Reflections of a LeadNext Fellow: Week 1 — On Authentic Leadership

Anne-Marcelle Kouame
3 min readJan 19, 2022


LeadNext Fellow Inaugural Class

Yall, I just completed my first week of the LeadNext Fellowship, the Asia Foundation’s latest initiative dedicated to the professional development of the next generation of 21 st century leaders. I went into the program with the goal of developing the cross-cultural skill sets needed to empower Black and Asian allies in their storytelling and career development through my social enterprise, Silk Road Journey. So far the program has exceeded my expectations and I’d like to share a couple of reflections with my community!

Leadership lives in all of us

When asked to list qualities that we admire in leaders, prompted by words like “empathy” “funny” and “culturally-savvy,” the person that I associated with those words was someone like Trevor Noah. Why? Because I saw myself in him; We are both African with a sense of humor, and we’re all about code-switching across languages and cultures. In order words, I am the leader and the change that I want to see in the world. So if you’re having a hard time figuring out which leader and leadership characteristic you admire, all you gotta do is take a look in the mirror. More often than not, the qualities we admire in others are the ones that already exist in us.

Our story is at the core of our leadership

Another assignment we did as part of the program was to identify a defining moment that influenced the way we lead. For this one, I thought about a couple of moments — from the time when I activated my own dorm room as a cultural gathering hub-dubbed “silk road” or when I coached my friend on personal self-expression to win a talent show. The common thread for me has always been to affirm people on their uniqueness and connect them around shared stories. If you’re reading this, yearning to, or unsure about leading, consider the following: what values move you to take action? What story or experience can you share — including the specific people and events — that illustrate how you learned or acted on these values? Put yourself back in that time and describe it, how did you feel?

Leaders activate other leaders

In addition to skill-building and reflection exercises, another sweet perk of the program is the guest speakers we get. First up was the amazing activist, storyteller, and strategist Jamira Burley from West Philly!

She embodied a type of leadership that I also really admire — one where leaders grant a plus one access into spaces they get invited to based on their positionality and level of privilege. Jamira also reminded me of the power of my stories. She prompted me to think about “how do I want people to feel when they hear my story.” The word “bold” came to mind because I want people to know that they can unlock any opportunity with their stories. She also got me to think about my audience? How I pitched to students is different from how I would pitch to a potential employer or investor. Finally, she urged me to have a call to action — for me, that is “what do I want people to do with the information I’m giving?”

So here’s my call to action to yall:

Comment below with what YOU want people to do with stories you share. I’d love to connect with you on this topic in a more intimate space. Join me and my co-founder, Michael Huynh, on Twitch Monday and Tuesday, 5 to 6:30 PM ET for Silk Road Office Hours where we have fun doing resumes, crafting career narratives, and building community!

Stay tuned for next week’s reflections, a mixture of cross-cultural leadership, career coaching, and entrepreneurship!!!



Anne-Marcelle Kouame

YouMap® Certified Coach | Cultural Facilitator | Learning & Development | Diversity, Equity & Allyship | On a Mission to Connect the World through Storytelling