Uchechukwu Opara is a Business Consultant with over 20 years experience, leading several transformational projects within the banking sector as regards their Core Banking Application. As an experienced coach, trainer and speaker, she is passionate about knowledge transfer, skill and personal development.
Uche is a certified Speaker with the John Maxvell Team (JMT) and also a certified DISC Behavioural Analysis Trainer and Youth Trainer with the JMT. She is also an alumna of Fela Durotoye’s ‘Speak For Gold’ Master Class, a fellow of the Institute of Management Consultants (IMC – Nigeria) and a Certified Management Specialist with Distinction in Time Management from the London Graduate School. She has also trained with the prestigious Lagos Business School as a Project Management Professional and in an Oracle Certified Implementation Specialist. She is the founder of RBCS Ltd Consulting firm established on the tenets of professionalism, excellence and business value enhancement.
In this interview with IJEOMA THOMAS-ODIA, she shares her approach to transformation through mindset re-engineering while encouraging women to live fulfilled lives.
Take us through your journey into Business Consulting, how did you get into it?
Growing up, and during my undergraduate days, I realised I had multiple interests. I am extremely passionate about teaching and knowledge transfer, and nothing gave me more joy than seeing people progress and excel under my tutelage. So, while others will collect money from their fellow students to teach them during exams, I would run my revision sessions for free.
I also loved numbers as maths is my favourite subject and I loved Business Studies in my junior class in secondary school. Something about debit and credit, balancing books fascinated me. Equally, I fell in love with Technology and proceeded to study Computer Science as my first degree in the Institute of Management and Technology Enugu. My interest in Technology has always been software development.
Fast forward to when I started my career 20 years ago as a trainee in Technology Consulting, implementing Banking Application in the Financial Institutions. This came with the opportunity to train the users and support the application.
I couldn’t believe how God had brought me to a place where I could grow my career in Technology working with applications, develop my passion for knowledge transfer through training and then play with numbers and learn accounting all at once.
I learnt to listen and understand business needs and equally appreciate the business users’ challenges and how to help them navigate through the process of separating the actual Business needs that yield ROI; the services that ensure repeat business, the nice-to-have etc and these I achieve using Technology, Personal Development Sessions, Coaching and looking at numbers.
You are passionate about transformation through mindset re-engineering. How are you achieving this?
The first step in achieving this is to get people to take full responsibility for the outcomes they are currently seeing in their life today. This is because when you take responsibility, you take authority. I enable them to understand that they may not have control over certain circumstances that come their way, but they are fully responsible for how they react in the face of these circumstances.
In your over two decades of driving change through transformational projects, how have you evolved and what are some of your achievements?
The beauty of driving transformation is that you are always the first beneficiary. In behavioural profiling using John Maxwell’s method of Behavioural Analysis of which I am a certified trainer, I started off as a high Dominant and Compliant Leader who is very task oriented. However, as I continued to work with people on projects and achieving a success rate that is unprecedented beyond my own imagination and even ability through God’s special grace, one thing stood out for me after a period. I developed and groomed skilled resources from people that previously had zero experience, however, I realised I didn’t keep relationships with my team beyond work area. I realised I needed to be transformed as well.
So, my journey to becoming a leader who is influential and rightly placing balance in my work environment that made every member of my team express themselves and work in a way that is brings out the best in them started. In the words of my senior colleague, I was giving out a pill everyone wanted, but dreaded because I served it in tablet form, which was bitter in the mouth. I needed to learn to serve the same thing, but as capsules so it’s easy to swallow and still be effective.
So, the change I desired started with me and the moment I saw how challenging it was to change me, I realised how difficult what I was asking from others and equally learnt to appreciate their little progress as growth and transformation. Some of my greatest achievements are the financial institutions I served as a consultant in changing their face of technology and the people I have built in the process who are currently making their marks both in the financial and consulting sectors.
How important is technology in driving transformation in these times?
Technology is at the centre of transformation; be it in business or in one’s personal life. It is required to improve delivery of services, increase number of channels for delivering services to the customers, efficiently managing one’s time and resources etc. Technology is here to stay and will continue to evolve to meet our business and personal needs where properly applied and utilised.
As a management professional, how can organisations build on better service delivery, especially in this changing economy?
The key is in their team, and this starts from the point of recruiting/selection. In these changing times, organisations need to de-emphasis the need for recruiting based on skills only. There is need to place a balance between skill and character. This is because in the service delivery industry, it is not only the service you provide that matters but who serves that service to your customers, how they serve it and how they sustain the relationship through professional and cordial communication. There is need to leverage on technology to provide platforms that enable monitoring of patterns and behaviour of your clients for ease of pushing relevant services to them even when they were not thinking about it.
What advice do you have for women struggling to make a mark in a field they are passionate about?
My counsel to women is this; first we need to get into the habit of reading and researching about other people that are doing well in what we want to do; follow and listen to them consistently. Equally begin to apply what you have learnt as it fits your situation. I have followed and listened to Ibukun Awosika for years but never met her in person. Her counsel is life changing.
Also, they need to prayerfully get into mentorship and coaching with someone that can guide them properly. The emphasis on being prayerful about this is that there is nothing as wonderful as having a mentor who has walked the exact path you are currently on. I have mentored people that by the end of the first session, they can see clearly why they are having issues and challenges, because my every story and example from my personal experience speaks to their current situation or something they have experienced.
Finally, find your tribe as you progress. Find accountability partners that will work with you through this every stage of the way.
Have you experienced challenges in your career, how were you able to pull through?
My first and most challenging experience is that I found myself in a male dominated career when I started my journey as a developer in 1995 as an intern. As I mentioned earlier, I had a very domineering personality and didn’t like being pushed around or pretending that what is not.
It took time, but I learnt that I needed to change the way I respond to not just my male colleagues, but people in general and to take responsibility for the way I reacted and never blame it on the way a person acted towards me.
I worked on understanding each person as I came to understand that people are defined by the genes they inherited, their environment and who they have modeled their lives after. I started learning to work with and responded to people in a manner that gave room for a conducive atmosphere as much as it was within me to do so. I learnt to have boundaries and clearly define them. When I started doing this, most people’s attitude towards me changed for the better.
What should women do differently to climb to the top and sit on the same table as you do?
Take responsibility for their lives. Women should quit complaining and take 100 per cent responsibility for their life. We need to see every challenge we face as we go on in our career as a steppingstone for greatness.
We need to stop competing with ourselves and begin to collaborate more. We need to understand that the fastest way to rise is to lift others. This I believe is the reason our male contemporaries are rising faster.
You are a speaker, trainer, coach and entrepreneur how are you able to juggle your many sides, including family life and still be at your best?
The first thing I had to do was to prioritise. The most important thing to me in life is my personal relationship with God and then myself, then my family as it relates to my duties as a wife and mother to three amazing boys. Then, I realised that there is a difference between my career and my passion.
Technology is a career path for me, while coaching, mentoring and speaking is something I am passionate about. I know the difference between my passion and my career, because finance will hardly ever make me turn down a speaking engagement that I believe has the right audience, but I will without batting an eyelid, turndown a technology or business engagement that is not well priced. Having this in mind, each has its times allotted and I never take on more than I can manage with my team.
What would you like to see Nigerian women do differently in their career paths?
I sincerely would love to see Nigerian women take charge of their lives by setting definite and defining goals and targets for themselves with no excuses on why they cannot achieve it. I have followed and listened to Ibukun Awosika and I realised that she is who she is today because she took responsibility for her life early, including how her choice of a life partner that will affect her career path and growth because she had long decided as a young lady under thirty where she was going.
Though I discovered this in my forties, it has guided my every decision-making. As women, we need to start making decisions with more of our head but still with that element of compassion that makes us unique.
What is your life mantra?
I don’t just know what to do; I know how to do it and I go ahead and do it.