In an inspirational conversation, Karin Muller, Chief Executive of Sanlam Individual Life shared some thoughts with us on amazing people in her life, being real and her professional journey.
PLEASE TELL US ABOUT SOME OF THE SIGNIFICANT PEOPLE IN YOUR LIFE THAT YOU DREW INSPIRATION FROM?
The first thing that comes to mind is to say my mother, but it really were both my parents. They raised me to not be confined to traditional roles. While my father always said that I can do anything I set my mind to, my mother enabled me to do that. Later on, in a work context, I have been very fortunate to be coached and mentored by professional women with great experience.
Women like Margaret Jenks and Lizè Lambrechts come to mind. Lizè, in many ways, was a first for the industry. She has always been so comfortable to be a professional business woman but also remained a whole person. I learnt that, even after achieving senior positions in your profession, you are still a mother and a wife. The access to mentors and coaches were really helpful and I am grateful to have had those opportunities.
WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNT FROM THE CHALLENGES FACED GROWING UP AND LATER BUILDING A CAREER AS A WOMAN?
I think I have been very fortunate, especially due to the way I have been raised. It helped me to almost smooth out my career path, with no specific challenges that stand out.
One of the things I learnt from a young age is that you have to be true to yourself. When you are young and ambitious it is easy to fall in the trap of trying to follow what worked for others. You need to find your own definition of what it will be for you to be successful and what you need to do to get there.
One thing that takes time, especially as a woman where you think you have to be successful in all your roles, is to learn that you can set yourself up for failure if you
do that. In the process of trying to be this successful professional you can alienate yourself. I was much more successful when I embraced being a mother and family woman as I became so much more real. This can be done without losing professionalism.
HOW HAS THIS AFFECTED YOUR LEADERSHIP STYLE?
It’s important to be deliberate. Deliberate about culture, values and decisions. I don’t just let things happen by themselves.
Then, over the last few years, there has been interesting voices coming through about being purposeful. When you help people understand why you do things and you are clear about “why” , leadership becomes much easier. Let people be themselves and bring what they have to the table. Have empathy and get humanness right. This current situation we are facing really brought that to the fore. We are people, we work with people and our clients are people.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE GREATEST CHALLENGE YOU FACED DURING YOUR CAREER AND HOW DID YOU NAVIGATE PAST THAT?
I am a glass half full person. I always look for the solution in the situation. The times we are in now, not just COVID, pushes us to really think about relevance. How do we make what we do relevant to people, taking into account how people behave and how they engage with the world? We tend to live in this shortism world we created. These 140 character and Tik Tok moments. In our business, we talk long-term. For me, the greatest outcome is to pay a claim after a client has been with us for 30 or 40 years.
This means we need to be relevant with our solutions and be timeous in the decisions we make for the circumstances we are in. Our decisions live very long, most of the time. Straddling the immediate and the long term therefore becomes essential. The pandemic has really put a whole new perspective on what we do.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR YOUNG PEOPLE WANTING TO DIFFERENTIATE THEMSELVES FROM THE CROWD IN THE WORK ENVIRONMENT?
My first comment here is that there is no substitute for hard work. All of us have benefited from putting in the hours, building experience, skills and reputation. That is your foundation.
Related to this is to be patient. People move so quickly between jobs that they don’t get the foundation to form. You need to know what you are all about and be true to who you are. If you are on someone else’s treadmill you will be disappointed and won’t bring the right amount of you to the task.
People should also consider whether they are defined by their qualification. This will confine you to the box of the qualification and limit the opportunities available to you.
HOW DO YOU APPROACH DIVERSITY IN THE WORKPLACE AND DO YOU HAVE SPECIFIC TIPS FOR PEOPLE WHO FEEL THEIR VOICES ARE NOT BEING HEARD?
This is such a difficult question to answer. As leaders it is our job more than ever to listen and try to understand more. Any organisation can benefit from more diverse teams, more diverse thinking, backgrounds and experiences. Allowing people to come in with all they have and allowing them to perform and integrate holistically. That releases so many good things.