Discussing personal faith can feel “slightly taboo” in the workplace, according to the chief executive of UK Youth.
Ndidi Okezie was speaking at at Civil Society Media’s Faith Week about taking charge of change and developing resilient leadership for turbulent times.
Okezie was asked about whether she had any conflict with colleagues because of her faith, or if she felt a need to temper her faith.
She said: “I do not have conflict because as a Christian your job is not to create conflict. I am unapologetic about my faith, in the principles of my faith, I think they come across in my leadership principles.
“I talk really openly about kindness and love, actually in a way that probably rubs people up the wrong way, but I think because I also talk openly about allowing people to have the space to be their authentic full selves, that is my authentic self. If yours is something different I am equally going to celebrate that.”
Okezie said: “I do sometimes think that faith is one of those things that still feels probably slightly taboo, in a way that I think we celebrate diversity in all sorts of ways.
“Even when we talk about celebrating religious festivals, I do not think that is quite the same thing as speaking about your faith,” she said.
‘We are all leaders in any space, at any level’
Okezie was also asked about how faith charities can offer a lead in building back better.
She said faith offers an “unapologetic, unwavering confidence that change can happen” and said people “do not need to wait to be in a position of leadership” to make change.
She said: “I really believe we are all leaders in any space, at any level. How you live your life is a daily opportunity for leadership.”
She explained “the opportunity to step outside of yourself and think about those around you” is leadership, as “everyone has a sphere of influence” which they can seek to maximise.
‘It felt like I was hit by a tsunami’
Okezie spoke to attendees about joining her charity only just before the onset of the pandemic.
On her appointment to lead UK Youth, Okezie said: “I was pretty single minded in my focus and preparation and in my determination.”
She noted “leadership is hard” but it has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, “I was not taking care of myself”.
“It felt like I was hit by a tsunami and in an instant everything was different - the goal posts completely changed,” she said.
Like most charities, UK Youth has needed to adapt to new conditions. For Okezie, the constant underlying thought is: “How do you change the world for young people coming behind you?”
She added: “I cannot afford to stop trying, it is never an option.”
However, on a personal level Okezie spoke about the importance of reaching out for help as she had become “isolated”.
A friend she has reached out to asked “where is your faith?”. This allowed Okezie to reflect and see that “my purpose is anchored in making every space I enter better”.
“My faith is my fuel,” she said.