This week’s Step Up Leader Tip comes from an extraordinary young Rwandan female leader. Sandrine Umuhoza, student at The Akilah Institute for Women in Rwanda and President of the Student Council, recently visited Tampa as an ambassador for her school and country. Sandrine exemplifies the dynamic potential of Akilah’s students; young women who bring economic empowerment to east Africa.

While at my home yesterday, I interviewed Sandrine. She spoke about what has influenced her as a leader—and her vision for herself and her country.

Sandrine lost several family members to the 1994 genocide when she was four years old. Before attending Akilah, she had lost hope.

“No one in my family who attended university is alive today. I told myself that I was not going to continue with schooling, because even if I could afford it, I would end up dying. But somebody who cared about me urged me to apply to Akilah. I can say that I am a different and very positive person now and not the one I thought I was going to be.”

The leadership lessons at Akilah that most influenced her are:

1. Growth mindset

“After learning about the growth mindset, I learned that the past is past. I remember it and learn from it, but don’t carry it into the present. I get to choose what I create in my future.”

2. Emotional intelligence

“I learned that anger has negative consequences. After the genocide, I sometimes wanted revenge. I learned I could control my negative thoughts and make them positive. I learned how to truly listen to people and confront them; how to give good feedback. You can’t control what comes at you, but you can control what comes out of you.”

3. Self confidence

“Because of the encouragement from friends, classmates and teachers at Akilah, I learned that women have a chance to become leaders. I have value in community and in society and will use it.”

4. Public speaking

“Speaking in front of people, I have learned to share my ideas and vision. Leaders have to communicate their ideas, vision and passion well. I enjoy speaking and hope to use it in a career in politics.”

5. Vision

“What you think you create. If you make it hard, it’s hard. It all depends on how you make it. When I see my vision, I see myself and my future in front of people. I see hope in Rwanda for our future. You can build a home and it won’t be destroyed. Kids want to go to school to build a future. I have capacity and ability to give hope to others because I have hope for myself.”

What leader of an organization or country would not agree with that?

I will be visiting Akilah as a guest instructor of leadership at the end of June. As Sandrine and I parted, she taught me the Kinyarwandan word, “Nahubutaha,” which means “until we meet again.”

Step Up Leader is a proud supporter of The Akilah Institute for Women in Rwanda. Profits from my Step Up Now book are donated to the school. For more information about the great work Akilah is doing to develop leaders, visit

Author's Bio: 

Susan Freeman is an executive coach who is best known for her unique approach to leadership transformation–combining Western strategic discipline with Eastern integrative wisdom techniques. Her clients get to the root of what is holding them back, allowing access to their Natural Leader. They evolve their leadership in an integrated, balanced and sustainable way. When they do, they experience passion, clarity and exceptional results.

She is the author of, “Step Up Now: 21 Powerful Principles for People Who Influence Others,” as well as a public speaker on the inner dimensions of leadership. Her passion is working with motivated, high-achieving leaders and influencers.

Susan received her M.B.A. in Marketing from Columbia University and her B.A. in Psychology from Wellesley College. Susan is an accredited coach with the International Coach Federation, as well as with Newfield Network where she received her coaching training. She is also a certified business facilitator from the MSP Institute. Susan brings to her coaching more than 25 years of corporate, entrepreneurial and non-profit business management and leadership experience.

She volunteers to mentor young women leaders locally and globally. In Africa, she works closely with The Akilah Institute to help empower young women with the skills, knowledge and confidence to become leaders. Her book connects her to the school, where it is used in curriculum and where she donates all profits from its sales. In Tampa she has mentored young women through the Emerge Tampa program of the Greater Tampa Chamber and Frameworks Tampa Bay.

Susan is a native of Kansas City and resides in Tampa, FL. In Tampa she is an active member of The Athena Society and a Leadership Tampa Alumna. She has founded or served on several educational boards at the secondary and university levels.

Susan is happily married and has three grown sons. Her hobbies include ballroom dancing, travel and yoga. Rarely a day goes by when she doesn’t eat a piece of dark chocolate.