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.
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!
There has been such an overwhelming response (over 80,000 reached!) to a social media post I made regarding a misconception about the essence of family planning that I felt it might be useful to document that write-up on this blog.
On Tuesday, March 2nd our seventh child was born. The rather long boy descended down his mother’s birth canal at the Montreal Jewish Hospital in all his 3.895kg glory. The posting of this momentous occasion on social media sparked a flurry of responses, almost 100% affirmative but I won’t be fooled. Not everyone thinks my wife and I are smart, planet-friendly, trendy, progressive, modern and such.
Just a couple of weeks earlier I had been on a Zoom call with a just-married pastor in Ontario who hopes to have a family of three children. Upon hearing that Anyele and I were expecting again, our seventh child for that matter, he unwittingly asked, “why so many?” To which I responded, “why so few?” The blushing of his face and awkward laughter revealed his embarrassment.
I have mentioned before how people have made it very clear to Anyele and I that they would rather raise pets than have children. Generally our human selfishness/self-centredness doesn’t allow us to do the parenting thing (at all or well) because children are an inconvenience, suckers, an unwelcome reflection of our marred selves, among a host of other postmodern reasons. See here.
“WHY SO MANY?”
We have met people who are proud DINKS–Double Income No Kids. In many circles we’ve been in, this has been the ‘in thing’ or at best two is the most ‘decent’, ‘smart’ and even ‘cute’ thing to do. As I heard one preacher humorously quip, “a boy for me and a girl for you, and praise the Lord we’re finally through!” A year ago, I shared here some of the reasons why Anyele and I have chosen to have “so many.”
Having children or not, many or few at the end of the day is more of a worldview issue than a socio-economic or even climatic one. I share our Christian theist view in this blog. In summary, “There is a higher Being than our selfish selves that beckons; a higher purpose than the painful inconvenience that compels; and a deeper fulfilment of something (and someone) that outlives making merry today and just dying tomorrow.”
THE INTEGRATED LIFE
At our executive education firm, YAW PERBI, we strive for LIFE in all its fullness—#Leadership, #Integrity, #Family, #Entrepreneurship. I personally find it curious that many in the corporate space ignore, even hide, family (and faith) until occasions like Christmas. All of a sudden families come out of the shadows, whipped out and splurged on Christmas cards. You can go on LinkedIn right now and see how it is so ‘professional,’ meaning, almost family-sterile.
I’m super proud of my Wonder Woman Wife, Economist-Entrepreneur Extraordinaire, for the safe delivery of our seventh. We thank God for the privilege of a full quiver of seven lethal arrows for life’s battles, conquests and such. This baby, like the preceding six, will change our lives no doubt—rescheduled meetings, halted plans, budget increases… but what else could life be about?! True success, as my mentor succinctly puts it, is “when those who know you the best, love and respect you the most.”
At Yaw Perbi, we promote people and cheer on companies that seek leadership authenticity by making the integrated life the way to go. Call it life/work balance or whatever you may, our corporate folks, especially C-level folks, must find a way to bring their whole selves to family and same to work. My favourite MBA teacher on this, Bill George, says more about this more eloquently than I could here. Cheers to the #integratedlife, where marriage is not an inconvenience, children are not a nuisance and family is not an afterthought, only receiving the crumps of our time, talent, treasure and efforts.
FAMILY PLANNING ISN’T NO/FEW CHILDREN
Why do so many people wrongly think ‘Family Planning’ means having few/no children? Family Planning is “the ability of individuals and couples to anticipate and attain their desired number of children and the spacing and timing of their births.” Although it was clearly a quote (inverted commas and all), a lot of people on social media were giving me a pat on the back for this spot-on definition without realizing it isn’t something I cooked up to justify my number of children, but actually a World Health Organization (WHO) definition. Of course they add contraception as the means to achieving this desired end of number, spacing and timing.
Even before we got married 15 years ago, Anyele and I purposed and planned to have seven children. There were no guarantees; God ‘engraced’ us. Don’t judge us for having “too many” (in your opinion); we shan’t judge you for having “too few” (in our opinion) or even none.
Your purpose and plan may be different from ours. The most important thing is to ensure that it is God’s unique plan for your unrepeatable family that you are following and not just “comform[ing] to the patterns of this world.”
We hope your Family Planning excites you a lot and scares you a little—just like ours!
I have wanted to talk about this for months–how to prevent unnecessary hurt from unmet expectations–but last week an incident happened with one of my associates that really catalyzed me to share this urgently. So let’s talk about unmet expectations.
Whether it’s between spouses, parent and child, boss and workers or even among co-workers, family folk and church members, this is quite a common occurrence. This is particularly so African, Chinese, Japanese and Korean cultures that employ indirect communication. If you’re like me, you’ve probably been hurt before by unmet expectations. In fact, sometimes we don’t even realize we had an expectation until it was not met!
Mark Twain once said, “What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.” We tend to have expectations that are unconscious, unrealistic, unspoken and unagreed upon. Let me share how you can flip these four things around and protect your heart against heartbreaks from unmet expectations. I owe this life-saving lesson from my New Yorkan mentors, Pete and Geri Scazzero.s
THE MILLION DOLLAR QUESTION
How do you know your expectations are valid or not? As hard-to-take as this may seem, when the expectation is unconscious it is invalid. In fact, if even we don’t even know we have them until we are disappointed how on earth is the other person supposed to know and meet it? When it is unrealistic it is invalid as well. Even if it is reasonable and we are conscious of it but it has not been articulated, it is still invalid. The common lame excuse we tend to give is, “Oh, but they should know?!”
In the event that our expectations meet all the above three criteria–conscious, realistic, spoken–but the other party has not agreed to them, they are still invalid. While this may seem very Western, I have learnt as an African-Canadian that it is never wise to assume agreement!
Of course, important caveats include marriage (where the vows already spoken have created certain clear expectations like fidelity), parent-child relationships (expectation of chores) and employer-employee dynamics where expectations have been clearly laid out in contracts and policy and supposedly read and accented to. Even in these relationships with broad-stroke expectations, situations occur that demand clarifying expectations further.
WHAT TO DO TO FORESTALL HEARTBREAKS
To prevent heartbreaks from unmet expectations, ensure your expectations are:
(1) Conscious: I am aware of my expectation.
(2) Realistic: I have evidence to support that the expectation is reasonable in the sense that the other is able and willing.
(3) Spoken: I have expressed the expectation clearly.
(4) Agreed Upon: The other person has agreed to the expectation by saying “yes.”
I would highly recommend you take the Scazzero’s Emotionally Healthy Relationships course for a full meal and good skill-building in this area they call Stop Mind Reading and Clarifying Expectations.
WHAT TO DO WHEN HURT HAPPENS
In the event that hurt still happens from unmet expectations, valid or not, REFRAMING the painful experience is everything. As John Maxwell renders it in the Law of Pain, “good management of bad experiences can lead to growth.” Reframe the painful experience as follows (modified from a Maxwell process):
a) Define the problem –> The painful situation I need to process right now is…
b) Understand your emotion –> My feelings about this are…
c) Articulate the lesson –> My lessons in is this are…
d) Identify a desired change –> The changes I want to effect are…
e) Brainstorm numerous pathways –> The ways out are…
f) Receive others’ input –> What I’m learning from others is…
g) Implement a course of action –> My course of action is 1. Embrace the reality of pain 2. Learn my lesson(s) 3. Share my lessons 4. Change a. ______ b. ______ c. ______ d. _____.
You know what they say happens when you assume: you make an ass of u and me. An expectation is only valid when it is mutually agreed upon. Let’s do less heart damage by providing and demanding clear expectations of others. Let’s ensure in all our relationships that our expectations are conscious, realistic, articulated and agreed upon. And when things fall through the cracks and we feel the sting of pain from unmet expectations, let’s reframe the experience well so we can still grow and flourish.
Like leadership, there are umpteen definitions of culture. My favourite is the simplest. Culture, whether ethnic or corporate, is simply the way things are done here. How things are seen to be done at YAW PERBI is determined, like Apple or Android, by our unseen Operating System (OS). That OS or worldview feeds our beliefs, informs our values, which in turn determine our behaviour.
As we carry out our vision and mission, here are our 7 YP values and what they mean:
1. People. We value people: People come first; not stuff. People are the only creation that bear the imago Dei (image of God). That should mean something; everything.
a. We are aware that without people we are nothing.
b. We value relationships and foster community.
c. We grow people, clarifying their identity, giving them purpose, unearthing gifts, nourishing persons to flourish.
d. We pride in, promote and protect family.
e. We offer high care to our clientele, with a great deal of empathy.
f. Our exceptional client experience leaves them feeling wonderfully valued.
2. Growth. We value growth: We grow or die. There’s no middle way.
a. We invest in ourselves and invest in others’ growth; continually.
b. We are sworn to lifelong learning in a diverse community till we die.
c. We strive to be knowledgeable and enlightened in order to succeed.
d. We expect pain to be associated with grown and have made peace with the fact.
3. Particularity. We value particularity: One size doesn’t fit all. Each client is different and has a unique life story and makeup.
a. We see and treat each person reverently, as wonderfully made.
b. We invest in getting to know our clients’ life stories, identity, purpose, and SHAPE.
c. We honour the above (a & b) by customizing our offerings.
d. We provide tools to discover and affirm uniqueness of each client and match them to the appropriate relationships and resources.
e. We pride in and promote the prestige of the executive class.
4. Excellence. We value excellence: We go above and beyond.
a. We exceed expectations as a habit.
b. We work hard and play hard.
c. We take our word and commitments seriously.
d. We do not compromise on quality–it is a virtue.
e. We do anything that is worth doing, well.
5. Success. We value success: We are passionate about all-round prosperity.
a. We are committed to the progressive realization of worthy goals and ideals; our clients’ goals are ours.
b. We inspire and motivate ourselves and our clientele to see and seize their dreams.
c. We long for holistic success.
d. We are victory connoisseurs.
6. Authenticity. We value authenticity: No fake folks or fake news, no fake products or services.
a. We lead, coach, author, speak and train with integrity.
b. We are truthful about ourselves and our offerings.
c. We can be trusted.
d. Our ways and means are proven to produce desired results. What we promote works.
e. We are in public who we are in private.
f. We are holistic in thinking and living, in our being and doing.
g. We strive to live and lead such that those who know us and love us the best (family and friends) respect us the most.
7. Significance. We value significance: We live to ‘make a dent in the universe’.
a. We look outward, beyond ourselves.
b. We work towards things that benefit communities, nations and generations.
c. We are inspired by the thought that our best works will outlive us.
d. We bear in mind that only what is done for God’s glory by God’s grace will last.
WHAT’S COOKING & HOW WE’RE SERVING
So now, you don’t only know our menu–the vision and mission–you also know the manner in which we plan to dish it all out. I’m serving up. Take a seat.
“Stopping Trump is a short-term solution. The long-term solution, and it will be more difficult, is fixing the educational system that has created so many people ignorant enough to vote for Trump.” (Andy Borowitz, a satirist)
Let me begin with a disclaimer: I do not subscribe to the notion that everyone who voted for Trump is ignorant. That would be an unfair characterization. Politics is more nuanced than that. I say there are at least 3 Ps that go into one’s choice, none of which is perfect in any political party and hardly are all three aligned with what is Biblical: the PERSON (as in flag bearer), the PARTY and the POLICIES.
Having said that, how did the most powerful nation in the world end up with such a leadership crisis? I’m not just talking about the nail-biting U.S. electoral college vote count last week and the current situation where a winner has been projected but the incumbent hasn’t gathered what it takes to concede and congratulate. I speak of four years ago when America had to choose between two wannabe leaders of the free world both of whom the electorate had serious reservations about! America was caught between the red devil and the deep blue sea.
And the last four years have portrayed nearly everything I’ve been taught that leadership is NOT exhibited by the man in the White House. Is it competence in inspiring confidence about the Coronavirus pandemic and quenching it or a character of what is good and right and true or care and respect for ‘the other’? Competence, character and care constitute the DNA of leadership. Of course Trump did do some good things. I have even admired his non-political-correctness and tough skin in forging ahead buoyed by the courage of his convictions (no matter how misinformed I think they might be sometimes). By and large, however, I have had to repeatedly tell my children too many things about Trump that leadership is NOT.
THE VAN JONES MOMENT
When I saw Van Jones weep on television that as a parent the defeat of Trump and the elevation of Biden is a testament to the fact that character matters in life and leadership, I very much identified with that. Character matters. Truth matters. Decency matters. And one would think the white evangelical church in America would know better than a journalist.
If the one country that has produced the most world-impacting heads of states, Nobel laureates (390 of them; the UK which is next is at 135), stellar entertainers and astounding professional athletes could face such a gaping leadership crisis then the rest of the world had better watch out. In my Twi language from Ghana, there is a saying that when you see your neighbor’s beard on fire, you had better quickly fetch a bucket of water and place it beside yours (well, hopefully after you’ve helped him doust his!)
OF SHITTY STORIES & SHIT HOLE COUNTRIES
The S word is one that isn’t in my vocabulary. Permit me to get into the gutters in this little stretch so we both appreciate the abyss leadership sunk into these last four years. When Trump was elected I was hopeful. My family’s explanation to a United States border agent that we were crossing over from Canada to upstate New York to check on our investment property had been described by this kid in the border cage as “Such a Shitty Story.” When I wrote about that in January 2017, I was hopeful that a Trump presidency would catalyze the noble dreams Martin Luther King Jnr. had for his four little children (and my six) and not turn into the nightmare many feared. The latter has happened. Blacks still can’t breathe in 2020, George Floyd’s slow slaughter being the epitome of that.
As one born and raised in Africa I have long experienced firsthand that “everything rises and falls on leadership.” Whether as a young medical doctor in Ghana seeing patients die who shouldn’t have or as a United Nations peacekeeping soldier in Cote d’Ivoire beholding with my own naked eyes the ravages of war, there is no other one word that summarizes all that’s wrong with my continent as ‘leadership.’ The sad socioeconomic state in the midst of abundance earned us the disparaging title of “Shit hole countries” by President Donald Trump who ironically has gone ahead to look, sound and act in the very manner people who have misled, unled, disled Africa have.
Leadership is a sacred trust. Twenty years ago I was so concerned that leadership knowledge and mindset, character and skills be acquired early that I co-founded The HuD Group to intervene at the youth level and change the African narrative. Nearly 20 years later I am still convinced that leadership development and training must start early but even earlier: with children. And it begins by calling them “cubs” who will grow into lions and not “kids” who will grow into billy goats gruff (or the trolls in that fairy tale, for that matter LOL).
While at my executive education company that bears my name, YAW PERBI, we’re intervening at the C-Level, Perbi Cubs Library Services is beginning from the very roots: with children and from our homes and schools. I’ll tell you why we launched the Lions In Training (LIT) Track at Perbi Cubs only a couple of weeks ago (although we’ve been dreaming about this for a long long time).
LIT is the collective attempt of Perbi Cubs and parents who are preparing the next generation to meet the great challenges and opportunities of the twenty-first century and thrive! The LIT track is to help groom our Cubs into holistic Leaders (Lions). The Perbi Cubs reading community knows that the future of our reading Cubs is promising because of the world of opportunities opened to them every day as they open books to read. For sure, readers are leaders.
Reading, however, is necessary but not sufficient.In this light, Perbi Cubs desires to partner parents to nurture Cubs in relevant soft skills that will take them places and form them into young well-rounded leaders of great impact. Research shows that a leader is developed over the entire course of their life: from womb to tomb. It is never too late to start teaching, learning and applying leadership skills to everyday life.
*NB: YAW PERBI serves as consultant, coach and trainer for Perbi Cubs and is not involved in the day to day management of this groundbreaking social enterprise. If you require YAW PERBI’s assistance in executive coaching, management consulting or leadership training reach out to email@example.com.
So I just came on sabbatical. The best gift of week 1 was sleep–day time sleep! It was good for the body, really good. Then the next week came and its gift really took care of my soul. I got re-connected with my teenage friends from around the world, from every continent! Many of them I had lost touch with for 24 years!
THE END FROM THE BEGINNING
I started life backwards. Sort of. Usually people fool around in their teens and when they are all grown up–mature (whatever that means), prim, proper, and seasoned–become ambassadors of their countries. I became an ambassador for Ghana in my late teens, a youth ambassador, together with 50 other World Vision Youth Ambassadors from 50 different countries! As a strapping 18-year old, that experience would irreversibly enlarge my heart; and it has never been able to shrink back into being merely Akan or just Ghanaian or even only African. Never. I’ve been a global citizen since the mid-90s, or a ‘world class Christian’ as my mentor Paul Borthwick would put it, and yet at the time I did not even yet quite understand how much God is a global God on a mission, as I do today.
Connecting the dots, it might no longer come as a surprise then that a couple of decades later I’ve been to 45 countries and lived for a year or more in three, worked with the United Nations, founded and expanded The HuD Group to two dozen countries on each continent, pastored an English-speaking Chinese church in a French city (Montreal) in North America (Canada) and spent my last seven years as president of International Student Ministries Canada, empowering international students to impact the world through Jesus Christ. WVYA was my second experience as an international student, the first being as an exchange student from Achimota School in Accra to Ballard High School in Louisville (Kentucky, USA), the year prior. Being a World Vision Youth Ambassador in 1996 is a gift that keeps giving, like this last couple of weeks!
THE CHANG CHALLENGE
How I got selected as the World Vision Youth Ambassador for Ghana was a miracle, divine. I will leave that story for another time, lest I digress. WVYA was a phenomenal idea birthed by Dr. Jerry Chang, then World Vision Taiwan CEO to bring together 50 young people from 50 different countries to pursue and promote life’s common grounds, universal values. We would study conflict prevention, justice, peace, unity, reconciliation etc. and embody all of this as we constitute a choir travelling the world with this message of unity in diversity. For six weeks this group would live together as global community doing all the philosophical as well as musical studies, and then for the next six weeks tour Taiwan (the host) and other countries. 1995 was the debut year. In my year, we got to tour Taiwan, the USA (New York, Washington DC, Los Angeles, Seattle), Mexico and Canada. The 1997 cohort’s countries were Taiwan, Japan, USA and Guatemala (I got to do that tour too, as I’ll explain shortly below). In all, the programme run for five years–1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999 and with a combined finale of selected previous ambassadors in 2000–resulting in 245 youth ambassadors from 61 countries in total.
A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by Claudia Sofia, who was the ’96 Colombia Ambassador in my cohort, that the 1997 year group was planning an online reunion and had requested her and me to co-facilitate. She, together with a few of them, did such a splendid preparatory job that I didn’t have much to take care of, really. The thing about Claudia and I is that we were the two out of our group of 51 in 1996 who were selected by the WVYA staff and invited back as staff interns for the following year’s programme so we are very familiar with both 1996ers and 1997ers. Claudia and I reunited about eight years ago when her family temporarily relocated to Canada where I’ve been living and serving with my family since 2009. We have not only been in touch since but have for the last five years worked together on leader development globally and in Latin America in particular through The HuD Group.
It was amazing seeing all these WVYA ’97ers on the Sunday July 5 call; and the cherry on top was the presence of Mama Chang, the 94-year old matriarch, wife of WVYA founder. Inspired by the 1997 gathering, Claudia and I got to work on a WhatsApp group to rally the 51 youth ambassadors of 1996. To cut a long story short, in the last two weeks not only have we found (with CIA, Interpol and Scotland Yard skills) 48 of the 51 Youth Ambassadors and corralled everyone into the same WhatsApp group we have also held two online Zoom reunions (July 11 and July 18), affording everyone to reminisce the past, provide a current update and begin a conversation about re-imagining the future. At the time of writing this, all the other year groups have already met except 1995 (in the offing).
WHY NOW? PANDEMIC BLESSING
The various year groups have had mini reunions here and there over the last two decades; and even in 2015 I was privileged to be part of a cross-cohort mini reunion in Prague but never have we been able to gather this many people together all at once. What’s the difference? COVID-19!! As Rodrigo (Mexico) and Li-Hoon (Singapore) put it bluntly during the first 96ers reunion call: “THANK YOU COVID!”
So why and how come this significant reunion at such a time as this? In the first place, we’re all no longer busy bigwigs criss-crossing the planet about our all-important affairs. We have every one’s attention and no one’s going anywhere. Secondly, the lockdown’s making many of us begin to feel lonely; we are seeking community, even if it’s online. Thirdly, COVID-19 and its ramifications is making us more contemplative and asking what really matters in life. We’ve been glad to pick up memories and rekindle friendships we inadvertently dropped. Fourthly, this pandemic has changed the way we think! Hitherto, we would’ve been seriously planning a ‘big’ physical reunion with all the limitations of time, air travel expense, visa drama, hosting logistics etc. How come it’s never occurred to us in 24 years to hold an ONLINE REUNION?! How hard is that?! But it just wasn’t in our mental framework. And don’t forget, in 1996 when we were teenagers and formed these relationships, smart phones didn’t exist and the internet and email had barely become available to us commoners. Our brains may have only associated each other with snail mail and a fine opportunity for stamp collection.
But the last reason may be the most important of all. The world has turned pretty ugly in the last little while with bigotry, racism and a certain brand of unrestrained nationalism. All of these have been heightened during this pandemic, coming to a head with the unjust death of George Floyd and the mass protests that it sparked all over the world on every continent, calling for racial equality and justice. As I mentioned on the WVYA ’97ers call, it seems to me that although we all knew our mission of peace, love, reconciliation and unity in the world was important back in the 1990s (after all my sweetheart Duda, for instance, took solace in playing piano among the bombs blasting in the Bosnian war), I still feel Papa Chang had so much vision that WVYA rather is an idea whose time has now come, 25 years later.
It was at WVYA that I learnt not only in song that “we teach the young our difference but look how we’re the same” but lived that reality among 50 other nationals for three months. My conclusion as a (maybe precocious) teenager was: we have much more in common than we are different. In fact, it wasn’t until about six weeks into the programme that the thought first even crossed my mind: I am Black. It hadn’t mattered. At all.
BACK TO THE FUTURE
Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard aptly said, “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.” As I reconnect (in order of recent rediscovery and rallying onto WhatsApp) with Claudia (Colombia), Tom (Uganda/currently domiciled in England), Isobel (Ireland/France), Nayunda (Zambia), Carolina (Hong Kong/UK), Li Hoon (Singapore), Ivyn my roommate (Sri Lanka), Henrietta (Zimbabwe/USA), Isariya (Thailand), Esther (New Zealand), Panha (Cambodia), Ginger (USA), Jeffrey (Costa Rica), Nashipai (Kenya), Joyce (Lebanon/Canada), Wilge (Bolivia/USA), Greg (Taiwan), Lara (Canada/USA), Nino (Georgia), Haime (Philippines), Nelson (Papua New Guinea), Duda (Bosnia & Herzegovina), Yayoi (Japan), Janneke (Netherlands), Arnold (Honduras/Mozambique), Anielka (Nicaragua/USA), Rodrigo (Mexico), Mirjam (Germany), Carlos (Ecuador/USA), Derese (Ethiopia/USA), Sinara (Dominican Republic/Bulgaria), Ariel (Chile), Luis (Guatemala), Pamela (India), Cornel (Romania/Canada), Annie (Malawi), Fikile (Swaziland/South Africa), Pierrick (Switzerland), Young Suk (South Korea), Simon (Bangladesh/Canada), Mpho (Botswana), Davi (Brazil/Uruguay), Romed (Tanzania), Ghassan (Palestine), Angelina (Russia), and Rytha (DR Congo), I’m also connecting the dots.
I believe Bobby Clinton was right, that “God develops a leader over the entire course of their lives” and He sure lays down “sovereign foundations,” like WVYA, for His purposes in each of us in every generation. I could never have chosen this life, but I love it! More importantly, I love the One who did and all these nationals He has brought my way! Again, my heart expanded and has never been able to shrink back since.
Guess who else was right? Papa Chang. Today we are the wives and husbands, fathers and mothers, professors, CEOs, homemakers, celebrated performers (choral, gospel, jazz, opera), members of parliament, government ministers etc. of change, “doing our little thing in our little corners” as Mama Chang exhorted on the July 11 call. But guess what? Now that COVID-19 has brought all these little embers together, who knows what worldwide bonfire may start. World, watch out! for as Victor Hugo once remarked: “You can resist an invading army; you cannot resist an idea whose time has come.”
Everyone knows this is a hard time to live and even more so a jolly harder time to lead. A couple of thoughts and tools have been most helpful in my own leadership struggle to survive the pandemic and tussle to thrive beyond it.
This is worth repeating although people in my circles might be tired of hearing me sound like a broken record: a pandemic is a terrible thing to waste. It tends to be once-in-a-lifetime, nay, once every 100 or so years, for crying out loud! That notion of not squandering the opportunity in crises was most eloquently quipped in recent years by Stanford economist Paul Romer at a venture-capitalist meeting in November 2004 in California when he said, “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” According to the The New York Times Magazine, “he was referring to the increasing competition that America faces from rapidly rising education levels in other countries.” How much more COVID-19!
As a leadership practitioner in the global sphere, I’ve found myself in various groups discussing both gut reactions and measured responses to the pandemic. I have been particularly intrigued by the notion that COVID-19 is not just a passing blizzard but a long winter, even possibly a mini ice-age. I first heard it from my mentor of nearly 20 years who is currently the Finance Minister of the Republic of Ghana, Ken Ofori-Atta. In his Financial Times article that prayerfully ponders a restoration of GDPs to structural changes that need to happen from digitalization to debt issues, he prophesies: “This is not a passing blizzard, as a friend said; more like a long winter, even a mini ice age.”
Similar words were used by Andy Crouch et al. In summarizing their Leading Beyond the Blizzard: Why Every Organization is Now a Startup article, the above words from Ofori-Atta were echoed: “The novel coronavirus is not just something for leaders to “get through” for a few days or weeks. Instead, we need to treat COVID-19 as an economic and cultural blizzard, winter, and beginning of a “little ice age” — a once-in-a-lifetime change that is likely to affect our lives and organizations for years.”
So how do we live and lead (tactics) in the immediate to survive the vagaries of the current season yet be and do in a way that enables us to thrive beyond the pandemic (strategy). I’ve found the following thoughts and tools most helpful.
1. TRIAGE TO LIVE THROUGH THE PANDEMIC
As a Ghanaian, the month of May holds both the joys of May Day (workers’ holiday; equivalent of Lab(o)ur Day) and the pains of the May 9 stadium disaster that took the lives of 126 people in 2001. As all hands were called on deck that fateful day, ordinary folks drove to my medical school to implore medical students to come over and do whatever we could to help salvage endangered lives from the stampede that had ensued at the capital’s stadium. One of the necessary evils of medical practice is triaging in disaster. This is “the assignment of degrees of urgency to wounds or illnesses to decide the order of treatment of a large number of patients or casualties.” The word “triage” for grouping patients based on the severity of their injuries and the likelihood of their survival comes from the French word “trier” which means “to sort.” As a doctor I can tell you that usually it’s not the ones shouting the loudest that need the most urgent care but often the ones dying slowly in silence, perhaps haemorrhaging away.
What has this got to do with leading well in this COVID-19 pandemic? Well, while the mission of your organization wouldn’t change; your methods not only can, they should. The pandemic offers the kairos moment and clarity to triage, to sort through what must be given urgent care or otherwise. There are things that should become even more of a priority now in this pandemic; some that have emerged out of the blue and others that should be honoured as having served their purpose and honourably let go.
I have personally found the following ‘Strategy Triage Tool’ introduced in an April 30 Vision Synergy online workshop I was in most helpful. Hope you do too.
2. INNOVATE TO OUTLIVE THE PANDEMIC
“Necessity is the mother of invention,” so the old adage goes. And indeed, when the need for something becomes imperative, human beings are forced to find ways to get things done in a manner they wouldn’t have otherwise without this compelling force. I have witnessed more appropriate technological innovations on the African continent since the COVID-19 pandemic than I have my whole life!, everything from solar-powered soap-dispensing hand washing sinks through contact tracing mobile apps to pool testing of lab samples for coronaviruses. In the various organizations I’m a part of, I’ve seen many innovations things from cooking together in real time on Zoom to collaborative music videos of people continents apart.
My excitement about crisis-birthed innovations was tampered though by wise words from my super smart fellow Fellow of the Africa Leadership Initiative (ALI), Bright Simons. Hear him: “Survival instincts do spur innovation during crises. But some crisis-spun innovations fail to position organisations well for the eventual recovery. For example, improved food canning and other preservation techniques became a mainstream strategy during World War II, but not the distributed “home canning” opportunities some, such as the Bernadin Bottle Cap Company, bet their fortunes on. The strong surge simply fizzled out in the post-war years. If an emergency forces new thinking that leads to new product and service lines, it may be worth your while to contemplate how you can “stretch out” the adaptive investments to sustain your edge into the recovery phase, with your primary focus on scaling when the constraints are less likely to lead to burnout.”
In demonstrating how we can “stretch out” the adaptive investments of COVID-19 so that our innovations can outlive the pandemic, Simons offers the illustration below.
The excellent COVID-19 analysis in this scenario planning PowerPoint by UC Berkeley professor Steven Weber and Arik Ben-Zvi (CEO of Breakwater Strategy) has also been a cherished gift. It is helpful that the duo have put a lot of thinking into various possible scenarios from total triumph to downright disaster, enabling leaders to conserve our energies to take care of the resulting so whats and then what’s for our own contexts and constituencies. Cross out America and the tool is pretty good for anywhere in the world that has been hit by COVID-19, which is everywhere.
So yes, any crisis is a terrible thing to waste, especially a pandemic of current proportions. In our bid to live and lead, may we do so well in order not only to merely survive the moment but to even outlast it. May posterity arise and salute the Covid-containing and Covid-conquering champions that we are, in the making.