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Leadership workshop: Finding a safe space

Inside the Programme

Leadership workshop: Finding a safe space

Electrical Engineering Masters scholar, Reginald Nyakonda shares how the week of the leadership workshop gave him the courage and comfort to break out of his shell.

Published 25 March 2022

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As a Enneagram Type 5 (Quiet Specialist) who hasn’t been around so many people in a "formal" setting since early 2020, I was excited but also very nervous as to what the workshop week had in store. My anxiety was slightly put at ease by Mandela Rhodes Foundation CEO Judy Sikuza’s words - she said "the MRF is not just about building leaders - it's about being part of a family". I remember looking in the room as this was said - "this is my family?" I thought. I barely knew these peoples dislikes, thoughts, emotions and even their names but nevertheless, I was open to the idea of being part of this family.

The first day went by so quickly and I had the opportunity to interact with a few of the scholars too. The designed team/coach alliance was drafted and we started to explore the Enneagram. It had been mentioned throughout the day that reflection would be vital to workshop process so when I went back to my room at the end of day 1, I reflected on how I had done and something I picked up is although I wasn't as quiet as I usually am, I also wasn't engaging in the bigger group discussions. I vowed to do better the next day – which proved easier said than done.

Day 2 was similar the first in terms of my contribution to the group discussions but it struck me that everyone's uniqueness was being appreciated and valued in this space. Although I didn't contribute as much as I would have hoped to, those small contributions I made were received with a willingness to hear more about my thoughts and experiences. I learned a lot from the other scholars and it really started to feel like we all knew each other longer than we had. Everyone was being vulnerable - sharing their fears, weaknesses and aspirations to a group of strangers. The "Creative Jam" or as i like to call it - the MRF talent show for nerds, was happening at night on the third day and signing up was happening on the second day. I didn't have any talents to put on display but I was looking forward to seeing what my fellow nerds had in store.

The third day was a highlight for me. One of the scholars I had grown close me to co-host the creative jam with them. In my head, I felt this would be a total disaster but I agreed because I was starting to feel a bit more comfortable around everyone. Throughout the workshop so far, we had been unpacking the Enneagram with the ultimate goal being self-mastery. I felt like everyone else knew me and I knew them on such a personal level that we truly were a family and I could loosen up a bit. I am glad I did - the night was filled with amazing talent displays - people were singing, playing the guitar and the whole family had to endure my terrible jokes on stage. I was particularly impressed by Judys' dancing skills! Having seen myself break out of my shell like that, I knew this was a direct consequence of the work we had done with coaches in the sessions and I look forward to working with them again in the upcoming modules.

The fourth day offered a deeper dive into the socio-economic landscape of South Africa and Africa as a whole, given the effect that apartheid/colonisation had on the African people. Most importantly, we explored at how we can be the change we want to see. We were fortunate, to get a free afternoon on day 4. I decided to use that time to charge my social batteries - I had been interacting with people for the past 4 days straight and social exhaustion had begun to set in. I also had to run a games night I had organised on that same night (Yeah, I know. Me? organizing games? Another stretch). Nevertheless, game night was a success and everyone's competitive side came to light. I'm sure those in the other team still harbour a grudge against my team and I for winning!

The fifth and final day felt like that family braai. We headed to Madiba's beautiful home for the day and we were joined by Professor Njabulo Ndebele - who happens to share personality traits similar to me and other Enneagram type 5's. I felt validated as he beautifully told us his own journey with leadership and I could see that leadership really doesn't have to look a particular way. The day and the workshop ended with us enjoying a delicious braai together as a family - and i could really start seeing what Judy meant by the MRF being a family. I was left feeling excited to see how rest of the year plays out.

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