Earlier this year, my homeland Ghana was in the news again, trending on social media for all the wrong reasons. Citizens were tired of apparently failed campaign promises and mounting socioeconomic challenges from illegal mining destroying our ecology to pot holes, no, man holes, in our streets. All of these complaints were bundled together in a #FixTheCountry campaign that made a dent in Twittersphere. Some ill-advised government sympathizers then began a #FixYourself counter-tweet, which only added insult to injury. A much more compassionate and smarter response, which might’ve calmed nerves, would’ve been #LetUsFixItTogether but be that as it may, as a student of leadership let me show you how both sides got it wrong in the first place.
There are officially over 360 definitions of leadership. The simplest yet most profound one that makes the point I seek is this: a leader is a Person who influences People to achieve a shared noble Purpose. Although there are three ‘P’ players in this equation, the tendency for most, and not just Ghanaians, is to focus on the third ‘P’ (Purpose), in this case the country that needs fixing. That makes sense because it is often what pinches and the thing we would’ve been sweet-talked about during the animated political campaigning prior to elections. So the citizenry said #FixThePurpose and what some government functionaries did was to then shift what needed fixing to the second ‘P,’ the people i.e. #FixThePeople.
As I prepared to speak to alumni of the Central Leadership Programme a couple of weeks ago on ‘The Impact a Transformed Leader Can Make‘ it dawned upon me heavily that while both sides of the hashtags might bee sincere, they are both sincerely wrong. The most important ‘P’ that fixes the other two ‘Ps’ is the Person of a leader! We can cry #FixTheCountry all year long and hear a minor counter-chorus of #FixYourself all year round but until the primary hashtag and passionate focus becomes #FixTheLeaders, it’s all a waste of time, energy and a whole lot of other scarce resources!
PRINCIPLES AT WORK
You might not like what I’m saying, or even not believe in it, but the thing with principles is that they are timeless, universal truths that don’t care a hoot what you and I value. As the famous director of the 1956 epic movie The Ten Commandments said, we cannot break commandments, we can only break ourselves against them. Until our leaders are transformed, the people will not be transformed, neither will the situations that need transformation. In other words, until and unless the leaders are fixed, the people will not be fixed and the problems will not be fixed. It doesn’t matter how sincere and passionate we are about the latter two, we would ironically only be breaking ourselves against leadership principles, rather than fixing anything.
In transformational leadership, the following principles hold true:
Principle #1: Transformational Leaders are transformed first, then their community (from family to town/city to district to region to country and continent)
Principle #2: The Person (of a Leader) gets fixed first, then the People, before the Purpose
Principle #3: Only deeply transformed leaders can deeply transform society.
PORTRAITS OF THE POINT
In my talk, I shared examples of the impact transformed leaders have had on society, irrespective of the era, whether 2,000 years ago like Zacchaeus, 200 years ago like William Wilberforce or barely 20 years ago like Nelson Mandela. When Zacchaeus, the short and filthy rich chief tax collector, encountered the rabbi Jesus Christ, he was transformed. That’s what led to his unforced famous declaration: “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
What do you suppose was Zacchaeus’ impact as a transformed tax leader (say, as the head of the Ghana Revenue Authority)? If every African politician since 1957 said and did similarly, not only will we hardly have the poor amongst us, our socioeconomic indicators will drastically improve overnight as Swiss banks and vaults are emptied swiftly! That’s the impact a transformed leader (#FixedLeader) can make in transforming a people and a context. This brings to the freedom two more faith-based transformational principles: #4 No one can truly encounter the transformational Jesus and not be transformed and #5 No one can be truly transformed by the transformational Jesus and not transform society.
These principles are again exhibited in the modern story of William Wilberforce and the contemporary biography of Nelson Mandela. You might want to check out the video of the said talk to appreciate how the transformative societal impact of both, also came from the fountain of their personal transformation as leaders. For Mandela, see the quote below that summarizes well his transformation and transformative leadership:
Former South African President Thabo Mbeki makes the point for me about fixing leaders first to get the product in society we want in this video. He challenges incumbent African presidents as follows: for whatever kind of Africa we want, the question is, “what sort of leadership do you produce to get that kind of result?”
It’s easy to be impressed by Wilberforce’s purpose, which he influenced thousands to share in: ““God almighty has set before me two great objects: the abolition of the slave trade and the reformation of manners.” But what you might not know is that his wasn’t always a noble story. Although young and gifted, his biographer Eric Metaxas wondered, “But to what would he rise? For beyond making it to Parliament and succeeding there …he had no dreams. He was ambitious and he was talented, but he was also directionless.” Years later Wilberforce himself remarked, “The first years I was in Parliament I did nothing—nothing to any purpose. My own distinction was my darling object.” What changed everything and began a life-long pursuit of the abolition of the slave trade and emancipation was how all that pre-occupation with himself, his status and ‘success’ began to change in 1784 (at 25) when he started to explore the religious faith of his youth. Again, the transformed Person he became, influenced a People to transform, and together they transformed and reformed the world!
Citizens are powerful. “Power to the people,” was the mantra in the revolutionary days of the 1980s in Ghana. I was a only a lad but I still remember. And it is true. But leadership is incredibly important, as everything rises and falls on it. True, citizens (People) can use their thumbs to vote leaders (Persons) in and out of office and press their demands on them. True, citizens can campaign ad nauseam about the plights and dreams (Purpose) that matter. All I’m asking is that if principles are true and cannot be broken, then our strongest and loudest campaign should be #FixTheLeaders. If we do, the people will be fixed (#FixYourself) and so will the country (#FixTheCountry). There’s no other way around this. If we do not go this route, come 100 years from now, those two #FixTheCountry and #FixYourself hashtags will still be trending. We would only have have successfully recycled unfixed leaders of fixed colours every four years while the country itself remains unfixed. Leaders must fix themselves first, then serve and influence the people to be fixed and together, fix the country.
“Can you go beyond high performance?” That’s a penetrating question Jason Jaggard, founder and CEO of the executive coaching firm Novus Global, asks in his powerful and popular article that bears that title. My good friend and StrengthsFinder coach, Dan Leffelaar, who is COO and partner ato Novus Global, had exposed me to the company after he joined. Later he would introduce me to one of their very competent coaches, Joseph Thompson. It was Joseph who then drew my attention to this article even before we would have our first formal coaching session. By the way, I’ve said it before and it’s worth repeating, never hire a coach who doesn’t have a coach!
DIFFERENTIATION–OR WHATEVER YOU CALL IT
It is not uncommon for managers to categorize workers in the marketplace into three: low performers, performers and high performers. Over a decade ago, I remember reading about this idea from long time General Electric CEO Jack Welch’s book Winning. He called it differentiation, separating the sheep from the goats. According to Jack, differentiation is a process that requires managers to assess their employees and separate them into three categories in terms of top performance: top 20 percent, middle 70, and bottom 10. Then—and this is key—it requires managers to act on that distinction.
Whatever different percentages one uses to divide the three levels (and some just use the Pareto principle to divide the top 20% from the remaining 80%), the questions the people in each band ask themselves that result in their kind of performance are intriguing:
- Low Performers–“What is the least we can do to get by–and not get caught?”
- Performers–“How can we be good at our job?”
- High Performers–“How can we be the best?”
Often the morale of the story is “be the best,” be a high performer. Or, in the precious words of my dad’s alma mater (in Latin), Vel primus vel cum primis. To wit: either the first or with the first. But that is precisely the problem. High performers typically stop growing because they feel (or are made to feel) they are the best, or among the best, and have hit their peak when that is far from the truth! That’s the challenge of comparing ourselves to others instead of to our own potential. Don’t forget the saying that “in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.” What is high performance about one eye just because everyone else you’re compared with is blind?
In fact, not only does Jason point out two common mistakes of high performers here but Novus Global as a practice firmly believes “attracting and retaining high-performers is a mistake and doing so creates a predictable set of problems.” You probably have met a lot of high performers who are still unhappy. Barring greed and envy, could Abraham Maslow’s observation be the cause? “If you plan on being anything less than you are capable of being, you will probably be unhappy all the days of your life.”
So “can one go beyond high performance?” remains the question. “What comes after high performance?” I’m glad you asked. “If your team doesn’t have a clear and compelling answer to the question “What comes after high performance?” then you absolutely have an unnecessary cap on the possibilities of your leadership and the impact of your organization,” says Jason. The answer lies in a word he’s coined: meta-performance. And this is “meta” is not like “meta-data” but “meta” as in “metamorphosis,” like a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly. A meta-performer isn’t committed to being the best (“how dull,” Jason says)… a meta-performer is committed to constantly exploring capabilities.
Unlike “What is the least we can do to get by–and not get caught?” (Low Performers), “How can we be good at our job?” (Performers) or “How can we be the best?” (High Performers), Meta-Performers ask themselves, “What are we capable of?” That is a potent question in and of itself, but to process that with a competent and caring coach is even more powerful!
I often say to people, I may not have been the best of medical students (I was a low performer) but I was a very good doctor (high performer). But as good a doctor as I was, the question of what I was capable of sent me on a totally different trajectory from my peers, from authoring books and motivational speaking through military experience and peacekeeping with the United Nations, to pastoring, restarting life as a Canadian immigrant and becoming CEO of a number of non-medicine related ventures, some with a budget of a few million dollars.
Meta-performance is akin to what my mentor John C. Maxwell calls The Law of the Rubber Band: Growth Stops When You Lose the Tension Between Where You are and Where You Could Be. The meta-performance life happens somewhere between feeling ‘just right,’ taut enough to be best at tying things up, to tearing up because we fail to embrace our God-given limits. Often times, we are poor judgers of thse book ends, and having a discerning coach to assist on this journey is vital.
“IMPOSSIBLE” ACCORDING TO WHO?
In what area(s) of your life have you lost your stretch and settled? Create some specific means for stretching in these areas of your life. Go back to your 2021 goals and ensure they’re not only S.M.A.R.T. but that they also STRETCH. Remember, “Only a mediocre person is always at his best,” saysW. Somerset Maugham, putting things in a way that hits home, hard. “Ouch,” says the best performers.
Walt Disney used to say, “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.” I know the feeling, a little bit. Nelson Mandela was right: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” I find it not only a powerful meta-performance question to ask “What am I capable of?” but also in line with that to inquire, “What sort of person must I become to be capable of that?” Then with Almighty God’s help, “just do it,” do the “impossible.”
Here is a list of about 50 kinds of coaching:
❖ Academic Coaching: Helping One Achieve Academic Excellence
❖ ADD/ADHD Coaching: To Understand the Most Common Learning Disorder – Attention Deficit Disorder / Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
❖ Alternative Lifestyle Coaching: To Get You Motivated, Strengthen Your Commitment and Re-align Your Goals
❖ Athlete Coaching: To Help Athletes Live a Balanced Life, Both Personally and Professionally
❖ Assessment Coaching: Walking Through Behavioral, Personality and Other Assessments Like the DISC
❖ Bereavement Coaching: Walking Through Painful Events with a Like Mind
❖ Business Coaching: Your Way to Business Success
❖ Career Coaching: Your Way to Fulfilling Your Financial Dreams
❖ Christian Life Coaching: Your Way to Emotional Maturity and Spiritual Fruitfulness
❖ College Entrance Coaching: Helping You Attend the School of your Dreams
❖ Communication Coaching: Opening Up the Link Between People
❖ Conflict Coaching: Working One on One to Achieve Balance
❖ Co-Parenting Coaching: Helping Divorced Parents Create a Positive, Workable Parenting Relationship
❖ Couples Coaching: Improving Communication Between Partners
❖ Creativity Coaching: Creative Struggle is Integral to the Life of the Artist
❖ Divine Purpose Coaching: To Re-Identify and Connect with One’s Centre
❖ Divorce Coaching: Helping People Transition to a New Life
❖ End of Life Coaching: Helping Those Left Behind
❖ Entrepreneur Coaching: For More Than Starting up a New Business
❖ Ethics Coaching: Living with Authenticity
❖ Executive Coaching: Moving the C-Suite On an Up to Take Your Team to the Next Level
❖ Family Coaching: Helping Families Work Through Difficult Issues
❖ Health and Wellness Coaching: Focusing on the Whole Being
❖ Holistic Health Coaching: Finding the Light at the End of the Tunnel and Balancing the Mind, Body and Spirit
❖ Laughter Coaching: To Bring More Lightness and Freedom
❖ Leadership Coaching: Putting You in the Right Direction to Chart the Course for Others
❖ Life Coaching: Your Way to Personal Success
❖ Men’s Empowerment Coaching: Helping Men Succeed with Excellence
❖ Military Transition Coaching: Helping You Adapt to Civilian Life
❖ Motivational Coaching: Helping One Achieve Personal Excellence
❖ Nature Coaching: Helping to Become One with Nature
❖ New Age Coaching: Self-help and New Thought Modalities
❖ Organizational Coaching: Clearing the Way to Clarity and Direction
❖ Parenting Coaching: Helping Parents Communicate and Understand their Children
❖ Pastoral Coaching: Coming Alongside Shepherds of God’s People
❖ Peer Coaching: Coaches Coaching Coaches
❖ Personal Development Coaching: Centers Around the Aspects of One’s Personal life
❖ Personal Finance Coaching: Your Way to Financial Freedom
❖ Physician Coaching: Helping Physicians Find a New Journey
❖ Recovery Coaching: Your Way to Recovering with Success
❖ Relationship Coaching: Building Personal and Professional Relationships
❖ Retirement Coaching: Transitioning to a New Life Stage
❖ Sales Coaching: Your Way to Increased Success and Profitability
❖ Self-Esteem Coaching: Helping People with Feelings of Value and Worth
❖ Singles Coaching: Helping Singles Find Healthy, Loving Relationships
❖ Special Needs Coaching: Helping Disabled Families and Individuals
❖ Spiritual Coaching: Helping People to Connect to the Divine
❖ Stress Management Coaching: Helping People Identify and Reduce Stress
❖ Success Coaching: Your Pathway to Personal and Professional Success
❖ Transitional Coaching: Helping People Through Big Life Changes
❖ Transpersonal Coaching: Finding Your Greatest Potential
❖ Weight Loss Coaching: Discovering New Healthy Lifestyles
❖ Women’s Empowerment Coaching: Encouraging Women to Embrace Their Talents
❖Youth Empowerment Coaching: Encouraging Young People to Discover and Fulfill Their Potential
This list is an adaptation of a list of 52 Life Coaching Niches Working Miracles Everyday by our coaching partner Barbara Wainright. You may go here to download a free copy of the book to discover which coaching niche is right for you!
The first time I heard the story about the little cow, it was from the lips of a millionaire. Gathered in the conference room of some hotel in mid-town Montrèal, this man who had made his money from the financial services industry was urging us on to let go of our little cows, mainly JOBs (which people in his circle called “Just Over Broke”) and go chasing those dreams that will stretch us, pain us but in the end be most gratifying.
Recently, I decided to search online for the story and finally found it, author unknown. Here goes.
The Little Cow – Unkown Author
A master of Wisdom was traveling through the countryside with his apprentice when they came to a small, disheveled shack on a meagre piece of farmland. “See this poor family,” said the Master, “Go see if they will share with us their food.”
“But we have plenty,” said the apprentice.
The master said, “Do as I say.”
The obedient apprentice went to the home. The good farmer and his wife, surrounded by their seven children, came to the door. Their clothes were dirty and in tatters.
“Fair greetings,” said the apprentice, “My Master and I are sojourners and want for food. I’ve come to see if you have any to share.”
The farmer said, “We have little, but what we have we will share.” He walked away, and then returned with a small piece of cheese and a crust of bread. “I am sorry, but we don’t have much.” The apprentice did not want to take their food but did as he had been instructed. “Thank you. Your sacrifice is great.”
“Life is difficult,” the farmer said, “but we get by. And in spite of our poverty, we do have one great blessing.”
“What blessing is that?” asked the apprentice.
“We have a little cow. She provides us milk and cheese, which we eat or sell in the marketplace. It is not much but she provides enough for us to live on.”
The apprentice went back to his Master with the meagre rations and reported what he had learned about the farmer’s plight. The Master of Wisdom said, “I am pleased to hear of their generosity, but I am greatly sorrowed by their circumstance. Before we leave this place, I have one more task for you.”
“Return to the shack and bring back their cow.”
The apprentice did not know why, but he knew his Master to be merciful and wise, so he did as he was told. When he returned with the cow, he said to his Master, “I have done as you commanded. Now what is it that you would do with this cow?”
“See yonder cliffs? Take the cow to the highest crest and push her over.”
The apprentice was stunned. “But Master…”
“Do as I say.” The apprentice sorrowfully obeyed. When he had completed his task, the Master and his apprentice went on their way.
Over the next years, the apprentice grew in mercy and wisdom. But every time he thought back on the visit to the poor farmer’s family, he felt a pang of guilt. One day he decided to go back to the farmer and apologize for what he had done. But when he arrived at the farm, the small shack was gone.
Instead there was a large, fenced villa.
“Oh no,” he cried, “The poor family who was here was driven out by my evil deed.” Determined to learn what had become of the family, he went to the villa and pounded on its great door. A servant answered the door.
“I would like to speak to the master of the house,” the apprentice said.
“As you wish,” said the servant. A moment later a smiling, well-dressed man greeted the apprentice.
“How may I serve you?” the wealthy man asked.
“Pardon me, Sir, but could you tell me what has become of the family who once lived on this land but is no more?”
“I do not know what you speak of,” the man replied, “my family has lived on this land for three generations.”
The apprentice looked at him quizzically. “Many years ago I walked through this valley, where I met a farmer and his seven children. But they were very poor and lived in a small shack.”
“Oh,” the man said smiling, “that was my family. But my children have all grown now and have their own estates.”
The apprentice was astonished. “But you are no longer poor. What happened?”
“God works in mysterious ways,” the man said, smiling. “We had this little cow that provided us with the slimmest of necessities, enough to survive but little more. We suffered but expected no more from life. Then, one day, our little cow wandered off and fell over a cliff. We knew that we would be ruined without her, so we did everything we could to survive. Only then did we discover that we had greater power and abilities than we possibly imagined and never would have found as long as we relied on that cow. What a great blessing from Heaven to have lost our little cow.”
COW & COIN CONCLUSION
Everyone of us has a little cow that stands in the way of fulfilling our full potential. So what’s your little cow? Now imagine a little child who remains tight-fisted over a quarter, a 25-cent coin, when you are eager to give them a $100 bill you’re hiding behind you and encouraging them to ‘open up’ and ‘let go’ of the quarter to receive. They aren’t able to receive the $100 because they would rather keep the little that’s surely in hand than open their palm and risk losing the quarter, although they might very well know that what they could gain might be way better.
You probably have heard it said that often the enemy of the best is the good. What is your little coin or little cow. Let it go; kill it!
The story is told of an anthropologist who introduced a game to the children of an African tribe. He placed a basket of delicious fruits near a tree trunk and told them: “The first child to reach the tree will get the basket.”
When he gave them the start signal, to his astonishment they were walking together, holding hands, until they all reached the tree. They simply shared the fruits and happily ate them! So baffled, with a furrowed brow he asked them, “Why did you do that when any one of you could get the basket only for yourself?”
They answered with glee, and to his amazement, “Ubuntu!”
“How can one of us be happy if all the rest are miserable?”
“Ubuntu” in their civilization means “I am because we are.” It is Xhosa from the African continent. The venerable Archbishop Desmond Tutu explains: “Africans have a thing called ubuntu. It is about the essence of being human, it is part of the gift that Africa will give the world. It embraces hospitality, caring about others, being willing to go the extra mile for the sake of another. We believe that a person is a person through other persons, that my humanity is caught up, bound up, inextricably, with yours. When I dehumanize you, I inexorably dehumanize myself. The solitary human being is a contradiction in terms. Therefore you seek to work for the common good because your humanity comes into its own in community, in belonging.”
TEAMS THEME LIKE A BROKEN RECORD
Together Everyone Achieves Most Success. The theme of teamwork just won’t go away! To those around me, I must’ve sounded like a broken record over the period. Ah! But broken record will soon take on another important meaning. Read on. It began a couple of weeks ago as I was finishing a write-up for our 4D assessment (image above) at YAW PERBI. The TEAMS portion of the assessment posits that TEAMS should consist of at least one each of a Theorizer, Executor, Analyzer, Manager and Strategist, that idea itself also forming another acronym for TEAMS. No one has all six. Even if they did, they wouldn’t be able to function optimally when all are needed simultaneously. Whatever you don’t have, the Creator has put in someone next to you in your ecosystem. A network is about nextwork, basically a net of next workers.
This became very apparent to me when over these same couple of weeks I happened to be reading the old jewish book of Nehemiah, the guy in diaspora who returned to Jerusalem to lead a rebuilding campaign. The dominant word in the text about the rebuilding is “next.” An array of people, from priests to perfume-makers, male and female, built the next session of the broken walls of the city, some right in front of their house, until walls that had been down for over a century were rebuilt in only fifty-two days! Indeed, teamwork makes the dream work!
Former U.S. President Lyndon Johnson put it another way, “There are no problems we cannot solve together, and very few that we can solve by ourselves.” Going east, the Chinese have a proverb too that says, “Behind an able man there are always other able men.”
BETTER TOGETHER, FOR SURE!
Again over these same couple of weeks, my mother-in-law forwarded a video to me, featuring a passionate speaker who was emphasizing the power of building together. Incidentally, I happened to know the man–pastor Forbes of The Gambia, whose church in Banjul I had the privilege of speaking at about a decade ago. I quickly sent him word that he was trending. And he was. Forbes made a terrific point about how the fastest man in the world remains Usain Bolt of Jamaica, with a 2009 world record he set at 9.58 seconds remaining unbroken by any other human being for a dozen years now. Yet the 4 x 100m relay record by Bolt and three others stands at 36.84s, meaning an average of 9.21 seconds per runner. Get that? That’s a whole 37 seconds better than the best man in the world! That’s the power of team work, of synergy. All of us together, are better than any one of us, even the best of us, any day!
Take the game of soccer too. It doesn’t matter what a great goalkeeper one is, no one wins the game without good strikers who score goals (not to talk of the rest the complimentary forwards and midfielders). In the same way, one may be the best goalscorer in the world but without a strong defence, including goalkeeping, you will be outscored and lose the game. Great leadership assembles a great team of diverse people in gender, ethnicity, age etc. but especially in thinking styles and task orientation.
Every team member has a place where they add the most value. You don’t want to put the best goalscorer as a goalkeeper or vice-versa. You’ve got to know yourself and where you have most value, in order to know where you lack and who to bring on board. Likewise, everyone else on the team should know their niche. In The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork, John Maxwell puts this essential need to have the right people in the right places well on TEAMS as follows:
- The Wrong Person in the Wrong place = Regression
- The Wrong Person in the Right Place = Frustration
- The Right Person in the Wrong Place = Confusion
- The Right Person in the Right Place = Progression
- The Right People in the Right Places = Multiplication
IN THE END…
All of us together are better than the best of us, any day, every time! Even better than a Usain Bolt! Ubuntu! I am because we are. What is the Theorist without an Executor? What would an Analyzer do without a Manager or Strategist? TEAMS is the way to go. The children of Africa know it. Do we? Together Everyone Achieves Most Success!
One of my goals at the beginning of the year was to record a short video each week to pep people up in LIFE–Leadership, Integrity, Family, Entrepreneurship. Although speaking-wise I am an award-winning Toastmaster and have been on various media, including hosting television programmes even way back in my medical school days and early professional life, somehow I couldn’t bring myself to starting a YouTube channel and recording something ‘short and sweet’ regularly for my colleagues and coachees.
If today the January goal can now be marked as “done,” having recorded something every single week between then and now (June), it is because I had accountability to close a certain growth gap. The accountability I got was first from my Growth Mastermind group where I shared by goal at the beginning of the year. Exactly on January 15, one of the members, a U.S.-based consultant with Accenture, sent a group WhatsApp message reminding me of my action point to start recording that day. Did I feel ready? No. But to keep my word, I did it anyway! Apparently, we hardly ever ‘feel ready’ for anything. At some point we’ve got to “just do it!” It was Bruce Springsteen the musician who once said, “A time comes when you need to stop waiting for the man [male or female] you want to become and start being the man you want to be.”
MY GROWTH GAPS
In the very opening chapter of his masterpiece on personal growth (Maxwell 2012, 3-9), Dr. John C. Maxwell lists eight growth gaps people get trapped by:
- The Assumption Gap–“I assume that I will automatically grow”
- The Knowledge Gap–“I don’t know how to grow”
- The Timing Gap–“It’s not the right time to begin”
- The Mistake Gap–“I’m afraid of making mistakes”
- The Perfection Gap–“I have to find the best way”
- The Inspiration Gap–“I don’t feel like doing it”
- The Comparison Gap–“Others are better than I am”
- The Expectation Gap–“I thought it would be easier than this”
What had been keeping me from shooting my video snippets and starting my own YouTube channel were the Mistake and Perfection gaps. Those two, I find, are actually two sides of the same coin. There was a ton of information online about how to/not to shoot videos. Now, having 10,000 friends and followers on FaceBook and being well-known and respected in certain circles I didn’t want to come across as a jerk! I was being paralyzed by lighting issues, how my little home office should be arranged, which background would be the best, whether my phone camera was good enough etc. etc.
In fact, I look back with a bit of embarrassment at my first YouTube video which I shot in my decade-old comfy sweater with a Covid-19 bushy hair look, yet I’m so proud that I took the dive. Mistakes and failures are the price ticket to improvement and innovation. No price, no prize. My parents’ generation used to ridicule ‘Made in Japan’ products. My generation has high respect for everything Japanese, from Toyota and Honda through Yamaha to Sony. The Japanese were ridiculed as copycats with poor quality products but the kaizen principle of continuous improvement has brought them this far. Today’s generation has no paradigm of a bad Japanese product. They’ve constantly closed their mistake and perfection gaps. Now, some laugh at China the same way. China would laugh last if they too continually close their growth gaps because guess what? “A mistake is simply another way of doing things,” according to author and professor Warren Bennis. After 10,000 hours of practice, you and I can become geniuses at anything, as my fellow black Canadian, Malcolm Gladwell, asserts in Outliers, largely based on his interpretation of Anders Ericsson’s research.
TO MY FELLOW MISTAKE-AVOIDERS
The desire to find the best way and to be the best is good but I learnt from my mentor John Maxwell looking for the best way can actually be getting things backward. We rather have to get started if we want to find the best way. He says, “it’s similar to driving on an unfamiliar road at night. Ideally, you’d like to be able to see your whole route before you begin. But you see it progressively. As you move forward, a little more of the road is revealed to you. If you want to see more of the way, then get moving“ (Maxwell 2012, 7, emphasis mine).
I once met the American Christian televangelist, pastor, author and motivational speaker Dr. Robert H. Schuller (picture above) in the mid 1990s. As a World Vision Youth Ambassador, my cohort had the privilege of visiting his ‘all glass’ Crystal Cathedral, singing there (oh the acoustics!) and appearing live on his weekly Hour of Power television programme which be began hosting in 1970 until his retirement in 2010. He is noted for many famous quotes but one that has most gingered me to overcome my mistake and perfection gaps has actually been this poignant question of his: “What would you attempt to do if you knew you wouldn’t fail?”
So! Half of the year has gone. If you find there’s a gulf between your year-start goals and your mid-year achievements, it’s a growth gap. Ask yourself: “how do I need to grow to close this gap?” If we would resolve to grow and close the assumption, knowledge, timing, mistake, perfection, inspiration, comparison and expectation gaps, we will end the year smiling. Focus on your growth, not so much on your goals. Then you will grow to hit them. I have, in my video-shooting goal. Now off to the rest!
Maxwell, John C. 2012. The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth. New York: Center Street.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is exciting and scary at the same time! Here’s a satirical example (there are many variations online) about what should’ve been an ordinary exercise ordering ordinary pizza on an ordinary day.
Hello! Is this Gordon’s Pizza?
No sir, it’s Google’s Pizza.
Did I dial the wrong number?
No sir, Google bought the pizza store.
Oh, alright – then I’d like to place an order please.
Okay sir, do you want the usual?
The usual? You know what my usual is?
According to the caller ID, the last 15 times you’ve ordered a 12-slice with double-cheese, sausage, and thick crust.
Okay – that’s what I want this time too.
May I suggest that this time you order an 8-slice with ricotta, arugula, and tomato instead?
No, I hate vegetables.
But your cholesterol is not good.
How do you know?
Through the subscribers guide. We have the results of your blood tests for the last seven years.
Maybe so, but I don’t want the pizza you suggest – I already take medicine for high cholesterol.
But you haven’t taken the medicine regularly. Four months ago you purchased from Drugsale Network a box of only 30 tablets.
I bought more from another drugstore.
It’s not showing on your credit card, sir.
I paid in cash.
But according to your bank statement you did not withdraw that much cash.
I have another source of cash.
This is not showing on your last tax form, unless you got it from an undeclared income source.
Enough already! I’m sick to death of Google – Facebook – Twitter – WhatsApp and all the others!! I’m going to an island without internet, where there’s no cellphone and no one to spy on me …
I understand sir, but you’ll need to renew your passport … it expired six weeks ago!
This tweet by Rebecca Sloane garnered so many responses last week. And it really ticked me off. It said, “I don’t want a 25 year old life coach. I want a 93 year old to tell me the best way to live my life.” It was sassy and seemed sensible at first sight, on the surface, but I just couldn’t shake it off or let it go scot-free. I’ll tell you why. To be clear, I’m going after the thought; not the person. “Ideas have consequences,” you know.
HUMILITY IS AN ASSET
In the first place, with humility anyone can learn from anyone. Everyone can learn something from anyone. The older can learn from the younger, atheists from people of faith (and vice versa), Christians from Muslims (and vice versa), CEO from new hire etc. This was actually better put by Bill Hybels during one of his Global Leadership Summits I attended: “Armed with enough humility, leaders can learn from anyone.” We can learn from children. Heck, we can even learn from flora and fauna! The greatest teacher that ever lived would place a little child in front of his class and say, “unless you change and become like children…” The good book says, “go and learn from the ant.” With enough humility, everyone can learn something from anyone and anything. Point made.
More substantively, this statement of Rebecca’s is a gross misunderstanding of coaching and as a certified professional coach I would like to set the record straight.
Apart from a number of group coaching sessions I run, I am personally dedicated to about a dozen one-on-one coachees, mainly C-level executives ranging from a CEO in agribusiness to deputy CEOs in mining and banking. How does a trained medical doctor get to coach these leaders in such different fields? Meanwhile, some of my coachees are much more advanced in age than me as well. What do I have to offer them then?
Coaching is an inspiring and empowering process that utilizes cogent questions to draw out and clarify thoughts and desires and facilitates a path and framework for their successful implementation for the growth, success and significance of the coachee. As my friend Barbara Wainright, a certified professional coach and trainer of coaches herself, puts it, “Coaching is about empowering your client by asking questions, facilitating strategic planning and monitoring tactical execution.” That is the number one tool of a coach: questions. In fact, with their penchant for asking question upon question, children would probably make much better coaches than adults with a little training and guidance! Yes, that’s how come a 25-year old can coach the writer of the tweet and anyone else twice or thrice their age.
I know I’ve hit a spot whenever a coachee goes, “good question.” The questions a coach asks bring clarity to one’s thoughts and desires, the coaching process inspires coachees to want to be the best versions of themselves they dream of and provides a framework of accountability to make their own word come true. One of my favourite preambles I love to hear from coaching clients is, “I’m beginning to realize…”
Successful life coaching isn’t about the coach–whether they are a 25-year old novice or a 93-year old veteran. It isn’t about what the coach knows, what they’ve accomplished, or even what they are doing in life. It is all about the client.
In fact, as Ms. Wainright reiterates, “coaching is about empowering your clients to decide for themselves what their goals are. It’s about Socratic Questioning and attentive listening. Coaching is about understanding your client’s needs, goals, desires and life purpose. Coaches help their clients to identify and clearly articulate their goals and dreams. Coaches help their clients to remain accountable and help strategize the action steps required to achieve their objectives.”
COACHING ISN’T COUNSELLING OR CONSULTING
I have been wanting to make these distinctions between coaching, counselling and consulting clear for quite a while as even prospective clients sign up for coaching with me expecting a masterclass or therapy session of sorts. Ms. Sloane’s tweet was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. As a student of Dr. Robert J. Clinton’s work at Fuller Seminary, I am of the opinion that coaching, counselling, and consulting are all types of mentoring (see an earlier blog here). Counselling, consulting and coaching have at least one thing in common: they all require great listening skills.
However, counselling is about helping your client by listening and offering advice and sharing coping skills. Consulting is about having all the answers and solutions to help your client with a specific task (hopefully after listening well). There is some form of mentoring (I’m not sure what to call it, perhaps ‘combo-mentoring’?) that combines coaching, counselling and consulting where the mentor empowers the mentee by asking questions, sharing valuable experiences, giving advice for growth and solutions for success. Strictly speaking, that isn’t life coaching in the purest sense of the art.
As may be obvious to you by now, counselling, consulting, and this combo-mentoring all require one to be significantly knowledgeable about the issues being addressed. That would make Rebecca Sloane’s tweet understandable but coaching on the other hand, requires the ability to ask contemplative questions, listen incarnationally, and ask even more profound follow-up questions till the client finds their own answers and makes their own commitments. Consequently, the coach doesn’t need to even know about the client’s field or have experience in the area of life they want to be coached in to help them. With the others, the professional is the driver; with coaching the client is.
So dear Rebecca, a life coach doesn’t tell you anything, let alone how best to live your life. There are over 50 coaching niches–from life coaching to executive coaching to career coaching. None of them tell you how to live your best life but they will set the table for you and provide a menu of questions for you to figure out what your life meal should comprise of. For sure, find a 93-year old counsellor, consultant or combo-mentor to tell you how best to do life but if it is a coach you’re really looking for, even a 25-year old novice would do. It is about their questions; not their answers. It’s about you; not them.
After my last blog on Why I strive for work-life integration and not work/life balance, some got it and said, “important distinction.” Others thought it was just semantics, just a different choice of words but saying the same thing. I beg to differ.
Here’s another attempt to distinguish one from the other: work/life balance (apart from seeming to pit work against life) is the attempt to distribute time, energy and other resources equitably to all four buckets of life to ‘tick all the boxes’. On the other hand, work-life integration is radically different because it harnesses the power of all four buckets, making other buckets better by the power of other buckets. And it is living in such a way that one doesn’t have to hide the other buckets (say, on LinkedIn), pretend they don’t exist or be different things to different people in the different buckets. I’m quite certain a few poignant examples below may make the distinction clearer.
FACEBOOK AND FAMILY
Who doesn’t know about FaceBook and its 2.7 billion users. That number is the combined population of China and India, the two most populous nations in the world. 2.7 billion is more than twice the population of the entire continent of Africa! I was fascinated to learn that as founder/CEO, one of Mark Zuckerberg’s attempt at the integrated life in Facebook’s early days was to host FaceBook strategy sessions at his home on Monday evenings. And for Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg, instead of missing dinner with her family, she would bring her children into the office. Here’s her testimony: “Facebook is incredibly family friendly, so my children were in heaven, entranced by pizza, endless candy, and the huge pile of LEGOs the engineers shared with young visitors. It made me happy my kids got to now my colleagues and vice versa” (George 2015, 173). I don’t know everything about FaceBook’s corporate culture, but these right here are great examples of the integrated life at FaceBook.
I’m proud of Databank in Ghana that has created a nursery in the workplace for nursing mothers as well as a quiet time room for staff to go and nourish their spiritual lives, especially after rushing from home at dawn in order to beat the crazy Accra traffic. These are laudable examples of the integrated life in corporate circles.
I love lions. I call my children cubs; not kids, hence we are the Perbi Pride. Last week, I handed over to the next CEO of ISMCanada after being at this role for eight years. One of the things I recalled at the handing over ceremony (and nearly everyone remembered) is how not long after I took the role I travelled almost the entire stretch of Canada (the second widest country on earth!) to get to personally know the staff and listen for the pertinent issues from the ground. What I haven’t told you yet is that as a family we decided to integrate our lives with my new work by making this a fun family trip. We rented a minivan and spent 30 days travelling from Montreal (on the east coast) to Victoria (beyond Vancouver) in the west. It was beautiful to see the different types of Canadian landscape and wildlife. Because our children our homeschooled, such opportunities are precious as ‘all of life is school.’ By the time we got back home we had clocked 13,000km and had enough geography, history, sociology etc. to last a lifetime! That is one of the best examples of the integrated life we’ve ever had as a family. Family did not get in the way of work or vice versa. We made both feed off each other and were the richer for it.
Over the last couple of years, I have adopted a tradition of travelling with one of the older four children. Just one, to make them feel special and have a one-on-one time with daddy. Don’t forget these are work trips for me and fun trips for them. After doing a Philadelphia and Washington DC road trip with our then four-year old she insisted upon returning home that “I’m Daddy’s travel buddy’ much to the chagrin of the others. I’ve been far from perfect in integrating family and work but I knew we were doing something right when my children got so used to the ISMCanada world that one day our then seven-year old son asked, “Will I become president of ISMCanada when I grow up?” Almost as if it were a family inheritance.
I’ve always worked from home over the last 8 years as CEO (or from an airport/airplane)–way before the rest of the world was forced to by the Covid-19 pandemic. Working from home and homing from work has its pros and cons but it certainly has helped more than harmed my work-life integration.
IMPACTING THE WORLD FROM WITHIN–‘AN INSIDE JOB’
In an article posted on the Harvard Business Review, author Stew Friedman rightly said that the most impactful leaders find ways “to integrate the different parts of their lives to reinforce and enhance each other.” Everywhere he looked he found successful individuals who used who they were as a person to influence how and why they worked. From Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg (as I already shared above) through Michelle Obama to rock icon Bruce Springsteen, many influential people channel what made them a powerful person into creating a powerful product, service or project.
Take Michelle Obama, the 44th First Lady of the United States, for example. Michelle considers her daughters to be her first priority, even if this stance vexes those who would have her do more in seeking broader political and cultural change. However as Friedman rightly observes, in making sure her own children were receiving the most nutritious food possible, she began to advocate for better nutrition through the national initiative Let’s Move!. Her policies have won national and global acclaim.
One of the most impactful social enterprises in Ghana right now is the PerbiCubs Library Services, reaching 2,000 children in 200 schools. It might interest you to know that this did not start out as some mega altruistic attempt to ‘change the world’ through getting every child reading but out of our own family’s need for good, well-curated, reading level-appropriate books upon a long stay in Ghana. Whether it’s the Obamas or the Perbis, we’re running this for ourselves–we only get to scale and share with the rest of the world. If nobody signed on, we would still do it. It’s not just a job ‘out there’, it’s an ‘inside job,’ so-to-speak.
RUNNING MY FAMILY LIKE A CORPORATION
I’ve had partners complain about how their spouse is great at XYZ in the corporate world but doesn’t show even an iota of that competence or skill at home. There are those who might argue that they use ‘all of it’ out there and just want to chill and relax when they get home. While that might make some degree of sense, is it not inauthentic that who we are out there is different from who are at home? If you really believe in the power of vision and mission statements and values in your corporate world, for example, how come you haven’t couched one for your own family?
I’m learning to run my family like a corporation, in the sense of applying the things that have made organizations I’ve run succeed. Why not? Wherever two or three come together, you have an organization! I’m sure you can relate to how some of the most treasured members of your community, say church, actually are so because they bring their corporate skills to bear on the communal organization? On the flip side, I’ve also been the beneficiary of running businesses like family and seeing co-workers go over and beyond their job description and their contractual call of duty. The integrated life is the way to go.
CHOOSE INTEGRATION TODAY
“When you give your whole self to the moment, you not only benefit personally, but it dramatically impacts your business as well.” So says my mentor Bill George. The work-rest of life thing doesn’t have to be a zero sum game. Bill is right about how “Many leaders are reluctant to combine their work and family lives, but bringing the two together can lead to more productive and fulfilling lives, both personally and professionally” (173). I have seen and testify that it takes being open-minded about this work-life integration notion, hard work, creativity, experimentation, patience, much discomfort and many failures to make it work but when it does, it really does.
Friedman, Stewart D. 2014. “What Successful Work and Life Integration Looks Like.” Harvard Business Review. October 07, 2014.
George, Bill. 2015. Discover your True North. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
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 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 “work/life 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 way 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 a number of practical examples and ideas of how people have made life-work integration happen, and how my family and I have tried to, also.
Friedman, Stewart D. 2014. “What Successful Work and Life Integration Looks Like.” Harvard Business Review. October 07, 2014.
George, Bill. 2015. Discover your True North. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.