Exclusive Trusted Magazine Q&A with Priscilla Kagwiria Bakx-Kabai
What was your most challenging career experience and how did that experience change your mindset?
I was once asked to lead a team of technical engineers and specialists for an interim period, even though I had no technical background. The biggest challenge I had was overcoming my own self-limiting beliefs and self-imposed obstacles. I overcame that challenge by ditching my need for perfection, but more importantly by seeking and accepting the support of others around me. My mentor once told me about the “mad-how” disease, not be confused with the “mad-cow” disease. The mad-how disease works like this: You need to solve a challenging situation and the first questions that come to mind start with “How”. “How do I solve this problem?” “How do I use this tool?” “How does this process work?” How? How? My mentor challenged me instead to ask “Who” if I find myself getting lost in the “How’s”.
For example, “I’ve tried to figure this tool out, but I can’t. Who can help me figure it out?” or “I have a difficult situation at work, and I can’t seem to resolve the problem. Who can I talk to about this?” When we lean on each other and reach out to the people around us, we might be surprised how much people are willing to help. Our who’s might then help us to figure out the why’s, how’s, when’s, where’s and what’s.
When you get surprised by unusual or uncertain context, what do you think?
When something unusual or surprising happens to me, the first thing I ask myself is, “How do I choose to experience what is happening for me right now?” My mindset defines how I see challenges, choices, opportunities, people, and so on. For example, I once applied for a job that I was sure I qualified for. I was invited to two interviews and both meetings went great. At the end of the final interview, everything had gone so smoothly that I was convinced that the job was mine. And then I got the all too familiar email that starts with “We regret to inform you….” Yes, the first emotion was feeling hurt by the rejection, but instead of making any assumptions why I didn’t get the job, I reached out to the hiring manager and got some excellent feedback which opened the door for my next career.
One of my mentors also shared with me an important tip. He said that whenever he was going through a stormy part of life, he tries not to ask the question “Why is this happening to me?” Instead, he asks “Why is this happening FOR me?” The first question leads us down a path of victimhood, blame, or feeling as though there’s something wrong with us. The second question takes us in a direction of deeper growth, awareness, appreciation, responsibility, and healing. It might seem hard at first to ask the second question, but when we embrace a mindset of growth and development instead of one of victimhood and blame, that is when we challenge ourselves to reach for the skies and become limitless!
What’s the key success factor for a female entrepreneur in cross-cultural context based on your experience?
I try not to think in terms of male or female, instead I prefer to think in terms of feminine and masculine energies. We all tap into both energies differently, as both are needed in each human being. I think that the biggest superpower that feminine entrepreneurs possess is that of emotional intelligence skills. When we operate in a cross-cultural business context, we need to engage with various stakeholders from various backgrounds, build relationships, exhibit collaborative leadership, be able to creatively problem solve with others and maintain a win-win mindset for everyone involved.
Speaking as an international project manager, project management is not about firefighting, running reports, box-checking, and note-taking. It is known that the best project managers today are leveraging new ways of working in order to influence the outcomes, build relationships, and achieve the strategic goals of their organizations. This requires human, emotional intelligence. And this is something that the feminine energy prominently embodies.
Based on your experience, what’s the key success factor for a female leader/manager?
The key success factor for any female leader or manager everywhere in the world is to always be authentic. One of the challenges that I had very early on in my career was figuring out who I was and finding my authentic voice. It’s very easy to let others tell us who they expect us to be, how to act or behave in specific situations so that we fit into some stereotype or imagined boxes, or so that we project a certain persona that we think we should be.
Many cultures expect women to be “sugar and spice and everything nice”. Many of us we’re raised to smile, be quiet, polite, accommodating and the primary homemaker. In short, be a nice girl. I agree that we have come a long way in terms of creating gender-equal societies, but we still have a long way to go. One of my favorite books is titled “Nice girls don't get the corner office” by Lois P. Frankel. The books dives into some unconscious mistakes that women make that sabotage their careers. If we all embraced our true authentic selves unconditionally, we can be the creators of our own destinies. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” It’s time for female leaders to stop consenting. To stop colluding. And to be 100% authentic.