Even as a boy, I felt there was something not quite right about hardly knowing my dad’s fellow partners and their families at the ‘big four’ accounting firm he worked at. Of course I knew a couple of the names and faces but that was about it. I felt they could organize some social events and such to intentionally bring their families together but hey, what did I know?
In fact, even now I wouldn’t be able to make out even the wife of the senior partner when dad was deputy senior partner. The very kind, burly man’s children currently live barely five hours away from my family in the same country (Canada) but we don’t know each other well enough to even give the other an occasional ring. Oh wait, I got to talk to one of them once, when their dad was seriously ill and had been hospitalized in their town, but that’s been about it.
I think what I longed for, even as a boy, was a bit more of work-life integration, without even knowing that was actually ‘a thing’ or that such a term even existed. A feeble attempt at it has become largely known in the corporate space in recent times as “life/work balance” but what I speak of is more profound than that. How can anyone not see that there is a problem pitting “work” against “life” as if life doesn’t encompass work itself as well as one’s personal life, family and community? And it doesn’t have to be a zero sum game, work or die, inasmuch as there tends to be many tradeoffs.
BUY ONE, GET THREE FREE!
It’s a no brainer that having a bad home situation can adversely affect your professional performance and vice versa. Also, despite how stringent your personal health routines might be, your community relationships are a significant determinant of your mental and physical health, a 75-year study proves. Life is not as separate as we would like (or like to think). Somehow we know this when it comes to how something negative in one aspect of our life can spill over to botch another aspect but what if I told you that being a great dad can make you a better CEO or that the skills you use in your community can be a life-saver in some work project? Yeah, work/life balance isn’t the want to go; work-life integration is. I’ll tell you why.
Author Stewart Friedman concurs: “From years of studying people in many different settings, I have found that the most successful people are those who can harness the passions and powers of the various parts of their lives, bringing them together to achieve what I call “four-way wins — actions that result in life being better in all four domains.” These four domains Stewart speaks of are illustrated in ‘The Integrated Life’ diagram below. He continues, “My research has shown that there are ways for everyone — from the managers of sales teams, to executives in government agencies, to computer engineers, to florists, to coaches — to achieve professional success without always having to sacrifice the things that matter in their personal lives.”
COVID-19 BLESSING IN DISGUISE
One of the gifts of the COVID-19 pandemic has been to not only highlight how important the place we call “home” is, but how it is central to our children’s formal education and our own professional lives. Heck, we’ve even done community, like church, from home! Online. This is perhaps the most physically integrated most people have been in their entire work lives. And those of us who like to keep everything prim and proper with no drama have had a really hard time.
I do a fair bit of social media. I find FaceBook much more integrated in terms of all four aspects of life than say, LinkedIn. Several times, I have seen people literally apologize and “make an excuse” or “make an exception” to post something faith or family-related on LinkedIn. I’ve tried to push those boundaries myself sometimes but it’s a weird, I must say. When I recently shared on LinkedIn that I daily run the daycare at home for the youngest ones of our seven children, I was really honoured to have one of my mentors, Bill George (Harvard business school professor and former CEO of Medtronic), affirm me as follows: “Thank you, Yaw, for being the authentic leader you are.” This must be why: Bill really believes, “For authentic leaders, being true to themselves by being the same person at work that they are at home is a constant test, yet personal fulfillment is their ultimate reward. Doing so will make you a more effective leader in all aspects of life“ (George 2015, 16).
WHERE THE RUBBER HITS THE ROAD
At a just-ended eight-week Family Foundations Mastermind I hosted, the prime place of family was underscored over and over again but by the penultimate session we needed to ‘get real.’ How do we do family well while keeping a demanding job, juggling community roles and trying to stay sane? This is where the rubber hits the road.
As I’ve stated before, integrity comes from the Latin root integritas which means whole, entire, undivided. On the other extreme are those who completely separate their professional life from other aspects of their lives. Then there are those who in the name of work/life balance, hop from one of the four parts to the other, trying to “fulfill all righteousness” and tick every box with as little guilt as possible. What I subscribe to and strive for is integration. Bill is blunt: “To lead an integrated life, you need to bring together the major elements of your personal life and professional life, family and friends so you can be the same person in each environment” (159-160).
We’re striving for the word integrated rather than balance. Subtle difference, apparently, but HUGE. Stewart gets it: “The idea I think to replace work/life balance, which treats these categories as independent, is work/life integration. You’re treating yourself whether you’re at work or at play in basically the same way.”
BIG ROCKS FIRST
All the buckets don’t have the same weight. I believe we ought to carry the more important yet not always more urgent buckets of personal and family first, putting the big rocks in first as Stephen Covey would put it, and all the other things will be added to us as well. Easier said than done, but it must be done nonetheless.
My favourite corporate example of this is Nike CEO John Donahoe (former eBay CEO), when he was a consultant with Bain decades ago with a young family. I was most impressed about how he told his client, ”It is important to me to be doing this. I’m committed to working hard, but I can’t be there before 10am.” This is because he insisted on taking his children to school before heading to the client site. The result? Donahoe was amazed that his clients appreciated the choices he was making. “The client responded positively as he appreciated my commitment and contributions even more” he says. “I didn’t have the courage to think about it that way before. There’s an inclination in business to put on a tough exterior to give the impression that you have everything under control” (162).
Bill George reports that “Donahoe learned that the more he integrated his life and embraced his humanity, the more effective he became as a leader … by showing his team and clients his [priorities and] vulnerabilities, he discovered his teams performed better and his client relationships strengthened.” (162)
This is not to say it’s all easy; but it’s worth it–just like med school or doing an MBA. Hear Donahoe: “The struggle is constant, as the trade-offs and choices don’t get any easier as you get older. My personal and professional lives are not a zero-sum trade-off. I have no doubt today that my children have made me a far more effective leader in the workplace. A strong personal life has made the difference” (160).
To be whole (integritas), we need to integrate our personal , family, community and professional lives, not pit one against the other like ‘work/life balance’ suggests. Real life happens were all four meet and they can enhance each other. Indeed, they should. It isn’t easy. How do I know? I’m still trying. So should you. It’s worth it.
In my next blog, I will share many practical examples and ideas of how people have made life-work integration happen, and how my family and I have tried to, also.
George, Bill. 2015. Discover your True North. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
Friedman, Stewart D. 2014. “What Successful Work and Life Integration Looks Like.” Harvard Business Review. October 07, 2014.
In my last blog we discussed when to leave the dance floor as an executive leader. Today, let’s talk about how to leave the dance floor. I agree with those who prefer ‘succession management’ to the term ‘succession planning’ because planning, come to think of it, really is only a third of the management cycle which comprises planning, implementation and evaluation.
I have several succession management experiences in my leadership career spanning over two decades. These have been in multiple C-level roles and contexts, even in different countries and continents.
SUCCESSION SUCCESS STORIES
After pioneering The HuD Group in Ghana in 2003 and leading it for five years, I successfully passed it on to the next national CEO and left for Cote d’Ivoire to pioneer the same work of holistic leadership development there while serving with the United Nations peacekeeping operation. The Cote d’Ivoire transition, when it was time to leave after a year, was one of the trickiest. The very week I was to leave, the one person who had hitherto faithfully served alongside me and was the ‘heir apparent’ suddenly and strangely broke my trust in a significant way. The ‘next best’ I eventually handed over to, ended up being truly the best. Timothée led the organization for a decade and has now also successfully passed the baton to an amazing lady, Ann. Timothée is now the CEO of Francophone Africa for the same organization. We have been working together for over a dozen years. We do not only have a mentoring relationship but are really friends, having spent great times together in several African countries as well as in the U.S. and Indonesia. I have done the same kind of succession management in Canada, handing over The HuD Group I pioneered there in 2010 to a very capable young man who at the time was working for Shell in the oil sands of Alberta.
In a different scenario, although I was initially hired to be interim pastor of the English congregation of a Chinese church in Montreal, when it was time to get serious about handing over to a successor after about three years, several people did not want us to go that route. They liked me and had gotten comfortable with the progress we were making in several areas but I knew it was the right thing to do. As a leader, I had figured out that the church needed to find someone who could give their full attention to the work and not my part-time investment, albeit fairly substantial. That too was an interesting succession management process as it involved interviewing candidates from Canada, the US, Taiwan and the Philippines. It’s been about five years since we eventually hired a young trilingual Chinese-Canadian, Rev. Joseph Cherng, and the church has been thriving since he took over over from me. Again, he consults me from time to time and we are good friends, even visiting our home to share fellowship together with our spouses.
As I shared in the previous blog, I have just made my way off the dance floor after an eight-year tenure as president of ISMCanada and still in the midst of succession management even as I write this blog. I like the fact that in their statement to the organization, the board mentioned that I gave them a whole year’s notice of my stepping aside. That is how to do it–give ample time (unless, of course, it is an emergency). A recent meeting at ISMCanada had two former presidents (myself and Paul Workentine, who handed over to me in 2013) and the new president of ISMCanada (Jakob Koch) all in the same Zoom breakout room (picture below). All three of us still have roles in the organization concurrently. A blessed rarity!
Apart from leaving the dance floor when people are still enjoying your dance, there are two other mindsets that have helped me succeed with regards to succession management in the several leadership transitions in my leadership career in multiple roles and contexts First, “leadership success is measured by succession” and then, “always be closing.”
MINDSET #1: LEADERSHIP SUCCESS IS MEASURED BY SUCCESSION
One of the things that has helped me to be largely successful in all the above stories, even amidst challenges, has been a leadership jewel I picked from John Maxwell’s 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership about 20 years ago. According to John’s Law of Legacy, a leader’s lasting value is measured by succession. So unlike other leaders, and I’ve seen many such in Africa, who even want their successor to fail so that they look good, I have always viewed by success as a leader by how well my successor does. You don’t want your successor to look bad just so that you look good. That is bad leadership.
In all the above successful succession stories, my pride is in the fact that these subsequent leaders are doing well, even better than I did in me era. If really leadership is about the people we serve and the noble purpose we share, then any true leader would want to measure their success by a successful succession!
MINDSET #2: ALWAYS BE CLOSING
When I was a financial consultant with Investors Group Canada, I had a fascinating Italian gentleman called Carlo in charge of my unit. He was quite the mentor figure, doing some rounds with me and even taking me to his home on the east end of Montreal once. Carlo was a straight-shooter and his large clientele was evidence that he was doing something right. He is the guy who first taught me to ‘motivate and disturb’ in the sales process. But the most important thing he taught me about sales, I find applies to succession management as well. He called it ABC–Always Be Closing. That must’ve been his short version of Stephen Covey’s second habit of successful people: begin with the end in mind.
To Carlo, what was the point of all the prospecting, phone calling, presentation preparation, sales conversations etc. if it all these activities in the sales process don’t end up in a sale? But in order to close the sale in the end, one has to have that mindset and talk and behave as a closer right from the beginning of the conversation–even before the beginning–and throughout the conversation. ABC–Always Be Closing.
When it comes to succession management, I feel the same way. Always Be Closing. Right from taking a position or role, one needs to begin with the end in mind and start succession management. Always Be Closing. What if the day after you become VP or CEO you’re hit by a bus? What happens to your organization? Even barring any such tragedy, the reality is, every leader, no matter how good and gifted, will have to leave one day. No one and nothing lasts forever. From the very day I took on the CEO role at ISMCanada, I identified a possible successor and hinted him. Always be closing.
So succession management should be as basic a mindset and requirement as ABC for every would-be-successful leader. Beginning with the end in mind, Always Be Closing. And if one truly believes their leadership success is measured by successful succession, it will make all the difference in how they leave the dance floor. Leadership success is good, but significance because succession was successful, is even better!
This month I clocked eight years as president and CEO of a strategic Canadian charity in the international education space. I was headhunted for the role and felt privileged to be the first ever black president of our almost 40 years old organization. We provide hospitality, faith exploration opportunities and leadership development for the over half a million international students in Canada to be empowered to impact the world. I’ve had the privilege of leading about 90 incredible staff across 23 cities from coast to coast–Canada is the second widest country on earth after Russia–and oh yes, we have a staff family serving in Australia too.
SO WHY ARE YOU LEAVING?
In the first couple of years under my leadership, we grew by about 70% (short of my 100% goal) in new staff and new fields, expanding into about a dozen new cities, extending coast to coast for the first time in the organization’s history. There’ve been many more exciting things that have happened, including seeing such a rich diversification of our staff to about 15 nationalities. One of my greatest joys has been to see former international students becoming leaders of our work in cities, regionally and even in senior leadership. Every quarter we chronicle story upon story of incredible impact on students/scholars by staff and volunteers and impact of our students and alumni around the world, from Australia to Zimbabwe! We’ve seen an organization little known organization gain significant recognition in the international education space in Canada and abroad. Together with the leaders and staff, we worked to move organizational health from OK to healthy to flourishing (as independently adjudged by a third party firm). When I hear of CEO versus board tussles I cringe and thank God that this has been far from my experience. I’ve had such a congenial and synergistic relationship with the board, which has rotated through four chairpersons over the period I’ve been president.
If everything is going as well as I claim, then why am I leaving? My work is done! I believe every leader has a particular purpose to a particular people in a particular place for a particular period and when your work is done, you pack up and go, leaving the place and people better than you found them. I had initially been approached for this role in late 2012 and had laughed it off, especially since I was not only running The HuD Group, which had just received charitable status in Canada, but was also doubling as interim pastor for the Montreal Chinese Alliance Grace Church. Eventually I did take the five-hour flight from Montreal to Calgary to interview with the board. When Anyele and I prayerfully decided to make some adjustments and finally accept the board’s offer, I specifically stated that I planned to do this presidency for three to five years. In fact, I ensured it was clearly spelt out in the documentation. Well, guess what? It’s been three plus five years. It’s time to go!
MUSIC AND DANCING WITH GRAPHS
It is time to leave because my particular purpose to a particular people in this particular place for this particular period is done. As a wise saying in Africa goes, you leave the dance floor while people are still enjoying your dance. What Africans say so well idiomatically, Westerners tend to express graphically. So below is a pictorial illustration of what I’m saying.
While the above graph refers to the life cycle of any organization per se, it is similar to the organizational leader’s cycle too. Don’t wait to peak, let alone to get into decline and eventual death. That is not great for your leadership but even worse, not good for an organization you supposedly believe in (and even love). Just before the peak is when you collaborate with the ‘DJ’ (stakeholders) to start another song i.e. launch another initiative, start a new programme, launch a new organization etc. Just before the peak is when your dance is still being enjoyed so you either start another song or gracefully leave the dance floor!
By the time one hits the peak itself, you are stretching it. Folks are beginning to get tired of your moves. After the peak, it’s all downhill, babe! And no matter how hard you dance (in spite of how very tired you might be) no one’s excited anymore. Not only have eyes started rolling all the way into the head, some may even have begun yawning by now. Bored. Yet, some leaders still don’t get it! Whether it’s because of the adrenaline rush on the dash floor or the perks of the position, they keep dancing and dancing and dancing, while they keep losing the audience until the music is over! Some even keep dancing after the music is over, dancing to the music in their heads. It’s a fight together them off the dance floor! If you don’t leave the dance floor while people are still enjoying your dance, at least leave while the music is still playing! Worst case scenario, far from ideal, leave when the music is done.
A POLITICAL CONCLUSION
Knowing when to leave the dance floor is more of an art than a science; it’s a soft thing akin to discernment and intuition. The greatest leaders like Nelson Mandela have it; they just know. When everyone was urging Madiba to do a bonafide and very welcome second term in office as South Africa’s first black president who had had a good run, he declined. “No, please.” Nelson Mandela left the dance floor while we were all not only still enjoying his dance, we were urging him on for more moves!
Knowing very well that some leaders wouldn’t have what it takes to leave the dance floor even when it’s obvious, many spheres of society have term limits on executive roles. Most political jurisdictions have a maximum of two four-year terms. As an African, I’ve been embarrassed by how many of our leaders haven’t had what it takes to gracefully leave the dance floor while we were still enjoying their dance. Mandela, unfortunately, is more of an exception than the rule. As a former United Nations peacekeeping soldier, I’ve tasted first hand the horror of the ravages of civil strife and war when leaders don’t want to leave the dance floor even after the music is over. I hate it!
I join those concerned about the “pandemic of ‘third terminism‘” in Africa, including in the West African country I served in as a U.N. Peacekeeper from June 2008 for a year and lost two of my medical colleagues to death. Oxford defines ‘third terminism’ as the phenomenon of leaders seeking to break constitutional term limits—usually set at two terms in office—to secure a third term in office. The phrase has also been used more broadly to refer to leaders who refuse to leave power. This isn’t uniquely African; it is simply human. Recently, Putin has done it in the east and in the west, Trump did not want to leave the floor when his music was over. In fact, it was Franklin D. Roosevelt’s ‘third terminism’ (he won, even a fourth!) and the popular fallout about the concept of a long-term president that led to the ratification of the 22nd amendment in 1951 that “No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice…”
According to the National Constitution Centre, “Franklin Roosevelt wasn’t even the first Roosevelt to seek a third term in the White House. His distant cousin, Theodore Roosevelt, ran unsuccessfully as a third-party candidate in 1912, after declining to run in 1908. President Ulysses S. Grant also sought a third term in 1880, but he lacked enough party support to get a nomination.”
George Washington, the first U.S. president, had set the two four-year terms maximum precedent in 1796 when he declined a third term. In 1799, a friend urged Washington to come out of retirement to run for a third term. But as I earlier asserted, the greatest leaders know when to leave the dance floor–and stay off! Washington’s voluntary decision to decline a third term, like Mandela’s voluntary decision to decline a second, was apparently seen by many people as a safeguard against the type of tyrannical power yielded by the British crown during the Colonial era.
In my next article, I shall share about how to leave the dance floor in grand style (some call it ‘succession management’). In the mean time, you, my friend, now know when to leave the dance floor–at best when people are still enjoying your dance; or at least, while the music is still playing!
One of the most sold yet least bought commodities in the leadersphere is integrity. There’s hardly a set of corporate core values one comes across without it showing up somehow. What’s even more intriguing is how mystical people make it sound and look. In fact, I’ve heard politicians throw it about in a way that’s made me wonder whether even I understood what the heck it is. But hear me good: integrity is not that complicated.
Although there are so many definitions of it, I’ll share with you one that is as simple as primary school math and then show you a simple litmus test of integrity. Integrity comes from the Latin root integritas, which means whole, complete, entire, unbroken. It’s the same word from which we get the word integer. See, I told you it’s as simple as grade school math! What are integers? Positive and negative whole numbers.
Integrity then basically means you’re whole, not divided. The opposite of that would be fractions; not whole. You’re fractionated, broken up.
What’s the litmus test I speak of? Integrity is not that complicated. How can you tell I’ve got it? How do I know you have integrity too? I don’t need a KYC (know your client) form or a testimonial from a referee or even your long list of impressive achievements. Integrity is keeping your word–not letting your word fall to the ground, not breaking your word. Integrity is being what you say you are and doing what you say you’ll do.
BEING WHAT YOU SAY YOU ARE
Let’s consider two guys, Kofi and Yaw. If Kofi says, “I lie, I deceive, I steal.” Kofi has low morality, by that particular society’s general standards of acceptable behaviour in that era. When Yaw says, “I abhor lying, I don’t deceive, I never steal,” he has high morality.
BUT, if Yaw goes on lying, deceiving and stealing then Yaw is not a person of integrity. He doesn’t keep his word. However, if Kofi goes ahead to lie, deceive and steal, although he has low morality he actually is a person of integrity (albeit in a very twisted way) because he keeps his word. He said he will do these things and he does. Integrity is being what you say you are, being what you say you will.
DOING WHAT YOU SAY YOU’LL DO
Again integrity is keeping your word, this time, by doing what you say you’ll do. I still remember the shock of a new friend I made when I showed up at her place exactly when I promised I would. She was brutally honest with me that she wasn’t expecting me to keep my word. I was hurt that he would think so lowly of the human race, more specifically the XY chromosomic Homo sapiens, and even more specifically a Christian gentleman. But you couldn’t blame here–she had experienced too many people promising and failing to deliver all too often.
Integrity is keeping your word. Of course, sometimes we give our word and due to extenuating circumstances we’re not able to keep it (we can’t control everything, especially the elements and emergencies). If you are a person of integrity, however, although you are not able to keep your word you still honour your word by reaching out in advance (preferably in advance), apologizing for not being able to and renegotiating to make things right.
My editing team for the weekly PEP Talks I do expect my videos to get to them by Sunday night each week. I had such a long day last Sunday that I realized there was no way I was going to be able to make a good video to send at the end of the day. To keep my integrity, however, I sent a note to the team saying, “Hey, it’s been a very tiring day and I wouldn’t be able to give this video my best shot. I’ll work on it tomorrow instead and send it to you.” I was unable to keep my longstanding word, but I did well to still honour it. I wish that were always true. Sometimes I’ve failed to keep my word and gone on with life as if I never gave my word in the first place. That is not integrity–not matter how much I claim to have it!
I get amazed how many people give their word with no intention whatsoever to keep it! And then there is the category of people who give their word intending to keep it but when they are unable to don’t see the big deal in still honouring their word–apologizing and redressing it. I’ve had to correct several people I work with to the point that now they not only keep their word, but if for some reason they are not able to, they now honour it by apologizing, letting me know and re-negotiating.
By the way, when we make plans and don’t keep it (even if they don’t involve anybody else), we violate our integrity. Many of us do not take our own word seriously; we don’t take ourselves seriously. I insist on 100% integrity with my coaching clients when they give their word about what they commit to doing in between our sessions.
Inasmuch as I want to keep this article to the personal level, I cannot help but take a swipe at politicians who are notorious for giving their word during political campaigns only to take office and not only fail to keep their word but sometimes even pretend they have no clue what the citizenry and civil society organizations are reminding them about and trying to hold them to account for! There is a joke about how before elections they call us “the masses.” When they win and we make our demands of them we become “them asses!” In my short lifetime, on both sides of the Atlantic, I have met very few politicians worth their salt. Politicians with integrity are almost extinct.
So integrity isn’t this highfalutin, mystical, metaphysical thing. It’s not that complicated. It is as simple as primary school math: integers. What shows you have it or not is as simple as keeping your word. Period. Nothing more, nothing less.
ONCE UPON A TIME
A number of years ago I was invited to do a keynote for one of the high profile speakers in a certain country. In our private conversations I expressed my deep concern about how an imminent divorce by another significant leader in the country was likely to have a really bad ripple effect on millions of people. In my naiveté I asked, “can’t anyone speak to him?” You know what the answer I got was? “WHO?” “WHO, Yaw, WHO?” In other words, there was no one high enough to hold this ‘big man’ accountable. Apparently, none of the ‘big names’ from around the world I felt might have the gravitas to make this man on a pedestal, rather on a precipice, answerable was worthy.
You see, this otherwise great leader had set himself up to fail by not putting in place relationships and structures to hold himself accountable and to bring him to book. Needless to say, the divorce happened and not only his family and organization but even the nation has not recovered since.
Last week I shared with you A Sure Way to Destroy Your Leadership (and Organization). Well, today I would want to share another sure way to destroy your leadership: not making yourself accountable. My favourite synonym for accountability is answerability. In the sad story I just shared, you could say there was no answer to the question of this big man’s answerability.
TODAY & TOMORROW, PERSONALLY & ORGANIZATIONALLY
Over the last few weeks, there have been significant allegations made against the leadership of a major church denomination originating from Ghana. Everyone I know who I thought was close enough to the denominational head has said to me, “No, I’m not.” The obvious ones, whether by family relation or organizational chart, who are positionally supposed to be in the inner circle are allegedly asking those pushing for a response and/or reform to “PRAY TO GOD TO SPEAK TO THE MAN because he is only accountable to God—no one else can counsel him, let alone question him!” WOW!
Not planning to be accountable is PLANNING TO FAIL—invariably you will, it’s just a matter of time. And principles are not respecter of persons. A survey of about 400 leaders who had all morally failed over a two-year period revealed that none of them had accountable relationships.
So organizationally, do not take lightly the power of a governance board. If you don’t have one, set it up—not a kangaroo board (for the show), a real one. Only last week the accountant of the Canadian charity I’ve been leading as president/CEO for the last eight years called me about a decision I had made to launch a very innovative fund, something that hadn’t been done in the organization’s nearly 40 years of existence. In her opinion this needed board clearance; I did not think that was relevant. Instead of trying to bulldoze my way as CEO and to remove every shadow of doubt, I immediately sent an email to the board chair and entire board presenting the issue to them and requesting a board vote electronically. Within a few hours, it was done. Imagine I had no accountability?
I even heard of a pastor whose church offerings are sent to his house after church. Only God knows the difference between what is taken to his house and how much ends up in the bank, if it ends up at the bank at all!
So organizationally, have a functioning governance board, but personally also, have an accountability partner. In fact, I have a friend who has a personal board which I am privileged to serve on, checking on him each quarter. My best friend of about 30 years is my accountability partner. Franklin was my best man is happens to be my brother-in-law as well. We meet monthly to keep each other accountable—we call it ‘FFF’, First Friday at Five.
The other day, our accountability time fell at a time when I was scheduled to fly out of the São Paulo-Guarulhos International Airport in Brazil. I remember so clearly the exact corner of the huge airport I was seated during that conversation because I recall the shock of my life I experienced, hearing from him. As it turned out, a very prominent member of the music industry had reported to him (Frank is an accomplished musician in addition to his I.T. career) that I was going after a married friend of his in the United Kingdom. I was like “WHAAAT?!” But Frank’s response flabbergasted me even more. He was laughing. Laughing! He laughed and informed me that he emphatically told the person that he must have the wrong guy because if it was really Yaw, he (Frank) would have already been voluntarily told by me! Wow!
Of course the allegation wasn’t true, but more importantly I had such a renewed sense of hope in the art and science of accountability and was energized even more to be 100% vulnerable and transparent with my accountability friend.
SWINDOLL’S ACCOUNTABILITY QUESTIONS
Everyone needs accountability about everything but particularly when it comes to the more common temptations of money, sex, power. In his book, The Body, Chuck Colson (who was imprisoned for his involvement in the Nixon Watergate scandal) lists these seven accountability questions used by Chuck Swindoll:
1. Have you been with a woman [any gender, really!] anywhere this past week that might be seen as compromising?
2. Have any of your financial dealings lacked integrity?
3. Have you exposed yourself to any sexually explicit material?
4. Have you spent adequate time in Bible study and prayer?
5. Have you given priority time to your family?
6. Have you fulfilled the mandates of your calling?
7. Have you just lied to me?
Church Smart Resources have compiled a comprehensive list of a number of accountability questions from different sources, including John Wesley. You may access it here.
“ACCOUNTABILITY” IS A LOVING WORD
I pity people married to unaccountable spouses. I have warned my emerging leaders: Don’t marry people who have no accountable relationships. You’re as good as dead if you do. Friends, we’ve got to have a paradigm shift and consider “accountability” as a loving word. It will save you and me many sorrows and preserve our lives and leadership. It might sound ridiculous to you if I told you I knew someone planning to fail. But I tell you, not having intentional accountability is invariably planning to fail, destroying your life and leadership. And guess what? Invariably, it happens. No matter how ‘big’ you are.
Whether one-on-one or in a small group of men or women who meet regularly and hold each other accountable, these questions peel your onions to authentic living, layer after layer. From John Wesley (1703-1791) to modern day thought leaders like Chuck Swindoll, there are poignant questions to give handles to accountability relationships, processes and environments. These compiled lists below are from Cultivating a Life for God (Church Smart Resources 1999 pp.125-131).
John Wesley’s Small Group Questions for Accountability:
1. Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I am? In other words, am I a hypocrite?
2. Am I honest in all my acts and words, or do I exaggerate?
3. Do I confidentially pass onto another what was told me in confidence?
4. Am I a slave to dress, friends, work , or habits?
5. Am I self-conscious, self-pitying, or self-justifying?
6. Did the Bible live in me today?
7. Do I give it time to speak to me everyday?
8. Am I enjoying prayer?
9. When did I last speak to someone about my faith?
10. Do I pray about the money I spend?
11. Do I get to bed on time and get up on time?
12. Do I disobey God in anything?
13. Do I insist upon doing something about which my conscience is uneasy?
14. Am I defeated in any part of my life?
15. Am I jealous, impure, critical, irritable, touchy or distrustful?
16. How do I spend my spare time?
17. Am I proud?
18. Do I thank God that I am not as other people, especially as the Pharisee who despised the publican?
19. Is there anyone whom I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold resentment toward or disregard? If so, what am I going to do about it?
20. Do I grumble and complain constantly?
21. Is Christ real to me?
Wesley’s Band Meeting Questions for Accountability:
1. What known sins have you committed since our last meeting?
2. What temptations have you met with?
3. How were you delivered?
4. What have you thought, said, or done, of which you doubt whether it be sin or not?
5. Have you nothing you desire to keep secret?
Reference: John Wesley’s Class Meetings: a Model for Making Disciples, by D. Michael Henderson, Evangel Publishing House, 1997, pp. 118-9
Chuck Swindoll’s Pastoral Accountability Questions:
In his book, The Body, Chuck Colson lists the questions used by Chuck Swindoll:
1. Have you been with a woman [really, any gender!] anywhere this past week that might be seen as compromising?
2. Have any of your financial dealings lacked integrity?
3. Have you exposed yourself to any sexually explicit material?
4. Have you spent adequate time in Bible study and prayer?
5. Have you given priority time to your family?
6. Have you fulfilled the mandates of your calling?
7. Have you just lied to me?
Neil Cole’s Five Accountability Questions:
1. What is the condition of your soul?
2. What sin do you need to confess?
3. What have you held back from God that you need to surrender?
4. Is there anything that has dampened your zeal for Christ?
5. Who have you talked with about Christ this week?
Church Multiplication Associates 10 questions for Accountability.
1. Have you been a testimony this week to the greatness of Jesus Christ with both your words and actions?
2. Have you been exposed to sexually alluring material or allowed your mind to entertain inappropriate thoughts about someone who is not your spouse this week?
3. Have you lacked any integrity in your financial dealings this week, or coveted something that does not belong to you?
4. Have you been honoring, understanding and generous in your important relationships this past week?
5. Have you damaged another person by your words, either behind their back or face-to-face?
6. Have you given in to an addictive behavior this week? Explain.
7. Have you continued to remain angry toward another?
8. Have you secretly wished for another’s misfortune so that you might excel?
9. Did you finish your reading this week and hear from the Lord? What are you going to do about it?
10. Have you been completely honest with me?
So the church split. I wish it hadn’t; indeed, it needn’t have. I tried to impress this upon the pastor in the centre of the brouhaha but to no avail. It did split. Why? The leader bit into the same thing that has destroyed many a leader, ancient and modern, male and female, irrespective of race, colour or socioeconomic status. Oh, and this isn’t one church split I speak of. I have witnessed quite a number–from the same root cause. Same as some landmark corporate meltdowns.
YOU WILL MESS UP
The truth is, as a leader you will mess up (you’re already messed up, anyway). The fascinating thing though is that in itself isn’t what will destroy your leadership. In fact, if that were the case, there would be no existing leadership anywhere at all because ‘all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory.’
Precisely because we’re all messed up, team members and followers (all pretty messed up too) are very willing to forgive leaders and find the best way to move on if and when these leaders recognize they’ve messed up and ‘fess up.
What people cannot stand is a leader who refuses to say, “I am wrong, I am sorry, please forgive me” when they are found or caught in some kind of mess.
MY GURU WITH A GUN
The mentor who first brought this to my attention was himself, in 2009, got caught in a situation that really threatened to derail everything he had worked hard for and stood for all six decades of his life then. What happened was that John C. Maxwell received a handgun as a gift after a speaking engagement in Birmingham, Alabama, and placed it in his carry-on luggage. Airport security-wise, it really didn’t matter much as he flew privately back home. But then he then forgot about it as he was racing to catch a commercial flight to Dallas to speak a few days later. When he put his carry-on bag on the conveyor belt, airport security found the gun and immediately arrested him. In his own words, “I was arrested, handcuffed, and taken to jail, where I was fingerprinted and photographed. Needless to say, it opened my eyes to a world I’d seen only in the movies. I was glad when I posted bail and was able to leave.”
Did John mess up? You bet. Big time. But John not only quickly ‘fessed up, he publicly shared this embarrassing story himself in self-deprecating humour to those of us who are part of his John Maxwell Team (JMT). He even titled it “Stupid is as Stupid Does.” This is how he began:
I’ve done a lot of stupid things in my life. Early in my marriage I would win arguments with my wife, Margaret, and hurt her feelings really badly. I have made business moves that lost tens of thousands of dollars at a time. And I’ve made leadership decisions that led to failures for my organizations. But up until now, none of the dumb things I’ve done has gotten me arrested.
And then JM went about writing about it in SUCCESS magazine. It is one of the stories I believe he tells in his book Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn. This posture and gesture has endeared to me and many many more.
WILL YOU FESS UP?!
As a leader, the worst thing you could do when caught in a wrong is first of all to deny it. The second worst thing is to dismiss it. And thirdly (the killer blow) is to double down. To double down is to dig one’s heels in, to “strengthen one’s commitment to a particular strategy or course of action, typically one that is potentially risky.”
Some people not only double down personally but also begin the spin machine organizationally, churning out one traditional news and social media story after the other . That is a sure way to finish your leadership. Take responsibility, ‘fess up for the mess up, otherwise you double down and you’re going down.
Recently, I wrote about how authentic leadership has nothing to prove, nothing to hide and nothing to lose. When the issue of popular Christina musician Sonnie Badu’s doubtful degrees came out, what did he do? He kept defending the dubious degrees and soon deteriorated into name-calling. It was all over the internet that he had said to his ‘detractors’ that he would pay them no mind because he was a lion and that “LIONS DON’T RESPOND TO FROGS.” Frogs!
LANDING THIS PLANE
Fellow leaders, it doesn’t matter whether it was a mistake or an indiscretion or something you even knowingly did. When you confess you will receive grace. If you don’t, well, disgrace. So when you mess up, ‘fess up, get up and let’s move on. The next time you hear I’ve done something stupid (we all will have our opportunity), don’t make excuses for me or come up with a lame hashtag like #IstandbyYawPerbi. Remind me of this blog and encourage me to take response-ability to say, “I am wrong, I am sorry, please forgive me.” I won’t be a perfect leader; but I do know one sure way to lead to last.
It’s amazing how much most people know about subjects in our world, literally from Archaeology to Zoology, but very little or no ME-logy! In my book, Cutting a Straight Path: Leading with Self-Awareness, I ask these poignant questions:
- How can you live with yourself without knowing who you are?
- How can you be true to what you know little or nothing about: yourself?
- How can you succeed in life, self-actualize, without first becoming self-aware?
- How can you authentically lead others without first learning to know yourself?
- Have you ever felt frustrated why others are hesitant to follow your lead?
“Maybe it’s time to check yourself as a person and as a leader,” is my conclusion. Yes, it’s about time! Indeed, the Chinese have a powerful saying, “Before preparing to improve the world, first look around your own home three times.” Forget about authentic living, let alone authentic leadership, without self-awareness! So welcome to home base. Self-awareness is the starting place of all true and lasting success.
SELF-DISCOVERY THROUGH THE DISC
Self-awareness comes basically by introspection (by ourselves) and feedback (by others). Both however, are greatly enhanced by assessment tools, just like magnifying glasses help us see tiny objects and the binoculars enables us to view distant things closely and clearly. I have found the DISC as an amazing personal assessment tool that is incisive and powerful in the quest for self-awareness. Since 1972 it has been used by over 50 million people to increase self-awareness, stimulate and guide growth and thus increase chances at personal success. It is used to engender teamwork, communication and productivity in the workplace. The DISC has saved many a marriage, including mine!
DISC assessments are used in thousands of organizations around the world, from multilaterals and multinationals to government agencies and Fortune 500 companies, nonprofits and small businesses. Recently, we were privileged to serve the Centre for Disease Control Foundation in Atlanta, USA with nearly 150 of these assessments as they train medical leaders in about 30 nations of the world.
SO WHAT EXACTLY IS DISC?
DISC is an acronym that stands for the four main personality profiles described in the model: (D)ominant, (I)nfluencing, (S)teady and (C)ompliant.
People with D personalities tend to be confident and place an emphasis on accomplishing bottom-line results.
People with i personalities tend to be more open and place an emphasis on relationships and influencing or persuading others.
People with S personalities tend to be dependable and place the emphasis on cooperation and sincerity.
People with C personalities tend to place the emphasis on quality, accuracy, expertise, and competency.
The DISC system we use at YAW PERBI in partnership with People Keys generates 41 personality blends from these basic four, just like many colours of the world are generated through the three primary colours. There’s one I used to coach international students in Canada that was limited to 28 personality blends. What we use now is like the difference between a regular car and a four-wheel drive. As they like to say at People Keys, “people are different, true, but they are predictably different.”
CONVICTION, VISION & MISSION
Our conviction at YAW PERBI is that since every true and lasting success begins with self-awareness, then everyone must have easy and affordable access to self-DISCovery! ACCESS FOR SUCCESS, please! Everyone has a right to self-awareness. We need a DISC Revolution!
Our vision is to see a world of awareness through every individual’s self-DISCovery. We are on a mission to democratize the DISC personality/behavioral assessment until no one is left in the dark. We want to recalibrate all leadership development to begin with self-awareness at the core through the Perbi Perspective DISC is a great start.
CHIEF CORNERSTONE FOR THE CHIEF-LEVEL LEADER
When you read my article on how I build leaders differently now (compared to 10-15 years ago), you will understand my seriousness about this issue of recalibrating all leadership development to begin with self-awareness. People have big, fat leadership books and terabytes of leadership materials and yet have next to zero knowledge of themselves. What sense is there in that? I was telling a certain Christian leader the other day that he can forget the list of a dozen books people typically ask me to recommend for leadership training and development. The only two books his emerging leaders need to learn almost everything they need to know about leadership are a self-awareness printout of their DISC assessment and the Scriptures. Every other book is garnishing.
In all the major success paradigms, praxes and paths—from Emotional Intelligence to Authentic Leadership—self-awareness is first base, the chief cornerstone. I increasingly get alarmed when I encounter C-level executives, both in the public and private sector, who have never taken a personality assessment like the DISC!
STRATEGY AND HOPE
Some say hope is not a strategy but I beg to differ. (I’ll leave that argument for another day, another blog). I have hope that together we can strategically exponentially multiply impact through an army of Accredited DISC Coaches and Certified Behavioural Consultants while significantly creating thriving businesses and income for all! Just like our governments wish to get everyone vaccinated, we at YAW PERBI desire to get everyone DISCed! The former may be controversial to some, but you had better not second guess the latter. Everyone has a right to self-awareness to grow and succeed. Would-be authentic leaders really have no choice in this primary matter. We need a DISC Revolution!
Recently I received an email (partly screenshot above) announcing my nomination to receive an honorary doctorate degree. It is is possible that I would have felt more flattered and been more tempted to go after this fake degree from these fictitious institutions had I not already been a “Dr.” (medical). Coming from a family in which my grandfather was an emeritus professor and where my mother and father-in-law are PhDs in history and economics respectively, these titles don’t exactly faze us. Yet those who offer them know they are toying with very powerful human emotions, motivations and identity issues at the core of our being and have made a good business of it. As my best friend said when I forwarded the said email to him, “this has nothing to do with you; it has everything to do with business.”
Some however, including many Christian leaders, have taken the bait and gotten decorated with very dubious degrees and titles. Recently, there was a huge brouhaha over a popular Ghanaian musician based in London who was alleged to have amassed three degrees, including a PhD, within four months! Perhaps if he had even shut up, none of this would’ve become an issue of investigation and castigation setting social media abuzz but he was flaunting it and ‘praising God’ for the fake feat. The desire to flaunt it itself reveals the very identity and emotional challenges he might have that perhaps led to him to go for those inauthentic accolades in the first place.
The above picture of Sonnie, whose giftedness is unquestionable but his academic credentials are, was uploaded by himself on social media touting his feat. I have met Sonnie. He is a fine young man and anointed. But I can also tell you he is far from perfect; just like you and me. Speaking of Sonnie and musicology, incidentally, my grandfather was a celebrated ethnomusicologist. His work earned him many accolades including several honorary doctorates but he never used the title “Dr.” because although he had done enough original research work to deserve ten doctorates he never really formally pursued a PhD per se. Interestingly, he shot straight from ‘mister’ to ‘professor’ and was ’emeritus professor’ for the last three decades or so of his life.
This degree brouhaha touches on at least three issues: identity, purpose and authenticity.
There was once a programme organized by a friend of mine. The MC got on stage and introduced a certain pastor to come up and offer a prayer. He inadvertently introduced him, with no malice, as Mr. XYZ. XYZ comes up, grabs the mic and makes a correction, “I’m not Mister, I’m Pastor.” That wasn’t all; it gets worse. Later he clears his throat and amends his correction saying something like, “In fact, I’m not Pastor, I am Reverend.” Ahem. Wow! What a shock, what a shame.
But lest I come across as holier than thou, remember I told you that the people offering fake degrees know exactly what they are massaging in us: the ego. I can tell you that as a medical doctor myself there are many times when people address me in speech or in writing as ‘Mr.’ and I have a natural gut reaction to get offended, said in my head something like “do you know who you’re talking to?” and yearned to correct them. There’s a part of me that even justifies it thus: “mehn, but you earned it.” That, my friend, is not the authentic self.
We need not, and indeed should not, root our identity in external things like what we wear, how much we earn, what degrees or title(s) we have acquired. Anything that man can give you, man can take away. Let’s not root our identity in any such thing. And you would think that supposed men and women of God would know better and root their identity in nothing less than Christ himself.
You may have ‘more degrees than a thermometer’ and still not accomplish your God-given purpose. There are some without degrees at all and yet have made much more impact in the world than those with many letters behind their names. Your purpose in life determines the vehicles and tools you need to use. It’s strange to make the acquisition of vehicles and tools our primary objective when one hasn’t first sat down to evaluate if that is what they need to get done the job they came on earth to accomplish. It’s about dreams, not diplomas and degrees.
Did you read about the recent brouhaha over the apparent insistence of Jill Biden, wife of the current U.S. president, to be called “Dr” ? It’s really been going on for at least a decade now: “Hi, I’m Jill. Jill Biden. But please, call me Dr. Biden.” The December 2020 op-ed by Joseph Epstein in the Wall Street Journal implored Jill Biden to “think about dropping the honorific, which feels fraudulent, even comic.” Personally, I think the essence of what Epstein was trying to say became lost in what became an embroilment in sexism. The real question should be: does being ‘Dr.’ make Jill a better educator (that she’s been for decades) or not? Everything else is secondary; even tertiary.
This degree saga leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to authentic leadership. It speaks to the core of authenticity. Authentic leaders have:
- nothing to prove–a matter of humility (not try to project self worth)
- nothing to hide–a question of integrity (no playing of games but totally transparent)
- nothing to lose–a matter of simplicity (not strive for social image or popularity).
As you might have noticed, humility, integrity and simplicity as an acronym spell HIS. This is particularly instructive to Christian leaders. Those of us at the Third Lausanne Congress on world Evangelization in Cape Town in 2010 were passionately exhorted by theologian Chris Wright to be God’s saints, Christ’s people, HIS people of humility, integrity and simplicity.
NOT SO WITH YOU
Again, especially for Christian leaders, the primary power base of an authentic (wo)man of God is spiritual power—not positional or personal power. Others may go that route but Jesus was very clear to his followers who would be leaders: “not so with you.” In May 2020, I wrote quite extensively on that here. We need to lead different. This issue just won’t go away until Christians really chose to be H.I.S. people.
In light of the recent brouhaha about fake degrees, Friends, BE WARNED. Don’t allow your ego to be stroked and stoked, making your false self acquiesce to receiving fake degrees from fictitious institutions. If you want a degree, go to school and study for one! In any case, one doesn’t necessarily need a degree to succeed in life! Hopefully your going for a diploma or degree would only be because you have observed It will a good vehicle or tool towards your dream. Again, the thing is: You can have ‘more degrees than a thermometer’ and still not fulfill your God-given purpose in life.
I have a mentor who likes to say, “the thing about titles is that if you’re good you don’t need them; if you’re not they won’t help you.” Heaven help us!
It gives me great joy that a number of high-flying professionals have chosen to pay up and show up at this year’s Family Foundations mastermind. The interesting group contains two professors (of marketing and microbiology), a couple of finance people (one of them works at the central bank of Ghana) and connecting online from three countries.
I admire their zeal and humility to jaw-jaw about family matters but something in me also makes me quite sad: Why are some of the most important things in life, like family and finances, not adequately taught in school, if at all?! Mind you, this current Family Foundations mastermind cohort has three people with doctorates, two PhDs and an MD!
The major thrust of this mastermind is to cause a paradigm shift on the prime place of family for us personally, for society in general and even for posterity (in other words WHY family matters) but even before delving into that everyone is being exposed to WHY a systematic study of family itself is necessary in the first place. Here are seven reasons why:
1. To understand SELF better.
“A systematic study of family will enable you to untangle your emotions from your understanding of family. An objective look at the varieties of families will better equip you to understand your own family relationships. This will allow you to bypass your preconceived ideas about marriage and family, come to a better understanding of yourself and your role within your family, and make more informed choices regarding future relationships.” (Riggs & Tweedell, pg. 2)
2. To understand OTHERS better.
“Taking a systematic view of marriage and family life will enable you to better comprehend the world in which you and your family operate.” (Riggs & Tweedell, pg. 3)
3. A way to uncover and derail MISCONCEPTIONS and MISPERCEPTIONS.
“People enter marriage and family relationships with a wealth of misconceptions and misperceptions… some common myths about mate selection, marriage, and parenting. With an objective understanding of marriage and family life, you should be better equipped to prevent or derail disillusionment in your future relationships.” (Riggs & Twedell, p.3)
4. To positively IMPACT your world.
We are “called to make a difference in the world. What better place to make a difference than within your own family? Most people are not called to a foreign country to perform mission work; they can find mission work right in their own communities. By understanding the varieties of ways of “doing” family, students can help those around them actualize the best marriage and family relationships possible.” (Riggs & Tweedell, p.3)
5. We need to get down to the core of all our beliefs, values and behaviour: WORLDVIEW.
6. Some of the most important things in life, marriage and family, are not adequately TAUGHT IN SCHOOL, if at all!
We’ve got to find these through an attitude of lifelong learning and a pursuit of informal and semi-formal growth opportunities like masterclasses and masterminds.
7. There are ancient THEOLOGIES, modern THEORIES, and practical TOOLS that make family work.
In the end, nothing works until you work it! And we have no right to say something doesn’t work unless and until we have worked it the prescribed way. I agree with Mark Twain that schooling and education are not the same. No matter how much schooling you’ve done, perhaps it’s time to get yourself an education on why family matters and how to make it work.
Riggs, Barbara A. And Cynthia Benn Tweedell. 2010. Marriage and Family: A Christian Perspective, 2nd Edition. Marion, Indiana: Triangle Publishing.