Rachel Nyaradzo Adams wants to give people a Master’s degree in themselves @RachelNAdams Click To Tweet

“We all can get an education, but I want to give people a Master’s degree in themselves”

These are the words of Zimbabwean leadership consultant Rachel Nyaradzo Adams. This dynamic entrepreneur has crafted leadership strategies for organisations such as Mckinsey & Company, Barack Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) program, and Yale University. She currently runs the leadership consultancy she founded called Narachi Leadership, which caters to high impact leaders across Africa.

As soon as I heard the opening statement I knew I had to sit down with this remarkable woman. I wanted to find out more about her passion for African leaders, as well as get a few ideas on how you can elevate your consciousness as a leader.


Before you moved back to Zimbabwe, you had an exciting job at Yale University in the office of international affairs. What prompted you to move back home and found Narachi?

The seed was planted in me many years ago when I was selected as a Mandela Rhodes scholar. Our program director gathered all the scholars together and she gave us all a candle. She lit hers, and she asked that we light ours only if we were committed to being the change that Africa needs. For the first time in my life, I felt like I had been given permission to make a difference. I  was also being given the tools to do so.

Many years later while working at Yale University I looked back on that moment and began to question if what I was doing lived up to the commitment I had made. As Africans I believe we are far from creating a continent that gives dignity back to our people. I saw the need back home and knew I could do a better job of addressing it. I had spent my whole career working with leaders and entrepreneurs so starting Narachi was a way to have a more focused impact on the continent ‘one leader at a time’.

I admire your commitment to nurturing leaders on the continent. All too often I have heard the phrase ‘Africa has no good leaders’. What is your message to the younger generation?

I recently gave a TEDx talk where I shared my views on this. I believe Africa doesn’t have a leadership crisis, it just has a lack of a critical mass of courageous youth. It surprises me when I hear young people complaining about their ‘leaders’. People who are over 70 years of age realistically should have little say in our future. I need young people to question why they are comfortable delegating decision making around their future.

Looking at our history, it has never been solely the “leaders” that have transformed this continent, it has been young people. The recently deceased anti-Apartheid activist Ahmed Kathrada was 12 years old when he started his activism, Nelson Mandela started in politics at 26 years old, and Aliko Dangote was 21 when he took a loan to start a business. Thomas Sankara was 33. We have to harness our courage and start building the Africa we deserve.

There are some young people embracing that spirit of courage, Fred Swaniker would be a good example, but we need more. I would encourage young people to engage with the idea of what it means to put our lives on the line and sacrifice to see your continent as it should be. Doing the right thing won’t get you recognition, and you may not make it onto any prestigious lists for a while. It is however, part of the work that needs to get done.

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When it comes to making huge life decisions, for example picking a career, it is easy to get bogged down. What should we remember when making these decisions and make these moments of ‘leading ourselves’ easier?

Getting bogged down by life is quite common. In my work with Narachi I have realised just how much people struggle to figure themselves out.

I believe once people give themselves the permission to live authentically, they begin the journey to becoming better humans AND better leaders. Here are a few steps to getting there with examples from my own life:

1. It begins with ‘resonance’

Ask yourself ‘what resonates with me?’ You have to take time to listen to what has always been there. What are the things that you have always been drawn to or felt passionate about? The key to this is to guard against being seduced by the language of the time. For example, right now there is a lot of attention on entrepreneurship and technology.  I therefore, find people trying to fit themselves under labels like ‘tech-entrepreneur’ when they have no business being in that space. Technology is a tool that you can use in service of who you really are.

You don’t have to pretend to be good at something you will only be mediocre at because it isn’t a strength of yours. Create a list of topics that interest you and things you do well. If you can’t identify those on your own, ask people around you and colleagues who you work with for feedback on how they experience you.

You don’t have to pretend to be good at something you will only be mediocre at Click To Tweet
2. Accept what resonates with you

This is the reality: resonance isn’t always sexy. I often see people who are still afraid of not fitting into the current marketable language.  Trying to do so could overshadow the value you bring to the table. When I worked at McKinsey I was surrounded by people who were number crunchers. In an environment like that, I could see the value of their strengths and so I began to doubt the value of mine.

The irony is that I had been employed precisely because I was not a strict number cruncher. I had to accept that my skill set was never going to get any fancier that what it is. I work with people and it is soft work and that is fine. This taught me to jealously guard what was true for me and to value it.

3. Turn your ‘resonance’ into a service

Once you find what resonates with you, it is now your job to make it palatable and to do the work to sell it. Anthropology resonated with me because I had always been interested in the human case, so I majored in it at university. My challenge going into the marketplace was to make people understand why it is useful for them. As an entrepreneur, you find the gaps in the market and convince people of why you are suited to fill them.

This advice applies to people who find they are not living up to their full potential in their jobs as well. You have to ask: does the way I am being made to work resonate with me? Ensure that the people who are managing you know your real strengths and skills.

I always tell people that you may have a job description, but it is your job to be courageous enough to speak up and tell your managers how best you can do that job in a way that is uniquely you. This may cause a bit of tension, but the key is to prove what you are selling. After you prove that your ‘resonance’ produces results people will acclimate.

Not living up to your full potential at work? Ensure that your managers know your real strengths & skills Click To Tweet
4. Be courageous:

I believe there is a formula to courage:

Change your thoughts:
Your thoughts create your emotions. For example, a common thought would be, “Have I wasted my youth by leaving a great job in a comfortable economy and moving back to Zimbabwe?”. I rather think, “Zimbabwe deserves my youth and my courage”.

Once you learn to navigate your thought patterns, you are able to cultivate the emotions that will serve your current mission.

Calculate your losses:
Be honest with yourself about what you are going to lose by taking the risk you are about to take. In my case it was losing the career ‘eliteness’ I had enjoyed. Because I had always worked for elite institutions, doors would open quite easily.

I remember being part of a delegation to another country for work. By virtue of our affiliation to an elite institution, there was insistence we should meet the president of that country. Our business cards were a currency and by quitting I knew I was losing that currency.

Being courageous required me to be honest with myself. I understood that the path I wanted to go down would cost me prestige. The political consequences of speaking up could even cost me my life.

Choose to continue:
This is so important to have conviction in your choices and to fully own them. I often say to myself: if this country fails, it is my fault. If we all took that kind of ownership Africa would be in a much different place than where we are today.

Follow Rachel on Twitter @RachelNAdams. You can also stream her radio show Leadership 2.0 every Monday at 6.30pm on www.capitalkfm.com

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