Francesca Uriri, is Head of Communications for Uber in West Africa. She’s started a company, learned from setbacks, and at times struggled with focus. She’s an advocate for women empowerment, gender diversity, and inclusiveness through her non-profit Leading Ladies Africa. Francesca discusses how she has channeled her passion and persistence and how she’s applied that throughout her career.
Q: What obstacles or setbacks have you had to overcome personally or professionally to get you where you are now?
A: I’ve faced (and thankfully overcome) a lot of obstacles to get to the place I am today. Personally, I didn’t always believe or feel sure about whether I wanted to be a 9 to 5-er or an entrepreneur. And that came through a lot in the early stages of my career, because I wasn’t really committed or focused. I spent some time co-founding and building a company, which didn’t do so well, to be honest! It failed, primarily because I hadn’t spent enough time building capacity and the skills that were important in running a business. After a couple of years, I went back to working a 9 to 5, and I’m glad I did because I’ve learnt and grown so much. In my earlier days professionally, I always struggled with staying focused and motivated, thinking motivation and career satisfaction would come from external sources, not knowing that I was the captain of my own ship and that I had to look within. When the penny finally dropped, it was a period of incredible growth, clarity, and direction.
Q: What steps did you take to ensure you could use these moments as learning opportunities?
A: I tried not to hurry through the process of learning and “becoming”, hard as those times were. I also made sure to talk through my challenges with career and peer mentors which helped immensely. Sharing your experiences with others and talking about personal and professional challenges makes you feel less alone. And finally, I just went ‘through it.’ Sometimes we try to circumvent the process or avoid the difficulty, not realizing that moments of pressure often yield the best results.
Q: Did you apply those learnings to other projects or activities to help you succeed?
A: I still apply those learnings in other circumstances till this day. If, for example, I’m working on a challenging project at work, I try to look within my networks and talk to someone who has done something similar or someone who can provide another perspective. Knowing that I’m eventually going to figure it out and win makes me feel like “yea Francesca, you’ve got this!”
Q: When you experience setbacks, how do you keep a positive mindset to stay on track?
A: First things first, I try not to freak out. For a type-A, things-need-to-be-perfect personality like me, that’s sometimes easier said than done. But I’ve learned that taking a step back when things get super intense or challenging is the most effective thing to do. I may also take a couple of minutes on my prayer app to say short prayers of thanksgiving and gratitude that calm me down and keep me grounded and focused.
Q: How do you motivate others around you to keep going?
A: I think that affirming people is such a powerful way to keep them motivated. Not in a blanket way that isn’t personal but in specific and particular ways that play up their strengths and help them grow past their weaknesses. I’m also a firm believer in being a source of positive energy and turning that outwards. When you fill a space with positive energy, it multiplies and has a really powerful effect.
Q: How have you found working in a fast-paced environment like Uber, when it comes to learning from past projects and using that to ensure success on the next?
A: Full disclosure: I struggled the first two or three months at Uber. Everything was moving so fast; I thought I was in over my head. Then I had a talk with my manager and a couple of other folks who advised, “oh, you’ll be fine, just learn to prioritize.” And that was what saved the day: prioritization. It helped me stay laser focused on what was important and business-critical as opposed to expending energy on things that had no direct impact on my deliverables or goals.
Q: How do you respond to or reflect on negative feedback when something hasn’t gone the way you expected it to?
A: I’m still a work-in-progress in responding to or dealing with negative feedback (aren’t we all?). But the thing is, when stuff doesn’t go the way I expect it to, the unexpected always brings opportunity for growth, character building, and lessons in resilience and perseverance. So I’m all for it!
Q: How do you change direction and continue progressing without impacting your work?
A: I honestly don’t think it’s possible to change direction or continue progressing without impacting your work. But I think having a clear vision of where you want to go, being clear about your goals, and being willing to be flexible makes that journey easier. Realizing that the journey is a marathon, not a sprint is key too.
Q: What’s the best advice you’ve received or can give on how to learn and grow from setbacks?
A: Keep going. Try not to take things so personally. Don’t be ashamed or afraid to ask for help. Be willing to be fluid and flexible. Be open to evolving. Remember that vulnerability is powerful, even at work. And try as much as you can to be your most authentic self.
Culled from Uber.com