Guest Post by Dr. Alfred Chidembo
Introduction: Alfred was one of the first students I met when I came to UOW in 2013. He made an impact then, and he is certainly making an impact on many lives now: through his Not-for-profit organization Aussie Books for Zim, and through his contributions to the UOW community. He has delivered student leadership training through UOWx, hosted student teams as part of our student consultancy program Univative and participated on a panel at the HDR Shaping your Employability event late in 2017. After his inspiring talk at that event, I asked him to share his leadership message through our HDR Careers Conversations blog… and here it is!
Sometimes leadership is thrust upon you and you find yourself thrown into the deep end where you assess yourself and ask the question, “what have I got to give?” I had a deep look inside and realized that the cupboard was empty except for one quality that I knew I always had, just one: enthusiasm. It happened to me when my wife and I registered a Not For Profit organization – Aussie Books For Zim. We had not set out to establish a charity. We simply wished to solve a problem that has been troubling me for many years. I was born and raised in rural Zimbabwe. My childhood school, Mavhurazi Primary School had few books when I attended grade one, and thirty two years later the situation had not changed much. Here, several kilometres away in Australia, our idea seemed simple. We would collect 2000 books, send them to my former school, and then get on with our lives.
Sometimes, destiny comes into your life without knocking on your front door and unwraps your future. Within a few months we had assembled a team of volunteers and found ourselves with over 10 000 books. A few months later, we arranged the transportation of 30 000 books to Zimbabwe to establish several libraries in schools in rural Zimbabwe – schools with students who had never experienced the joy of reading like you and I, and our children take for granted. Of course, with the books and the charity came a board of members, volunteers, management and logistics – lots of challenging logistics, and fundraising. But most of all, my memories of this busy time are of the fun meeting new people, the joy in realizing the dream, the laughter and sense of achievement.
Coming from a science research background, I had no idea, not a clue about how to manage and lead a charity. I set out to find a mentor, and through the JCI Illawarra Mentor Me programme I found my guide. I remember my first meeting with Bob Kotic. I believe that one of the biggest reasons this happened was because of the one quality that I knew I possessed, infectious enthusiasm. Bob arrived early and waited for me with two cups of coffee in hand every time we met. Here was Bob, having driven all the way from Sydney to make our 7.30 am meeting in Wollongong and he still managed to buy coffee on route (which by the way, was still hot when he handed it to me). I knew immediately that this was someone committed to the relationship; here was a fabulous human being. Bob went on to teach me about the five F’s that every leader should know and I have since adopted these as part of my mission statement.
During our first conversation, I realized that Bob has a way of sharing knowledge and ideas in a way that just inspires you. ‘Always value your time’, Bob said. He stressed this several times. “When you value your own time, you will naturally do the same with the time of others. Know the value of your time and work fast.” It made sense then to me why this man had committed to driving from Sydney every Wednesday morning for the next fourteen weeks to share his knowledge and experiences. He valued his time – and he valued mine. We had 14 phenomenal meetings, far in excess of the 7 hours recommended by the program directors who had introduced us.
I was so impressed by how Bob broke down the second F for me. He used the analogy of an air traffic controller responsible for making sure that all planes land safely on a foggy day at Heathrow airport with limited vision and no assistance from an Instrument Landing System (ILS). Such a task requires razor sharp focus. Your vision may at times may be blurred but your focus can never be – the consequences are too great. In this instance, landing the planes safely is the principle task. A lot rides on your focus and how you approach situations as a leader. You therefore need to stay focused even when you can’t see the full picture and only do those tasks that are most valuable first. Keep your eye on the ball and focus on the goal. Excellent advice.
I have to say, over the past few months I have taken this attribute on board and I condition myself every morning to be fabulous, feel fabulous, do fabulous. It is a choice one has to make and the best part is that you choose what fabulous looks like in your day. It may simply be walking into a room, walking up to someone you know is having a bad day and just asking if they are okay. It could be paying for a cup of coffee of the fifth person in the queue behind you without them knowing. What it all comes down to is serving others, giving to others, taking the time to think of others and stepping from your path to help. Simple gestures of kindness make you a fabulous human being and consequently, a fabulous leader. Try it.
Let the people around you think that the organization you are leading is fantastic. This is not all that far from being fabulous or phenomenal. You can merge the two and create the fantabulous. After all, it is your mission statement and you can tailor-make it into whatever you desire. Being a fantastic boss, employee, friend, parent, colleague all goes a long way in brightening up the lives of others. I have come to realise that fantastic people are influencers and they share their knowledge and experience to help others be better in their own worlds, personally and professionally. So go ahead and be fantastic or fantabulous.
And the last F – probably the most important of them all, especially as you work towards being someone who adds value to an organization. Always have Fun, yes Fun with a capital F Fun! Find that one thing you enjoy doing with a passion. Then do it. You’ll have fun doing it, you will do it well. You will. Whilst managing Aussie Books For Zim, I have had the most fun in my whole life, through the interactions and relationships we have developed, the experiences and the achievements. I have had the wonderful opportunity, the gift to share my story, inspire and motivate others. I hope my mission statement, which I have now developed, will be something that can be merged into the mission of my organization, a Fantastic organization with Fantabulous goals achieved Fast with Focus and bountiful Fun.
Before I pen off, I’d like to share a quote shared by Bob from one of our many meetings that I particularly love, “Distraction is the beginning of failure”.
Alfred Chidembo is a PhD graduate in Materials Engineering from the Institute of Superconducting and Electronic Materials at the University of Wollongong where he worked under the supervision of Dr Konstantin Konstantinov and Distinguished Professor Hua Kun Liu. Upon completion of his studies, he worked as a Research Engineer at Aquahydrex, a start up company out of AIIM. During that time, he set out to collect 2,000 books to send to Zimbabwe to help children in his village. Two months into it and 10,000 books later, together with his wife, Aussie Books For Zim was born.
More information on Aussie Books for Zim: Aussie Books for Zim is an Australian based charity that seeks to promote education and improve literacy in the remote rural communities of Zimbabwe. The organisation collects new and gently used books, stationery and sports equipment and ships them to rural Zimbabwe, where libraries are set up for the pupils and surrounding community. To date, the organisation has shipped 30 000 books to Zimbabwe and are in the process of setting up libraries in rural schools of Zimbabwe. Aussie Books for Zim are also exploring local initiatives to work with literacy groups in regional Australia to develop knowledge sharing networks with those communities.
What do you think about Alfred’s mission statement for leadership? We’d love to hear your comments below.