Leadership: It Is Personal

I can hardly wait for the annual AWIB Forum. The theme for 2015 is ‘Leadership, From the Personal to the Positional’ and on May 7th, we can expect to be uplifted, inspired and thrilled by an impressive array of speakers. The full-day session will end with an informal question-and-answer session, in Amharic, with some of the stellar women leaders shaping our society.

This year’s theme particularly appeals to me as I have come to strongly believe that leadership, and particularly women’s leadership, is deeply personal. As Sheryl Sandberg argues in her hugely influential feminist book Lean In, women often hold themselves back from reaching for the top because we almost always underestimate our capabilities. In addition, as some of the panelists at the AWIB May Forum can surely attest, women leaders are often afraid of being disliked for exhibiting the same personal traits that are expected of men and which may be considered the essential components of sound leadership including decisiveness and making unpopular choices. It follows that if women are to ‘lean in’ to  leadership positions as Sandberg advocates, we need to work on ourselves. On addressing our insecurities, our fear of failure and our common need for universal approval.

If you are a member of AWIB, you are in luck because we work on leadership from the inside out, every month, with the yearly AWIB forum as the icing on the cake of personal and professional leadership. A sampling of what is on offer: the co-founder of AWIB, Nahusenay Girma offers all-day workshops on building our self-confidence by ‘removing our invisible masks’. In addition to our monthly forums which draw a great mix of professional women (and men), the small and intimate Roundtable Discussions held in our bright new offices are making a real impact on the lives, and leadership potentials, of our members. Recent topics have included ‘Make Your Partner a Real Partner’, inspired by the chapter title of the same name in ‘Lean In’ and ‘Raising Assertive Girls.’ Most recently, AWIB members have benefitted from Emotional Code work; individual sessions on energy facilitated by internationally certified life coach, and former AWIB Board Member, Maski Haile.

For me personally, my benefits from the AWIB bounty on leadership could not have come at a better time. The last five years had me stretch out my horizons and challenge my own notions of what I am capable of which I believe is a hallmark of leadership. In 2010, I started a PhD program when I was two months pregnant, moving to a new country where I knew exactly three people. After the loneliest few months of my life, my daughter Rekka arrived three weeks early and joined me in class in a sling. I passed my exams with leaking breasts. Because taking care of one child while conducting a year-long fieldwork back in Ethiopia was not challenging enough, I went on to have a boy who attended AWIB meetings from the age of two months. When I finally submitted my thesis last month, I reflected that throughout the last four and five years where I have pursued higher education, I was always pregnant or breast-feeding. In many ways, AWIB was my mainstay in that period; the support and encouragement provided by other members was a great motivator. As importantly, I was often moved by the monthly forums, and honored to take part in the Women of Excellence selection process where I got to reflect on the professional and personal traits of women’s leadership. Lastly, I was particularly inspired by the annual May Forum which has since become a hallmark of AWIB. I learnt so much from the reflections of the women and men who graced the stage at this great event, from their challenges as well as their triumphs. They have made it to the top of their respective fields by leaning in as Sheryl Sandberg would say, and I know I can too.

If you still have not bought your ticket for this year’s May Forum, I urge you to do so sooner than later. You will be investing in yourself, on your professional and personal leadership. You will get the grounding you need so that you may lean in.