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QUEEN OF KATWE: 4 Key Lessons From Coach Robert Katende To Ugandan Managers

The movie Queen of Katwe premiered on September 23rd, 2016. Despite all eyes focusing on Phiona Mutesi, we’ve focused on an unsung hero. We believe Ugandan managers should learn from Robert Katende – Phiona’s trainer.

According to the movie, Robert uses Chess as a tool to nature, mentor and disciple people especially vulnerable children living on streets and in slums. Yet, there’s something more to what Robert does, than just that. Some of which can present valuable lessons to Ugandan employers. Here are some;

  1. Believe in your employees, and show it.

According to the story, Phiona almost gave up on several occasions. She questioned her ability to beat opponents who she assumed to be better off. Being a wonderful leader, Robert knew exactly what she was lacking – self belief.

And he swung into action to tell her how much he believed in her. Apply this to your employees, too. If they have stopped believing in their ability to deliver as much as you expect them, swing into action. Remind them why you hired them out of the many applicants and what you expect of them. Then finally tell them how much you believe in them and the high hopes that you have vested in them.

Another way is through giving them independence. Let them work on projects with minimal supervision from your side. This will prove to them that you trust them to deliver even on their own. In turn, they’ll start going an extra mile. According to a Forbes article, an employee who feels encouraged and recognized is 13% likely to go an extra mile.


Madina Nalwanga and Lupita Nyong’o

  1. Communicate from the employee’s point of interest

In his documentary, Robert wanted to lure children into the game of Chess. Of course this was to benefit the children more but only he understood that – not the children. So what did he do? He started serving porridge to whoever attended the chess training.

Actually, porridge is the same thing that attracted Phiona Mutesi. Robert gets credit for understanding that. Slum children are hungry almost all the time, so a cup of porridge would be one of the best baits.

Why is this important? Many managers struggle to get workers on new projects or a task outside the job description. One question is, what is that one thing that can get your workers to go an extra mile? Is it money, appreciation, flexible working time, a vacation or what? That is what you should consider as your ‘porridge’.

Whenever communicating something you’re sure will not be well received, put your bait first. You’ll get the tasks done faster and better.


David Oyelowo who acts as David Katende encourages the children to take on Chess


  1. Adjust their vision

As he started training the children, one of the challenges was changing their mindsets. He recalls a time when he had to teach them how to use cutlery as they prepared to visit King’s College Buddo. The children asked him why they needed to cut what they are going to eat – and he had to explain.

Same will apply to your employees – but worse for you, they might not ask. You might get faced with a scenario where some of your employees don’t know why they do certain things. This is when to communicate how these things will be of value to the company as well as their career growth.

It will be hard for them to do a task especially if they don’t see it adding something to their future career plans. So, it is vital that you adjust their vision to see relevance even in the “trivial” tasks at your company.

  1. Focus on growing ambassadors/leaders

From the onset, his target was to groom leaders and ambassadors. He ensured that after he teaches a child, s/he should be able to teach it to someone else. This of course would save him a lot given that it was a one man team.

He also ensured that these children would become his ambassadors in the community. And they did. They would go telling their friends about the free porridge – which worked as a bait for Phiona too. This is perfect for managers with lean teams. How would you feel if a customer gets referred to you for a trivial problem? Why not have all your workers well acquainted with knowledge to handle some problems. Just in case a client engages any of your workers, you know they can handle them. This works if you develop a culture of delegating.


Winners Madina and David Oyelowo

As a manager, if you’re already using these kudos. Yet, if you haven’t yet started, it is never late. Start implementing one by one and see your employees’ productivity sore month after month. I am sure there are several lessons you have learned from Robert Katende. Feel free to share with us. You can write to Peter Kisadha on peter.kisadha@jumia.com.


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