nearest school, you had to go over a mountain and cross a river, and when she grew up school was not an important thing for women. But she went to school when she was a bit older and and made such an impression to the teachers, particularly the one teacher. When she underwent traditional initiation, she did not return to school because the aim of school was to learn simple English so you could work on the farms.
But one teacher came to look for her, and asked her to come back. She wanted to, but her sisters and friends laughed and so she did not go back. Years later, when my mother was working as a domestic worker, she met an old schoolmate who had not done as well as my mother in class. She was working as a supervisor of tellers at a supermarket. She says it was the turning point for her, and so she vowed that from that day that “I am going to educate my children” and not just the boys.
How did you handle imposter syndrome in your role as CEO?
I really feel that my mother had a big influence because as we grew up we were in class with children who cam from better families, and who could afford everything or maybe better than us. And she taught us from an early age that good things are worth waiting for, be comfortable with who you are.
The second person who had an influence on me was my lecturer at Medunsa, Tumi Kolobe. During apartheid, we were very few black students — in class we only six — and she used to teach us that as a black person and especially in an environment like Pretoria back then, you must arm yourself with facts. You may not always win an argument, but you can change a person’s viewpoint.
Then the last person: I used to watch a lot of Oprah when I was growing up and there was a show where she was talking about being a woman in her career and she said the one thing she has learned is that if you are a black person and the job requires hundred percent of your effort you’ve got to give a hundred and fifty percent before anybody can lift their head and say I think this person knows what she’s doing, and then you’ve got to give 200 percent before anyone believes you know what you are talking about. These women all molded me in some way, taught me to have a thick skin, to understand myself and know that I don’t have to explain myself to anyone. They taught me that as a woman there are strong women who have walked this path and have been wise enough to advise some of us.
How do you motivate other women, particularly in your workplace?
The only way I could teach another person is to walk the talk. It’s not good enough to tell them you that you must be a strong woman. So, I always try to display leadership behaviour. I make time to coach a lot of women about soft issues and also to make sure that they know that they don’t have to fight men for a space. We can compete using our own skills and competencies, we have enough. You don’t have to try to be like them, but you can be in the room.
If deals are made on the golf course so be it, you also have to go even if you just hit that ball, be with them there, so that you can understand their thinking you can get them in an environment where they’re all relaxed and you can engage with them. We don’t have to smoke a cigar but we can sit in the bar and we can listen to the conversation if it’s going to make you grow or it’s going to give you context of what is going on or give you a more niched understanding.
I was just a physiotherapist who was minding her own business doing my work
In your daily life you have myriad of challenges coming at you in such a big hospital both systemic challenges and just the unexpected. How do you choose to prioritise between them and how do you manage these challenges?
The one big positive thing that many women have is that they can multitask. And I think if we can get women to recognise that is a skill that they can develop and say, ‘When I have these fifteen challenges today, how do I prioritise what matters the most? Which one should I do that will give me a bigger impact because there are some things that are important and urgent but don’t make any impact. You try to pick the ones that will have a bigger impact or a lasting solution but at the time, you don’t ignore those ones that you parked somewhere.
The third thing is that you must learn to delegate. There is nobody who is a MacGuiver who can do everything. And when you were delegate, you must delegate with authority. I think one of the biggest problems that when you find yourself with multiple problems is that you want to delegate but you also want to manage them. So if you’re delegating, just be open to say this person can produce the best and give them authority but be prepared to take accountability if things go wrong. And if you do that, people start believing in themselves and they will do their best because they want to show you that they can do it and they want you to trust them.
I’m currently doing a coaching program by Dr. John Toussaint, who is implementing the lean management system in healthcare. In this model they’re trying to eliminate waste but he’s taken it to a different level to say if you want people to solve their own problem, develop them to solve their own problems. That coaching programme also says there are fundamental behaviours that any leader must have all the time to make sure that people are coached and those behaviours are humility and a willingness to change. I believe that how you prepare people for the future is to actually display those behaviours so that people can be mentored and move from where they are to a different level into leadership.
Your first executive role was as acting CEO of Helen Joseph. How did you know youwere ready to take on such a big role?
I was never prepared. I didn’t even know that I was going to be a CEO. I was called to an office and I saw these people walk in and they were told, ‘You better tell her what is your problem.’ At that time I was working at Bara, I couldn’t go and so I requested that can I just finish whatever I was doing and then go on Monday. So nothing, nothing, when I say nothing, nothing ever prepared me to be a CEO. Never in my mind did I think that I would be a CEO. I was just a physiotherapist who was minding her own business doing my work and happened to get into management to look after specialist like radiographers. Never in my life did I think that I was going to be the CEO and I was put there as the acting CEO. I had to swim. I was all by myself. I don’t remember anyone coming to tell me this was your job. I had to learn from everybody and I think that’s why I say it’s humility and admitting that I don’t know so I had better ask. That’s what helped me to grow and my six years at Helen Joseph are the most cherished in my career.
You’ve got to find a way of motivating yourself
That is quite a story. You were just thrown into the deep end. Today, you’ve led hospitals named after pioneering women, yet there are still so few women in leaderships. What are the gaps you see in the medical field?
If or when you come in as a professional, you have learnt the skill and competency of the profession that you are in, but many people do not invest in leadership and management courses while they are still in their profession. Most of the time, people would go into leadership maybe to be the supervisor of a block or to be a manger because it is the only way your career path goes and you don’t just want to remain a general nurse, but you do not have the skills to properly transition, so the gaps is there. I believe we need to give you one or two years to consolidate your skills and competencies in your chosen profession, but we also need to start exposing you to some form of management, like measuring productivity or attending meetings.
The next level is when you become a supervisor. How do we teach you to move from being a health worker who had friends, especially if it’s in your own department, to now managing them as colleagues? As a supervisor you need to be able to encourage them, but also be hard when things are not going well. Then in middle management, where you are now the head of this department and you may have gone to do an MBA but you now need to start learning soft skills. How do you build relationships, how do you encourage people to do what they don’t like doing. How do you bring harmony in this department so that people can see the same picture? At that level the challenge is to learn how to persuade people to do what they normally wouldn’t want to do, to motivate them and inspire them. You’re not doing this for yourself only for self-gratification, but you are doing it for the bigger picture, for this department.
Is there anything that you wanted to add that you think women in the workforce should know, an important lesson.
I think one of the things that we have to understand about yourself is the type of personality that you are. Remember that multi-skilling, compassion can be a good thing but they can be your hindrance. So how do you become conscious of who you are, your strengths, and when do they work for you and when are they not working for you. And give yourself time to reflect. If possible on a daily basis because if you spend a day in a very muddy place, or in a good place, you’ll want to end you day with positive thoughts. For example, “It was quite messy today at work today, but I’m glad Miss Smith smiled when she met me because she was so happy with whatever.” Then you will find a rhythm to continue doing the very difficult job or whatever it is you are involved in because you’ve got to find a way of motivating yourself.