Shamim K Matovu
Shamim K Matovu

The compelling background story to Shamim K Matovu’s book on business management

'Lean Strategies for Managers;The Bridge to Productivity' is the title of her new book. Much of the research that went into the book, she did while doing her ongoing doctorate.

There are people in this world who seem to have been blessed at birth to have
influence. We all know them. They enter a restaurant at lunch and everyone stops
chewing for a few seconds just to look at them.

When they join your table at a party, they control the conversation with just their aura. Magnetic personalities that we, mere mortals, all aspire to call friend. They are like oil in water. They rise to the top in every sphere of life they find themselves. Shamim K Matovu falls in this category.

She’s a towering personality both physically and mentally. She has always been. Some
are talented runners, others are talented singers while others are talented painters.
Hers has always been leadership. From as far back as she can remember, she has
always been chosen by her peers to lead them. All through school, she was always in
one leadership role or another. At home, her brothers (she’s an only girl) would always
rely on her to get them out of trouble with their parents after a particularly mischievous

Author Shamim K Matovu
Author Shamim K Matovu

“I was my siblings’ lawyer,” she declares matter-of-factly. “I could get all of us off the
hook whenever I chose to because I was just good with my tongue.”

It goes without saying that she was a star debater all through school and would hold
that coveted position of information prefect at some point. Her charisma, her confidence
and her superb talking skills would only get better and better as she racked up more
experience as a business leader and soared to lofty academic heights.

Finding a bigger playing field Upon completing her Bachelor’s in Anthropology at Makerere University, Matovu stayed at the school and volunteered as a teaching assistant, helping students with their research. She was buying time, waiting to get a job. She soon found one in a bank as a customer experience person before she moved to the UK to study for a Masters in Anthropology and Development at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

She would take up jobs while at the London School of Economics, balancing work and
school like most international students in London. When the degree was done, Matovu
stayed on in London and worked in different social services organizations. It was while
at these jobs that her leadership talent was truly revealed.

“In London, I always worked in environments where I was a minority, a black person in a
white country, working with people from diverse cultures. But even here, I always ended
up leading because people somehow always came to me for help,” she says.

Such is the magnetism of Matovu. On the day that I met her for this interview, I found
her in a photo studio where she was having a photoshoot for her upcoming book

launch. It was a dark rainy day and I was cold, having travelled through the rain to meet
her. She paused what she was doing and came to greet me. I felt her magnetism in that
moment. I was here to interview someone I had never met, yet it strangely felt like she
knew me. Like as if she liked me. She was warm and genuine and open-hearted for lack
of a better word. But I digress.

“In every organization I worked, I somehow ended up in top management. My teams
always found me very strict on results but very understanding too. I will listen but I don’t
want excuses for not doing your work. So balancing that is something that has always
served me well,” she says.

She would develop a thick skin in London. When you are a black woman in your 20s
and 30s, leading white people double your age in London, there’s bound to be ropes to
pull. This was the case. But Matovu knew she was not an affirmative-action hire. She
had a Master’s degree from the London School of Economics, for crying out loud. That
was the clue. So she made sure all the prejudices came to nothing, like water of duck’s

“Interacting and understanding people deeply is very important in leadership. I am
trained to study people through culture. I understand people interaction and behavior,”
she says.

She learned to balance work relationships and deal with people from every corner of the
world. Her policy was “we agree to disagree and that’s it. Nothing personal.” And this
was refreshing to her people. Overtime, they accepted her leadership because they saw
that she meant business. She was warm but very strict about results. Micro managing
was distasteful to her. So long as the results were coming, the rest didn’t matter. They
loved her.

Coming back to Uganda
In 2021, Matovu came home after the long COVID lockdown. She wanted to let some
steam off after years of constant work, to wind down as long as possible before heading
back, “The longer I stayed in Uganda gallivanting and having a great time, the more team kept
telling me how they missed me, telling me how fair I had been to them and that they
wanted me back at my desk,” she says.

She was planning on honoring their wish but unfortunately, Matovu fell sick for a while
and started reflecting on what really matters. You know how sickness put you in an
existential mind frame, “I think the COVID lockdowns made most people, like me, start to ask ourselves about the meaning in our work. The sickness made those thoughts stronger. And for me, as a
professional that is driven by growth, I realized that in the organization I worked for in

London, there was not much space for me to grow any more. I just felt that at that level
of senior management, there was not much growth remaining for me.
“So I resigned my job while here, boarded the plane, handed over and came back to
Uganda. So I am running my company now,” she says.

On writing her first book
“When I went back after my resignation, to handover, my colleagues had prepared
parting gifts for me. And boy! Did they touch my heart! Someone had put a banner on
my parking spot that said, ‘This is Shamim’s Parking. Do not dare’. They had also
designed a certificate that declared me as the ‘World’s best Team leader’. This melted
my heart.

“But above all, they gave me a notebook and a pen. And the pen had these words
inscribed on it: “Write away!” They told me, “Shamim, we want to read your book.” She

They must have figured that she knew something about management that most people
didn’t. She had been exceptional in their estimation. And if she put what she knew on
paper, maybe the world would have better business managers. Managers like herself.
As she left London for Uganda, the challenge to write a book was on Matovu’s mind.
“I walked away telling myself that I must write a book. And a year later, the book is
finally finished,” she announces.

Lean Strategies for Managers; The Bridge to Productivity is the title of her new book.
Much of the research that went into the book, she did while doing her ongoing
doctorate. Matovu is finalizing a PhD in Business Administration specializing in
Leadership, Management and Human Dynamics, particularly researching about
organizational culture, conflict management and employee performance.

The book is a mix of the doctorate research and her experience as a leader in reputable
organizations in London. She has spent a year and two months writing the book. One of
the aspects of leadership she advocates for strongly is leading people and managing

“Adults hire adults. There is no organization that hires children. The question that you
must ask yourself is, why are we managing adults? These people are fathers, mothers,
grandmothers and grandfathers. These are responsible people that don’t need
managing at all. All they need is a leader. That is why a 35-year-old can lead a 60 year
old without a problem. We are supposed to only manage things,” she says.

In the book, she challenges leaders to let people be.
“Let people have freedom. What it means to lead people is to guide them. When you
hire me, I assume that you have hired me on merit. I am fit to be in the position that I fill.

I have the qualifications to do the job. All I need are the right tools to do the work and
the right environment,” Matovu advises.

To be a leader of people means you know that you are entrusted with the people in your
team, but also with the resources and tools of the craft. This where ‘managing things’
comes in.

“When I talk about managing things, I mean, find the right suppliers, find ways of putting
resources in the right hands or spaces. Safe environment includes things like noise and
sanitation and things like that,” she says.

Her company
The book slated to be launched on October 26th  in Kampala is one the things she has done since returning from the UK permanently.

During the one year she’s been back, she has built a company that designs company
culture for businesses.

“At Discover, we help organizations design a culture that causes them a sense of
belonging, alignment and bring equity back in the work environment. We go to the core
to understand why teams are not productive so that we can help change the
environment because productivity is a product of the environment,” she says.

“My role is to go into the work place and partner with business leaders and their teams
so that we can curate a culture that is desired for the organization,” she says.

Article by Tony Mushoborozi