Three female executives share readership journeys, lessons

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(From left) Catherine Musakali, the Founder of Women on Boards Network; Maryanne Karanja, Head of Supply Chain, Safaricom and Risper Ohaga, CFO of EABL. PHOTOS | DIANA NGILA | POOL

Catherine Musakali, Founder, Women on Boards Network

Why should leaders read?

Reading keeps leaders connected to their operating environment, up to date and connected to trends.

Leaders also need to read to understand leadership concepts and perhaps why some things worked in the past and why others did not work, and therefore what is likely to work for them.

Lastly, leaders should read for inspiration and guidance.

What genres do you read?

I read quite a variety of genres, from historical fiction to general fiction, mystery, action, adventure, folklore, autobiographies, and social sciences.

It is the style of writing that does it for me. How does the author capture my attention?


Catherine Musakali, the Founder of Women on Boards Network. FILE PHOTO | POOL

Has your reading style changed over the years?

Yes. The change has come with age and experience, and the particular need at the time. In primary school, I was quite content with folklore, cartoons, and fairy tales.

In high school, I developed a liking for adventure and quickly moved on to romance, your Mills and Boons, James Hardley Chase, etc.

In university, I gravitated more toward autobiographies, historical fiction, and legal fiction. I am finding that now I enjoy more leadership books, corporate governance articles as well as those relating to women's leadership.

I think reading for me now is quite situational because I tend to look for innovations in my area of focus so the articles are the in thing for me now.

What are you currently reading?

I read many articles daily, but in terms of books, I have just finished Jim Collins' Built to Last and have started Chinyere Almona’s Boards of the Future.

Between softcopy and hard copy books, which do you prefer?

I prefer the articles in soft copy, but for the books, I still prefer the hard copy, even though once in a while I will buy a soft copy.

What/who influenced your love for reading?

My father. He was a teacher, so I guess I did not have much of a choice.

When do you read mostly?

My work involves reading a lot so I am constantly on the internet reading articles throughout the day and making references. I prefer to read hard-copy books as I wind down the day or when I am travelling.

Do you know how many books you have?

No. They are many! But I know I have all of Chimamanda Ngozi’s books. Haha.

How would you describe your personal library?

Interesting, diverse!

What is your policy on lending books?

I have no policy. I just lend them out. I ask that one returns them but I am not one to follow up.

What three books have had the most significant impact on your leadership style?

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell, and Dare to Lead by Brene Brown.

Maryanne Karanja, Head of Supply Chain, Safaricom

Why should leaders read?

To grow. None of us is a repository of all knowledge. Reading gives you a different perspective.

Books are a source of a lot of knowledge and perspective. They can also help you relax, depending on the genre you are reading.

What is your favourite genre?

I have a bias toward non-fiction. Ninety percent of books I read are nonfiction. I like books that make me think and leave me with a call to action.

I have read all books by Malcolm Gladwell. I read them to get different perspectives about issues and begin to ask myself whether if I saw the world through those lenses, I would see differently.

Myles Munroe's books on leadership are also very good.

Additionally, I am a member of a book club. This takes me out of my comfort zone because the books we read tend to be different from the kind of books I regularly read.

Usually, books that give life's lessons on virtue, finding balance, and building character: love humility, and magnanimity.


Maryanne Karanja, Head of Supply Chain, Safaricom. FILE PHOTO | POOL

How has your reading journey evolved?

Growing up (in Eldoret) the public library was refreshed when I was in class four. I read all the books by Enid Blyton and Alfred Hitchcock.

Towards the end of primary school, I was reading detective novels and mystery books by Robert Ludlum.

When I reflect, it feels like I have been reading the same kind of books. Unlimited Power and Awaken The Giant Within by Tony Robbins were the first books I read when I started gravitating towards inspirational books.

I think that since high school, I have read books that have a common thread: Books that get me to reflect, exercise my thinking, and see the world through a different lens.

What was the last book you read?

Think Again: The Power Of Knowing What You Don't Know by Adam Grant. My biggest takeaway was to ask myself whether I am a lazy or a reflective thinker; and whether I take all relevant points into context, such as the reality of the person sharing the information with me before I react to it.

There is a bit on how we receive information, how we synthesise it, arrive at an outcome, and then how to communicate that outcome. I highly recommend that book.

What are you reading now?

Think like Amazon: 50 1/2 Ideas to Become a Digital Leader by John Rossman. The book was recommended by my CEO. It is a timely read for the leadership journey I am on.

The information is very practical. I feel like I apply the lessons from the book almost immediately.

Hardcopy or soft copy?

Both. I have a phone kindle. I don't have any major preference. I would prefer soft copies because I get to highlight the lessons, and I get back later to take notes and determine how I will apply them.

However, if I really enjoy a soft copy version of a book, I find myself buying the hard copy. I feel like I need to keep a physical copy for posterity.

When do you read?

Every evening, usually from 10 PM to about 11 PM, and over the weekends. If I am going to the salon, I will carry a book. I tend to multitask over the weekend – doing something else while reading.

Describe your book collection

A cocktail! I have about 100 cookbooks. My books probably number 3,000. I also have books that are up to 20 years old on my bookshelves.

Do you lend out books?

I don't lend people books -- that's too much pressure on me. I would rather buy you the book.

Risper Genga Ohanga, CFO, EABL

Why should leaders read?

Reading gives you knowledge which makes you a better leader. It also makes you an all-around better person – whether this is about parenting or self-development.

Reading is also relaxing and provides a form of entertainment and leisure.

Are you specific about the type of books you read?

I am an equal-opportunity reader. However, the more I grow in leadership, the more I have a bias for books on personal development.

I also enjoy fiction by African writers. Once I discover a writer I like, I try to buy and read everything they have written.

I do a bit of crime and mystery novels too. I read biographies, Wangari Maathai, Nelson Mandela, Viola Davis, and Barack Obama... easily come to mind.

Which African writer do you recommend?

Zakes Mda, a South African writer now living in the US. I like the depth of his stories. I connect a lot with his writing. I also like Ngugi wa Thiong'o.


East African Breweries Limited (EABL) Group Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Risper Ohaga. PHOTO | COURTESY

Has your reading evolved?

I think not. I have always loved African writers, and I have always read about leadership.

I remember reading Difficult Conversations by Bruce Patton, Douglas Stone, and Sheila Heen when I was in a very tense environment, and I needed to have difficult conversations, and that helped me navigate that period.

I think my reading has always had a functional side to it.

Do you now read more or less?

Less because I am busier, but I am deliberate about making time to read. I read for at least 30 minutes before I go to bed. I have also built accountability by being part of a book club.

Soft copy or hard copy?

Both. But I find that hard copies have a long shelf life. So if it is a book I know I will need to make reference to more than once, I invest in a hard copy. I also do audiobooks. I use the audible app.

How would you describe your book collection?

A rainbow. It is an array of many different books. I even have Christian fiction.

Do you lend out books?

I don't. I am attached to my books. The few times I have lent out books, they never come back.

What three books have had the biggest impact in your life?

The Leader Without A Title by Robin Sharma; The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey; and Master Your Emotions: A Practical Guide to Overcome Negativity and Better Manage Your Feelings by Thibaut Meurisse and Kerry J Donovan.

Over the past three months, I have been reading Master Your Emotions, and I feel like I have become a different person.

The book has shaped how I think about challenges. It argues that there are really no problems except you choose to view them as such. It is in my power to decide how something will affect me.

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