My brilliant career: Having people’s best interests at heart earns you their trust
Natasa Meli is the head of the SA College of Applied Psychology's (Sacap’s) online campus
What do you do at work?
I'm responsible for the growth and overall performance of the SA College of Applied Psychology’s (Sacap’s) online campus, in terms of the business and operations. This includes leading and managing a multidisciplinary team, and ultimately overseeing the quality of the online students’ experience, including student support, the learning environment and educational delivery. I am also a member of the college's leadership team, which creates and then implements the overall strategy of the institution.
How has your online offering changed during lockdown?
Our online offering for our face-to-face students features more synchronous learning activities than would typically be available for our online students. This was to accommodate face-to-face students’ preference for more contact with educators and fellow students in real time. The online students, on the other hand, prefer the flexibility that online education affords them.
What are your main duties at work each day?
No two days are alike, but I do have specific meeting rhythms with key members of each function represented on the campus. This helps us to ensure that we're on track — in terms of the “business-as-usual” aspects of their roles and the specific strategic initiatives or projects that they're working on.
As a leader, I try to keep my team motivated and engaged, as well as support them as best I can in both their personal and professional development. Finally, I form part of several meeting platforms at a broader college level, so much of my time is spent engaging at those platforms as well.
What part of your job would you like to outsource to someone else?
This is a tricky one to answer, but if I'm entirely honest, I would have to say those instances where I have to manage an especially difficult, demanding or troublesome student. Fortunately, I seldom have these; however, when I do, they really do put a damper on my day.
How has the nature of your job changed due to lockdown?
The most significant change is linked to being part of Sacap's C-19 task team. Much of our focus is on how to support our students, our educators and our staff, so that we can successfully navigate these unprecedented times. While this had started with the migration of 1,429 students and more than 100 educators from our physical campuses onto our online platform, it continues as a daily conversation.
That said, in other ways things also haven't changed in that we are still pursuing what we set out to do as a campus, at the start of this year. However, it has naturally been an entirely different experience managing a team remotely, and of course conducting and/or attending my (many!) meetings virtually.
What do you think makes you good at the work you do?
In any situation, my primary concern is genuinely for the people involved, and making sure I have their best interests at heart. This earns people’s trust, and when people trust you, you can bring out the very best in them.
Second, I pursue opportunities that interest me, and take responsibility for where my career is headed. This has sometimes meant taking on projects or roles I wasn’t sure I knew how to do, and believing in my and my team's ability and resourcefulness to “figure it out”.
Finally, I have a real sense of purpose and meaning for what I do, and why I do it. That keeps me grounded when things get hard, and inspired and grateful when things go well.
What did you want to be when you were a child?
When I was very young, I wanted to be a ballerina. As I got a little older, I decided I wanted to be a psychologist. Now that I'm much older, and supposedly wiser, I understand that it's always been teachers who I've admired and respected the most. I believe it’s one of the most honourable professions in the world, and carries with it both a privilege and a responsibility that should never be underestimated.
What is the best career advice you received, and who gave it to you?
It came from a mentor very early on in my career, when I was working at an employer branding consultancy. Being quite young at the time and thinking he was crazy for putting me in front of major clients with my lack of experience, his counsel to me was simply to “always bet on myself”. His confidence in me (and his willingness to “bet” on me) naturally grew my own confidence in myself, and for that I'll always be grateful. I count that experience as one of the most defining in my career to date.
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