Perseverance and Grit: A Relentless Pursuit for Success

“Perseverance is the real test of leadership ability. It is one thing to set a goal or an objective for a group of people; it is quite another to persevere toward it and inspire others so that they are motivated to follow us.” (Cyril J. Barber in Nehemiah An Expositional Commentary, 1991).

If I had to narrow the choices down to one specific leadership quality that my Kurumbuka colleagues consistently activate it would be perseverance. Determination and grit describe their relentless pursuit of achieving transformation for their organizations and communities.

I began to understand their dedication and even stubbornness of action when many shared their testimonies of overcoming obstacles during their leadership journeys. What struck me was how devoted and faithful they are. Despite daily roadblocks, they never seem to give up hope.

My colleague John (name changed) is an exemplary model of perseverance and faith. As a coordinator of education for three new schools, John was tasked with training teachers in best teaching practices. When he started his new role, he visited the schools to discover the teachers’ learning situations and abilities. John soon recognized that the main challenge was that the teachers lacked knowledge of and application of teaching strategies. He discovered that there was a dire need for extensive teacher training.

In his own words, John describes the challenges that he discovered, the challenges the teachers faced, and his perseverance to overcome this obstacle, which hindered student progress. While gaining success implementing the teacher training during the year, John discovered an unexpected and potentially insurmountable impediment; the challenge of authoritarian leadership.

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I was committed to helping these teachers, and without waiting, I organized the first teacher’s training on basic knowledge and skills. I introduced skills on how children learn and develop, how to introduce new curriculum. I had them visit model schools for observing how other teachers deal with how children learn and grow. The training went well and was successful. Some of the teachers started to apply what they had learned during the training. 

I was amazed by how the teachers were picking up and applying what they learned so quickly. After eight months on the job with intense teacher training and monitoring, I recognized that some of the teachers were doing well, while others were not. 

I wanted happy, active and engaging teachers but realized that some of the teachers were happy and enthusiastic during the training, but unhappy and quiet when they were at their schools. I started wondering why some teachers seem to have the potential to do well but were not. I wanted to understand them, their challenges, feelings, and thoughts on what could be done to help them do their job better and find out the problems they faced within the school. 

During these discussions, teachers at one of the schools shared how they were treated by their headmaster (principal). I encountered leadership issues that I didn’t think would be an issue before starting the new job. Here are some of the challenges that teachers at this school faced;

  1. The teachers could spend four to six months without being paid, while they knew that the school had money because the teachers were the ones who collected fees. The teachers were always afraid that they might be fired. 
  2. The headmaster refused to let them try out the new practices learned in training. They were only allowed to do what he told them to do. 

After conducting my research with the teachers, I found out that the headmaster was difficult to work with and was even harsh to the teachers. Teachers were not allowed to ask him anything; he did things as he wanted and, he even locked things up so the teachers did not have access to equipment the children could play with. I also discovered that the headmaster did not trust the teachers and fired those he disliked and hired those whom he liked. He did not care about the teacher’s performance. All he cared about was that the teachers stay obedient to him and accept whatever he wanted. 

I realized that I also needed to solve these leadership issues and not just focus on the teachers. So, I began to organize headmaster meetings and provide training to the headmasters. I wanted to obtain a shared understanding and shared vision on how leaders should lead. The training was conducted, and some headmasters started to improve their schools’ leadership while others resisted. Some of the problems were solved, teachers got their salaries, and the newer teaching strategies were used. 

Even though some of the problems were solved, there is still a long journey to go. Other things need to be solved, such as transparency on school resource management, fair treatment of teachers, and flexibility to allow teachers to be creative and try new skills and strategies.

I learned that leading is a continuous process where you need to keep on trying, adjusting, changing, learning and teaching so that you can bring impact to a whole school system from students, teachers, leaders, parents and community in general.  

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John’s leadership was tested right from the outset of his new position. Although his initial perceptions of the teachers’ abilities were not accurate, he swiftly moved to purposefully overcome their inexperience by implementing a successful teacher training program. His intentional actions and perseverance addressed the initial challenge, which resulted in some teachers improving and some not. John was not satisfied, however. He continued his pursuit to ensure that all of the teachers in the training program improve. His diligence led him to discover that the authoritarian leadership practices from some headmasters alienated teachers, causing them to lose heart and motivation to learn.

John’s persistent journey to address the barriers were successful. Self-admittedly though, he still recognizes that more energy and effort is required. Knowing John, I am confident that he will succeed and, in the process, motivate others to follow him.

Biryoha Bisangiwe! It Is Sweeter When Shared

Phocas Ngendahayo writes today’s guest post on Leadership is Heart. Phocas currently serves as the Rwanda Country Director for Kurumbuka Leadership Solutions, which was created in response to a felt need, to walk alongside a new generation of leaders as they fulfill God-given visions to transform their families, institutions, communities, and nations. Seven years ago, Phocas and I met in the Land of a Thousand Hills, where I began my service with the Wellspring Foundation for Education in Rwanda. Phocas was operations director for Wellspring, and from the time I met Phocas, I knew I had met a leader full of integrity with similar a similar passion for raising other leaders through collaboration and sharing. Our friendship has grown in seven years, and I am forever grateful that we continue to serve together.

Today Phocas not only defines why it is so essential for leaders to collaborate, but he also outlines the benefits he has encountered when leaders share around a table of many. 

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Leadership is Heart’s new initiative, “from one table to a table of many” is timely. The project emerged as a result of Claudio’s involvement with the Abundant Leadership Institute (ALI), which was a precursor to the establishment of Kurumbuka Leadership Solutions. During the birthing process of Kurumbuka, Claudio coined the acronym, DEAL, to summarize his purpose and mission of developing and empowering African leaders.

Faithful to the call, Claudio is passionate about empowering leaders, and his current initiative may suggest a military plan, a business breakthrough, or a lucrative strategy, but none of this is the case. One can see instead an expanded circle of friends, of like-minded people and professionals who share what they care about together, in a circle of common interests.

The initiative is just what is needed for leaders in Africa. It invites people from diverse backgrounds to come together to find a space of stimulating and constructive ideas. A collaborative table is a circle of trust, equity and equality, building an ecosystem of learning and resulting in mutual benefits. The collaborative table is at the core of what Kurumbuka has and will continue to strive for.

There are benefits to sharing. A Swedish proverb says, “A shared sorrow if halved, but a shared joy is doubled.” A Rwandan proverb says, “Biryoha bisangiwe!” which means “it is sweeter when shared.” In French, it is said, “du choc des idées jaillit la lumière!”. This can be translated as, “Out of clash of ideas, light comes out!”.

Sharing enriches and sets one free. As people sit together around the table, collective wisdom emerges, resulting in a gain for the entire community. Sharing dignifies both the giver and the receiver. It sets free burdened souls and troubled minds. Truth is revealed, lives are built up, and transformation can take place.

During the last five years, I’ve seen graduates from ALI/Kurumbuka report that the program has been stimulating, inspiring and transformational. Methode, who works as a director at Youth for Christ, shared with me that for fourteen years he used to be a leader with an authoritarian leadership style. When he came to the ALI/Kurumbuka program, he learned about servant leadership. He went back to his school and applied the principles he learned. It didn’t take long for his staff to notice that something changed in his leadership style. He became approachable, and staff retention improved. Children became comfortable to come to greet him and hug him. Where there was gossip, mistrust and social polarities, slowly and increasingly, a new culture started to emerge within the school. A culture of ownership, care, accountability and trust. A culture of collaboration around a shared table.

Let us continue to seize this opportunity to build a collaborative culture, to make our voices heard, to share our best practices, generate collective wisdom that will bless our nations, our institutions, our families and our communities. We will be amazed how, in the end, we shall be enriched, united in our diversity. Our horizons will be broadened, our hearts and minds inspired and play a role confidently to make a better world around us to live.

It delights me to be among the many to engage in this sharing.

Theo, an Inspirational Leadership Voice

An influential voice is my friend and colleague from the Wellspring Foundation for Education Theo. Theo is the Senior Program Manager in Kigali, Rwanda. He leads, manages and oversees the School Development Program that Wellspring has successfully implemented in the Gasabo District. His primary responsibilities are to lead a team of qualified and experienced teacher trainers and community involvement trainers to assist school leaders, teachers, and parents rally together in creating a healthy learning environment for Rwandan children.

I have seen Theo in action purposely and intentionally demonstrate what Bill George in True North defines as the authentic leader. “The authentic leader brings people together around a shared purpose and empowers them to lead authentically to create value for all stakeholders… they are more concerned about serving others than they are about their success or recognition” (pg. xxxi).

How did Theo get to be a model of authentic leadership? I believe it is due to a strong leadership foundation built from an integrity-filled character that is also generating tangible results. (Covey, 2006).

I was privileged to learn about Theo’s leadership foundation when I facilitated a course that Theo was a participant. This course highlighted the need for leaders to define a personal leadership platform, including their vision, purpose, mission, guiding principles, and non-negotiable beliefs. Not only were the leaders called to clarify these platform components, they were also required to demonstrate the ways they would activate them.

When I read Theo’s platform, I understood why he is such an impressive leader; moving others to follow him, and in the process being transformed themselves as leaders. 

Let me share a part of Theo’s insights in his words to give you a glimpse into what makes Theo an influential leader. 

My Personal Leadership Platform

The personal platform as a concept is huge because it encompasses the purpose or vision and mission, the intents of one’s agenda, and guiding principles and values or beliefs that make some be the leader she/he is to people. 

The summary here is an amalgamated mix of my personal values and beliefs, my non-negotiables I hold as a leader in the organization.

I will begin with what I strongly believe in as a leader and the practical results of my beliefs: 

My Personal Mission Statement

Empowered to empower in humility and simplicity!

Beliefs/ValuesPractical Results of What I Believe In and What I Value
As a leader I believe in Empowerment through delegation of responsibility When I led a team of 12 Quality Education trainers for my first time, I had a difficult time with them. They used to always wait for every decision and daily plans to come from their direct line manager. I started changing the course and I included more of them in decision making and program field plans. This initiative revolutionized my working relationship with the trainers. According to their personal testimonies, they became more motivated, confident and focused.  Many leaders in our African context just hold power and want to do it all by themselves. This disempowers people in the organization and makes them feel anxious and frustrated because they do not know what they can do by themselves since in most cases they are blamed of not attaining work expectations upon some tasks that requires in-depth exposure and familiarity.  
As a leader I believe in ClaritySometimes leaders just do not release information because they think that by releasing the information, they become less powerful and hence lose control. This is not always the case. There are times when a confidential piece of information should not be sharable with everyone in the organization but there is also another category of information that everybody in the organization should know about.  In my team leadership, I ensure that I share every piece of information that is not confidential because I have seen that by communicating clearly there is fewer politics and people feel more secure and valued in the organization. 
I value and believe in Listening Listening is a powerful tool for any successful leader. When you listen, you discover the motives and agenda of the heart. When you listen, you understand deep issues and you are able to provide appropriate support in situations.  There are times in the team I lead when the team thinks that a certain task is totally impossible to achieve. They present the case on my desk and I ask them: ‘Can we have time together as a team when we can reflect on that?’ Whenever we had this discussion together the unsolvable task became so simple and achievable due to the fruit of listening. Listening yielded guidance and inspiration.  
I value grace and trust As a leader, I had also other leaders who shaped me in my leadership journey. I realized that I was not always perfect, and I needed grace many times. A leader who does not have grace impacts less. Grace is a reflection of Jesus in how He himself handles us. He does not reject us when we mess things up. Instead, He listens to us when we approach His gracious throne with humility and repentance.  I have learned that as a leader there are times when you have to just let things go because that is not going to cause the end of the world. I have learned that many people learn from their mistakes, so I have trained my heart to abound in grace whenever possible so that failure is not seen as an absolute incapacity but rather serves as a tool for growing skills we did not have before.  I also choose to trust other leaders around me and give them full authority and responsibility to carry out with confidence what I have entrusted them with. As a result, I have received many testimonies of young leaders sharing with me that this has impacted their leadership perspectives. 
I belief that I am not an end in my selfI believe that everyone has a contribution to make. I cannot do it alone. That is why I intentionally invite other people into the work so that we can accomplish it together. I have seen this working very well with the team I lead at Wellspring. After all, every time they have accomplished a task, they feel more empowered and say, “They have done it with less intervention from our line manager”. This makes me happy as a leader because my role is to help people do what they thought they could not do by themselves.  
I believe that I am unique-There is no duplicate of ‘Me’I believe that the Creator made me so unique that my contributions are also unique if I am serving where He intends me to serve. I learned to be confident while recognizing my areas of growth. My strengths make me respected by colleagues and I also respect them because of what they are very good at. 

Theo has done a remarkable job as a leader, transforming himself, the organization he serves with, and the multitude of people he has served. His honest, clear, and vulnerable statements in his platform are a model that others should emulate. Theo is a prime example of how an authentic and humble leader can influence and impact by activating his knowledge and non-negotiable beliefs. His leadership platform helps to define his leadership. Even more importantly though, Theo “walks his talk.”

Theo is a leader worth listening to, and an inspirational voice around the Leadership is Heart table.

Kurumbuka Leadership Solutions is Expanding the Voices of African Leaders

Florence, a committed leadership voice from Uganda, and a participant in the online Foundational Leadership Principles and Practices course I facilitated last month shared an observation that demonstrates the impact that shared learning and leading can have on individuals, organizations, and communities.

Thank you so much for this opportunity to grow as a leader and to develop an abundant vision. Your training has enlarged my vision and impact that now close to 5000 people from the community are beneficiaries.

The training Florence is referring to is Kurumbuka Leadership Solution’s year-long leadership training program empowering leaders, connecting influencers, and multiplying leadership solutions.

Florence has completed the program and is part of a growing list of African leaders who have been equipped and called to now impact and influence their organizations and communities. These leaders operate from an abundance mentality and willingly serve to remove barriers to facilitate the transformation of the communities they lead. 

Kurumbuka, which was birthed from the Wellspring Foundation for Education’s Abundant Leadership Institute, has been training leaders Since 2015. Beginning with a small initial cohort of fifteen leaders from Rwanda, the Kurumbuka leadership program now has trained leaders from Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and The Democratic Republic of the Congo. This includes the group of leaders who have just completed the fourth cohort which Florence was part of. 

The feedback and reflections received from the participants of this unique leadership development program have been affirmative and encouraging. Numerous positive outcomes have been communicated. Many of the leaders share that the program not only helped with providing more leadership principles and skills, but also has equipped them with practical and hands-on strategies to assist them in leading and transforming their leadership abilities.

Another consistent message articulated is that the program has empowered the leaders to stretch beyond their comfort zones and avoid isolation. They are reaching out and connecting; recognizing that there is strength in sharing and collaborating.

Phocas Ngendahayo, Kurumbuka’s Rwanda Country Director shares, “ it is exciting to read about how you are already planning to stay connected, to celebrate the learning and competencies you acquired, while finding ways to strengthen the already established connections and productive relationships, multiplying solutions to bless your respective institutions and communities to bless your respective institutions and communities in the region, with our shared vision, faith, our abundant heart and quality of service.”

As I read Phocas’ comments and after reviewing the comments of the feedback received from the participants, Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed came to mind. This parable, which describes the transformation of a minuscule seed into a tree capable of producing and sustaining an abundance of branches, is a vision of Kurumbuka’s leaders. 

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” (Matthew 13:31-32 NRSV).

From an initial kernel of a small group of leaders sown in cohort one, the program has multiplied to seventy two leaders with the completion of cohort four. Kurumbuka is beginning to realize its “mission to develop and empower 10,000 leaders by 2030.” 

Kurumbuka’s mission may be lofty and ambitious, nonetheless, it is evident that leaders in Africa see a need for this type of leadership development program. More individuals from different communities and neighboring countries are looking to join the expanding table. The voice of Kurumbuka is growing and, “ just as great rivers have a very small source, so great movements in history often start in a single moment with an obscure thought, word or action…” (African Study Bible Commentary, pg.1164).

Kurumbuka Leadership Solutions is and will continue to be a key contributor and influencer in bringing African voices around the Leadership is Heart table. View the video to learn more about how Kurumbuka Leadership Solutions is impacting leaders and how to get involved.

 

From a Table of One To a Table of Many: Repurposing Leadership is Heart

Leadership is Heart has been in existence for almost ten years now. It has gone through a number of iterations, topics, and reflections. One constant though has been the focus on my passion for leading, mentoring, impacting and influencing individuals, organizations and communities. The blog has generated some success over the past few years allowing me to share my own thoughts, reflections and learnings. Last year around this time, I felt moved to compile some of my posts eventually resulting in the publication of my first book Learning and Leading in The Land of a Thousand Hills.

The effort and energy expended in writing Learning and Leading resulted in a hiatus from consistently writing on Leadership is Heart. I did not realize how physically and emotionally draining it can be to publish a book. In addition, dealing with and coping with the isolation and social distancing brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic created obstacles to coming up with creative ideas to share through the blog. Inspiration for my writing consistently comes from people I interact with through teaching, mentoring, and sharing in groups around a table. Normally, these situations are not done in isolation, but with people sharing thoughts, ideas, and actions face-to-face.

The pandemic pause has helped. Life has slowed down. Time to reflect has increased. Much needed rest resulted.

For me an unexpected outcome has occurred. The use of alternative ways of interaction have increased out of necessity. Although physical connections and relationships have been curtailed, the online strategies of using Zoom, Google Meet Ups and other platforms have allowed online connection to flourish. Perhaps not as effective as face-to-face however, being forced to use online teaching, mentoring and connection has turned out to be beneficial. 

Recently, I facilitated a three-day course to an inspiring and engaged group of leaders from the countries of Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi and The Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Foundational Leadership Principles and Practices course was delivered online for the first time as travel restrictions prevented me from travelling to Africa to teach the course face-to-face. I was forced to teach online from my home office to twenty individuals sitting in their homes in Africa. I had never taught an online course in such a manner and I was anxious going into day one. My main concern was not only how was I going to connect with these leaders, but whether connecting online would be effective. I also wondered whether the three-day commitment from these leaders would be worthwhile. 

The investment turned out better than I had ever expected, and according to the course feedback from the students the online course was very successful. Learning and leading together around an online table worked!

Personally, teaching the online course led to a new realization; I felt called to re-purpose Leadership is Heart.

I have been serving in Rwanda for over seven years now and I have encountered the work and service of many outstanding African leaders. But it was not until this last online teaching session, and after a discussion with my wife Anne, did I realize what I now needed to do. After serving with so many remarkable leaders in Africa I felt it was time to bring their voices to the attention of more learners and leaders around the world. Their passion, commitment, and relentless drive to transform lives and communities is inspiring.

I feel renewed following the three day module and now feel the need to move Leadership is Heart into a new direction with a renewed purpose and mission. A direction that not only shares my own writing, but also the thoughts, reflections and wisdom from the leaders in Africa that I am so fortunate to engage with through my work with the Wellspring Foundation for Education and Kurumbuka Leadership Solutions. The voices of these African leaders need to be heard.

As I was sharing this insight with Anne, she described an image of leaders sitting around a communal table sharing thoughts, reflections, concerns and solutions. And with this image in mind, together we came up with a new purpose. 

Leadership is Heart will now focus on sharing the collaborative voices of African leaders who are learning and leading to transform hearts, minds and leadership around a shared table. 

One of the leaders who gathered around the ‘online table’ during the teaching encapsulated our thoughts perfectly. 

“We just completed three days of online learning, and a lot was covered, discussed, and learned in such a short time. Students learned leadership principles and practices such as ‘how to build a purpose, mission, and vision’, ‘how to build relationships and organizational trust’, and ‘how to build resilience and strength as a leader.’ Both the facilitator and the students were so engaged throughout the module and many times we didn’t realize how much time had elapsed. Claudio taught from his head and from his heart. He shared that he feels re-energized by joining together with incredible leaders from Central and East Africa. He challenged the students to go forward and multiply leaders, create solutions in their institutions, and empower their communities all while embodying a servant’s heart and an abundant mentality.”

I did challenge the students, but I also felt challenged to go forward and do my part to multiply and empower. To continue to invest in and mobilize the voices of African leaders.

My heartfelt thank you goes out to The Wellspring Foundation for EducationThe Wellspring AcademyKurumbuka Leadership Solutions, Anne and all of the international and African leaders I have engaged with and learned from. Your inspiration is contagious and now it is time to share our thoughts and wisdom with the world together.