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5 Key Strategies for Practising Personal Stewardship as an African Professional

In one of my previous posts, I briefly shared about the mentorship program I started and ran between 2019 and 2022. In conceptualising the program, we structured it around the three levels or areas of development: Personal, Professional and Leadership. Our belief was that who we are as professionals and as leaders emanates from who we are as people at an individual level, and that if we wanted to capacitate people with the skills to build successful careers and to have an positive impact in their environments as leaders, we first needed to provide them with the tools to develop at a personal level. In walking this journey with our cohort of both mentees and mentors, I observed that the people who really benefited from the program were those who in going through the program, developed a great sense of personal stewardship.

Stewardship is defined as "the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to our care". Therefore, by Personal Stewardship I mean having a high sense of ownership and responsibility for our lives, understanding that we have been entrusted with the careful management of our lives and that before we even aspire to manage and run organisations or lead people, we ought to challenge ourselves with the effective management of our own lives. Furthermore, that the reward of managing our personal lives well is in the visible results displayed in our careers and in how we show up as leaders.

Stewardship: The careful and responsible management of something entrusted to our care.

Don't get me wrong, being faithful stewards of our personal lives does not mean that we have to have perfect personal lives in order to qualify for great careers and to be given leadership opportunities. What it means is that, regardless of what life throws at us, we accept ownership of our lives, and we invest the appropriate amount of energy, time and resources in managing our lives. It means being proactive in planning for our lives, being intentional in dealing with our problems and continuously evaluating our lives and our effectiveness in all the areas of our lives that are under our control.

I'd like to recommend the following strategies we can apply to practise personal stewardship in a way that will manifest results in our careers and leadership journeys:

  1. Investing in self-discovery If we understand that what we manifest outwardly as human beings largely depends on how we think about the three questions of a) Who am I (my identity), b) why am I alive (my purpose) and what shapes my values (core beliefs), then personal stewardship means investing in and being committed to a journey of answering all these questions for ourselves, in order to build sustainable careers and to lead with conviction and purpose. Trying to build a strong career without thinking deeply about these questions and how the careers we are trying to build aligns with our responses is a lack of faithful stewardship - and may result in us vainly climbing the career ladder, lacking passion in our work and impact as leaders. Personal Stewardship is doing the deep work of self-discovery, and building a strong personal foundation on which career and leadership goals can be derived.

  2. Managing our time and prioritising wisely

One of the ways in which we can analyse whether or not we are faithfully stewarding our personal lives is by analysing how we spend our time and reviewing the activities that take priority in our lives. One of the skills I gained working in an auditing firm at an early stage of my career was learning how to account for every hour of my day and to ask myself whether it was spent productively (and therefore billable to a client) or whether I spent it unproductively. We were given a limit to how much unproductive time we could book every week and that meant we learned how to actively seek work that would be a good use of our time. Personal Stewardship over our time means going a step further and not just looking at how productive we are in our 9am to 5pm, but how well we are making use of our 5pm - 9am by asking the following questions: - What are the activities that I spent my time on? - Are these activities representative of the personal goals I have? - If I spend more time on specific activities, how much more of my personal goals could I achieve? In the age of social media, it can be so easy to find ourselves mindlessly scrolling through our phones, losing precious minutes and hours because of a lack of intentionality in how we are spending our time and not prioritising the right things. For most us, the difference between where we are in our careers and leadership journeys and where we want to be can be found in how we spend our time.

3. Continuous learning and growth

We often hear people say, "I want to reach my maximum potential". Well, I believe that we can only achieve success to the limit of our capacity and that our potential can be maximised through learning and growth. I like to think about how, for example, someone with a great idea who does not know anything about technology can be limited in terms of their ability to scale their idea globally. On the other hand, someone with an average idea can achieve exponential growth just by knowing about and having access to scaling their idea through technology. This means as we increase our knowledge beyond the confines of our comfort zone, our potential exponentially increases and our capacity to grow expands. This means to have a hunger and the discipline to gain new knowledge, to acquire new skills and to tap into the unknown is a sign of great personal stewardship as it increases our chances of achieving greater career and leadership success.

Develop a passion for learning. If you do, you will never cease to grow - Anthony J D'Angelo

4. Taking care of our personal finances

I highlight the importance of taking care of our personal finances due to our context as African professionals living in countries that are riddled with corruption and mismanagement of funds and resources, and because I truly believe that if we as professionals and entrepreneurs can master integrity in our personal finances, not only will we apply the same discipline and integrity in our respective roles in business, we will also not be susceptible to the temptations that come with positions of power and influence - giving ourselves longevity in our career and leadership exploits.

Being good stewards in our personal finances means taking our financial decisions very seriously, and it goes beyond just knowing the basics of budgeting to really understanding the "science" of money, investments, financial markets and the economies in which we live. It also means interrogating our lifestyles and ensuring that we show integrity in our financial choices. If the ultimate goal is to have an impact on others as leaders, then we need to consider what our financial choices at a personal level communicate to those we seek to influence. We cannot just live with financial carelessness and think we will have sustainable careers and leadership journeys.

(Don't) buy things you don't need, with money you don't have, to impress people you don't like - Dave Ramsey

5. Investing in building relationships

Finally, I would like to re-emphasise the importance of not being casual in our relationships and being intentional in how we invest in our networks - whether they be social, professional or otherwise. I've written extensively about the importance of building strong networks to achieve professional and career growth. I'd just like to add that being very intentional about how we relate with others and the impact that we have on other people is a sign of great personal stewardship. Any person that understands how important people are, and who is not callous in how they relate to others - approaching relationships with sincerity, authenticity and respect - will have a positive impact on those around them and be a more effective leader than someone who doesn't consider the impact they have on those around them.

With an increase in research on leadership and management in recent years, it has been found that thus far, society has favoured narcissistic leaders (for various reasons), and that the impact of this has been largely negative. It is for this reason that I believe, leaders who are more conscious of how they relate to others and who make an effort to have a positive impact on the people and the organisations they lead will increasingly have the upper hand in future.

In conclusion, I'd like to quote Nizenande Machi - "the highest form of leadership is self-governance. The way you lead yourself is how you will lead others". As African professionals and entrepreneurs who are working everyday to drive our careers forward and to have a positive impact on the society in which we live, I hope we will remember that we cannot give what we don't have. Our commitment to leading our lives well and investing in self-discovery, time management, life-long learning, financial stewardship and in building relationships will benefit our career and leadership journeys - and have a positive ripple effect on those around us.

The highest form of leadership is self-governance. The way you lead yourself is how you will lead others - Nizenande Machi



Hi, thanks for stopping by!

I am a passionate leader, accomplished professional and a mentor. I believe that nation-building depends on how well we build people. Therefore, my mission is to contribute to the personal, professional and leadership development of people to empower them to reach their highest potential.

I do this through a mentorship program that I founded and through this blog where I share principles I've applied and insights I've gained in the past twelve years of my career and leadership journey.

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