Nkirote Mworia Njiru sits before a brick-wall in her home for a Zoom interview. (Or it looks like a brick wall.) In this period of Covid-19, she and her husband have had to designate that wall for official call duties.
“We call it the Zoom wall,” she says. She is the Group Company Secretary and Legal Counsel for UAP Old Mutual, has a law degree from the University of Reading, Master of Law from the University of Cape Town and a Master’s degree in Business Administration from USIU.
Nkirote, who is also a certified executive coach, spoke to JACKSON BIKO.
“My philosophy on coaching is simple, it’s to unblock issues for the individual,” she says.
What is the last thing you Googled?
A book review. ‘The Colour of Law’ by Richard Rothstein. It’s about race and segregation. It is very relevant to what is going on now in the US and other parts of the world.
As an executive coach, you help people be more self-aware and learn what might be holding them back. What is your journey as a human being, not a professional? What do you think has held you back?
Many times it has been the fear of the perception of those I hold dear. And by this I mean my parents, husband, and daughters. I’m always thinking about what I do and how it impacts them. I worry about what they will think of my decision. When I was younger my personality was a bit more compliant, not so anymore.
Why? Is this because of age or a normal evolution?
I think it’s because of holding back and losing opportunities which when you look back, you think you should have done something differently. It’s also a product of observing and learning.
What’s the biggest question you are asking yourself now about life?
Where I am right now in life. In terms of family, career, and impact. (Chuckles) I’m at a stage of life where the picture should be coming together in terms of the impact and significance of my life. Sometimes I wonder if this is just a midlife crisis. (Chuckles)
Would you say you have self-actualised?
Not yet. But there are areas where I feel I have given my best. I don’t want to stop at self actualisation, I want to actualise others. There is no resting on my laurels, just yet.
What have you learnt about yourself these past four months?
Wow! Last year was exhausting. The main thing that came out of last year was the need to exercise more this year and be productive in all spheres of my life. I remember writing on a vision board that I wanted to be productive in a place of rest. At that time, I thought it sounded almost impossible. Then this Covid season came and I have had a productive season while in a place of rest given that we have been working from the house mostly. Career and parenting have worked well together, I have cut traffic time and I have been more available for my family. I have rested spiritually and physically.
What stage are you in your life now?
My children are in their adolescence, they are at a stage where they are pushing for independence but at the same time, I have to be their mother. It’s consciously knowing when to make the switch from being a friend to being a parent while preparing them for the next stage of life. I’m doing this with great intent. A friend said that there is nothing like spending quality time with your children, quality time only comes from quantity time.
Do the principles drawn from coaching also work in marriage?
The first principle in coaching is deep listening. Initially, I thought I was a good listener but not so. It’s not only about emptying your mind of bias, it’s about listening for real points of connection in the discussion. I don’t think I was good at that. The other thing that can be imported from coaching is the ability to feedback on what you are hearing. I have tried this with my husband. He says something I say, ‘what I’m hearing you say is XYZ.” Clarification is a big part of coaching as it is in marriage.
What do pearls say about you?
I love their elegant simplicity. I love the subtle hues, they remind me of my mom. She gave me my first pearls. When I wear those particular ones, I get a warm feeling because of their sentimental nature.
I have noticed that almost everybody I have asked if they are successful has always turned their backs on that word. These are people at the pinnacle of their careers. Do you feel that success is a word people are shy to embrace, perhaps in case it limits them? But first, are you successful?
Every person approaches it with a different yardstick. For me, the question is always if I made choices in life that inspired someone. Success is always what’s ahead of me, not what’s behind me. I have been successful in certain projects and interactions. I have influenced things. But if you are talking about life as a whole, I think there is so much more impact I can make going forward.
What quality do you admire about your mom that you lack as a wife or a human being?
Resilience. Incidentally, she was a great catalyst in my leadership journey. I was watching her on VOK TV when I was 10. She was in corporate, addressing a gathering that had the head of state. It made a massive impression on me. I admired her voice and her ability to be there. Since then, when I’ve had moments when I’m nervous I always wonder how it felt for her that day. She has been resilient. At 70, she still gets in her car and drives to Meru.
At what point in your life were you most in turmoil?
I had two young children in diapers and my husband— Job — had been offered an opportunity in Tanzania. I was in the public sector. I remember there being 100 decisions to be made, none easy. He went to Tanzania and I stayed with two children. It was rough. The commuting, the exhaustion of every day, second-guessing if it was the right decision and still what I felt were expectations at work and of being a daughter, a daughter-in-law...
If I borrowed your car, what do you think it would smell like? Describe the personality of that scent.
It would smell calm. It would smell safe. It would smell of life. In that car, before this pandemic, I would drive my daughter to school. That’s the time we got to talk, laugh, pray, and cry. It’s a safe place. It’s a place of music when I’m alone. A place to think. To listen to audiobooks. It’s the place I listen to myself. That’s how it smells like.