Leading Rwanda: Building practical leadership skills at all levels

A cross section of leaders attending Umushyikirano 2018 at Kigali Convention Centre. Courtesy.

Sudanese-UK businessman and philanthropist Mo Ibrahim believes: “There is a crisis of leadership and governance in Africa and we must face it.”

Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a bit more hopeful. She says: “While African nations have a failure of leadership, they also have dynamic people with agency and voices.”

And Rwandan President Paul Kagame sees positive change coming: “Africa should not just wait to be exploited or influenced. No. We should be part of the conversation … we have the power to determine the future.”

Africa is certainly very different from what it was 50 years ago when decolonisation first took hold. Rwanda is also very different from what it was 25 years ago when the brutal Genocide against the Tutsi ravaged the country. And at every conference now, the rallying cries from both young and old are for more autonomy, partnership and investment in Africa’s future instead of being dominated, patronized and dependent on foreign aid, as in the past.

In order for Rwanda and the rest of Africa to grow and thrive sustainably, there must be a focus and commitment to strong, principled and pragmatic leadership throughout society.

What exactly is Leadership? Is it simply doing the right thing and not just doing things right? Is it taking things further by inspiring and motivating others towards a common goal?

Here in Africa, how do we include traditional concepts, such as: “Ubuntu” (the Nguni Bantu word for the “Universal Human Bond”), “Umoja” (the Swahili word for “Unity”) and “Sawubona” (the Zulu greeting relating to “Mutual Respect”)?

And here in Rwanda, we must also pay homage to modern interpretations of such important traditional concepts as: “Umuganda” (Community Cooperation and Service), “Imihigo” (Vow to Deliver) and “Ndi Umunyarwanda” (National Identity, based on Trust and Dignity).

This new regular column “Leading Rwanda” will take all of this into account and every two weeks it will feature:

1.     A different aspect of leadership, as it relates to Rwanda (and the rest of Africa)

2.     Relevant, focusing and inspirational quotations from both recognized thought leaders and some unlikely sources

3.     Real, positive and diverse examples from current-day Rwanda that demonstrate this particular aspect of leadership, including exclusive interviews with and quotations from current and emerging leaders themselves

4.     Five concrete, practical tips from these leaders to help readers to focus and then begin developing these skills for themselves

5.     The opportunity to read, view, learn, reflect on, explore and dialogue about each topic further through resource lists, online message boards, and direct contact with both the columnist and his interviewees

Overall, this column’s topics will cover a wide range of key leadership skills: from such concrete areas as decision making, giving feedback and resolving conflict to less tangible ones, such as visioning, ethics and inclusivity.

But this columnist will not attempt to provide a definitive or exhaustive list of key leadership skills right now.

Instead, he plans to create a new “Leading Rwanda” “Community of Practice (COP)” that will meet face-to-face in Kigali at regular intervals (to be determined) and that will form a kind of “Rwandan Leadership Lab (RLL)” that will discuss, refine and prioritize the skills that current and future leaders will need going forward.

This COP will also hopefully have an online presence and the chance to share leadership resources and news about any upcoming leadership events, conferences or meetings (and eventually co-create such gatherings themselves).

With this in mind, readers of this new column are invited to participate - at a highly discounted rate - in a “Leading Accountably” (LA) training workshop at the Marriott on the morning of 6 December.

If you want more details about the nascent COP, RLL and/or the LA workshop or if you just want to establish contact and share any resources, questions, opinions or suggestions with the columnist himself, please email him directly at jeremy@jeremysolomons.com and he will respond within 24 hours.

And in the meantime, please note that the second column in this new bi-weekly series will be published on 5 December and it will delve into the crucial foundational skill of “Self-Leadership.”

The writer is a Kigali-based leadership consultant and in the past, he has worked and led teams, departments and operations as a full-time banker, journalist and educator in six multinational organizations, including Citibank, JP Morgan, Reuters News Agency and the World Bank.