The Global Contrarian – Blog 13

Leading Rwanda: Creating, Communicating and Realizing your Vision

By Jeremy Solomons (for the New Times newspaper in Kigali, Rwanda)

 

“If your vision is for a year, plant wheat. If your vision is for a decade, plant trees. And if your vision is for a lifetime, plant people” (African proverb)

“A large eye does not mean keen vision” (Rwandan proverb)

Vision without action is just a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world.” (Joel Barker)

One of the key things that distinguishes leaders from managers is their ability to see beyond themselves and their day-to-day tasks and have a broader view of the world around them and their role within that greater universe.

Just last week, the influential Time Magazine named the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist, Greta Thunberg, as its 2019 Person of the Year for “showing us all what it might look like when a new generation leads … by clarifying an abstract danger with piercing outrage.”

This is what we call “Leading with Vision” or having a clear view of an ideal or desired state and/or of a place where a person really wants to be in future.

Here in Rwanda, young social entrepreneur, Joseph Dusabe, sees Vision as: “the umbrella of all things that helps me to fight for what I want.”

Rwandan recording artist and youth educator, Jean Paul Nduwimana (aka Noopja), sees Vision as: “the thing that gives you life and brings real answers to real problems.”

Jean Paul says this is particularly important for young people in post-Genocide Rwanda where “we all need to conquer fear and give youth hope with a strong vision of a brighter future.”

His personal vision is in the preface to his 2017 book “Keep it Up – A Letter to President Kagame”: “I’m a civically trained artist among the youth; I’m the protector of Gihanga’s heritage; I’m an artist Rwanda is proud of; and I’m at the forefront in rebuilding Rwanda; as well as striving for Africa’s development.”

Some might call this arrogance or even foolishness but Jean Paul sees this as an overt expression of his identity, his passion and his commitment.

So how do you create a vision for yourself as a current or future leader?

Joseph believes that the vision has to start from deep within you, often from your own personal experience. As a young boy near Kayonza, he struggled at school due to malnutrition and low quality education. From that experience, he developed a vision to have at least one pre-school for vulnerable children in every district in Rwanda where “the children will all be healthy, love school and be loved by their teachers and parents.”

Once you have done your inner work, Joseph advises: “Find people to talk to. Travel to get different ideas from people face to face. Learn from others’ experience. See what others have done.”

These people are your “vision helpers”. Some you might already know. Some you might meet. And some you may never meet but can still inspire you.

Such as Greta Thunberg? Or maybe Kenyan runner Joyciline Jepkosgei, who recently won the New York City marathon at her first attempt? Or even Isser Harel?

Who is Isser Harel?!  He was an Israeli spymaster whose daring capture of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann inspired an English teenager to be a committed fighter for human rights and social justice all his life. That teenager was me and I still hold that vision to this day.

When you have created your personal vision, let other people know about it, particularly if you want them to give you feedback, help you refine it, buy into it and help you bring it to life.

“You’re not alone in realizing your vision,” says Joseph. “Find people who share your vision. Create partnerships with different stakeholders. Build a strong team.”

Joseph has done this himself by co-founding two Itetero Bright Academy pre-schools so far and by connecting with like-minded groups, such as Acumen and One Young World.

And US President John Kennedy knew that his vision of space exploration was a reality when he visited the NASA headquarters for the first time in 1961. He met an employee there and asked him what he did. The man, whose job was to clean the building, proudly responded: “I’m helping put a man on the moon!” And that bold common vision was realized eight years later.

How about you, dear reader?

  1. What is your personal vision for the future?
  2. What did you do in 2019 to help realize this vision?
  3. What challenges or barriers did you encounter?
  4. How did you (try to) overcome these obstacles?
  5. What was your biggest surprise in 2019?
  6. What was your biggest disappointment or failure in 2019?
  7. What was your biggest success in 2019?
  8. Where will you be on your “vision journey” by the end of 2020?
  9. What will you have done to help you make progress towards your vision during 2020?
  10. What will you say about 2020 in a year’s time?

 

 

The Global Contrarian – Blog 12

Leading Rwanda: Begin by leading yourself

“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom”. Net photo.
The second bi-weekly “Leading Rwanda” column, published in the “New Times” newspaper on 5 December, 2019

 

“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom” (Aristotle)

“Do not try to fight a lion if you are not one yourself” (African proverb)

“You can outdistance that which is running after you, but not what is running inside you” (Rwandan proverb)

When working with top leaders around the world, there is one challenge that keeps coming up in different ways time and time again: isolation.

The more senior a “master (or mistress) of the universe” might be, the more isolated they might be from those around them.

This isolation is frequently blamed on a very busy work and travel schedule. And it can certainly be reinforced by physical location and distance in these virtual working times. But this columnist’s 10 years of being a leader himself and nearly 30 years of working with them has shown that the principal reason for isolation is “disconnection”.

Not so much with others but with oneself.

As leaders rise in an organisation or entrepreneurs grow their business, they can often lose sight of their original values, purpose, goals, even identity, as they become institutionalised and imprisoned by the reality and promise of ever greater power, riches, etc.

One senior leader at a top private bank told me: “I was so busy playing corporate games and worrying about my mega-bonus that I forgot who I was”.

Since then, he has quit his highly-paid job and moved to a much smaller boutique firm, which allows him to travel less, be with his family and community more and most importantly, reconnect with himself and who he really is.

Mireille Ineza Karera, who is the CEO of Kora Coaching & Business Academy, believes this Self Connection and Self Leadership are so important because “everything starts and ends with you. This means being aware and conscious about how you lead yourself in all areas of life and being intentional about who you are and how your deeds have an impact on others.”

Mireille gives a specific example of this from her own recent experience: “When I returned back home from the Diaspora about four years ago, I saw a need to take ownership of creating and growing the coaching industry in our nation.

Self-leadership in that context was to keep myself and my organisation accountable in that field. This is something that nobody gave me a mandate to do. I saw a problem in the supply of competent coaches and found a solution for it by creating the first Coach Training Academy that certifies different kinds of coaches in Rwanda and Africa.

So, to the concept of Self Leadership, I believe that you need to be clear about what your impact should be and run with it until you reach the finishing line.”

But before you can make an impact, Mireille insists that you must be clear about your “calling” so that you can then “lead with purpose and intentionality”.

She continues: “there is a difference between a career and a calling. You work for your career to earn money, status, skills and other benefits, but you cannot be excellent at Self Leadership without knowing your calling. Your calling is when you do the work you were born to do. Self Leadership inevitably becomes second nature.”

And sometimes this “calling” can be divinely inspired. German philosopher Friedrich Buechner defined it this way: “the place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

But how can current and future leaders identify their calling?

I find that solitary prayer or meditation and then quiet reflection time really helps. I encourage even the busiest executives to dedicate at least half an hour on a Friday afternoon or Sunday morning to closing the door, switching off the electronics and sitting with a blank piece of paper, pencil and eraser.

And then they may ask themselves these 10 questions:

1.   What does it mean, in a general sense, to be a “true leader”?

2.   What does it mean to me personally to be a “true leader”?

3.   What do/would I hope to achieve as a “true leader”?

4.   How will it enhance my career and my personal life?

5.   In what ways might it actually impinge on my career and my personal life?

6.   What natural strengths, learned talents, overarching passions, and core values do I already possess to be a “true leader”?

7.   What is still be missing for me to be a “true leader” and what “hot buttons” do I need to be aware of?

8.  What do others say to me and about me as a leader? What do they see in terms of “blind spots” that I don’t see?

9.   How can I best overcome my shortcomings through prayer, meditation, hard work, stretch assignments, travel, studying, mentoring, coaching, etc.?

10.       What else do I need to be successful leader?

And if you do all of this, hopefully you can live up to Mireille’s personal credo: “Whether understood or misunderstood where you stood. Be one who outstood.”

The third column in this new bi-weekly series will be published on 19 December. This column will delve into the key leadership skill of “Vision” and it should help you set your own professional and personal vision and goals for 2020.

jeremy@jeremysolomons.com

The Global Contrarian – Blog 11

March 21, 2019

Final Austin Blog

by Jeremy Solomons

This will be my last blog from the USA on my last official workday in Austin, Texas where I have lived, worked and raised my daughter for the last 19 years. At the end of next week, I will be relocating lock, stock and kitty to Kigali in Rwanda for an undetermined period. Why Rwanda? Why now? Please read on …

A CHANCE ENCOUNTER

One hot Summer’s evening in 2015 I attended an international dinner at my good friend Julie’s house in South Austin. There I met a woman named Lauren Everitt, who told me that she did social media for a women’s university in the East African country of Rwanda.

Like many people outside Africa, I had watched “Hotel Rwanda”, the Hollywood version of the horrific genocide of 1994; I had also watched “Gorillas in the Mist”, the Hollywood biopic of Dian Fossey, who studied gorillas in the volcanic forests on the border of what is now DR Congo; and I had heard that Rwanda now boasted the most women in parliament of any country in the world. This number has just gone up to 54 out of 80 or 67.5%. Nearly triple the number in the USA.

So when Lauren told me about the Akilah Institute for Women – https://www.akilahinstitute.org– I was immediately intrigued about their story within the context of a rapidly changing, diversifying society. I also began thinking about going over to Africa for the first time and finding out more about what they were doing to educate and empower young women in Rwanda and beyond.

Natasha Sukiranya and her colleagues at Akilah were very open, gracious and welcoming to me and just over a year later they invited me to visit the main campus in Kigali, learn more about Akilah and gender equity in Rwanda and do some volunteer communication training and leadership coaching for Akilah’s admin staff, faculty and students. 

While I was there, I also got to visit the astonishing museum at the Kigali Genocide Memorial and trek up to see the gorillas at the Volcanoes National Park on the Congolese border.

While I was in Kigali that first time, I also talked with many locals and expats and as I have written before, I was very impressed by what Rwanda has done to recover from the genocide – which killed about 800,000 people in three months – unify the bitterly divided country and recreate a sense of common national identity. Rwanda is far from perfect but President Kagame and his government have done a lot to spread peace, prosperity and stability throughout this landlocked nation, which now contains more than 11 million people.

As such, I could not wait to return but it took another two years before I could get back there in October 2018. This time I did not travel there as just a tourist and a volunteer. I was now exploring Kigali as a possible place to live and work. The second visit was even better than the first and it was definitely a place I would happily move to.

LEAVING AUSTIN

But why would I even think of leaving Austin, Texas and USA after such a long time?

Like most major work/life decisions, it was for both professional and personal reasons.

I love what I do in terms of independent coaching, facilitating and training in Leadership Development, Inclusive Teams, Gender Equity and Difficult Conversations in the academic, business, government and non-profit sectors in Austin and beyond.

But after 27 years in DC, Santa Fe, Prescott (AZ) and here in Austin, I had become a bit stale. I needed a new challenge for what I hope will be the next third of my life. I will be 60 in May and my Dad lived to 95. Even my chain-smoking mother made it to 81.

In addition, my beloved daughter Emma will be graduating next year and embarking on her graphic design career. I am not in a long-term personal relationship. And I really need some distance from the ugly, hand-to-hand political combat between Donald, Nancy and Chuck and others in Washington, DC.

FUTURE PLANS

As for the future, I already have some exciting new freelance work with the World Bank and UNDP in Kigali in late April and I hope to be partnering more closely with the Akilah Institute for Women, the Kigali Genocide Memorial and the Rwandan Management Institute, amongst others.

I also plan to expand my professional outreach to my own growing network in Rwanda and across Africa but I will certainly not be out of reach for any of you (groan).

I am still planning to do virtual work – such as research, virtual coaching, and webinars – from Kigali. My first global webinar from there is booked for mid-June.

I will also be available to fly around Africa, the Middle East and maybe Europe and South Asia to do contract work for existing North American and West European clients. My first such gig might be in early May in Nigeria.

And I am intending to return to the USA and Europe for extended stays once or twice a year to service existing clients and see family and friends. Probably during Rwanda’s rainy seasons in March/April and October/November. My first such trip to New York, Austin and Atlanta is planned for early October.

And of course, if you want to come out to East Africa for work or pleasure, I would be happy to help you plan your trip and even host you in Kigali.

So au revoir for now but not farewell!

Cheers, Jeremy