Leadership is an interesting phenomenon. It is a more personal phenomenon than many people realize. I have been studying leadership for a while, at least for the last twenty-five plus years, and one of the greatest discoveries for me has been that leadership is not something ‘up there’ or ‘out there.’ The greatest leaders have been those who have been able to deeply reflect on their life stories and reframe them, leveraging their life stories to lead.
Growing up in Ghana as a student of leadership, a lot of the apt illustrations and gripping stories I consumed were foreign, mainly coming from Western literature and audiovisuals. A case in point is Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, as one of the best examples of how the corporate success of Starbucks is as a result of the reframing of his own life story, especially his dad’s misfortunes. Says Mr. Schultz himself, “The reservoir of all my life experiences shaped me as a person and a leader.” Now, I am really excited that many more Africans are telling their leadership stories and writing, putting them in print. Finally, the lions are learning to write their own tales of the hunt.
MEET THE MECHANICAL ENGINEERING MBA
One of the CEOs in Ghana whose life story has taken a firm grip on me is a young lady I’ve just come to love. First, she’s just an amazing human being, very authentic. Then Akua is a professional in her own right, with a Masters in Mechanical Engineering, an MBA, a third seminarian masters and actually studying for a Ph.D as well. But the icing on the cake for me is this: she is a priest too!
The fascinating story of Rev. Akua Ofori-Boateng is chronicled in her thrilling autobiography aptly entitled ‘Broken For Use.’ It is raw, real, and very vulnerable—perhaps the most vulnerable Ghanaian, or maybe even African, autobiography that I have read.
Akua is CEO of Aequitas, an organization desirous to see every youth find and pursue their passion. She and her team do this by providing internships and safe learning spaces for youth to explore, discover their gifts and find their purpose. And when you have read her story—the intriguing tale of a privileged, middle-class girl yearning for approval—you will immediately understand why she would found and lead such an organization—from her life story!
WHY LEADING FROM LIFE STORY MATTERS
The passion and purpose of your leadership would come from your life story. If you are going to have dedication and commitment to leadership, it will need to come from leading from your life story. If you are going to have inspiration and motivation, it comes from your life story. If you are going to have a true north for your leadership, it comes from your life story.
I am exceedingly glad to be collaborating with her at YAW PERBI to impact youth and C-Level Executives because authentic leadership comes from leading from your story. Watch out for opportunities for collaborative training, coaching, workshops, publishing etc. with the Rev. when it comes to this whole area of authentic leadership. Just before wrapping up lunch with her the other day, I wanted her to share with you why she wrote this book and what it means for her life and leadership. You may watch the short, unrehearsed and upstaged video I captured here or read a transcript of her convincing spiel below:
Rev. Akua Ofori-Boateng: I wrote this book because when I was young and struggling with my own insecurities and challenges, I didn’t have any book like this to read, anything to tell me of that what I was going through was normal and that anybody had been through such. Certainly no one my age was talking about it from being that age. I wrote this so that young people who are struggling and unable to forgive themselves and have made some of the mistakes I made would recognize that we all make mistakes and that there is life after mistakes. The life after mistakes is a good life and a fulfilling one and a life that can benefit other people.
Dr. Yaw Perbi: How has your life story shaped your leadership?
Rev. Akua Ofori-Boateng: My life story and my leadership are inseparable. For me, I lead from a place of what I have experienced. And I want the young people to understand that you are not talking to perfection. You are talking to a person who is giving you advice based on their own issues, mistakes they have made and overcome so I lead from a place of authenticity. I got it wrong and now I’ve got it right; and if you got it wrong, you can get it right too.
Notable leadership experts from Bobby Clinton to Bill George have divided life into phases, usually three or four. It takes deep reflection to draw these out for oneself. The power of leading from life story is one of the many reasons why self-awareness is a sine qua non in leadership. There is no authentic or deep leadership without knowing one’s life story and reframing it as a source of inspiration, dedication and commitment, passion and purpose for your leadership. Your best leadership will not come from trying out a long list of characteristics of great leaders or even emulating outstanding ones, but from deeply reflecting on and leveraging your own life story. It will come from ‘in here’. The raw material needed for great leadership is found in your own life story. What a fascinating paradox that the outward journey of serving and influencing others first begins with a leader’s own journey inwards and backwards, drawing from the power of their own life story.