Umwiherero, the leadership lab

Umuntu ntiyirahira uzamuha inka, yirahira uwayimuhaye’ -President Kagame, National Leadership Retreat, 2018

Umuntu ntiyirahira uzamuha inka, yirahira uwayimuhaye’ -President Kagame, National Leadership Retreat, 2018

‘What’s past is prologue, what to come in yours and my discharge’ -Shakespeare, The Tempest, 1958

Last week, my fellow columnist, Lonzen Rugira, and I were invited to the just-concluded National Leadership Retreat in Gabiro.

Our presence was that of silent observers, an incredibly enviable position if you ask any leader who’s ever attended the leadership retreat. Unlike other participants, we had no docket to answer.

It is said of integrity, the act of doing what one is supposed to, especially when nobody is watching.

If all espoused that maxim, the National Leadership Retreat would be as relaxed for all participants as it felt for us observers, but unfortunately many leaders clearly still face challenges to deliver – optimally.

This retreat is a high-level accountability exercise, a unique governance device, where findings and recommendations of formulaic, accountability processes get to be ‘enforced.’

I was also fortunate to be there with one of my lecturers from the African Leadership University - Dr. Catherine Duggan. At the end, she broke down some of the leadership aspects that were at play. The President, Dr Duggan explained, used an empowering leadership approach.

“When the President was following up on issues, he used ‘I’; I do not understand, could you elaborate for me, etc., when he talked about the country’s vision, he used ‘we’; ‘we agreed on this’; ‘we set out to do that…’,” she observed.

Like in a sort of ‘Gacaca’ court, the President moderated the sessions using a ‘dialectical’ method, to establish the truth through reasoned arguments: ‘How could we address this issue, what is missing for the issue to be addressed?’

In one session, he gave the National Coordinator of the National Early Childhood Development Programme a quick assignment: could we give you an hour to come up with a roadmap on how to eradicate child underweight, stunting, and malnutrition?

The answers at times, seemed rather uniform; given, albeit with a lot of humility but a lot less of conviction: ‘as you’ve given us direction sir, we shall be implementing it’; ‘Yes but why hasn’t it been implemented before? How can we support you? What is missing? The President kept inquiring…

We were privileged to experience a high threshold of accountability demand, going from government agencies up to the President’s office;

‘The President too must have checks; since the time I have been president, I have never had to replace a minister on your recommendation’, the President told parliament; ‘we must partner to ensure accountability of government and you are invited to advise me’.

At this point it is safe to say that the President’s messages leave no one unmoved. However, he took it to a different level altogether, when, instead of a speech, he asked to give his closing remarks in form of a lecture: In substance: ‘Do the right thing, let no one stand in your way, shine no one’s boots!’, an edifying and empowering message, at the end of which I left thinking it was directly addressing me, only to find that everyone I spoke to, thought the same.

The President was ‘absorbing complexity and delivering clarity’ as a MacKinsey Partner would say.

As they say, the secret of the pudding is in the eating, while the high demand for accountability is already an important aspect of effective governance, the magic of the national leadership retreat can only be appreciated in the months ahead; with the understanding that the 16th retreat does not sound strangely familiar to that of the 15th.

As for those who wish for initiative, agency and innovation, the support is resounding and comes from the very top.



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