Happy in her skin: British-born Rosalie Olunloyo knows a thing or two about making tough career decisions and living in the shadow of unfulfilled parental expectations. After a lot of soul-searching, she found her calling as a life coach.
When you make an appointment with an executive coach and mentor, the first thing that comes to mind is a neat and spacious office, complete with a dull-coloured chaise lounge.
Rosalie Olunloyo, the founder and director of Pearl Displayed Limited, works at home. And there is no chaise lounge to flop on. There are four high back black chairs and a tinted glass table through which the tiled floor can be seen. Light streams in unfiltered through the bare window, lending warmth to the room. However, that warmth also comes from the fact the Olunloyo seems to be a jovial woman, and this contributes to the laid back atmosphere. Of course, the first thing you notice is her British accent.
Olunloyo was born and raised in the UK. Her father is from Nigeria while her mother is from Trinidad in the West Indies.
Her father is a retired civil engineer and her mother, a nurse. She is the only child of her parents; both of whom married other people. She was brought up by her father and stepmother.
When she came to Uganda, Olunloyo was 39 years old, but that is when her life took off. She realised her strengths, gained confidence, and started a company. Now she is living in her purpose.
The coach looks about 40, with a well-toned body. You would attribute her greying hair to genes. That is why it comes as a shock when she says she has just celebrated her 50th birthday. But then, she also intimates that she loves running and being around people. That is the essence of youthfulness.
“I love people,” she enthuses, continuing, “I am relational. I love developing people and just having an understanding of their personal interests.”
The Gallup Certified Strengths Coach (a certification programme that qualifies one to provide strengths-based coaching to individuals, teams, and managers) helps people discover their strengths and purpose in life. It could be children as young as 10 years, professionals, or management teams. The coaching usually takes three sessions, starting with an online assessment of one’s strengths. The starting price is Shs800,000.
Most women lack confidence
By default, most women who come to her are career women returning to a stressful situation. “It could be a new mom returning to work. The trait I see in women, myself included, is the lack of confidence. Getting people back to a point of self-confidence is a lifetime journey. I am still on that journey, although it certainly helps that I know my strengths. I cannot change the way I was created and when I discovered that, it was a light -bulb moment.”
In some relationships, a woman’s newly found confidence can threaten the self-esteem of her man. Olunloyo mentors such women on managing their success. “Obviously, it is not cut and dry. A woman will discover that she has these amazing talents but I recognise the concern on her face when I ask why she does not share the report with her partner. So the coaching is in how to manage that success. It’s a matter of turning the diamond and looking at it from another angle.”
A shaky beginning
Much as she mentors other people, Olunloyo also has mentors who help to keep her in line.
In her career path, it was not all roses. “I was earning £45,000 (Shs215million) a year in the UK but I felt I was fed up of being a human resource director. So, I joined another organisation and took a 50 per cent salary cut. I went down to £15,000 (Shs71million) a year yet I had a mortgage. I took in students to pay the bills.”
The same thing happened when she came to Uganda. She had a good job as a human resource manager but she had to leave to start her own company. “I came to Uganda in 2006 on a three-year contract. I am not going to pretend; the first year was hard... I would write a list of things I was going to do. If I got two done, I would celebrate. It was difficult.”
Over the years, she grew to love the country and is now motivated by meeting people. “I have a good circle of friends who love me. They threw a party for me on my 50th birthday.”
On gaining her confidence
“I see a lot of myself in the young women I mentor. I can remember selecting my O-Levels, wanting to do Sociology. My dad, with his African background, said no. The expectation was I had to be a pharmacist because there was no pharmacist in the family. The nearest I got to enjoying being a pharmacist was in the biology class. I could not, for the life of me, like chemistry, physics, and maths. But, I listened to my dad.”
She barely passed her O’ and A’ Levels. She was admitted to the University of Surrey to study a four-year course in Microbiology. “I failed my first year and had to re-sit the exams. I also failed my second year. In the third year, went for industrial placement at a laboratory. It was practical and I loved the people. I could do it. When my tutor came to check on me, he bluntly told me I had a choice: to stay at the laboratory environment or get a tutor to bring me up to speed. If I returned to the university I would only get a pass. The next day, I told him I was out. I remember thinking to myself what I was going to do or what my dad was going to say. The guys were willing to take me on.”
She travelled from Chatham in South East England to London and broke the news to her father. “He sort of looked at me and asked, ‘What are you going to do?’ I told him I was not sure. He didn’t talk to me for days. The Christmas before, I had become a Christian (born-again) and I had done essentially the same thing, saying I am not going to their church anymore. I am going to my church.”
At the time, education in the UK was free so her father advised her to get at least get a certificate. She returned to the university for a six-month course.
“My dad was not impressed. I don’t know that we have ever really talked about it. I wanted to work in London, so I ended up at Max and Spencer, doing part-time work packing shelves and working the till. One day, the supervisor told me I should be doing more. I told her I would like to be in personnel and she literally moved me to the customer service desk.”
Three months later, the financial manager moved Olunloyo to the office as an administrative assistant. She went to Bromley College of Technology in the evenings and worked during the day. Years later, she moved to another organisation as a human resource officer.
“I don’t know if my dad finally accepted my career choice because I really don’t want to hear if he is not happy about it. I know he has regrets; I hope I am not one of them. I know I’m his favourite child.”
On being single at 50
She says it is easier in Uganda because she is living a fulfilled life. “It may also be that I do not directly have the parental pressure. But, I am hopeful. I know I am going to get married. There is no way I can be this beautiful, innovative, and confident, and I can’t get married!”
Olunloyo is a godparent to two children, one in the UK and another one in Chad. “For sure, it would have been nice to have children, but I am blessed by other people’s children. I celebrate Rosalie. I cannot sit around waiting for my husband so that I can enjoy life.”
People have told her that she may have been too picky in her youth. “Obviously, I have some standards, but let me say this: he can be a dustman, as long as he aspires, dreams, and takes risks to be something else. I remember when I had just bought my first property in the UK my pastor said to me, ‘You women, you have priced yourselves out of the market. You have property and a job. No man is going to come to you.’ But it is property I can lose anytime.”
Although she knows that she is an independent woman, Olonloyo also classifies herself as a Proverbs 31 woman.
Her source of pride
She has organised a conference, BeYou, at the Sheraton Hotel which she is proud of coordinating. As she talks about it, she begins to cry. These words are coming from a very deep place. “I’m sitting here thinking; I would like to be able to say to my dad…I’m 50 and not married, and as an African woman, you know what parents are like. My dad says, ‘You are telling me there is nobody in Uganda (who wants to marry you)?’ I know he will be proud when I tell him these many women have come (for the conference). I don’t know how it is going turn out, but this is my strength. And the light bulb has gone on and I am living my purpose.”
Her father had huge expectations of her because she is his first child. “I know for an African man, the girl child is not so big, but I know I am his favourite child. My stepmother has also been such a blessing to my life.”
On what she misses the most about the UK, she laughs and says, “I miss friends and family. But, siblings have visited me, and I travel to the UK every year. I miss fast internet and going for a walk amongst the bluebells. I miss going to the National Trust to see those old buildings.”
Her only regret is that she should have been bold and straight enough to say no to her father. And this is what motivates her every day. “I look forward to the anticipation: Who am I going to help switch on the light bulb today?”
Coaching changes lives
In 2012, I mentored a university student who was volunteering in an organisation that works with teenage mothers. Helping people was her passion. However, she was offered a permanent job with an organisation that deals in health. She did not want the job.
She wanted to remain a volunteer. However, she did not know how to convince her parents. In the end, after the mentoring, she made up her mind to turn down the permanent job. Six months down the road, the organisation she was volunteering for realised her strengths and began paying her a salary. Now, she is in the top management.
Why you need a coach
A manager needs to be coached so that they can understand who they are, what strengths they have in relation to their career, and if they are in the right position. When someone discovers their talent, they become more confident in their work and life.
A manager who is acting out his or her strengths will benefit the team more. You need to horn your emotional intelligence and capabilities so that you can spot the undetected talent in your team, and patiently draw it out.
You also need coaching to help you make career choices. Are you loyal, relational, dependable, flexible, or analytical? Is the job you are in the perfect one for you in relation to your strengths?