The Death of Excuses

“I feel tired, a bit negative, and generally not mentally ready for the retreat” I exclaimed, in excuse and attempt to miss out on one of the most defining moments of my life.

Every year I set a target and purpose to achieve it. This year was about growing my leadership skills and I enrolled for a six months executive leadership training with the Institute of National Transformation. The Course ends with a four-day residential retreat, in what I found to be an action packed, self-inflicted productive torture. This article is about my experience at this retreat commonly known as the History Makers Camp (HMT).

Two weeks to the Camp, I was honestly drained by my personal failures. I had struggled with the assignments all through the six months and the thought of voluntarily signing up for a camp famous for denying participants of sleep, was heart wrecking. I felt tired, a bit negative, and generally not mentally ready for the retreat.

My predecessors had told of how HMT changed their lives and I desperately wanted mine to be changed, but just did not want the change to find me unprepared. I guess we never really prepare for change. So, I wrote a letter to the Executive Director of the Programme, explained how I felt, and asked to be excused from attending HMT. I suggested that I postpone my attendance to the next one at the end of the year, when I hoped I would be ready. I shared that letter with four accountability partners and a classmate in the cohort.

Perfectionism can really be a dangerous thing.

“Done is better than Perfect” said Patience my friend, as she also cautioned me thus; “what happens if the biggest flaw in your leadership journey is that you start things that you don’t finish!” Patrick my best friend also charged me to take lesson from the doubts that hover and linger, but seek answers from God and stay the course.

I was President of this Class 24 and when I shared the letter with my Vice President, she cried foul and stabbed me with the words “please do not be a father that walks out of his children at the most crucial time”. It hit home, that this journey of leadership is not really about me, but rather the people I am entrusted by God to lead. I reconsidered and recalled my letter. I confirming my attendance and wore a positive attitude to what I thought would be my guillotine.

The HMT is run on strict rules with the highest enforcement of discipline. Time is time, and if assignments were handed in a minute late, they were not marked and the person would attract a warning card. If one arrived a minute late for a session, they would get another warning card and be forced to attend the session while standing at the back. More than two warning cards entitled one to a dismissal and disqualification from the program.

The environment was tense and almost strenuous. Assignments were given at midnight and we were expected to submit electronically by 8am in the morning. These required reading four chapters of a book and answering ten questions per chapter, in addition to questions on the day’s lessons. I personally slept for an average of two hours per night and yet still made it through the day, but operating in what I call zombie mode.

Momentary incidences of rage flickered as the first results were announced, and some discovered that they got zero marks because they submitted their assignments a minute too late. My classmates were grown men and women, some with children older than I, and others with doctorates. For adults to be treated like children in a primary boarding school was not only humiliating, it was humbling that they accepted the penalties and maintained an attitude to do better on the next assignments.

Just as chicken is dressed by the removing of its feathers, HMT is character dressing. It revealed of my weaknesses and brought to light my strengths. I had never believed that my body and mind would operate on a battery of just two hours sleep and continue to run effectively. I love people and easily break into conversation with anyone and everyone, but during these four days, I escaped to my room and cut out every noise, but that of ideas, flowing alongside the rhythmic taping of the key board, as I typed out my assignments. I learnt to master a time for everything. If it was time for work, then I am best productive in grave silence, especially if it is time sensitive and requiring delicate thought.

I must add here that HMT is focused on personal development with the target of national transformation. As I listened to my colleagues present their individual projects in a pitch to earn our interest and support, I was moved to trust that Uganda has hope. It was breath taking to realise how a single act of courage can be the catalyst to something extra ordinary. My peers dreamed of changing the world by following their passions and I had no excuse but dig a little deeper in my heart and find my own. They spoke of solutions to help mothers in hospitals; to revise and demystify the myth and fear of research at masters level; to change the face of the banking industry, among many others.

Every dream is valid, if only it were written down, for a herald to run with it. I was inspired to respect and find joy in supporting my peers implement their projects and while there I walked into my own. I am passionate about the mentorship of men and these pages will tell more of this metamorphosis. My project is focussed on designing a mentorship tool for men, starting with those in church as a case study. Look out for this in my chronicles to come.

Amidst the hard work and no play, one of us mentioned their love for dance. This came like the sound of the bell at break time while in primary school. We soon forgot our stress and took to the dance floor, playing music off our phones and laughing away, for but only ten minutes. Those ten minutes were an oasis in the hottest of deserts. The camaraderie that ensued is one that will bond us for a life time. There was nothing more beautiful than a group of strangers developing mutual trust and friendship along the discovery of purposeful leadership. The hours that followed were buckets of laughter allowing for the sleep deprived faces to light up a little.

Class 24 and 23
The Leaders to look out for

There was one particular moment when the assignment came in at 5am in the morning and was expected to be handed in by 8am. I only saw the email a few minutes to 7am but quickly committed to doing my best to deliver on the assignment. It was only three of us that submitted that particular assignment on time. I was amazed at how my mind had taken to the slogan “No Excuses” and the fact that it was never too late to get anything done. I committed to quit procrastinating what I can do immediately.

HMT marks the death to my excuses. I came in with an incomplete mindset only to be awakened by the seriousness of the programme. It was time for real business and I wore my A-game. I completed all the assignments and ranked top of Class 24 for the period of HMT with an average fairly above 70%.

I must add that midway the program, some attempted to quit and return home. I spoke with one and encouraged them to stay the course. To not give up on their body, since it had not given up on them yet. Life is better shared and I draw greater joy knowing that we all managed to finish together as a Class. It was not easy but it was more than worth.

I there encourage all that need a true test of values and principles. Those that seek to find their true identity and plug into their God given purpose through well guided self-reflection. To all that have a hunger to make a difference out there but still feel inadequate with self. The HMT is a training that will reveal who you truly are, and cause you to question your motives for leadership. It was a life changing opportunity for me and I can never go back to who I was. I now value time more than ever. Every second counts, and every word has impact. These chronicles will forever burn with life.

This has been a story of my dying and now I shall begin to live. For to live is Christ and to die is gain. No more excuses.

Sprouting to Life

Just like a tree planted by the water side. The Oak Seed (tree) towers high, and its roots surely run deep. These pages are an opportunity to turn the rusty turbines on the minds, with a visitation onto ancient ways through tales of pioneers on the great Black. Africa is where it all begins. A continent most despised for its ugly history, and yet in these very ruins is where I forged my identity. Journey on and let me tell you how.

No matter the environment, please survive

I write particularly of my journey at the Oak Seed Executive Leaders’ Six Months Course. The year started with a resolve to be different and the first weekend of January found me camped in the jungles of Congo, reading the State of Africa by Martin Meredith. This is the first book of the course and the 700 pages got me scared but each chapter breathed life.

In just one weekend we had looked back in history to appreciate the visions of our fore fathers – the pioneers of the Nations we know as AFRICA. We chewed on the harsh reality that it is a 60-year-old leadership, and hence a deeper understanding of the crisis pertinent. The global trends won’t help the retardation that hovers over the most resourceful continent. We are the focus of the future and yet seem deep in slumber land. The wave of technology remains a myth to the 15year old girl in a rural setting – the yardstick for the Ugandan and probably African population on average. Module One, not only shocked my nerve endings to beat with a rhythm; it tickled my brain to think different and find my true place in shaping the generations next.

Like a happy child receiving their first Christmas gift, my eyes were opened and I now perceive everything with an informed lens. The Course challenged my ideologies and stereotypes on leadership. I was moved to respect all that had gone before and taken sacrifice, in leading young nations in Africa. For the first time I was brought to appreciate, that I am part of the process in making and defining what kind of leader we are privileged to have.

I must add, that this journey was not all rosy. The assignments weighed in on me and my private life too, almost affected my concentration. I almost quit, but chose to consult with friends, to whom I am accountable. These reminded me that I ought to run my race to the finish line. I was challenged to stay the course and fight. One of them cautioned me thus; “what happens if the only flaw in your leadership journey, is that you start things but never finish!”. This came as a necessary rebuke and I welcomed it with open arms.

I was appointed President of the INT Class 24 and this responsibility challenged me to consider all those under my influence. My life and this leadership journey, was never my own. I slapped myself back into order and committed to completing this tough leadership training, that would end with a final huddle at a three day Camp Retreat in the hills of Mukono – Uganda.

My experience at INT has been like that of an Oak Seed, and more particularly one planted by the water side. As a leader, I choose to stay put, like the roots holding fort the mighty Oak Tree on which may birds shall perch and its beauty admired from afar. Mine was a wake-up call and my life can never be the same. I must now forever embark and live by the slogan “No Excuses”.

Finally, just as the name “Chronicles”, this is the first of many, and the next article awaits. There will always be light in these pages.

Follow the light.