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Sitting in a taxi in Accra, Ghana, in 2012, Leadership development consultant, Grace Owen experienced what she has named 'The Leader’s Call'.
That feeling was a defining moment and on returning to London, it took some time for Grace to understand that this inner urge was compelling her to move onto the next level of her leadership experience. Years later, this urge also inspired Grace to start writing her second book, The Leader’s Call, one which is aimed at leaders who are at a similar place in their working lives.
British born of Ghanaian heritage, Grace is the founder and director of a successful leadership development consultancy. Over the course of her career, she has developed thousands of leaders from more than 30 countries and four continents. Grace is founder/director of a new community legacy project, African Diaspora Kids and associate of Diversity Resource International which develops leaders in Africa. She is a non-executive director of Camfed, a charity that campaigns for female education in Africa.
Launched in late 2016, The Leader’s Call follows on from Grace’s successful first book, The Career Itch. In a similar format The Leader’s Call identifies leadership challenges and offers practical, tried and tested, straightforward advice on moving forward. A valuable resource for leaders who are at a point of transition and feeling unsure on how to progress on their leadership journey, the book uses the acronym, CALL, to identify four key insights that leaders need to consider to successfully move onto the next leadership level and stay there:
The Heart of Leadership
ReConnect Africa spoke to Grace Owen about the circumstances leading to her writing the book and how she hopes it will impact on readers.
ReConnect Africa: We hear the term 'leader' used in so many contexts these days; how would you define who or what a leader is?
Grace Owen: My definition of ‘leader’ has changed over the past twenty years of my experience of being a leader and developing leaders. Today I define a leader as anyone who has learned to take responsibility for their choices and behaviour with the intention of creating a positive impact for themselves and others. They consciously use their inner power to learn, influence and make ordinary and extraordinary things happen in their family, organisation and society. I think that a quote, which best sums up my definition is "If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader." – President John Quincy Adams
“I define a leader as anyone who has learned to take responsibility for their choices and behaviour with the intention of creating a positive impact for themselves and others.”
ReConnect Africa: In your book, you talk about feeling an inner urge to move on, a feeling that many people experience but often ignore. What made you receptive to that urge and what process did you go through to define what that urge really meant?
Grace Owen: What made me receptive is self-awareness and I have grown in this over many years through developing a practice of deep reflection. It gives you the ability to increase self-knowledge and leads to you becoming more aware of your ‘interior space’. Human beings are like a Tardis, we have so much going on within us. When we are busy, preoccupied, distracted, stressed or lack the contemplative ‘know-how’ we disconnect from what we value, feel, think and our behaviour becomes incongruent with our authentic self. This ability to be contemplative and a dramatic change in life circumstances (my family and I were in a car crash) meant that I was more sensitive to what was going on within me. That is how I was able to listen to the urge and then investigate what it meant for me, my life and the contribution I am making in the world.
ReConnect Africa: In researching the book, what were some of the common challenges you found cited by people who aspire to be leaders?
Grace Owen: One of the key challenges for leaders is self-belief. Leaders at all levels from emerging leaders to experienced leaders doubt themselves and their ability to be effective in their role. Some of this is to do with ‘self-talk’ which becomes negative or results in self-sabotage. We leaders often undermine ourselves. The other reason is that the context in which leaders do what they do is complex, tough to navigate, hard to cope with, relentless and overwhelming. Effective leaders operate on the edge of the comfort and stretch zone, so they will feel vulnerable at times. When they gain perspective, which usually comes through the assistance of objective peers, mentors, coaches, facilitators, then become aware of what is going on with and around them they develop coping strategies that give them permission to make mistakes learn from them and play to their strengths.
ReConnect Africa: With so many distractions in the workplace and the pressures of rising workloads, what advice do you have for people who tell you they are too busy 'managing' to focus on 'leading'?
Grace Owen: The advice that I give to those who are manager leaders or leader managers is to diarise time to switch off the devices, pause, step back and enjoy downtime or even a retreat. Making an appointment to do this and then sticking to it takes commitment and willpower. Leaders are conditioned to think that busyness is a sign of efficiency and effectiveness but it is not. 21st century workplaces have organisational cultures that ‘worship’ busyness. Those who operate at this fast pace continually (I used to do this!) will find themselves burning out, damaging their wellbeing and becoming ill. When we become ill it affects our performance and lowers our confidence because we are no longer part of the busyness – none of us likes be ‘left out’. The worst-case scenario is that we become so preoccupied by distraction and become unavailable to those that we love.
In the 21st century, being able to lead 'yourself' is at the heart of being an effective leader. I hope that this book will help guide and encourage people to excel at their next level of leadership. Whether they are in a part-time role in their local community, a small business owner or leading on the global stage this book will be an essential tool for moving them forward in their leadership experience. The Leader’s Call is a fresh approach to leadership development.
ReConnect Africa: What would you say has been the chief benefit to you of answering your call to leadership and how does this manifest in your work and life?
Grace Owen: The most important benefit I have gained is living a life that I love and contributing to a world that is ‘shaped’ like me. More often than not, I feel that all parts of my life are integrated and that my values, feelings, thoughts and actions are congruent. It has taken over twenty years to arrive at this place of contentment and fulfilment; the experience has not been easy but it has been worth it!Grace Owen: The most important benefit I have gained is living a life that I love and contributing to a world that is ‘shaped’ like me. More often than not, I feel that all parts of my life are integrated and that my values, feelings, thoughts and actions are congruent. It has taken over twenty years to arrive at this place of contentment and fulfilment; the experience has not been easy but it has been worth it!