In July 2020, Angela Kyerematen-Jimoh was announced as IBM’s first-ever African female Regional General Manager, covering 35 countries in North, East & West Africa. Her story sets a strong precedence for aspiring women leaders in Africa and beyond. Angela is among Africa’s 2020 Top 100 Most Influential Women by Avance Media and a recipient of several global honors. She is an inspiring thought leader and an avid mentor to women in the corporate sector.
When her new IBM role was announced, the story was picked up by leading publications. She shares how she received several congratulatory messages, including a tweet and a call from the President of Ghana. “The vibe was ‘I had made them proud’ and everyone was happy for me. That’s when I realized the magnitude of my new role and the sense of responsibility associated with it. It was not only my commitment to IBM, but to every woman who aspires to be a corporate executive.”
Starting an Executive Role Amidst the Pandemic
Angela returned home to Africa from her previous global stint in the US. Taking on the regional leadership role amidst the global pandemic was no easy task. “The first few months in any job are critical. This is where you make first impressions, build a rapport, identify ways of working, break the ice with your team – and to do all of this remotely can be quite challenging.”
She spent this significant period in her new career reconnecting with peers in the region and setting goals for the business. While it was quite a transformational curve, she took every challenge as an opportunity to learn.
Prior to joining this role, Angela was trained by top IBM executives at the headquarters as the IBM Chief of Staff for Martin Schroeter, former SVP for Global Markets. Angela also inherited “one of the most encouraging and experienced team of leaders, sellers with a winning attitude and dependable support function colleagues.” She credits IBM’s culture of approachability, inclusivity and learning for helping her get settled in her new role as a regional leader.
6 Tips for Authentic Leadership
Angela shares stories about her career, perspective on leadership, and her best advice to females aspiring to be in an executive role on how to thrive in the business while staying true to oneself.
1. Accept the challenge and commit to your goal.
It is always my desire to earn the respect of my peers, my managers, and my team. The best way to go about it is to let your work speak for itself. Commit to a cause and stick to it, communicate when you face challenges, add a personal touch, and go above and beyond whenever you can. As our former IBM CEO, Ginni Rometty once said, “Growth and comfort do not coexist”. I think it’s a really good thing to remember.
My inherent nature pushes me not to give up even if we have a 0.001% chance of winning. During my years as the CGM of Ghana, I leveraged my winning attitude to bring back some of the most lucrative, strategic outsourcing deals for IBM; and my commitment to winning has only magnified over the years.
A recent example that came to mind was the first week in my current role. I was told that we had lost a very significant cloud deal with a pan-African banking client. The contract had not yet been awarded, but I was committed to bringing it back to IBM. So we regrouped as a team, articulated the value proposition with the help of SMEs, and supported the team by personally taking the lead in engaging with senior executives on the client’s side. Together, we represented a case for IBM and succeeded in bringing the deal back home to IBM.
2. Earn your employees’ trust.
Today’s employees seek a ‘people-centric manager’. Not one who commands and controls but offers them full support to reinvent themselves. Someone who draws energy, creativity, and learning out of the people with whom they work. More of a coach and less of a leader – and I am committed to doing just that.
Trust is magnified when you nurture a growth mindset, in which everybody in the organization is open to constant learning and risk-taking. I try to be a mindful manager by being involved vs. intrusive. I carry my people along and often say, ‘tell me what support you need’ while also empowering them to ask the right questions. I take a hands-on approach to resolving issues, mindful of the challenges my teams may face. At the end of the day, people follow you because they trust you; their support magnifies your capabilities and minimizes your flaws.
3. Aim for a balance – for yourself and your team.
This may sound cliché, but a stable work-life balance is essential. I constantly encourage my team to take time out from work to spend quality time with their families and friends. When people are at peace in their personal lives, they bring their best selves to work. After all, a peaceful mind generates power.
My family time is my therapy. Over the weekend, I connect with my sons over a call, we share experiences, laugh together, and motivate each other; it’s like a ritual. Apart from this, what also uplifts me is exercise. I spend a minimum of 30 minutes on the treadmill, three times a week and it helps me find my pace and balance throughout the week.
4. Support causes that you believe in.
Women development is a cause I stand for. If we work hard towards it, there’s definitely more space for us up here. I feel thrilled every time I see women taking on executive positions, it’s like they’re living a part of the same dream as me. It inspires me to pave the way for many more aspiring women and I am intentional about promoting women at the workplace.
Women often underestimate the power of women supporting women. As I was steadily growing in my career, surprisingly, the ones who gave me the hardest time were women. While male peers constantly motivated and encouraged me by openly endorsing and supporting my efforts. However, I missed that empowering feeling one gets when one of your kind supports you. That was when I resolved that I want to be a leader who carries other women along and offers the kind of support that I sought in my budding years. It’s my hope that the women I inspire set the same example when it’s their turn to support other women.
5. Find a way to give back to the community.
I have a passion for philanthropy. Not many know this, but I have adopted a village in Ghana called Siti back in 2016. Every year I aim to do something impactful to improve the quality of life of the inhabitants. It’s a place very close to my heart.
So far, we have dug a well for clean water and better sanitation, set up solar panels for renewable energy, and opened a community center. My next milestone is to open a school, offering the youngsters in the village learning opportunities for a better future.
Giving back brings me a deep sense of fulfillment. I believe that you are blessed not just for yourself, but so you can be a channel of blessings for those not as fortunate. If you have the potential of making someone happy, why not do it? It’s a part of me, and sometimes I might even push the boundaries a bit and think of it as a moral obligation. The more you give, the more you receive.
6. Stay connected with who you are.
It’s imperative to stay connected with what you are obsessed about, what defines YOU as a person, however unique it may be. Apart from being a regional leader, I am also “me”. I simply enjoy traveling, playing golf, spending time with my sons. I am obsessed with handbags *smiles*. To me they are more than a fashion statement, they are bold and say a lot about the person holding them, and I could admire one for hours.
An authentic leader creates the right environment for people and ultimately businesses to thrive. In my opinion, genuineness helps build relationships with colleagues, garners a higher level of trust, infuses greater productivity, and promotes a healthier work environment.
I try to bring my whole self to work every day. What does this mean? It’s showing up authentically, leading with humility, and remembering that we’re all imperfect human beings doing the best we can. It’s also about having the courage to take risks, speak up, and ask for help. And finally, it means connecting with others in a genuine way and allowing yourself to be truly seen.