“The day I learned that my superpower is my authenticity, I found the courage to exist in the multifaceted light that is me.”- #LadyBoss Interview With Dr. Eleanor T. Khonje, PhD, a feminist scholar and gender specialist, leadership trainer and coach, entrepreneur and activist.

Dr. Eleanor T. Khonje, PhD is a feminist scholar and gender specialist, motivational and keynote speaker, leadership trainer and coach, entrepreneur and activist. Dr. Elly is a TEDx speaker who presents professional and motivational talks as well as leadership training to public and private organizations including universities. She is a United Nations consultant in Geneva, Switzerland and is the CEO of ETK Leadership Solutions (www.etkleadershipsolutions.com), CEO of Zawadi Mode (www.zawadimode.com) and founder of the projects-based NGO, The African Diaspora Leadership in Action (ADLA) (www.adlaprojects.com). Dr. Khonje is a professor at the Business School Lausanne and is extremely passionate about building and motivating leaders to unleash their full potential and authentically walk in the totality of who they were created to be. You can find her blogging and sharing at @dr.ellyk 

Leading Ladies Africa: If you could describe yourself with one word, what would it be?

Dr. Eleanor T. Khonje: If I could describe myself with one word, it would be: unapologetically authentic. You did not ask us to share why but then me go ahead and unpack it. The day I learned that my superpower is my authenticity, I found the courage to exist in the multifaceted light that is me. I believe that when we are bold to live authentically, we are sending a message that God, I am grateful and proud to exist in the form that reflects a unique part of you! 

Leading Ladies Africa: Have you ever had any disappointments? If yes, how did you handle it?

Dr. Eleanor T. Khonje: Absolutely! I have had many disappointments in building my career and in building my business. When I am teaching about leadership and resilience, I often share the story of how after finishing my master’s degree, I did not get admitted into my dream PhD program that I had told everyone, literally EVERYONE, that I was going to go to. I had great grades, I had the perfect CV, and I even had a letter of support from my mentor (and was going to be my supervisor) who was at that point the deputy director of the school! When I got the letter that I had NOT been admitted into the school, I thought it was all a lie. I swear I was in denial for some days. I thought there must have been something wrong with the computer, or the internet, someone made a mistake! Nope, they did not admit me. After crying for what felt like weeks and being too embarrassed to face the world, I had told I would be going to that particular school, I wrote a letter to the Committee to reconsider me and guess what, the answer still came back as NO! I was devastated. I couldn’t see the way forward, and as much of a planner as I am, this was the only school I had applied to because I was so sure I would be admitted. It was one of the most difficult moments ever because I was forced to reevaluate my vision, and imagine something completely new. Even though it was initially hard for me to see how I would move ahead, I am grateful to my academic mentor who helped me see that I could use this disappointment as an opportunity to take time off school, work for a “maximum” of a year and during that year, apply to other schools. I really had to psyche myself into getting excited about the opportunity to work, something that I had never considered I would do before getting my PhD. Because I love learning, I also decided I would use that year to really delve into the French language and culture and learn it. And, God being God, during that time, I was offered the most AMAZING JOB that opened my world and inspired me to open up my first business in Switzerland years later. During that same year, I also had the opportunity to do my first TEDx talk! Thanks to my mentor who held me accountable to working for a “maximum” of a year, during that same year, I applied to other schools and was admitted! Reimagining what that gap year was going to look like was extremely hard, but once I changed my mindset and decided to make the most of it, it really offered some of the greatest opportunities. Sometimes the hardest work that we can do is reimagine ourselves and our lives differently. But, it’s also the best work that we can do because sometimes our initial vision is too small for the very big work that we have been sent to do. Having experienced that “great disappointment” I have applied that tool of reimagination time and time again to deal with life’s disappointments. 

Leading Ladies Africa: How do you stay innovative as an entrepreneur? And Your Plans for your business In Five Years?

Dr. Eleanor T. Khonje: I stay innovative as an entrepreneur by staying connected to the women that I serve and responding to their needs through my business practice. All my businesses target women, so whether that is through leadership work or through gifting as a practice of gratitude, it is so important to know your audience, to understand what they need, and find creative and transformative ways to offer them those solutions. So, when I am coaching or hosting conferences and workshops, I pay attention to the questions that I get as well as watch what people really respond to when I am teaching. In that light, as I am creating and developing training, I keep those needs in mind first and foremost, giving women the tools to most effectively meet their needs.

Each year, my goal is to increase my level of impact, therefore, 5 years from now I expect that my impact is going to be that much greater. Impact for me is measured in how many of the women I coach, mentor, train, teach find what I share to be useful in transforming their lives and living in the totality of who they are. As such, it’s not about reaching more women (although that is extremely important for me as well) but it is about ensuring that the message is substantive enough to create the transformative change that it is supposed to.

Of course, I have plans for expansion, plans to have a building dedicated to this leadership work in women, but the most important measure for me is the transformative work emanating from the inside. 

Leading Ladies Africa: Tips on how you handle when the going gets tough?

Dr. Eleanor T. Khonje: Remain positive! And be resilient! Life is going to have its challenges, no doubt, but what attitude do you choose to deal with those challenges? How do you choose to see them? To address them? The going is going to get tough, but like I shared on my Instagram a couple of weeks ago, life is for those who choose to consistently persevere. In those seasons when the going gets tough, do not allow yourself to be discontented, or to feel so low that it becomes difficult to imagine what it would be like to get back up! It’s okay to feel sad, yes, but pick yourself up, speak to yourself, encourage yourself, and keep it moving knowing that God is working things out for your good! Like everyone else, life gets tough and rough for me! I know what works – my attitude and what I choose to say about myself and my circumstances. I might not be able to control what is happening, but I can control how I respond to it.

Leading Ladies Africa: Final words of advice to entrepreneurs and women in our community?

Dr. Eleanor T. Khonje: Whether in business or in building your career, I say, live and own who you are! Your authenticity is your superpower, and remember that no one is going to make your dreams come true except for you! Because no one else lives in your body or knows what you desire from life, it’s only you who can bring out everything that you see inside of yourself. As such, own those dreams, own those businesses, own that career, and bring all of it out of you! Two of my absolute favorite affirmations that I often recite and speak over myself are: “I am authentically living all that is me” and “I am doing everything I can, everything in my power, to see myself succeed and reach my dreams.” Live everything that is you! You OWN your life, you OWN your dreams. Do everything that you can to see yourself succeed and reach your dreams.

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