Unleashing the Leader Within (by Eunice Musiime)

WLDo you regularly pause to think about what you really do for a living; about the essence of what you contribute to the world? Whatever we do for a living, be it as an activist, social media influencer, feminist educator, we are all more than our job titles. In fact, we are all more than what is seen or known about us at face value. The reality is that, compared to our male counterparts, women still carry a heavier burden of family and societal obligations. As if that were not enough, women have to contend with a fast paced, task filled, technology driven, competitive, and complex world., Such a lifestyle leaves precious little time to just pause, reflect, refresh, recharge and reset our life rhymes.

Most of us hardly recall when we last engaged in a guilt-free, pleasurable activity, simply for the sake of rest and relaxation. It is no wonder that there has been a marked rise in lifestyle diseases; that there is a higher rate of broken relationships, and that mental health diseases are a rapidly growing trend in our society.  Social media creates a false impression that we are more connected than ever, and that may be true from a digital point of view. But where it really matters, at an authentic, heart to heart level, we are, in fact, more distant than we have ever been.

I recently participated in a very special retreat at the Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. I was part of a group of 14 enthusiastic women leaders from Eastern and Southern Africa who met to start the process of co-creating a curriculum that aims to enhance aspects of personal mastery for aspiring and current women in leadership in Africa.  The initiative is being steered by Hivos (East and Southern Africa) in partnership with Positive Vibes. The latter has developed a personal mastery tool dubbed LILO (Looking In-Looking Out), a workshop based approach that helps participants to not only develop the skill of positive self-awareness but to, additionally, help them heal from any self-limiting barriers to progress both in life and vocation.

A variety of tools were employed to facilitate the LILO process of ‘Looking In-Looking Out’ including guided self-reflection exercises, storytelling as a means for sharing and learning from each other’s experiences, and with the aim of helping participants heal from any shame-inducing memories still lingering in their minds. A system analysis with a feminist lens, and the integration of self-care practices were also employed. This cocktail of tools proved to be highly effective for unveiling deeply painful moments while also according a safe space for re-affirmation and acceptance. Equally profound was the reaffirmation that simple tools such as providing reflection spaces are vital for the rejuvenation of the mind, body and soul. They certainly worked for us as a group, and we were more than happy to act as guinea pigs before these tools can be rolled out to the people we serve. The process set us onto a path of greater self-awareness, intentionality about personal growth, achieving work-life balance and, most importantly, healing.

At the conclusion of the three-day convening, it became clear that conducting business as usual can be counter-productive when we simply promote initiatives to advance women’s leadership without a full review of what they need so as to be fully equipped and able to swim against the tide. When the group was challenged to recall their “Aha” moments, the consensus was that we needed more spaces to just surface these precious moments. Innovative tools such as LILO, should be the norm if we are going to create a vibrant, forward leaning generation of empowered women, and I am personally determined to bring these tools to my fellow women through the Akina Mama wa Afrika (AMwA), leadership institute. AMwA’s pride is having a decades-long history as leadership development organization which, nonetheless, remains current because of our belief in continuous learning, and because we are always experimenting with novel approaches when they have the potential to improve women in general. The LILO approach is one such example which may have the effect of augmenting AMwA’s tried and tested module on personal mastery.

Will you join us on this exciting journey?

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Eunice Musiime is a human rights activist and ardent policy analyst with over 13 years experience working to promote gender equality, human rights and social justice at national, regional and international level. She is currently the Executive Director of the Uganda Feminist Organization, Akina Mama Wa Afrika. 

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