Sheun Oke: My passion has always been leadership
Dr. Sheun Oke is a Conservative representative for Princes Ward, Dartford, in the just concluded UK council election, where she contested in a Labour Party dominated area and lost by 37 votes. Though her party (Conservative) won one seat, Sheun believes it was an awesome experience. In this interview with GERALDINE AKUTU, she talked about her work, involvement in politics and other issues.
Why the interest in elective position?
Being in constant contacts with different leaders including BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic), I saw there was a need for my expertise in the community, especially in the area of grooming and coaching leaders. So, I registered as a member of the Conservative Party four years ago and started supporting my local politicians. Finally, in 2018, I got an email inviting me to be a voice for my community, by standing in the next election as a councillor. I was excited. I shared the news with my husband and he encouraged me to go forward. I went through several selection processes and was successfully given the mandate to stand for Princes Ward of Dartford, Kent, UK, as a councillor.
What was the feeling like being a black woman in the midst of men vying for the same position?
I have never been limited by my gender. I guess it’s the grooming I got from my dad – the late Prince Christopher Olotu. He would always say, ‘if you want it, go for it’. I was delighted to blaze the trail, showing my daughter, including other ladies from the BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) that if I could do it, they can also. The whole party was very supportive to make it a great experience.
What makes you feel suitable for the position?
My passion has always been leadership at all levels, especially female leadership. I’m woman and statistics has shown that 50 per cent of the world population is female. Any organisation or country that looks to maximise its results must be strategic about developing this awesome part of the population. My first degree and master’s of Business Administration (MBA) thesis were both focused on solving female gender issues -(I had a great mentor in my undergraduate days that encouraged me to pursue this specialty. Being exposed to more learning and greater resources in the UK, I was able to collaborate with five other ladies to write my first co-authored book, Reposition for Change and then my first fully authored book, Supergirl 2 Superwoman: The Ultimate Guide To Female Leadership. The book covers all that is needed to groom a girl to world-class female leader.
After successfully publishing the book, I got invited by the head teacher of one of the Ofsted-rated outstanding schools in the UK to adapt the book into a course to be taught to girls aged nine to 11years. And so, the ‘five-week Supergirl Leadership Academy, was born. It was very successful. The Mayor of Barking and Dagenham attended the graduation ceremony and presented the graduands with their certificates. The graduation ceremony was well published in the UK newspapers. This created even more opportunities and led to my award of Doctor of Global Leadership (Honoris Causa). So, my life experiences, trainings and love for the community qualified me for the position.
What lessons have you learnt from the experience?
Standing as a Conservative representative was a great choice and I am delighted to have a new family of friends who care about the community. I’ve learnt a valuable lesson from this experience, which is to never give up and to try again. It takes one decision to re-write history. If you want to win, compete.
You promote Walk-Like-A-Princess CIC, what is it all about?
In my early teens, I had personal challenges with self-esteem. As I grew up, reading books, expanding my horizon, gaining understanding that everything stems from the way I see myself and not by others, definition of me, my confidence grew. However, I saw my mum had the same plight, passed it on to me and without breaking the cycle; it would have been very easy to pass that on to my daughter too (We all are our mothers’ daughters). I knew I wouldn’t just be helping my own daughter; I had to help other girls too. This is the genesis of ‘Walk-like-a-Princess CIC’.
Our primary objective is to raise the female economy of the communities: focusing on confidence, capacity building and leadership training for girls, women, their caregivers and primary influencers (Parents, Teachers, Caregivers). Research indicates that parents and teachers are the primary influencers for girls and young women. Our vision is to create a community, which empowers girls and women to engage and achieve assertively at every level of their development.
Clarity, inclusivity, authenticity, bravery, integrity, quality and fun are our seven core values. Princesses are known to be groomed in the arts of grace, confidence and how to be responsible leaders in the society. We have chosen this name to entrench this mindset in every girl.
Seeing the present day Nigerian girl putting all her hopes of ‘becoming influential or wealthy’ into having different illicit relationships with the opposite sex grieves my heart. I believe that girls are precious, industrious and are tomorrow’s leaders. We must raise their self-esteem and empower them to create income and build wealth.
How did your background in Nigeria prepare you for this?
After a six-year stint in the banking sector in Nigeria, my husband and I decided to relocate our family to the United Kingdom in 2010. We had to start all over to build a new foundation. It was a bit challenging having to prove ourselves within a new culture entirely. Then I started building a new network of friends intentionally. I learnt one core value: ‘Service to many leads to greatness.’ Being in a new country, with the weather and diet change, I started gaining more weight. I went from a size 10 to 14 and really didn’t like the way things started turning out. So, I forayed into promoting health and wellness, encouraging and motivating others whilst I was working on getting back to shape. It was called ‘Project 10 challenge’.
This caught the attention of a lot of councillors and mayors in the UK who were in my network (some of them of Nigerian descent too). We started collaborating on different community focused-projects, successfully executed. I got back to my size 10 and love the zest feeling. Setting goals for spirit, soul and body is the beginning of human achievements. You do not set goals, because you know how to achieve them, you set goals to become the person that could achieve them. It is the ‘becoming’ in the process that unlocks different results. Being intentional about growing, I invested in getting trained and mentored by the world’s number 1 leadership guru-John Maxwell and became a ‘John Maxwell Certified Leadership & Transformational Coach’. This opened up a new horizon of growing and of course, another network of friends globally, that are committed to not growing just themselves, but others too. So, it really has been a chain reaction.
In mentoring young ones, what qualities are you putting to good use?
One of the best ways of learning is modelling. This is what mentorship is all about. I have through my lifetime ‘walked-the-walk’ that most young people would walk. They either learn by my stories, by associating through my books or through my coaching and mentoring schools. Whichever way, they will get awesome value and live life more purposefully without having to repeat the mistakes that I made.
What is your position on idea of women and inborn leadership qualities?
Women are up to the task when it comes to leadership. Here is a simple definition of leadership drawn from my book, ’it is getting pre-determined things done through tapping into the emotional economy of people’. Leaders are ‘dealers in emotions’ and who should be greater at using the power of ‘emotional intelligence’ than the females who are hard-wired with emotions, especially if they have mastered the art and science of using the same positively? My mission is to fill every girl and woman with so much passion for purpose. Also, to equip them to go and positively influence their world. I think, women are more than up to the task. However, I must mention this in the light of the wave of ‘feminism’ globally, as females we need good support system round us or it would not be easy to attain the height we are destined for.
How do you cope with work and family life?
In between being a mother to three great nations, ministry, business and now politics, I rely enormously on my husband of 16 years, Stephen Oluyemi Oke (we have been together for 21 years). He is indeed the wind beneath my wings. He pushes me, he supports (in between my global travels) he is there for our children. Even when I feel like ‘lazing around’, he is asking ‘Ayinke, what next?’ I wonder what I could have done without him. If you are not in a married relationship, find other supporters e.g. friends, family, staff (personal assistants are great!). This helps you avoid getting burnt out. Remember to also have regular recreations and do not joke with your vacation.
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