Shaun Henderson’s situational leadership style helped him build a solid team


Shaun believes that leaders must be adaptable in order to get the most out of their teams.

Shaun Henderson, group IT manager at Salungano Group, spent the majority of his 30-year IT career in the mining industry, where he still works today.

It all began when he was in his senior year of high school, on a career guidance trip to a mining company. Shaun's group was given a tour of the mine’s IT department, where he was first introduced to IT and his interest in the discipline was piqued. The company was hiring interns straight out of high school, and Shaun was one of them. He went through all of the necessary training as part of their career development plan and worked his way up the ranks from there.

Shaun worked for the mining company in South Africa for eight years before being transferred to one of their other operations in Botswana. “I had recently married and thought it would be a good career opportunity for me,” he explains. “My wife and I had our firstborn then moved to Botswana and expanded our little family there. I gained much from a development standpoint, and within the company, we were given the option of taking a technical route or a management route. I chose the latter. ”

He then transferred back to South Africa and moved from one mining operation to the next, gaining experience and growing his career. Shaun then joined an international mining company, where he had to travel extensively across many African countries, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, to build network infrastructures for the exploration side of the business. “I've also worked for an international construction engineering firm, but I always came back to the mining industry,” he explains.

Cross-border implementation

He describes some of his exploits as challenging because he had to travel to war-torn areas where blood diamonds were still a problem.

“In some cases, the company sent me to the middle of nowhere, in Greenfields, where I was tasked with implementing infrastructure and establishing an IT presence,” he says. “On the one hand, it was exciting because I got to travel, and on the other hand, it was challenging because introducing a new system in a different country is not as easy as it sounds and comes with its own set of challenges,” he says.

“You have to consider the different laws in that country, immigration laws, compared to the laws in South Africa. You return with that new knowledge and have to devise a solution that works for that country, this is not as simple as it sounds.

“From a procurement perspective, if I was dealing with service providers in South Africa and now, being in the DRC, I’d need to find a partner there who would deal with the service providers back home, while also providing income locally, to avoid a scenario where everything is shipped in,” he explains.

“Working across borders presented certain challenges such as ensuring timeous delivery of equipment from South Africa, due to customs issues at the border. This would put your project plans on hold because the infrastructure was now stuck at the border. These are some of the factors one has to consider when trying to build infrastructure in other countries,” he adds.

He says the experience was also interesting in terms of the type of lodging provided as a company representative travelling from one country to another. “You’d spend one week sleeping in tents on the site of one mining operation and the next in a five-star Swiss hotel!”

Situational leadership

Shaun describes himself as a situational leader, adapting his management style to each unique situation or task in order to meet the needs of the team or team members. “As a leader, I believe you must always adapt because what worked in the past may not necessarily work in the future,” he says.

“For example, when it comes to millennials, you have to manage them quite differently, because they have a different way of thinking and are dynamic, and this forces you to constantly adapt your approach as a leader because there is no one-size-fits-all approach.

“I am both democratic and autocratic: you must listen to different points of view and, when making a decision, you must be autocratic in order to execute. In addition to keeping up with technology, you must also keep up with your leadership style and adapt accordingly,” he says.

Shaun mentions that during his early career, he was assigned to leadership development in order to manage the transition from a technical to a leadership role. He believes that this is a critical exercise because sometimes you are in a technical field and are thrown into a management role, which can set you, the company, and your team up for failure. And maintains that leadership and adviser training is critical to equip you with the necessary skills to become a successful leader.

“When I chose the management leadership path many years ago, my mentor once told me that everyone thinks management leadership is easier than being a technical specialist. As a technical specialist, you have a blueprint on how to do things, but there is no blueprint on how to manage people: they are different and you need to be able to approach people differently. As a result, you must be adaptable and dynamic in your approach.”

He recalls a time when he and his team collaborated with the IT consultants and projects team on a system upgrade. They had an initial plan in place, as well as a backup plan in case they ran into any problems along the way. “I needed to decide on how long we were going to stick with a plan that wasn't working, while also giving us enough time to roll back,” he says. “An important lesson I learned was that if you have a plan, stick to it and execute it, but also know when to go back to the drawing board if things aren't going well.”

Shaun is an early riser; you can find him in the gym as early as 5 am, working out while the rest of us are fast asleep. He says he enjoys it because it allows bonding time with his son, who joins him there at the crack of dawn. It also allows him to unwind and keeps the muscles moving.

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