Getting to know Nonkululeko

“I have an herbal devotion. I live and breathe medicinal plants and have a profound love for anything database related. Working at the herbarium has led me to think that I am one of God’s favorites, as I am managing the database and get to work with plants on a daily basis.”

As the Data Lead within an institution dedicated to advancing leadership in biodiversity research, policy advising, conservation, and the promotion of South Africa’s biodiversity, Nonkululeko’s  primary responsibility is to ensure the delivery of high-quality work from her team. This entails not only producing data of the highest standard but also ensuring its effective utilization in research and decision-making processes.

Nonkululeko’s typical day consists of leading significant activities such as managing plant specimen data, which forms the core of the herbarium, and overseeing mass digitization efforts. Her time is constantly occupied with tasks such as managing, monitoring, training, and preparing reports on a daily basis.

Working with plant herbarium collections has taught Nonkululeko the importance of meticulous record-keeping and organization to maintain data integrity and facilitate research. She has learned the value of collaboration and networking within the scientific community to exchange knowledge and enhance the utility of herbarium specimens. Additionally, handling diverse plant specimens has deepened her understanding of botanical taxonomy and biodiversity, emphasizing the need for accurate species identification and classification. Moreover, Nonkululeko has gained insights into the historical context of plant collection, appreciating the role herbaria play in documenting environmental changes over time. Overall, her experience in plant herbarium collections has underscored the interdisciplinary nature of botanical research and its critical role in addressing contemporary ecological challenges.

Importance of collections: Nonkululeko believes that Herbarium plant collections are invaluable because they serve as a repository of botanical knowledge, documenting plant diversity across time and space. They provide crucial data for scientific research, aiding in taxonomy, ecology, and evolutionary studies. Furthermore, herbarium specimens serve as tangible records of plant species, aiding in conservation efforts and tracking changes in biodiversity. They also serve as educational resources, allowing students and researchers to study plant morphology and distribution. Ultimately, herbarium collections are vital for understanding and preserving Earth’s plant diversity for future generations.

Expectations from the workshop: Nonkululeko believes that participating in the Emerging Leaders Workshop promises to be transformative for both her personal and institutional aspirations. She expects the knowledge gained to enhance her leadership skills, enabling her to navigate challenges more effectively and foster a positive organizational culture. Additionally, she anticipates that the insights and strategies she will have acquired will directly contribute to achieving her long-term goals, whether they pertain to career advancement or personal development. Moreover, she believes that this newfound knowledge will ripple through her institution, fostering innovation, collaboration, and heightened performance among colleagues. Ultimately, the impact of this workshop extends beyond the individual, serving as a catalyst for positive change within the institution and the broader community it serves.

Nonkululeko as a leader: actively seeking avenues to develop into an exceptional leader and a valuable team player, as she navigates through the early stages of her leadership career, Nonkululeko finds that collaborating with individuals possessing diverse mindsets can occasionally prove daunting. She aspires to cultivate the ability to detach her emotions from situations when necessary and to approach people as unique individuals rather than solely as members of a team. Her goal is to lead with authenticity, embodying the qualities of a true leader while embracing the full spectrum of responsibilities that come with leadership.

Importance of identifying young leaders: According to Nonkululeko, at some stage, individuals may find themselves in a routine with their job or work, leading to a loss of interest or motivation. However, being recognized and esteemed as a leader can reignite hope and confidence. Knowing that others perceive potential in you can instill a renewed drive, inspiring you to strive for excellence. The desire to not disappoint those who support you fuels your motivation, pushing you to become the best version of yourself. This recognition keeps you on edge, compelling you to demonstrate to the world why you were chosen.

Anticipated challenges: Nonkululeko believes that participants may struggle with acquiring or honing specific leadership skills such as communication, decision-making, and conflict resolution; balancing newfound leadership responsibilities with existing commitments could be a hurdle, requiring effective time management strategies; facing setbacks, criticism, or failures may test participants’ resilience and ability to bounce back from adversity; establishing trust and credibility among team members and stakeholders might be challenging, especially in hierarchical or diverse environments; and managing conflicts within teams or with other stakeholders may require diplomacy, empathy, and negotiation skills.

To transition into her leadership role smoothly, Nonkululeko believes that being authentic, staying true to herself, and refraining from trying to please others by portraying a false impression of herself simply to gain approval or be perceived in a certain light will undoubtedly foster a strong professional relationship with her superior. Additionally, she believes that embracing teachability, remaining open to criticism, and demonstrating respect will further enhance this dynamic. 

Preparation for the workshop: 

“By doing a lot of reading and relating my past and present situations to the articles provided.”

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