Leading Rwanda: skills, personalities, styles and, most importantly, voices

“Equality is difficult, but superiority is painful” (Serere proverb).

“We are made for goodness. We are made for love. We are made for friendliness. We are made for togetherness. We are made for all of the beautiful things that you and I know. We are made to tell the world that there are no outsiders. All are welcome” (South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu)


“Inclusive leadership is good leadership nowadays” (Jim Turley, former CEO of EY)


Money and power may reward good performance at work but study after study shows that what really motivates people is being fully recognized and included as a valid, worthwhile, contributing human being.


“Everyone needs to feel that they belong and matter,” says Isabelle Kamana, People and Organisational Development Manager at Bralirwa, which is part of the Heineken brewing company.

In some ways, Rwanda’s culture naturally promotes this kind of inclusion as “everything is within the context of the community, the family and the team,” Isabelle says.

“But there is still a lot of diversity here, with people from different backgrounds. Those who have grown up in Rwanda. Those who have come here from East Africa. Those who have returned from the Diaspora. They all have very different mindsets.”

A key element of this process of inclusion is the behavior of each leader, whether it is within a team, a project, a department or the whole organisation.

Leaders clearly have direct influence over the make-up of any team. How diverse is it in terms of background, experience, skills, styles, personality, etc.? But that is not enough. Leaders needs to be inclusive too.

“Simply having diversity is interesting; leveraging it is powerful”, said Gordon Nixon, the former CEO of Royal Bank of Canada.

“The leader has to set the tone, create the psychological safety and build the trust with others”, Isabelle adds. “And then everyone can have a voice, help to innovate, grow as individuals and be the best version of themselves”.

As ever, the place to start for leaders is within themselves.

A useful tool for this introspection is the “Johari Window” - pictured above – which can help leaders to better understand their relationships with themselves and others. It was created by psychologists Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham in 1955, using a combination of their first names.

Panes 2 and 3 in the Window are particularly important with respect to Inclusion: What do others know about me that I don’t see myself … and how will I find out what they see in me? And what am I not sharing with other people … and why?

Once leaders can answer these questions for themselves, then they can start focusing on being an inclusive leader for others.

Isabelle outlines five steps to “Everyday Inclusion” for frontline managers and leaders. These are simple things that they can do every single day to create a more inclusive, harmonious and productive working environment:

1. Reach out to everyone, even at the lowest level. Go beyond the hierarchy. Check-in often. Engage with people genuinely. Ask them simply: “how are you?”

2. Have a clear mission, vision and goals for your project or team. Where you are going and why? Communicate these guideposts to everyone and follow them consistently. Try to get others to buy into your objectives as much as possible.

3. Actively seek out new ideas and points of view from others. Even people outside your immediate sphere of influence. Listen to understand and be willing to “unlearn” everything you “know”. Ask direct questions, such as: “how can we improve”? Do this one-on-one or in small focus groups, team meetings or even town hall events. People may be a bit fearful and skeptical at first but if you are genuine and follow up on their suggestions, they will gain the confidence to speak up and contribute actively.

4. Find time to give – and receive - specific, constructive individual feedback with key staff members (much more on this in the next column in two weeks).

5. Leaders cannot do it all by themselves and while some staff members may be new or lacking in confidence, identify those who are both competent and confident. Delegate both stretch assignments and measured decision-making power to them while holding them fully accountable for their actions.

“If leaders can do all of these things, then we will have true inclusion,” Isabelle concludes.

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The views expressed in this article are of the author.


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