In a culture where leadership is viewed as a domain for the male gender, it is usually not easy for women in leadership. Such has been my experience in the various leadership capacities I have held at Biblica in Africa. In this article, I’ll share a few lessons on how the Word of God has helped me as I strive to be an effective leader in Africa.
Born in Nairobi, Kenya, I am the 6th born and second daughter in a family of nine siblings. I was introduced to faith in Jesus Christ at the tender age of five years by my older sister. From the time I asked Jesus to be Lord of my life, I lived with the awareness of a Creator who knew me and who loved me. I learnt to pray and seek God’s leading early in my life and to find answers in the Word of God. This led to a simple but strong relationship with God. By the time I got to college, I knew I would either work in a Christian organization or a church. I sensed a call to bring young people to faith in Jesus Christ.
Looking back, I believe that my journey into leadership began with my relationship with God. As stated by Reggie McNeal in his book, A Work of Heart, every leader will admit to having some sense of destiny, whether great or small. One needs to have this sense of destiny or call which gives one purpose, power and passion. A leader who has a call does not get easily discouraged. Indeed, the call keeps one going when others have given up!
Conditioning for leadership also happened in my family. I had extremely busy parents who left home early and got back home quite late. At some point during my teen years, my mother developed arthritis and this meant that when she came home from work she was in too much pain to do any chores. As a result, the responsibility of seeing to household chores fell on me. Determined not to be overworked, I began to mobilize my siblings, both older and younger to assist. This allowed me to develop great organization and mobilizing skills. Young as I was, I stepped in to fill the gap that was left by my parents and in the process gained lots of important skills. I found that the same happened in my work place. When I took initiative to fill gaps or create order, it earned me recognition. This taught me that willingness to go the extra mile was an important trait in a leader. This however couldn’t have been possible without humility and I found a great example in Jesus who said in Matthew 20:26 “… whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant.”
It took many years to get to the position I hold today and I believe this was necessary for preparation. No one ever became a leader overnight. Perseverance and patience are some of the ingredients I had to have to handle the challenging circumstances of Bible work in Africa. James 1:4 says, “Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete not lacking anything.” During particularly difficult times for the organization, I had to exhibit courage to staff and stay positive until change happened. I believe that the tough situations I underwent made me a tougher person. This has been a critical aspect of my leadership development as it has made it possible to sit in boardrooms dominated by men many more times my senior and still hold my ground.
A great boost to my leadership abilities happened when I attended some coaching sessions that were aimed at helping me better understand the person I am. Appreciating my strengths helped me seek opportunities to use them while recognizing my weaknesses made me seek for teammates who would complement me in these areas. I have since concluded that one cannot lead effectively when they do not know who they are. Additionally, self-knowledge leads to a security in ones’ self. There are however many instances of self-doubt when I wondered, “What in the world am I doing in this position? Might my appointment have been a mistake?” This would happen when faced by a mountainous task and just like Peter who saw waves all around and began to sink (Matthew 14:30), I too have feared that I wouldn’t make it. In such moments, reaching out to God has brought me back to my bearings. The word of God also reminds me that He is the true vine and I am the branch. Without him I can do nothing (John 15:5). I therefore strive to stay connected so that I can be effective.
It has also been important in this journey to appreciate the stewardship God has placed in my hands. Knowing that ultimately it is God who will hold me accountable has made me careful with the responsibility and the resources, most especially the lives under my charge. A famous quote states that “people don’t quit jobs, they quit their bosses.” This is humbling and makes me recognize that I ought to treat everyone with dignity. It has also challenged me to coach others to grow in their individual areas of responsibility as God would have them. As a result, God has brought into my life younger women seeking mentoring on career, family and spiritual formation. I also have the added blessing of being the mother of two daughters and have determined to teach them that they can be everything that God created them to be. And in a society where they will likely face glass ceilings, I try to show them that God’s purpose for their lives cannot be limited by man, as long as they fully trust him.