MUCHA MLINGO: Be the Leader You Would Follow

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By Catherine Kuria

In the past several years, research has shown that the increase of women in business and corporate leadership is helping economies to thrive in unprecedented ways. The data also indicate that in many areas, employers and their industries have yet to return the favor. According to experts, the longer we take to close employment gender gaps, the longer it will take our economy to generate trillions of shillings and likewise, our country’s future workforce will be left at stake. Organizations spend a lot of time, money and resources on training their staff so they can develop additional skills. Unfortunately, research shows that only about 20% of what is learnt in the classroom is actually applied on the job. Premier Training Services was born to solve this problem.

When Mucha Mlingo moved to Kenya in 2008, she realized that there was a gap in the market for training providers who walk the journey with a client. Premier Training Services holds the view that training is not an event, but a journey. Mlingo is the founder and managing director of the firm. For the time that she has been in business, she has managed to grow by working with clients and stakeholders to ensure that learning is long-term and not just a one- off thing.

Leadership lessons learnt along the way

Mlingo can identify a few things that she has learnt in her leadership journey. The first one is that no one has a monopoly of knowledge. “When you run a business, the reality is that the provision of the service is probably what you’re excellent at,” she says. Her key strength is training. Nevertheless, upon setting up her business, she realized that she required to bring on board other professionals with knowledge and expertise in other fields, besides training. “As an entrepreneur, you should surround yourself with people with the knowledge that you do not have so that they can help you to achieve your goals,” she observes.

Often times, when many entrepreneurs are starting their businesses, they perform multiple roles in a bid to cut costs. But the reality is that it is not possible to be good at everything. “Entrepreneurs should be honest about their strengths (which they should leverage on) as opposed to focusing on their weaknesses,” she advises. “In areas where they have gaps, they should rely on experts,” she adds. In the course of her journey, she has also learnt that it is important to have mentors. “I work closely with individuals who hold me accountable and who push me to achieve my goals,” she emphasizes.

A few years ago for instance, she came across an organization called Six Seconds – an emotional intelligence network. Its goal is to have one billion people certified as emotional intelligence practitioners. She enrolled and successfully completed the course. Currently, she is the only emotional intelligence practitioner certified by Six Seconds to practice in East Africa. “ I am really excited about being certified as an emotional intelligence practitioner by Six Seconds and I am looking forward to leveraging on the knowledge acquired in growing my business,” Mlingo says. Finally, during her journey, she has learnt that success does not come by accident. “Successful people take one step at a time and ultimately, they are able to count some milestones,” she says. “The notion about succeeding overnight is neither here nor there,” she adds.

Her role as the President of OWIT, Nairobi Chapter

The Nairobi chapter of the Organization of Women in International Trade (OWIT) was formed in 2001, under the auspices of the American Embassy. It is the second chapter in Africa and part of a global network of 54 chapters. It is part of a network called OWIT International whose key mission is to promote the advancement of women in the international trade. “We move the agenda of women forward by ensuring that they are able to trade across borders and our membership is primarily entrepreneurs,” she says.

As the president of OWIT Nairobi chapter, her role is to ensure that her board delivers on its mandate of promoting the advancement of women in international trade. One way of doing so is by providing information to the members regarding the opportunities for women in international trade. Secondly, through this network, the members learn how they can access capital from various partners. These partners include financial institutions and investors. Finally, the members learn how they can leverage on technology to grow their businesses. They meet once per month. Honing the leadership skills of women “Sometime back, I read a book entitled: Men are from Mars and women are from Jupiter and from it I learnt that essentially, men are different from women,” Mlingo avers.

According to her, that is why the trend in the world of business and corporate is to have boards comprising both men and women. “Women bring different set of skills to the better which should be harnessed in order to grow various businesses and organizations,” she emphasizes. Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) play a critical role in growing various economies in Africa. There are very many owner managers of SMEs who are women in Africa and by utilizing their skills, their businesses thrive. “In that regard, women contribute significantly to the growth of Africa’s economy,” Mlingo emphasizes. “There is enough evidence to show that women are able to establish and run successful businesses and therefore, the need to support them cannot be overemphasized,” she adds.

Hurdles

One of the greatest hurdles that women face in their quest to succeed in leadership is the pseudo belief in the society that that is a world of men. “That notion makes very many women to shy away from becoming leaders,” she observes. “It has also been often said that women should be like men in order to compete effectively for leadership and in so far as I am concerned, women should understand that they are different from men and that underscores their strength,” she avers. On the business side, women entrepreneurs ( just like their male counterparts) are not able to access capital easily in order to grow their businesses. “During our sessions at OWIT, we advice our members that their organizations should be well prepared to absorb debts in order to avoid becoming insolvent,” she avers.

Advice

Mlingo advises her fellow women to gather the courage of taking up leadership positions both in the business and corporate world. “Every major decision starts in the mind and going by the trend in the world today, time is ripe for more women to become leaders,” she avers. Nevertheless, according to her, the leadership bar is very high and women must prove that they have the potential of jumping it. Most importantly, they should prepare themselves by acquiring the necessary skills and education. “There is no perfect time of embarking on a leadership journey, what is critical is having the correct mindset and outlining one’s goals in a clear manner,” she concludes.

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