kendi ntwiga
Home African CEOs Interviews Kendi Ntwiga, a Global Head in Integrity Operations at Meta, shares Expertise in Leadership
Interviews - August 23, 2023

Kendi Ntwiga, a Global Head in Integrity Operations at Meta, shares Expertise in Leadership

Kendi Ntwiga is a Global Head in Integrity Operations at Meta, the company behind Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp. With a remarkable background in corporate and entrepreneurial leadership, Ntwiga’s work contributes significantly to Meta’s ongoing efforts to combat Actor harm on its platforms.

Previously serving as the Country Leader at Microsoft Kenya, Ntwiga is known for providing deep insights into driving transformative initiatives. Based in Ireland, she collaborates with cross-functional teams to establish operational protocols and ensure a safe online environment for billions of users worldwide.

Kendi’s dedication to community service, her recognition as an Emerging Leader in Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and her passion for empowering young women in STEM through initiatives like She-Goes-Tech make her a true inspiration.

In this edition of Business Elites Africa magazine, Ntwiga provides deep insights on corporate and entrepreneurial leadership, sharing her expertise and vision for shaping the digital landscape in the ever-evolving technology industry. Let’s dive into the interview.

BEA: What are these most important qualities you think a leader should possess or the one’s they should cultivate?

Kendi Ntwiga: When I reflect on my leadership journey and what has truly made a difference and kept me motivated, one quality that stands out is curiosity. I have always been an inquisitive person, constantly asking questions and seeking to understand. This curiosity not only demonstrates a willingness to learn but also allows others to share their knowledge and insights. By remaining curious, leaders acknowledge what they don’t know and create an environment where people feel valued and can contribute their ideas.

Even in my current role, where I work with a predominantly younger team in a youthful company, I approach interactions with an open mind. I don’t assume that I know everything. Instead, I strive to create a collaborative environment where we can learn from one another. I recognize that the younger generation has unique perspectives and experiences that I may not fully grasp, and I find value in embracing their insights. This mindset of continuous learning and connection with younger team members enables me to effectively lead them.

The other aspect is problem-solving. When it comes to honing the skill of problem-solving, I’ve come to realize its immense importance while navigating different organisations, leading diverse teams, and engaging with various individuals during interviews and meetings. We often talk about ‘peeling the onion,’ which entails analysing a problem to uncover its root cause rather than merely addressing the symptoms. Mastering the ability to break down complex issues and identify their underlying causes has a ripple effect on finding effective solutions. This skill is pivotal for anyone aspiring to be an impactful leader.

Now, let’s discuss the challenging task of delivering through people. A leader’s effectiveness is intrinsically linked to their ability to work with and through their team. Motivating individuals to show up and give their best requires an understanding that they are more than just their work—they are holistic beings. This means genuinely caring for and appreciating each person, comprehending their individuality, and providing comprehensive support. It involves considering their career progression and assisting them in navigating it successfully.

There’s a saying I often hear: ‘People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care about them.’ You may possess tremendous knowledge and brilliance in your role or field, but if your team members don’t perceive your genuine care for their well-being or if you fail to guide them towards their career growth and assign work that aligns with their strengths, their motivation will suffer. It’s crucial for leaders to understand that their own success is intricately tied to the success of their team members. Therefore, it becomes paramount to do everything possible to empower and support their success.

In summary, the most significant qualities I’ve found impactful are remaining curious, honing problem-solving skills, and learning how to effectively deliver through people. By embodying these qualities, I believe leaders can truly make a difference.

BEA: Many things go wrong because a lot of people are actually trying to solve the symptoms and not the problem. Would you like sharing some tips on how to finds the root causes to challenge?

Kendi Ntwiga: The reason we often search for symptoms is because when you enter a new environment, most people tend to be comfortable with the status quo. Especially when something has been working for a long time, and then you come in as the new person. I often find myself in that role as I don’t stay in one position for too long. Being the newcomer, I challenge the status quo, and I’ve grown accustomed to it. The first feedback I receive is usually, “Why did you change it? It works.” I respond by acknowledging that it works to a certain extent, but it is also flawed in other ways. Then I suggest considering alternative approaches. However, the typical response I get is, “No, we’ve always done it this way. When I arrived here, it was already like this.” This is how people end up applying patches to fix problems.

In such instances, I try to convey the vision and help people delve into their core values. If we can articulate what the vision is, we should first appreciate the effort that has been put in so far. After all, things may be flawed, but they are still functioning. Therefore, it’s important to show some appreciation for the current state. However, if we want to progress from, let’s say, level 1 to level 4, it means we need to rethink our approach. Imagine how exciting it would be to reach level 4 by reconsidering our strategies. I give the ownership of this process to the team. I tell them, “We are currently at level 1 or level 2, but if you could dream of another level without any limitations, what would level 4 look like?” By doing this, they take ownership of the process, and we work together to generate ideas. By the time we’re finished, I pose the question, “We are not at level 4, but at level 2. What do we need to do to progress from level 2 to 3 and eventually reach level 4?” This encourages them to take ownership and enables me to guide the team in breaking down the problem and working backward.

When I think about this process, I often compare it to renovating a house. When you’ve lived in a house for a long time, you become familiar with it and find ways to survive within its current state. In such cases, you can choose to renovate room by room, or depending on your preferences, you might decide to completely demolish it and start anew. So, in summary, it’s about breaking down and understanding the problem. I make the team comfortable and invite them to envision the future with me. I ask, “Where are we now, and if we want to reach a higher level, what would that look like?” After jointly defining the vision, because it’s a shared responsibility and idea, we work together to determine the necessary steps to progress from where we are to where we want to be.

BEA: For young men and women, what do you advice is the best field to prepare for leadership positions in tech companies and in industry generally?

Kendi Ntwiga: Leadership comes from building competency over time. It is like a funnel, where we all start at the same level. As the funnel narrows, there emerges the one who becomes the CEO. What differentiates individuals in this journey is the competency they continue to build.

So, my advice to people is to think about what they enjoy doing or what they find fulfilling. It is important not to rely solely on the word “passion” because passion can sometimes let you down. Instead, focus on finding something you truly enjoy. For me, it’s engaging in conversations about all encompassing growth, be it intellectual, financial, emotional or relational growth as well as Spiritual growth. Whatever someone enjoys, they should invest time in building expertise in that area.

Even dedicating just 30 minutes a day to the topic you enjoy can make a significant difference. If you have a variety of interests, spend time building expertise in each of them. Over time, several things happen. You acquire the skills that differentiate you and develop a unique skill set. As a result, you begin to stand out and grow. As the funnel narrows, you automatically move into positions of leadership.

Most industries today have a strong technology component. Consider, for example, healthtech in the healthcare industry, the technology required in agriculture, or the technological advancements in education. However, it is important to understand that technology alone is not enough. Technology is there to solve problems. So, think about what truly interests you. If you also enjoy technology, explore the specific area within it that aligns with your interests.

By following these principles and building competencies in the areas you enjoy, you can pave the way for leadership and personal growth.

BEA: What advise do you have for influential people looking to move back to Africa?

Kendi Ntwiga: When I mention “we Africans,” what comes to mind, which you can likely relate to, is the idea that we were raised by the village. Growing up, it took the collective effort of many people to shape us into who we are today. Some of us even grew up in actual villages, where the entire community played a role in our upbringing. This collective action enabled us to stand and make progress.

Now, as some of us have ventured out and become outliers, it is essential to acknowledge that there aren’t many billionaires among us. When we do hear of billionaires, it means they have truly excelled or stood out in their respective fields. In such cases, it becomes only fair that if the village played a significant part in bringing us to where we are and enabling us to become anything we aspire to be, we should give back and help uplift others. We should strive to bring more of us into influential positions and create opportunities for others.

In my case, I relocated to Europe for this role, and the more I am exposed to different environments, the more I realize the need for more people like me from Africa. When a door has been opened for you, it is crucial to step out and create more doors for others. We need to help bring others along and increase our representation.

With the position we have achieved, it is important not to overstay our welcome. This is a common issue we face as Africans. We tend to hold onto positions for extended periods, not making room for others to rise. If someone is coming in with the intention to make an impact, we should be open to stepping aside and creating space.

I believe that once you have already made progress in your own way, whatever you choose to start, you will find numerous people eagerly raising their hands, seeking opportunities to engage. Many individuals are searching for avenues to contribute and looking for structures to engage with. While I may have registered the name and conceived the concept, I do not engage alone, nor can I. My role is to provide a structured avenue for people to participate and contribute collectively.

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