Six leadership lessons from one of East Africa’s top managers

Julie Mutoni, DHL Express country manager for Rwanda

Julie Mutoni, DHL Express country manager for Rwanda

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Julie Mutoni’s career is the embodiment of the phrase ‘climbing the corporate ladder’. Starting as a customer service supervisor for a DHL agent in 1996, she held various positions before being appointed as country manager for DHL Express Rwanda last year.

Mutoni was recently nominated as one of three finalists in the ‘Business Leader of the Year, East Africa’ category of the 2016 All Africa Business Leaders Awards. In light of this achievement, How we made it in Africa asked her to share some of the leadership lessons she has learned over the years.

1. Encourage idea sharing with an open-door style

“I’m not the kind of leader that people feel scared to approach. I don’t parade myself as the boss – I’m accessible and part of the team,” explains Mutoni, adding that this encourages the sharing of ideas among employees, which in turn allows the business to grow.

In addition, Mutoni says she is a hands-on person who is aware of what’s happening in every area of the company.

2. Communicate the company’s goals and how they will be achieved

It’s important to lay out a clear vision for the company, and to ensure that everyone understands the direction in which the business is headed. There should also be no confusion among team members as to what is required of them.

“I make sure to communicate what is expected, and how we will achieve this. It makes it easy for employees to understand what they’re supposed to do,” Mutoni explains.

She continually provides training and mentorship to her team. “Every day is a coaching day. Whenever I get an opportunity, I make sure that I coach the team.”

3. Be patient, it’s essential for effective leadership

Mutoni doesn’t shy away from tackling tough situations. In fact, she believes they make her stronger. However, patience is required to deal with challenges such as a difficult employee or a situation that doesn’t go according to plan. “I’ve learned that patience is essential for effective leadership,” she says.

4. Walk the talk

Leaders need to be disciplined and set an example for others. Bosses should follow their own rules. “The team looks up to a leader. For people to perform the way that I want them to perform, I have to walk the talk.”

5. Recognise performance

“I make sure that whenever someone does tremendous work, it is recognised – even by giving them something small, like a chocolate – I keep chocolates in my office for this very reason!”

6. Make the most of what you have

Mutoni says she looks up to Rwandan entrepreneur Sina Gerard, who – despite humble beginnings – built a successful business spanning numerous agriculture and food-processing ventures. “He inspires me because he shows that you don’t have to start big. You don’t have to be someone important or be from a good background to achieve your goals in life.”