Lizzie Mudzingwa, personal assistant to the office of the chairperson of Telkom, is this year’s winner of South Africa’s Personal Assistant of the Year award

Can we start with a little background information? Where are you from?

I was born in Mzansi (South Africa) from a God-fearing family and loving parents, and am the eldest of four siblings. I left South Africa in 1984 for Zimbabwe where I was brought up by my father’s sister and attended school and college; then returned to Mzanzi in 1999 after my aunt passed on.

There is one thing that I will always remember from the background I come from which contributed to the person I am today: my mom was very tough, especially with me. She would give me a hiding even for the wrongdoings of my siblings saying that I should have exercised my right as the eldest, but my dad would stand up for me. Based on this my dad taught me leadership skills and how to take charge from an early stage.

What is your current role? 

I am Personal Assistant (PA) to Jabu Mabuza – Chairman of the Board of Telkom SA SOC. However before the PA’s role, I am a wife, married to Patson Mudzingwa and a mother of two children, Nothando (daughter) aged 23 and Tino (son) aged 11. I also serve in my church as Praise & Worship Leader, a Mentor, Coach, and Advisor. Outside my profession, I always make time to serve communities through an NPO (Hadassah Life Restoring Ministries), that I founded and am heading, an organization that seeks to reach out and touch the lives of the less-privileged people in our communities.

What is your background? 

I partially attended a secretarial course at Speciss College in Harare-Zimbabwe after completing my “O” Level and took up my first job as Receptionist in 1993. I rose through the ranks (and with the help of various training opportunities) I went from strength to strength to be in the position I am in today. It is in my nature to give of myself wholly to my responsibilities, and take every task seriously no matter how small. Having grown up with hard-working parents – and further brought up by a very diligent aunt (a source of inspiration) who imparted in me never to settle for less no matter the circumstances, though I may not be there yet – but I have faith I am heading for a greater destiny.

My on-the-job training includes, The Effective Negotiating Course (by Chester L Karass, London), Programme in Purchasing Management (UNISA), Practical Supply Management (Institute of Purchasing and Supply South Africa), Taxation Certificate Course (North-West University), Advanced Operations Management Development Programme (Durban University). Professional Leadership Development: Leading to Greatness: Building True Success Wherever You Live and Work (The Luminary Series), Resonant Leadership for Results, Emotional Intelligence (Teleos Leadership Institute and Baobab Consulting and Training).

What do you currently do and how long have you been in this role? 

I have been Personal Assistant to the Chairman of Telkom since June 2011. I manage and ensure uninterrupted office operations in the Chairman’s Office. The Chairman being a Non-Executive one, there is so much discipline, integrity and diligence involved as this comes with great responsibilities and critical decision-making, in such a complex demanding office environment. My position requires a deep understanding of the business and its imperatives which has also unveiled robust transformation within and positioned me to tackle every task with a sound and sober insight, making a “difference” by always striving to do things right the first time.

It’s also a chance to explore my profession’s strongholds and pillars, building true success in everything that I lay my hands on, leaving behind inerasable footprints. I provide high-level support from top management to Board Members who interface with various Government bodies (Local and international), International organizations eg World Economic Forum, B20/G20, US Business Forum, Corporate Council on Africa, BRICS to name a few and local organizations, including various stakeholders within the respective sectors.

I have been a PA for 12 years of the 22 years of my career. From receptionist in 1993, to Admin-Secretary, Coordinator and Procurement Specialist. I previously worked for the South African Revenue Service (SARS), SAIL Sport and Entertainment. Outside South Africa I worked for West-End Clinic and Egyptian Trade Centre in Harare, Zimbabwe.

You are best known as the PA of the Year 2014 for South Africa. How did this come about and how has it changed your working life? 

I was nominated by a colleague. When I received a notification from PAFSA, the mother body of the Professional Association for Secretaries and Administrative Assistants in South Africa that I was successfully nominated, I reacted with disbelief as it did not make much sense to me at the time.

I was hardly prepared for the news that I had made it to the next round! From then on it was such a wonderful experience and adventure: the grueling process of submissions, presentations, interviews by a panel of judges. And finally being the one elected and presented as the 2014 Title bearer to the audience on Secretaries Day Summit organized by PAFSA.

My fellow finalists the “TRIBE 2014” were gun-blazing. My sincere recognition goes out to them. Again I say to them: This is our battlefield, let’s equip ourselves with the right armour, as we create more awareness, reinforce and defend our Brand, raising it higher and higher. The Struggle Continues and Victory is certain.

I am deeply humbled and thrilled by this accolade. It brought me to my knees, as I couldn’t believe that I took the title. Furthermore, 2014 was observed as International Year of the Secretary and Admin Assistants (IYOTSA) with celebrations emanating from South Africa and spread to the world – this was a double achievement for me and my Tribe having not to just focus within South Africa but spread our wings “Powered by Excellence” globally.

I am aware that it is not just a title with a trophy; it came with national responsibilities and calls for a great deal of discipline.

This achievement has not, however, changed much of my working life but what it has done is encouraged me to enhance my working life, and to become a World Class PA driving me to stay both alert and ahead of the game. I am to be seen as not only as a PA but as a Strategic Partner: a paradigm shift.

I have remained the person I have always been because honours and titles may come and go, but the essence and values of a person must be consistent and lifelong. As Robin Sharma says “Focus on the impact you make versus the title you have.”

Last but not least, I would once again like to thank my family, nominator, friends and my bosses who supported me all the way.

What are the main changes you have seen in the time you have been an Assistant?

The drastic shift from the passive secretarial role to the active modern office-partner to the executive:

  • The evolution of technology making PA’s work easier and smarter and gives PAs an urge to be way ahead and have access to information positioning us at an advantage
  • More respect and recognition for PAs, but still not enough
  • A more pressured environment which calls for more skills to tackle a broader range of tasks and take on far more responsibilities
  • The PA being seen by an executive as someone who can be consulted by them, and even being given some decision-making powers

What inspires and motivates you? 

Firstly, the Word of God, from where I draw my daily strength, plus:

  • Reading motivational books
  • Networking with inspiring people
  • Spending time with my family
  • Becoming a rainbow in someone’s cloud by touching lives of the less fortunate
  • Seeing the success of others

In South Africa, the finalists of the PA of the Year competition all have to speak to the 250 attendees of the conference where the awards are given for five minutes about something you are passionate about. What did you speak about and how did you find speaking in public to that many people?

My presentation topic to the audience was based on a quote by John Wooden “You can always do more than you think you can.”

I happened to be the first finalist to be called up to speak. Although I was terrified however, I kept thinking quietly “Yes, I can do more than I think I can” and slowly I gained composure. As it is often said “If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough!” In my presentation I derived my own equation in relation to the PAFSA and IYOTSA being:

Passion for the Profession + Powered by Excellence = The Ability to Do More than you Think You Can

  • Excellence is ultimate, excellence encompasses and sums it all up and is a one-stop shop!
  • I highlighted that with a spirit of excellence one’s passion can never go wrong.
  • Having the right attitude towards the profession and one’s life, seeing beyond walls of your confinement and choosing to be different by doing things differently.
  • I referred to Tata Mandela “Madiba” that while he was imprisoned, he saw not only his freedom inside prison walls but freedom for the entire nation and the world at large.
  • Therefore no one can stop anyone from reaching their destiny except themselves.
  • One can rise to be a World Class PA just by a sense of purpose.

What advice would you give to people who are scared of public speaking?

Give it a try; you can never do it unless you’ve tried!

  • “It always seems impossible until it’s done” Nelson Mandela.
  • Be confident but be yourself.
  • You can always do more than you think you can.
  • Remember the people in front of you are people just like you.
  • Always keep eye contact with them.
  • Speak to yourself first before relaying the message to your audience.

What advice would you give someone just starting out as an Assistant? 

Equip yourself with education/training and the right tools for the profession. Never be an empty vessel!

  • Dream, believe, plan, take action. These are the magic words and keys for your journey ahead.
  • Always tackle your tasks with respect and insight.
  • Don’t shy away from hard work.
  • Have a deep understanding of your role/profession. Respect your Profession.
  • Have a vision for your career growth! Understand what you want.
  • Be open to change but never give up on your values.
  • Never let your imagination be confined to the walls of your circumstances, always see a bigger picture.
  • Have a big heart to help others: “A life not lived for others is not a life” Mother Teresa.
  • Always acknowledge others, and give credit where it is due.
  • Never feel intimidated or threatened by the next person as no one can take the gift of you.
  • Don’t compete; but live to complement.
  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, as you learn from them and become a better person
  • Every PA is the sum total (end product) of everything she or he has experienced, seen and lived – continue to be enriched by life.
  • “Although one may not control all the events that happen, one can decide not to be reduced by them” Maya Angelou.
  • “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor and some style” Maya Angelou.

Lastly I would say: “Do all the good you can, by all means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as you can!”

So what’s next for Lizzie Mudzingwa? Where do you want to be in 5 years’ time? 

I see myself as wanting to make a difference in my Nation of Mzansi, and where possible contribute to its wellbeing. I see myself partnering with PAFSA to create awareness and, by digging deep, searching and bringing to the surface the value of this profession. But I also accept that I will be where God wants me to be.

I see myself giving motivational talks and being a coach, to serve as a good motivator of cultural diversity, an advisor, mentor and encourager to both young and old. To see them succeed reaching their full potential. I would love to write inspirational articles and even books.

It would also be wonderful to see myself one day being able to focus on a full-time basis on my registered companies:

1  Hadassah Ministry “Piercing through the veils and walls of concealment, finding God and touching all hearts”.

2 I am Arts and Creations Company: love of creativity, using my hands to create various items from individual to corporate gifts, invitations branded clothing, household items and accessories – creativity can never be exhausted.

3 The Elect Consultancy and Events Management Company.

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you ~ Maya Angelou.

Lucy Brazier, OBE is one of the world’s leading authorities on the administrative profession. Author of ‘The Modern-Day Assistant: Build Your Influence and Boost Your Potential’, she is the CEO of Marcham Publishing, a global force synonymous with world- ... (Read More)

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