“Africa needs leaders.” We have all heard it said and I will be the first to admit that for many years I repeated this statement, wholeheartedly believing in its absolute truth. Now before you scroll down to the comment section and start a storm, let me say this: I am not in denial.
Africa, like any other continent, could benefit from more good leaders. But I think we can all agree that what we urgently need is better visibility of the good leaders we already have. I have spent a few months scouting out talented women leaders, and this is the advice I would give to them and any other person who would like to position themselves as leaders.
1) Be Visible
I think it is unfortunate that many talented people take time to give talks, presentations or even write excellent articles, which are recorded but end up sitting on their computer desktops. The internet is a powerful platform which can give leaders visibility on a large scale.
Marketing guru Seth Godin puts it best: “The connection economy rewards the leader, the initiator, and the rebel. The internet wasn’t built to make it easy for you to watch Lady Gaga videos. The internet is a connection machine, and anyone with a laptop or a smartphone is now connected to just about everyone else”. With Twitter, Facebook, blogs and so many other channels available there are many ways to highlight what you are about. Leaders in any field now have the potential to reap great rewards from the opportunities it brings.
Take time to look through all the content available of yourself and post a few things online so a quick Google search can give a good sense of who you are and what you are about. For those of us who are more private, at least make an email address available so when you receive requests you are able to easily provide evidence of the work you have done.
2) Translate your success
When looking to see what you have achieved, make sure you translate it into terms that anyone can understand. Make sure when you provide information on your achievements and awards you have won, you try to give a bit of detail so anyone reading can understand the weight of the achievement.
3) Own your success
Saying “I founded/co-founded Company X” is very different from saying “I was involved in setting up Company X”. Make sure when you lay out your successes you are confident in what you have achieved. Do not go to the other extreme where you claim successes that are not yours, but when positioning yourself as a leader in any field make sure you have an accurate account of everything you have achieved.
4) Own your leadership style
In the age of women being told to ‘Lean-In’, it is not surprising that I have encountered a few women who don’t feel they can claim to be leaders when their style is to lead from the background. David Zweig in doing research for his book The Invisibles notes “I found that some of the best leaders are those who see themselves as part of a team. They spent their resources striving toward excellence for the benefit of the enterprise they were a part of, rather than aggrandizing themselves. The quality of their work and the earned respect from their peers propelled them upward.”
Although I am a huge fan of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, I cannot stress how important it is for leaders to lead in a manner they feel comfortable with. So do not assume that just because you have a different style of leadership you cannot position yourself as a leader. When looking for talent I ultimately let the work speak for itself.