Monday, September 6, 2010

Are leaders born, made... or simply promoted?

I think we can all agree that North America is entrenched in leadership and management techniques, tests, and lingo.
Personally, with a mom working in IBM in "Leadership Development", a background in Education and Social Sciences, experience working with EWB and other volunteer organizations in Canada, and job experiences in Management in Canada, I deeply appreciate the need for a person to develop in their leadership/management capabilities.

Though I recognize that some people are "natural leaders", I believe that all people can and should focus on personal development, grow in their self awareness, and their ability to work effectively with people... especially if they are in management positions.

With HBR articles, countless books, and personality tests readily available, it seems like there are abundant ways to develop as a leader in Canada. But after some time in Ghana, I have recognized that these resources are not as readily available or promoted, and that there isn't as much of a conscious effort to DEVELOP people into managers.
For example, in the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, I was discussing with one of the Principals of the Colleges the challenge of management in MoFA.. how the manager plays a central role in setting the organizational climate, in motivating staff and encouraging high performance. I asked him what happens when someone becomes a District Director of Agriculture (Manager of a MoFA District office), he said... "not much".
In MoFA, promotions tend to be based more on seniority than any other factor, which results in technical experts becoming managers. It's great for a staff to excel in their technical knowledge- in crops, livestock, etc...and by all means, over time they deserve a raise and opportunities to grow in their career. However, I am unsure that merely promoting a technical officer to become a Director is the recipe for district success. Becoming a great manager is more than just getting a new title.

It's not so unlike Chieftancy, where much (if not all) learning takes place "on the job". I remember entering my Chief's room one day to hear him breathe deeply and remark: "Njallawuni, it's not easy being a leader!". He went on to explain some of the conflicts and challenges community members were bringing for him to solve. He certainly didn't pass through University, a 6 week course, or any formal educational structure to learn how to manage such situations effectively.

Many people quickly point to Leadership as the key solution to Africa's problem. I don't think it's as simple as that but don't entirely disagree... I do feel that developing people into leaders and managers will result in stronger leaders, and I acknowledge the important role of leaders in creating social change.. we need leaders who can catalyze change within their spheres of influence. Because at the end of the day, it is determined, intelligent, inspired, committed Ghanaians who will transform Ghana.

Friday, September 3, 2010

"Are you fasting?"

Living in a country that is not your own requires a buffet-style approach to dealing with differences that arise.

Having lived in Ghana for over a year now, I still find myself approaching the buffet of options... do I adapt, adopt, or object to this situation?

When you first come, in hopes of "integrating" into the culture, you do a lot of adopting. You observe what others do, and adopt that behaviour. Whether it is the way Ghanaians dress, greet, interact, etc...
But over time, you will definitely come across things you don't want to adopt, and some you may strongly object to. You might encounter reckless driving, sexual harassment, physical abuse, etc.
And then, many times, as a foreigner you chose to adapt. You take what they are doing and make it your own. You can't let compromise, compromise your own values. I am quite happy and comfortable living in Ghana, but that doesn't mean I act completely as every Ghanaian I interact with does, or that I still behave like a 100% Canadian girl...

Take this example. As you may know, I live with a Muslim family and right now is Ramadan- a month of prayer and fasting for Muslims.
Yesterday, a man came into the family compound and was greeting me in Dagbani. I was responding alright, and then he said something I'd never heard before in a greeting. I turned to one of the mummy's beside me- who is fluent in English- and asked what he said. She said, "He asked: "are you fasting?".

I responded: "well... somehow..." And they all laughed.

Typically, I always eat with the family.. whatever they eat, I eat. But during this month they only eat at night, and very early dawn.. the rest of the day they fast. I knew I didn't want to adopt this behaviour, as I am not a Muslim, and I know that in order to be effective at work I need to eat and drink and sleep well. But I didn't want to completely reject what they were doing, and isolate myself (any further). So in the morning "I fast".. when I'm at home and they are not eating, I too do not eat. But when I'm in town working, I eat and drink as I would. Then when I arrive home at night, I wait and eat dinner with them once they break their fast.

In this case, and in many others, I have chosen to adapt cultural practices of Dagombas here in Northern Ghana in a way that lets them know I respect them, but that I am also different, and I need to ensure I am happy and comfortable in Ghana. The longer you're away from your home country, the more conscious you have to be of who you are.. of not losing who you are in the midst of integration, compromise, and adaptability.

Its a delicate balance.. and its all part of this journey I'm on...

My daily life in Ghana: 6