As acting deputy director of the Centre for Student Recruitment and Career Advice (CSRCA), Magdel Pretorius leads a group of dynamic staff members in recruiting prospective Stellenbosch University (SU) students in high schools across the country. Through their work, they have helped make many a young person's dream of being a Matie a reality.
As part of SU's Women's Month celebrations, Magdel tells us more about her role and the leadership qualities it requires.
Tell us more about your role at Stellenbosch University.
For the past nearly 12 years, I have worked in various positions in the CSRCA. Since January this year, I have been serving as acting deputy director of the Centre, leading a team of 12 uniquely dynamic and passionate individuals.
Our mandate is national undergraduate recruitment. This involves creating opportunities to engage with the prospective student market to showcase SU's first-class academic offering while facilitating access and inclusivity. From our very first contact with prospective students, we try to provide a unique, personalised student experience that catalyses transformational change.
What do you enjoy most about this role?
Even though it can be a tough environment, it is also extremely rewarding. We are fortunate to play an enabling role in young people's future, whether by helping them choose the correct subjects in grade 9, explore career possibilities in grade 11, or navigate the application process in grade 12.
I am fortunate to do this along with a team with a heart for seeing prospective students gain access to SU. We get to pioneer, change the norm and the status quo, and write a new narrative in our traditional and new feeder markets.
What do you think are the key leadership qualities required to fulfil your role?
A can-do attitude. The ability to look past the problem and see the opportunity and look for the solution – finding the good in a situation. I have come to understand that failure and success go hand in hand and that one may need to fail to eventually succeed.
It's all about people. Understanding people, appreciating differences, and being able to listen with the intent to understand, without wanting to push my own agenda.
Effective communication. I am an excellent communicator and know how to engage with others to realise their goals and our shared objectives.
Relationships are key. I love my own company and quiet moments, but nothing inspires me more than positive energy from others and having collaborative relationships. I love to see people happy. I was taught to give without wanting or expecting something back.
Moving forward together. I can deal with the past without dwelling on it. I respectfully acknowledge and consider the past, but do also get on with things.
Ubuntu. I have learned that I cannot depend on my own strength, but must draw on the team's strength to succeed.
Leadership roles are demanding. What keeps you motivated?
I have always been fascinated by the Bible story of Esther, who was an improbable heroine, but willing to risk all for the greater good. As a young Jewish woman living in the Persian diaspora, she found favour with the king, became queen, and risked her life to save the Jewish people from destruction when the king authorised the persecution of all Jews. In Esther 4:14, her adoptive father and mentor, Mordecai, told her: “Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?"
My motivation is linked to my belief that I too am in my role for a reason; that this is part of a bigger plan.
Secondly, I realise that I am not just my job. I am also a wife, daughter, sister, and mother to three. All these roles collectively give purpose to my life.
What would your message be to the next generation of aspiring female leaders?
Watch Hamza Khan's Ted Talk “Stop Managing, Start Leading". Among others, he says: “You are not a boss; you are a friend, a mentor, a comrade, a resource, a cheerleader and a coach. Coaches do not play ball; they motivate their team to win championships, and then they take a step back and watch them do it. You manage things – you lead people."
So, what can we do to ensure that our teams become the best version of themselves?
- In relationships, be present and listen with the purpose of the hearing, not responding.
- Develop social intelligence, sensitivity and connectedness; we need more equal voices and fewer 'passengers'.
- Time builds trust.
- Be comfortable with disagreement – that's when the best ideas are born.
Photographer: Stefan Els