Judith’s Story: Superheroes

I watched Captain America: Civil War recently. If you have not already watched it, don’t worry no spoilers follow. However, it is common knowledge that it features one of Marvel’s few African Superheroes, the aptly named Black Panther from the fictional land of Wakanda. Before watching my brother had warned me that I may need a dose of patience as Hollywood’s generic “African” accent is used liberally. You know the accent I mean, the one that seems to occur in all Hollywood movies to represent Black Africans south of the Sahara, with the possible exception of South Africa. Despite this, I enjoyed the movie enormously (no points here for guessing that Marvel comics featured in my childhood and I remember them with great fondness), and a large part of this enjoyment was linked to the presence of T’Challa – regal, Wakandan, purposeful, and above all relatable. Chatting with my brother later, I told him he was fortunate I had not watched the movie with him in Houston as it was quite possible I would have yelled out “Igbo Kwenu!!”* at every move the Black Panther made.

I am British, but before that I am Nigerian; Igbo if you know the country beyond the name; from Imo State if the geography is familiar. This has always been true for me, but I have become progressively more African. I will explain what I mean, I grew up as a diplomat’s child. Like my siblings, I was born in the UK, and left as a toddler to then go on to live in Austria, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Indonesia and by the time I graduated from high school in Japan I had my global citizen game down. Subsequent visits to Asian, European and Nigerian cities would evoke a sense of “home”.

I consider myself a unique blend of experiences that have culminated in an appetite for and desire to gain and promote knowledge about leadership in a manner that facilitates a diversity conscious approach to leadership and management development in global organisations. I was keen to pursue research in partial realisation of my dream of contributing to the growth and development of a ‘glocal’ approach to individual wellbeing in the workplace. It’s a bit of a stretch but bear with me here – I have been fortunate to interact with various international organisations (NGOs, corporates etc) that do work in African countries, too often I would encounter the same story ‘it is so difficult to work in Africa’, ‘we are not able to develop leadership talent there’, ‘the culture/ways of working/ societal norms do not promote the work ethics we require’…and the list goes on. I believe that there must be a way of working – in this case distilled down to leadership principles or a framework – that will resonate with people in Africa, be accessible via their own preferences or inclinations, and lead to impactful effective leadership and management. A style of leadership that does not necessarily follow Western paradigms, but will nevertheless deliver the results showcased through impact on the continent. A type of leadership that we must tell stories of.

It has meant that I have spent the last 3 years doing research on leadership in West Africa for a doctorate. It has meant that 6 years ago I developed a leadership coaching model based on the Oriki of the Yoruba people. It has meant that my company would be named Ìmísí, to breathe life into, to inspire…and that my work in some way now always connects me to this belief.

“Be confident in your heritage. Be confident in your Blackness.” – these were Barack Obama’s words at Howard University’s 2016 Commencement to which I add “Be confident in your identity. Be confident in your story….and please share it with us.”

There is just one day left, please share your story today!

*“Igbo kwenu” most literally means, “We the Ibo people stand together in agreement and collective will.” It is both a greeting and a call to attention for the Ibo people.