Leadership: Drawing on great experiences

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“A leader is one who summons the best from others, as he calls upon the best within himself, to join in the common cause and the common purpose.” Hubert. H Humphrey


My Leadership Style: Work in Progress

By Paul Udoto Nyongesa


The last four months I have spent in the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program has been a journey of discovery. The Humphrey Seminar has not only opened my eyes to the many facets of leadership but also taught me that successful leaders come in all shapes and sizes. And that no two workplaces, situations, crises, or scenarios are the same, and no two leaders are the quite same.

Screenshot of Prof Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize for championing environmental conservation, social justice and women empowerment.
Screenshot of Prof Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize for championing environmental conservation, social justice and women empowerment. Picture   Courtesy of Wangari Maathai Foundation


My leadership style draws on own personality, core values and personal vision. Great leaders such as Angela Merkel, Nelson Mandela, Wangari Maathai, Mohandas Gandhi, Bernie Sanders, Mother Theresa, Malala Yousafzai and Dalai Lama discussed extensively in class have provided excellent examples for reflection on what leadership is all about.

Leadership styles

Through reading books, watching films, discussing in class and listening to guest speakers from outside has exposed me to variety of leadership styles. From the experiences of Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton, the polar explorer who led three British expeditions to the Antarctic, I learned many lessons in tenacity, heroism and fortitude in the face of appalling hardships. From John F. Kennedy’s classic Profiles in Courage, I have been introduced to the concept of political courage which inspired a generation to accept responsibility for its government, and its world, by taking political and social action. As president, he was crusader for social justice and a gifted orator who inspired hope in the future and confidence in government. Hubert H. Humphrey’s is another remarkable leader whose life was dedicated to advancing basic human and civil rights, equality, social justice, international cooperation, understanding and peace.

Through exposure to many of these leaders, certain admirable traits, competencies, abilities, and experiences become evident. These include doing the right thing, sacrifice, service to others, personal standards of ethics, compromise need not mean cowardice and servant leadership. Other exemplary qualities exhibited include courage, honesty, integrity, clearly and succinct communication of a vision and using creativity and intuition to navigate difficult and unpredictable situations.

I have learned a great deal about elevator pitches, disruptive innovation, change management, servant leadership, visionary and transformative leadership.

Focus areas

In my leadership style, these qualities form a strong base for action. To build on them, I will focus on four key areas:

Strategic thinking: Improve my ability to see the big picture and take a longer, broader perspective. Learn to step back from the day-t-day tactical details and focus on the ‘why’, not just the ‘what’ and ‘how’

Leadership presence: Improve my ability to communicate in authentic way that inspires others
Change leadership: Be more of a change catalyst, a champion of change. Learn to implement and sustain change.

Coaching: Shift leadership style from directing and telling to guiding and developing my direct reports.

Key leadership skills

Further, to implement my leadership style, fall back on my current and lacking leadership skills in four key areas, namely personal, interpersonal, group and technical skills.

Personal Skills: Develop mindfulness and self-awareness, manage life-work balance and solve problems analytically and creatively.

Interpersonal Skills: Coaching, counseling and supportive communication. Gain power and influence. Motivate others and manage conflict.

Group skills: Empower others and delegate more. Build more effective teams. Manage change.

Technical skills: Public speaking, making oral and written presentations, policy analysis, project management, language proficiency, people management skills, budgeting and use effective use digital tools for communication.

As a reflect on my leadership style and plan, which is work in progress, the world calls for new generation of global leaders, who like Humphrey, will keep fighting for what they believe in, not for themselves but for all people, everywhere. It calls for individuals who believe that they can make a difference in improving other people’s lives and making a contribution to a more just, equitable and peaceful world.

“In whatever arena of life one may meet the challenge of courage, whatever may be the sacrifices he faces if he follows his conscience – the loss of his friends, his fortune, his contentment, even the esteem of his fellow men – each man must decide for himself the course he will follow. The stories of past courage can define that ingredient – they can teach, they can offer hope, they can provide inspiration. But they cannot supply courage itself. For this each man must look into his own soul.” John F. Kennedy

About Paul Nyongesa

Paul Udoto Nyongesa, Kenya Paul has 23 years of experience as a high school teacher, journalist and communication expert. He is a passionate champion for environmental conservation and has written extensively on wildlife and tourism in various publications and served as contributing editor with Msafiri (The Traveller), national airline carrier Kenya Airways inflight magazine since 2011. He has been instrumental in coordinating publicity for high-level ivory burning events in Kenya in 2011, 2014 and 2016. Paul has also been an associate consultant with Impact Africa, a Nairobi-based strategic communications firm, and for the last four years served as a media liaison with the Rhino Charge, an annual charitable off-road motor competition which raises funds for conservation. He is away on sabbatical leave from the Kenya Wildlife Service Communications Manager where he oversees relations between the government wildlife agency and various stakeholders. Paul is a social media enthusiast who holds a bachelor’s degree in education from Moi University, a postgraduate diploma in mass communication and a master’s degree in communication studies, both from the University of Nairobi in Kenya. He also holds a certificate in strategic leadership from the Kenya School of Government. He is currently a Hubert H. Humphrey Fellow (a Fulbright exchange activity sponsored by the US State Department) based at the Arizona State University’s Cronkite School for Journalism and Mass Communication for one year. During Humphrey year, Paul plans to focus on the use of new digital communication tools, social media, media literacy, international media relations, crisis communication and leadership. He plans to devote the opportunity to strengthening his leadership and public mobilization skills.

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