Business leadership can be both a daunting task and a fun activity. On our leadership profile, we had a chat with a business leader who is an interpreter, marketer, communicator and trainer. Meet Emmanuella Aboa the founder of Transolution Services Africa (TSA), a business that provides solutions to an inter-Africa investor. TSA prides itself in having professionally equipped and able staff who have varied experiences from different markets.
Emmanuella’s leadership profile is that of a person who understands and enjoys what she does. Here is what she told us about her leadership role and journey:
What does your company do/ job involve?
We work to transform lives. We build the current and next generation of leaders and create opportunities for young people through two main services:
Translation and interpretation: we provide linguistic services in over 20 international languages. We give the opportunity to Africans to travel and do business abroad without worrying about barriers like culture and language.
Training and coaching: Aware that building a successful path into independent adulthood today requires a careful mix of skillsets- hard skills (academic in nature) and soft skills (non-academic, social and interpersonal). We have designed 3 types of training with the solemn goal to make young people more competitive in the work place. We have worked tirelessly with the best experts globally and in Kenya to design a comprehensive coaching and training program for young people.
What’s the best thing about your job
The testimonials I get from young people and their parents. The satisfaction of knowing that we are indeed impacting and transforming lives.
Also no day is ever the same: every single day is new, people are different, they perceive life differently and they constantly challenge me.
What’s the worst thing about your job?
I wouldn’t refer to it as the worst thing but rather the most challenging part of my job, the fact that I never disconnect. I can leave my office certain that I’m done with the day then I receive worrying texts, calls from both young people and parents, and that puts me back on my feet.
How do you drive strategic business changes?
Research. Research is an important aspect of our operations and company. Every change we introduce must be well thought out. We listen to our customers. We invite them for a discussion twice a year to ensure we address their needs and create solutions to problems they never thought they had.
We also take into perspective the innovation approaches around the world to ensure we are not driven out of business. Based on the feedback received, we ensure we position our team to any new strategic direction we’d want the company to take. Implementing changes can be difficult and that’s why we involve our team members are the drivers of our strategies. It is important that they understand the reason for the change and get on board if we must progress. We allocate resources where necessary and introduce parameters for feedback, review and alternatives options.
What do you do to mentor individuals in your team?
I have an open-door policy. Every day is an opportunity to mentor individuals in my team through advice, mentorship and follow up. We also hold monthly meetings where we review our strategies, applaud our successes, learn from the misses and identify the challenges members may have. Through our appraisal system, we not only review the objectives of each member vis a vis the company’s overall goal but also the individual’s personal objectives. Do they believe that Transolution builds them or not? Are they most likely to leave the organization in the next 6 months? If so, why? Addressing such questions help me mentor them adequately.
What do you consider your strongest strengths in dealing with business challenges?
Perseverance: I do not easily give up. I am driven by challenges and the zeal to come up with solutions.
Passion: I am very passionate about what I do. I can do it for free. That passion energizes me.
What are your tips in unlocking business success?
Since 2016, 400,000 SMEs have closed down in Kenya. To succeed, we must:
Focus: we live in the information age, people are more literate and make decisions based on data. Although, access to information has many advantages, it can become overwhelming if the reader does not know how to use all the information he/she receives. This makes people jump from one business to another looking for the big break. It is important to understand what entrepreneurship is all about, what your business is and what your target market wants.
Establish systems: create systems to guide the operation of your company. Make sure you establish marketing systems, management systems, accounting systems, HR systems, any system in line with your business. When that is in place, you can decide to go on vacation and not worry that the business could go up in flames.
How do you reboot your leadership?
Books: I read a lot, mostly leadership, financial and self-development books.
Seminars: I ensure that I attend at least one seminar every two months.
My network: I have created a network of incredible leaders, policy makers, both within the private and non-profit world. These are people I look up to and who have held my hands throughout my entrepreneurship journey. They love me enough to tell me off when I mess up or when they think I am “sleeping” on the job.
What priorities shape your leadership experiences?
God: I try as much as I can to live according to the word of God. I was raised in a very religious environment and that shaped my perception of the world. The verse that drives me is Colossians 3: 23 “whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.”
Family: I have written a book titled “Living and raising a godly family in the 21st century” in which I emphasize the importance of portraying good mannerisms/ values to our children. As much as I enjoy impacting and transforming others, I value more doing the same with my family. I cannot impact others while my own family does not see me and is left confused about my authenticity. Charity begins at home.
Values: I have a list of values that drive my leadership experience and help me to grow and develop. For example, I value honesty and I ensure that while I demand it from others, I also give it. I believe in being treated fairly and so ensure I do the same to others.
What’s the best bit of business advice you’ve been given?
Few years after I launched my business and began to make profits, I would withdraw the money from the business account and invest in shares. Unfortunately, the stock market was performing badly and despite complaining, I would continue withdrawing and reinvesting in the stock market. This did not go down well with my mentor and once asked me, “How can you trust in other companies more than yours? Because that is what you imply when you withdraw from your own company and invest in someone else’s instead of reinvesting it in your own business. Stop stealing from your company.”
From the vision that you had in starting the business, how do you align and execute different aspects of your business to this vision?
My vision has changed severally. When we started, we made mistakes and realized that some strategies would cause us to fail. The vision became clearer with time and I realized that there were things I did not want to have or be.
The organization’s current vision feeds into our strategies. Every service that we introduce must build young people and create opportunities. The systems that we have put in place ensure we achieve our objectives.
In your quest to achieve your vision, do you prioritize details of the journey or the bigger picture of the vision?
Both. The bigger picture drives the little details. An over-emphasis on the bigger picture, I believe, can pressurize leaders to do the wrong things. That is when we hear stories of individuals who steal money, became corrupted and become depressed. I ensure I enjoy my journey and that means prioritizing certain details to create a strong foundation. With a strong foundation and systems, there is no need to worry about bigger picture. We will get there.
How would you describe yourself as a leader, cautious or adventurous?
I am careful and adventurous though I cling more towards careful planning.
Being cautious brings fear and being too cautious can be damaging which can result in missed opportunities. I am a planner, but I can also be adventurous. It all depends on the context I find myself in.
Is holding back or speaking out as a leader the best way to solve a problem in your team?
I speak my mind. I value honesty and believe that the only way one can really grow is through constructive feedback. I speak up and my team always looks forward to it. At the beginning, they withdrew, but with time they learnt to appreciate my candid nature. I believe that getting feedback, either good or bad, makes the team believe that they are being noticed and push them to achieve the ‘’impossible’’. I am more cautious about the way the information is shared as this can be damaging.
When faced with a major business challenge, do you decide independently or do you seek counsel?
When faced with major business challenges, we quickly hold a meeting to hear the thoughts in the room. I have a bright team and I value their feedback and the information obtained helps in clarifying situations and make appropriate decisions. However, the ultimate decision lies on my shoulder as the leader.
There are instances where I have had to make critical and quick decisions where there was no time to gather additional information or hold a meeting. A decision was required almost instantly.
Some of the decisions I made were wrong but they taught me valuable lessons. It is okay to make mistakes. There is too much pressure for perfection and yet leaders are imperfect, so how can they make perfect decision all the time?
I, however, had to learn that we operate in a fast-moving environment, the negative experiences taught me to make better decisions quickly.
When you’re creating a vision for your group and face challenges, how do you handle that, do you push forward with your plans or explore implications of the challenge?
They are many reasons why a team would go against the will of their leaders. I take the time to understand their preoccupation. Sometimes it means having a private discussion when I realize the issue could be deeper. The ultimate decision is mine as the vision carrier.
How do you handle communications as a business leader?
Communication is very crucial. I spend most of my time communicating in the office: to share information, clarify strategies, delegate, get feedback, motivate, create trust etc.
So, communication is important. As a coach, I am also aware that people communicate differently. While some feel confident expressing themselves orally, others are more reserved and would rather send emails or speak privately. In certain companies, members communicate by sabotaging. I thank God that we haven’t had that ,but it is important to understand the different communication style of each member and their state of mind, when they respond differently – with too much or lack of emotion, for example.
Respectful communication is important. When I go overboard, I do apologize to my team. I believe in servant leadership.
Business leaders can either be low-key, reactive or driven, initiating. How would you describe yourself?
I have taken different roles throughout my entrepreneurial journey.
When I started, I was more reactive, driven and initiating. That was necessary to get the business off the ground and bring some certainty and comfort to the team.
Now I would say I still initiate but I am also low key. This forces members to come out of their comfort zones and become creative.
How would you describe your leadership style, is it the one that improvises and follows first impressions or that which plans and analyzes in depth?
I am a planner. I would rather, as much and as often as I can, plan but today’s business world requires us to improvise, once in a while. I am flexible enough to understand the need to, when such instances arise.
Finally, how do you give feedback to your team? Are you the type that offers less praise or more praise? I offer deserved praise. I do not baby my team. I am supportive, I am their cheer leader but I also value accountability.
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