Eight Posts in One Month

“Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.”

No one ever wakes up determined to make a mess of the day. At least, I believe most of us rise up to make today better than yesterday.

The intention is however, often far from reality. And the cycle may continue for many days before you get a break. Meanwhile, you get up and work relentlessly at your craft as you wait for that break. Some people are lucky to enjoy and get a kick out of what they do. But every day? 365 days in a year? I don’t think so. After all, life specializes in throwing curveballs.

And curveballs is what I have been getting lately. So much so that even doing what I love has been a struggle. Writing.

I am currently attempting Level 4 of the Toastmasters Pathways program where the electives are more about building skills and less of increasing knowledge. I had the choice of Creating a Podcast, Doing a Q&A session, Manage Online Meetings, Build a Social Media Presence, or Write a Compelling Blog. I am yet to create a podcast but I am pretty sure I have dabbled with all the others. So I settled in making this blog more compelling and hopefully engage you, my reader more. You could also say it was a lazy option since this blog was already up and running. And I paid some dollars for the domain, which is due for renewal!

Anyway, one month after that well-intentioned decision, I am yet to write a single post. Blame it on curveballs. Sometimes they are just small daily inconveniences. Other times, they knock me off-balance and threaten to take me out of the game.

One thing I have learnt about curveballs is that I can either swerve them or hit them out of the park. A sage once said to trust the universe’s plan. To hold space for possibilities I cannot yet imagine. Curveballs are a reality of life and it is impossible to control them. The best I can do is learn how to control myself so the curveball does not knock me out.

Which brings me to the point of this post – here’s me trying to knock the source of this dejection out of the park. Writing does that for me. Putting one word after another. Committing to finish. Telling it as best as I can. And chasing the horizon while at it.

The objective of my Toastmasters project is simple – to post a minimum of eight blog posts in one month. I intend to post everyday from Monday to Friday for the next two weeks. The intention is to share a 1-2 minute read of something I have read that day and my interpretation of it. Not a review, but my gut reaction to it.  It could be a sentence or a paragraph from my current read, a newspaper article, an advert. Anything. And the fun bit is that I invite you to walk the journey with me and share something in return. The universe has so much to offer and every day is a learning experience.

“Find your tribe and encourage your child to find theirs”. That was from my children’s weekly school newsletter.  I could say a lot about what I thought about that one sentence but this project begins on Monday. But I am sure you get the plot. See you on Monday.

All The Time After That

I am thinking retirement…all the time after the eight to five. All the time after building the business empire. All the time after the children have flown off the nest. All that time…

Some things come to us at just the right moment. Maybe it is a sign I have ignored for a while. I still don’t know what to do with it but I’ll be watching it closely.

Meanwhile, read on about my thoughts about “All The Time After That”, as presented at a Toastmasters yesterday evening.

The Virtuous Woman

The speech that kick-started my journey with Toastmasters. The Ice Breaker, they call it, because it literally breaks the ice on what is often a confusing time for many new members. What with all the Toastmasters lingo thrown about by seasoned members? I remember being terrified to log onto Pathways and choose a Path…it felt like the first day of kindergarten all over again! (Ok, I didn’t attend kindergarten but having brought up three children, I know the feeling, right?)

Anyway, the Ice Breaker is the Toastmaster’s foundational project designed for a new member to introduce themselves to their club and learn the basic structure of a public speech. It is the easiest of speeches, if you ask me, as it is your personal story. You choose what and how to tell it – it could be humorous, informational, or any other style that appeals to you. You have 4 – 6 minutes to deliver your speech.

I delivered my Ice Breaker speech on 2 April 2019. I remembered it recently as I prepared for another project that required me to reflect on why I joined Toastmasters in the first place. I look back at the strides I have made and I am glad for that first step. Enjoy my story…

The Conspiring Universe

“To realize one’s destiny is a person’s only real obligation. All things are one. When you want something; all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

I used this quote in a recent Toastmasters speech but I might not have grasped it’s full meaning until after the speech. To be clear, the conspiring universe to me is God himself who is working all for good…for my own good. I have written here before how COVID-19 provided me an opportunity to revive this blog when the lockdown meant working from home, thus saving me 2 – 3 hours of commute time. I’ll someday also write about my past failed attempts to learn a certain musical instrument, but how this has become possible during this period.

I am aware of how fortunate and blessed I am since many people have had their lives turned upside down by COVID-19. I therefore do not take this opportunities for granted.

Back to the conspiring universe. I revived the blog and was raring to go. But as any writer, amateur or not, will tell, getting relevant content is hard work. True, I write on average 3,000 words a day – it helps that my day job involves a lot of report writing – but most of them will never show up here. They are scattered in many places, some of which I pray no one ever finds. I have however, found my muse in Toastmasters. As I carry out research for my Pathways projects, I find myself with content relevant for this blog. Talk of killing two birds with a single stone!

One other thing – I was elected President of the Interesting Toastmasters club for the year 2020/2021. I am President-elect until 1st July but hey, I’ll ignore the omission should you refer to me as Madam President in the comments section. Toastmasters is truly where leaders are made!

Here below is the longer version of the afore-mentioned speech.

The Quintessential Leader

What would Jesus do if he walked the earth today like he did over 2000 years ago?

That question came to me as I listened to Queen Elizabeth II address the UK amid the COVID-19 pandemic. It occurred to me I have never heard her speak (don’t ask under which rock I’ve been living!), but most importantly, her message of hope was just what, not only the British, but the entire world needs!

Some of her statements brought tears to my eyes (don’t mind me, I am tearing up very easily nowadays). “We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return: we will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again.”

“We will succeed — and that success will belong to every one of us.”

Together we are tackling this disease, and I want to reassure you that if we remain united and resolute, then we will overcome it.

This is despite the fact that her son and heir to the throne, 71-year-old Prince Charles has been reported to have the COVID-19 disease; and the government is adrift with the hospitalisation of the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson.

There have been other stories of leaders stepping up and responding appropriately to the crisis. The New York governor, Andrew Cuomo’s briefings have won praise for ‘wisdom and competence’. The state of NY with over 20 million residents is hardest hit by the virus and the governor’s own brother has not been spared. Back here at home, our very own Health CS, Mutahi Kagwe, has been hailed both locally and abroad for his solid crisis leadership. I am sure there are many leaders fighting this pandemic that we will never hear about, just as there are many that have retreated to the comfort and security of their mansions, suffering from paralysis of inaction.

Which takes me back to my initial question. What would Jesus do?

On 12 March 2020, just a day before the first Corona case was confirmed in the Motherland, I gave a speech at a Toastmasters meeting titled “Lessons From The Quintessential Leader”. My project had the simple objective of identifying my primary leadership style(s) and thereafter delivering a 5- to 7-minute speech to share some aspect of my leadership style or leadership styles in general. I replicate that speech below;

What’s your Leadership style? Democratic? Altruistic? Authoritative? Affiliative? Bureaucratic?

That’s the question I was supposed to answer in my Level 2 Visionary Communicator path. I was eager to discover this wholesome truth! I completed the questionnaire and the scores surprised me! My highest score was on the Democratic style and the lowest on the Bureaucratic style. I’ll tell you why this was a surprise. For one, my children would strongly disagree! Mum? Whose first answer to any request is NO?! How democratic is that? Secondly, I am an auditor by profession. I mean come on, which auditor worth their salt sits you down and tells you, “Let’s deliberate on this matter”! Aren’t they all stringent followers of the rulebook? Very bureaucratic, so to speak?

I discovered, however, that I’ve been either of these two styles and anything else in between on various occasions. I thought about the greatest leaders we are all familiar with. The likes of Martin Luther King Jnr, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Julius Nyerere, Wangari Mathai etc. All these individuals have numerous leadership traits we can learn from. But what’s their specific leadership style? I opined that the most important thing is not to try and fit them in a certain box but to emulate the traits that make them great leaders.

I am a follower of Jesus Christ and to me He is the greatest of the great. Religious and spiritual beliefs aside, no one in history has been discussed more, had more songs and books written about or inspired more artwork. In a span of only three-and-a-half years, Jesus trained twelve of the most underwhelming individuals to lead His cause once He was gone. And none can deny the tremendous growth of that movement, 2000-plus years on!

I admire many leadership traits about Jesus, but I’ll tell you of only three.

First, Jesus led from the inside out. What do I mean? In his book, 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, John Maxwell refers to Law #6, The Law of Solid Ground, which simply states that “Trust is the Foundation of Leadership.” To build trust, a leader must exhibit Competence, Connection and Character. In other words, Character makes Trust possible. And Trust makes Leadership possible. While we have no account of Jesus’s physical appearance, there is a whole lot on the content of his character. And that character was remarkable. People trusted him, and therefore they followed and continue to follow him.  Leadership truly is an inside job.

Second, Jesus was a Servant. Today we hear and read a lot about Servant Leadership but unfortunately, we see very little of it in action. In fact, there is a school of thought that servant leadership is itself an oxymoron. Yet, Jesus was the ultimate servant, willing to even wash His own disciples’ feet. He taught them, saying, “Whoever wants to be great must be a servant”.  Leadership is about others, not you.

Third, Jesus was a great story teller. Everyone loves a good story and Jesus knew the power of a good story. Storytelling is quick, powerful, natural, refreshing, collaborative, persuasive and memorable. Jesus told many stories in the form of parables and I’m sure most of you, if not all, seated here today can remember at least one parable. In leadership, storytelling is an effective tool when setting a vision, inspiring an organization, defining culture and values or explaining who you are and what you believe.

In conclusion, I still believe I am right to think leadership isn’t about this or that style, but rather the ability to adjust and be flexible enough to move within the spectrum of leadership styles as the situation calls for it. To quote John Donahoe “Leadership is a journey, not a destination. It is a marathon, not a sprint. It is a process, not an outcome.” This means we learn and adapt as we go along. I am learning every day from the very best – the quintessential leader, Jesus Christ!

Short and sweet, if I may say so myself!

For many leaders across the world, the hour of reckoning on their leadership journey has come with the COVID-19 outbreak. It is unfamiliar territory and while no-one can be expected to have all the answers, we expect them to ask the right questions, which will in turn ensure focus on the right areas. In doing so, they must lead by example, put the interests of the people they lead before their own, as well as inspire and persuade with stories of hope amidst all the angst.

Now, can you picture Jesus here and now in the fight against COVID-19? Would He even be fighting it or would He already have rebuked it like He did the wind, thereby calming the storm? How would He respond to all the suffering brought about by this pandemic? How far would His compassion go? What stories would He tell to make us better understand what’s going on?

These questions led me to a great truth. Jesus may not be physically walking the earth but He is here, represented by His followers. For those that believe in Him, it is mine and your job to do what He would have done was He physically here. We are His hands, feet and mouthpieces. What am I doing? What are you doing? Am I and are you imitating your quintessential leader?