My time here in South Africa is rapidly coming to an end, though my Ethiopian colleagues continue working with some spectacular individuals until September 6. I am struck by the courage and commitment with which these Ethiopian individuals have engaged in training for addressing gender equity. They have been given so much information yet want more. Their questions have been insightful showing a genuine desire to understand the issues and how to respond to the challenges that face them. Their pride in their home country as well as their desire to improve the conditions for women in Ethiopia is admirable.
Today, in one of our final sessions together, I focused on leadership, more importantly leadership capacity. Based on my own research, I approach leadership as a mindset or ontological stance. In short, my belief is that leadership is not about position or title but about how you situate yourself in the world, the actions you take and the communities you build. Conceptually I understand leadership well but in the context of life in Ethiopia, I have no experience from which to draw. One of my challenges in working with this group has been in understanding the world from which they come and must return to. How can I tell them what they should be doing in a country I have little knowledge of? When preparing materials for our time together, I intentionally avoided telling them what to do or prescribing an unrealistic list of steps intended to result in sustainable change but more likely to end up figuratively collecting dust. Common sense, a reliable friend of mine, wanted to privilege the participants’ knowledge and understanding of their communities, the people in those communities and the needs of those individuals to create bridges between what I know and understand with what they know and understand. Having briefly discussed some of the theory of leadership I asked the question, what makes you a leader? This question intending to be a bridge. I expected them to recite some characteristics they had modelled but their reaction was far more hesitant. In fact, they physically withdrew from considering themselves leaders. These four amazing individuals who are representing their colleges, families and country needed to be coaxed to see themselves in ways that to me, so obviously shine. With some coaxing, they identified the characteristics they emulate as leaders and in doing so, I think began to see themselves as I do… as strong, insightful change-makers… as the leaders they unquestionably are.