You know the famous Shakespeare quote: “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, some have greatness thrust upon them”? I am obsessed with hearing stories of how those who achieved greatness did it.
Rebecca Kanoerera Munyuki is a great example of a woman who simply refused to accept average. She resolved that if it was possible to achieve greatness, she was going to be one of the ones who achieved it.
I sat down with her to chat about her inspiring journey.
You truly have humble beginnings. You started as a childcare giver, to working as a call centre agent, and then working for an international company.
During your time at IBM South Africa, you held various management and key leadership roles. You ran their ‘Deal Hub’, then moved to marketing, covering multiple software technologies for Middle East, Africa and Turkey.
Not to mention you served as chairperson for IBM Women in South Africa network group. What went into realising your personal greatness?
Firstly, it is important to say that I actually don’t have to have it all figured out. Sometimes I stumbled into success. That’s not to say that I didn’t prepare and bravely accepted the opportunities that came and continue to come my way. This is what worked for me.
If I had to give three keys of what got me here I would say:
- While you are figuring things out, make sure you stick with things and finish with excellence. You never know where opportunities come from.
- Mentors anchored me. You need people to encourage you and keep you accountable.
- Look for tangible models of how to get where you want to go. Even if you think you are doing something that no-one has done before. There is always someone out there who can model, if not your exact career path, at least a set of skills you will need to get there. This is why I am so insistent on women and Africans telling their stories. There is always something that someone can learn from you.
When I left Zimbabwe and spent some years in America, I certainly didn’t know I’d be where I am now. Studying ICT was never in my plan. I always tell people not to ‘despise the day of small beginnings’ (which is from verse from the Bible and a useful thing to remember).
One thing I admire about your journey is: it wasn’t linear. We see you now as a woman who has been successful in the tech space, but tech wasn’t your background.
How did you chart a course in a space that I feel can be very exclusive?
Keeping an open mind has been critical for my development. Thinking of your career opportunities in silo’s can limit you. After working for a bit, I realised that I wanted to enter the tech space.
When I decided this, I didn’t only look for jobs in tech. I also seized opportunities that were tech-adjacent. For example if you want to work in tech, don’t just apply to traditional IT firms. Consider companies that may have a tech department and try get in there.Thinking of your career opportunities in silo’s can limit you. Click To Tweet
You told me the story of a time when you were up for promotion. What should have been a great moment became a nightmare.
Approval was held back because someone preferred a different candidate. After going through reviews and interviews, you were appointed.
Your career journey was obviously not smooth sailing. How did you handle workplace opposition, and not take it personally. Also how do you continue to work with people who may have been difficult or who doubted your capabilities for a role?
I have a philosophy for the companies I work for: They are my client and I am theirs. Ultimately I need to contribute to the success of the business results. In leadership and collaborating with colleagues and stakeholders, find a way to work towards a common goal no matter how diverse we may all be.
While I can’t convince everyone to like me or believe in me, I make it a point to deliver. Also, in my case it was important to keep perspective. While there were people against me, I had mentors, team members and senior leaders who were incredibly supportive.I have a philosophy for the companies I work for: They are my client and I am theirs Click To Tweet
Recognize the difference between potential and being capable. Potential is an intangible measure of the capacity you have inside to do a certain thing. Capability is usually measured by the tangible things you have already done. In trying to win people over, don’t just tell them you have potential. Show them why you are capable. Use past accomplishments to show you are capable, even if it’s a big step up. Also have willingness to learn and a teachable attitude.
When taking up oversight of a team of people who are potentially hostile, be extremely deliberate in creating a new culture.
- Have one on one meetings; even if you are the leader, realize you are the new person. Do proper introductions, and get acquainted with the team.
- Learn the culture first before you change it; only impose ideas once you understand the context.
- Create systems and protocols to live by; make sure these processes are company standard to cut down on arguments.
- Never hide issues; Be deliberate in addressing things as and when they come up.
Dealing with others’ criticism is tricky, but often we can be our own worst critics, right?
You took an unconventional route to get into the tech space. Were there times where you didn’t feel qualified for promotions you received?
Oh yes! An example is when I was looking to get into a more senior position, so I set out on my personal development plan to grow into it. I planned the skills and reviews required. I was being extremely conservative so I figured it’d take 3 -4 years.
In the 2nd year an opportunity arose; fortunately I had completed the requisite courses. I applied and was interviewed. Funny thing is after being told that I got the job, I backed down! I asked my boss to give me another year to ‘get myself ready’.
I was ready, I just didn’t trust myself. As women we need to develop the utmost confidence in ourselves and our abilities.
Thank goodness that boss refused to accept my excuses and coached me on the topic of confidence. There are ways to get confident; constantly develop and learn, get a mentor, and when you do fail just learn from your bruises.
Many people reading this would want to see their careers have global reach. What tips can you give on growing your capacity now, in order to be well positioned to be effective internationally?
Make it a priority to understand the culture of the companies you are targeting. Always be visible and network in circles that have a global vision.
Also, plough into relationships that will help further your career. Have a vision without boarders and dare to take a risk.Have a vision without boarders and dare to take a risk @RebeccaKano Click To Tweet
You are now an IBM alumni after 10 years. What has moving from different companies and roles made you realise about yourself as a leader?
The biggest thing you want to avoid is feeling that anyone or any brand owes you and avoid an entitlement mentality. We all should go in with a mentality of having an assignment to fulfill for the business and people.
It’s about influence and impact. I have learned to see my purpose beyond titles; the goal is to always expand my skill set, and influence. Leaders lead from within, regardless of their position.