When Leadership Calls, Will You Say ‘Yes’?

The decision to live out your life in this way is like climbing a life-long mountain. It has beautiful scenery, jaw dropping views but heart-sinking lows as well. If you’ve lived long enough you know that life has storms every now and again. There’s nothing we can do about the storms.

Leadership. One word. Simple, yet it stimulates so much interest and debate. It evokes hope, yet also the makes us feel so bleak about the current state of affairs in the world. Yet, every young person I have encountered aspires to become or be better at leadership.

I can’t say I recall the exact time it first struck me as a “thing”. Yet, there is one moment that does standout in my memory. When I was 21 years old, I stumbled across One Young World – a global forum for young people. I clicked on a video reel and within less than 5 minutes I had goosebumps and tears streaming from my eyes.

I had just witnessed young people who looked like me, from similar backgrounds and facing similar challenges, get actively involved in creating the change they wanted to see in the world. It was rousing for me. I felt something. An urgency, a hope, a belief that things could be better, a sense that I had a role to play. I was inspired!

About a year later, after having returned home from my studies, I applied and got into an international leadership program in the US, which involved a marketing communications internship and a leadership course with the Saint Mary’s College of California. There’s that word again – leadership. The major thing that attracted me to this program was not only working in an international team, but the leadership aspect.

By this time, I did believe that I was a young leader. What this meant for me then was I felt a responsibility and a role to make things better, that by virtue of having had the opportunities that have come my way to better myself, I had an obligation to make better people and circumstances around me.

It’s been 5 years since the US program, and now I am part of the Class of 2018 Young Emerging Leaders Project (YELP) – a leadership fellowship for young Africans.

I have never contemplated anything longer and harder than I did joining this program once the offer was on the table. Having participated in One Young World in Europe and Collabriv in the USA, I just felt that it would be selfish for me to take on another leadership something, just because the opportunity was on the table.

I contemplated 3 things before finally making the decision to join the program:

  1. My intention at this point in my life is to be stimulated by new ideas and thoughts, I wanted to be exposed outside my thinking and to be pushed beyond my comfort zone
  2. I needed a program that was going to force me to be accountable. I have already been a part of several leadership programs, how was this going to be different?
  3. I wanted to meet interesting people making things happen on the continent. It was really important to me that this was happening not overseas, but right here in Africa.

Once I was sure the program ticked my boxes, I jumped in head first. Straight off the bat, one of the questions I get asked the most concerning the program is “How was it learning about leadership with other young people from the rest of Africa?”

The quick answer is, not that different at all. Here’s the thing, the leadership challenges you face in your respective countries are really not unique to your place of birth. This is true for Nigerians, Zambians, Ugandans, Rwandans and more. They may look different at the surface, but at their core these challenges are universal. That was one of the big takeaways for me. It was quite validating, especially because it felt that if there was more of us tackling these challenges then the burden is lighter to carry.

The YELP program is very much a fellowship that reflects the needs of millennial learners. We weren’t cooped up in hotel rooms all day reading texts and listening to PowerPoint presentations. In fact, not a single PowerPoint slide was used in the entire program.

We read texts from Patrice Lumumba and debated these texts, listened to podcasts on business and entrepreneurship, discussed poems on self-leadership and resilience, camped at the Forest Resort Beach in Kasenge, and took a 2-hour ferry ride on Lake Victoria for a weekend getaway on an island. There was something for everyone. For one group assignment, we had to watch a Netflix documentary – Quincy. I really appreciated this mixed bag of course work.

My big takeaway from the content and conversations is this; leadership is bigger than politics. We are all raised or socialized to believe that the highest office of the land is really what leadership entails.  At YELP, it was clear that leadership is simply the decision to take responsibility to drive things a certain direction, not for one’s benefit but for the whole. Leadership is doing what is right, even though it might not be the popular stance.

In this regard, the challenge to lead is thrust upon us daily, whether it be at our places of work, in dealing with our finances, with family and even with friends. The opportunity to lead always presents itself. It is never an easy path, it often requires that we are clear and resolute in our beliefs and values. Understanding our personal values and beliefs is hard work, not to mention trying to live these values. So, leadership is almost always not just in a title or holding a certain political office. We can all rise to the occasion!

One of my favorite readings from the Fellowship that has stayed with me is “The Invitation” by Oriah. For purposes of saving your time as well as space limitations, I will only highlight a few stanzas:

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shrivelled and closed from fear of further pain.

It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself. If you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul. If you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand at the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, ‘Yes.’

It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away.

Leadership in my understanding is simply the decision to live in service of something bigger than one’s self. The decision to live for something bigger than yourself in whatever capacity, makes you a leader.  The decision to live out your life in this way is like climbing a life-long mountain. It has beautiful scenery, jaw dropping views but heart-sinking lows as well. If you’ve lived long enough you know that life has storms every now and again. There’s nothing we can do about the storms. The universe will send them our way, as sure as the sun will rise every day.

What is in our control however is captured so aptly by Oriah “I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand at the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, ‘Yes.’

Will you say, “YES”?

 

Nkatya is a YELP Class of 2018 Fellow from Zambia.

 

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