Class of 2013-2014
Having basically spent most of my life in Uganda, one of the items that has always been on my bucket list has been to explore places of wilderness, including various small communities located in rural settings across the country. For those who are visiting Africa and Uganda in particular for the first time, it is important to realize that the country is still in its infancy. You have to be willing to constantly adjust your expectations because you can be guaranteed that things will just happen.
During my exploration, the lessons I learned about gaining new insights will definitely be beneficial to any leader or aspiring leader. The following testimonies have brought me to the point where I am today as a Global Health Corps Fellow working with the USAID/SDS program as Program Manager.
You need to accept whatever you can’t change
Uganda is different, very different indeed. And there are things about Uganda that will frustrate most of us who have especially become accustomed to predictable outcomes in the most basic of situations. For instance, in Uganda, there are few paved roads, and driving on them is the equivalent of riding an antique roller coaster in the midst of a sandstorm accompanied with dust that turns into mud during the rainy season. The lack of well-maintained roads increases the time required to travel to each destination, a situation that has tended to be normal to most people here. The poor roads are not something that can easily be changed. So, I learned to accept the situation and focus on the beautiful landscape during my road travel.
Normally, there are many external factors to your daily operations that can’t be changed, such as the economy, weather, and government regulations to name a few. Do you accept those factors and look for the positive external factors, the opportunities that you and your current placement organization can leverage to your advantage? Or do you spin your wheels focused on what can’t be changed?
It is good to find opportunities amidst the trees
Getting away is important to leaders. Without a physical departure from the workplace, you are unable to clearly see your blindside. You are looking at your organization with the same set of eyes and filters day in and day out. Changing your environment and getting away to think about the important and not the urgent can allow you to see things in a different light. All of the very successful leaders today understand the value of taking time away from the work environment. They are then able to see the proverbial “forest through the trees”. The advantage of a new environment supports the idea of having so many planning sessions taking place as “retreats” away from the workplace.
Take time and pay critical attention
In rural Uganda, just like in many African countries, you can spend quite a few weeks without access to the internet. It took me some time to adjust to being “cut off” from the rest of the world but once I made the adjustment I was able to focus. No longer were there constant emails and texts that distracted me from my thoughts. The slowness allowed me to have the time to become clear on some issues that I had been trying to work out yet never quite got clarity on because of the constant interruptions in the office.
This type of adjustment normally requires incremental change; the small steps that I accomplished produced greater change over time. So in anticipation of becoming a great leader of this society and the globe as a whole, the first step that I took was to focus on my daily activities. I scheduled 30 minutes during the day just for myself. I turned off my electronics, and got out of my normal environment. This process took different shapes, but I mainly focused on walking and relaxing outside my office building. This time usually got me into the routine of being quiet, slowing down, and exploring. After the 30 minutes, I took the time to write down any ideas that came to me. Eventually, I got the idea that I needed to take action in the near term on something that I liked to do.
So for any folks out there and especially in Africa with specific focus on Uganda, once you have mastered this process, which will probably take at least a month or so, schedule a day each month to spend away from the office as well as home. Choose somewhere that is quiet and power down your communication devices. This is where the real work will take place. It will give you time to:
• Review all those ideas and opportunities that you have not yet taken action on and prioritize
• Self-reflect on the past month; What was your major accomplishment and your biggest disappointment? Did you spend time on what could not be changed?
• Decide on the ideas you need to pursue and what first steps need to be taken
• Determine what you personally need to do to improve as a young emerging leader advocating for Global Health equity; Is there a relationship you need to strengthen, a behavior you need to adjust, or are you overusing one of your strengths?
Remember to take this process and make it a sustainable part of your life, so that you never have to reschedule or skip your monthly day away. Are you ready to take on this challenge and at the same time strive to become part of a community of the world’s leaders and changemakers? Take the first step and change the world right now.