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!
One of the most stupid things I’ve ever done is to travel 10 whole years into marriage before ever seeking formal post-marital counselling. After the several pre-marital sessions lasting many months in 2006, Anyele and I went in the power of that for a decade until we felt we needed further formal, external help. Why on earth did we do that?
Come to think of it, every 5,000 km or so we were changing the oil in our car and getting it serviced yet not so with our marriage. Doesn’t every marriage need regular marriage maintenance? Why wait till we’re sick before we see a doctor when we can at least do annual check-ups? In fact, I would say we came from a culture where seeing a counsellor connoted there was a pathology; and not so much a maintenance thing.
Friends, I’ve had several conversions since August 12, 2006 that have better aligned and further fortified what I thought were already ‘excellent foundations.’ Sometimes there’ve even been foundational cracks I’ve had to fix (and God knows I’m not done). For time to time I’ve come across new information that has caused me to repent, have a change of mind, and realign our foundations to keep this family building strong and lasting.
EXAMPLES OF FAMILY FOUNDATIONS TO REVISIT
Feel free to say “shame on you Yaw” but I had never heard of a family genogram until barely five years ago! How could such an important tool and exercise not have been part of our foundations when we set out a decade-and-a-half ago? And if you’re asking “what the heck is that?”, then trust me, you don’t even know you need one until you eventually discover it. Afterwards you would wonder how in the world your family had been surviving without one. I say ‘surviving’ because you will then notice that what you thought was ‘thriving’ wasn’t quite so.
Then there are basic tools for connecting with spouse and children on a deep emotional level we only received in the last five years. We learnt the 10/10 from the Pellmans and Temperature Reading from the Scazzeros. “Love your wife,” yes I want to. “Respect your husband,” yes she wants to. But how? The Kraemers also gave us tools for this.
And all this is for a good-looking couple who had a pretty solid family heritage, coming from a few generations of good Christian homes, being smart, leaders of our church youth fellowship who had lived virtuously and gotten married as virgins. We even themed our wedding “a celebration of purpose, passion and purity.” Alas! We who ‘had it all’ have realized there are family foundations everyone needs yet almost no one lays. The very marriage mentors who have been blessing us with these paradigms, praxes and practical tools are passionate about their ministry of marriage mentorship today precisely because they themselves didn’t have these when they were our age!
Family is a BIG deal. It is the basic unit of society, just like the cell is for all biological life and the atom is for all matter. Yet the thing about family foundations is this: just like finances, very little about how to make it work well is taught in school about it. If one isn’t fortunate to have a spiritual community that provides quality family life information and formation, you’re in a hard place. There are many divorces that are preventable, if the foundations could be reconfigured. There are some we’ve been able to help save by God’s grace; and others… well… too bad, too late.
THE MOST IMPORTANT PART
Few will argue against the assertion that the most important part of a building, or anything else that is built for that matter, say a marriage, is its foundation. A ton of things have been said about foundations. Gordon B. Hinckley asserts, “You can’t build a great building on a weak foundation. You must have a solid foundation if you’re going to have a strong superstructure.” Adding his voice, David Allan Coe says, “It is not the beauty of a building you should look at; its the construction of the foundation that will stand the test of time.” The greatest teacher of all time, Jesus Christ, classifies life builders into two categories, wise and foolish, purely based on thee foundations they lay: the foolish build on sand, the wise build on rock.
My beloved mentor Peter Scazzero talks about foundations a lot in the Emotionally Healthy Leadership paradigms he teaches. And no wonder, since like the typical New Yorker he is, Pete is ever so familiar with the skycraping towers of Manhattan. This is how he explains the importance of digging deep foundations if we are to build life’s tall towers of significance:
Manhattan consists almost entirely of bare granite, a very hard and strong type of rock. To carry the weight of a 75 or 100 story skyscraper, foundations known as “piles” are used. These are concrete or steel columns hammered into the ground with a massive crane until they penetrate solid rock.
Some pilings go twenty-five stories under the ground. The heavy weight of the skyscraper is then distributed through each of the deep “piles” in the ground below. Together they are capable of supporting the structure’s enormous weight.
If the pilings are drilled in poorly, cracks eventually appear in the structure. Entire buildings may lean. Then they must be torn down or lifted completely so the piles can be reset – a costly and time-consuming process.
FAMILY FOUNDATIONS MASTERMIND
As you might be aware from a previous blog, “a mastermind group (often shortened to just ‘masterminds’) is a peer-to-peer mentoring group used to help members learn together, solve problems, birth new ideas and gain clarity with input and advice from the other group members.” For eight weekly sessions, from April 4 to May 30, I shall be walking along with a dozen leaders who want to re-examine their family foundations and receive new paradigms, praxes and practical tools to finally fix faulty family foundations. Inputs will include several book chapters, videos, articles, practical exercises, discussions and debates. Two special features and benefits will be FREE membership of an online chest of over 20,000 resources and a FREE DISC Personality assessment with a 37-age customized report!
You can be sure that “mastermind groups are great in holding each other accountable for the goals and outcomes each member comes up with themselves” (see here). Outcomes and outputs of this particular Family Foundations Mastermind are as follows:
- Paradigm Shift on the Prime Place of Family
- Ancient Wisdom Applied
- Current Family Systems Theories Tested
- Practical Relationship Tools (for emotional connection, communication, forgiveness)
- Family Genogram
- Behavioural Assessment
- Emotional Needs List & Action Points
- Family Mission Statement
- Hierarchy of Priorities Configuration
- Integrated Life Exploration & Commitment
Register here and let’s go back to basics. Let’s finally fix faulty family foundations that everyone needs to but hardly anyone does.
Over the last week, somehow this notion of needing to work harder on yourself than you do on your job has come up with two or three different coaching clients. For the CEO of a crucial agro business firm in West Africa, the financial services entrepreneur in Canada and the PhD-wielding academic on the east coast of the United States, the three reasons I’m about to share held true. It is true for you too.
For the record, I work hard and believe in hard work. I also work smart and absolutely promote the idea of brain over brawn anyway. Over a decade ago I came up with the phrase, “brain power pays; muscle power pains.” I subscribe to the Pauline exhortation that “whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord and not for man.” So by all means, work hard and smart on your job, but work even harder and smarter on yourself.
Here are three reasons why:
1. WHO YOU ARE IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN WHAT YOU DO
No matter how hard or smart you work, the instrument for the doing the do is you. If the input into you doesn’t match or exceed the output, that will soon be your undoing. Let me put it in a way one of my staff in British Columbia said it to me a few years ago: “If your output exceeds your input, then your upkeep will be your downfall.” Classic! Not only will you soon not be effective and efficient when your self input is less than your job output, it is unsustainable and you might end up becoming irrelevant. And sometimes, irrelevant not just in terms of knowledge and skills for a context that has progressed because you’re not healthy or even physically alive anymore–you killed the goose that lays the golden eggs!
Consider these sagacious words of educator Palmer Parker:
“When I give something I do not possess, I give a false and dangerous gift, a gift that looks like love but is, in reality, loveless—a gift given more from my need to prove myself than from the other’s need to be cared for…. One sign that I am violating my own nature in the name of nobility is a condition called burnout. Though usually regarded as the result of trying to give too much, burnout in my experience results from trying to give what I do not possess—the ultimate in giving too little! Burnout is a state of emptiness, to be sure, but it does not result from giving all I have; it merely reveals the nothingness from which I was trying to give in the first place.”
Remember, who we are is more important that what you do, because we do whatever we do out of who we are: our identity, character, values.
2. ONE MEANS A LIVING, THE OTHER MEANS A FORTUNE
Classic motivational speaker of blessed memory, Jim Rohn, poignantly put this in a way like nobody else has: “Learn to work harder on yourself than you do on your job. If you work hard on your job you can make a living, but if you work hard on yourself you’ll make a fortune.” This statement, I believe, is a variation of timely advice Jim himself received from his mentor J. Earl Schoaf. Jim had heard him give the reason for why the job only pays the bills but the latter ends in billions: work harder on yourself than you do on your job; your income is directly related to your philosophy, not the economy; and for things to change, you must change.
From a one-year college drop out living from pay check to pay check as a stock clerk at Sears, this advice catalyzed a five-year mentorship of Rohn by Shoaff, encouraging him to develop himself and pursue his dream of a better life such that by age thirty one, Rohn was a millionaire! It was a really sad day when this motivator of motivators like Anthony Robbins, Less Brown, Brian Tracy and Denis Waitley, passed away in December 2009.
Friend, work harder on yourself–from your paradigms through your attitudes to your skills. It’s the software that you carry and apply to a variety of endeavours, not only your job, that will unlock abundant wealth and well-being.
3. JOBS COME AND GO BUT YOU’LL STILL BE HERE
Sometimes people leave jobs; other times jobs leave people. In the kind of post-pandemic economies we have now, more jobs leave people than people leave jobs. Certain whole industries have been wiped out, for crying out loud! I’ve marvelled at how many pilots have been literally grounded and have had to find some other kind of livelihood. What if all you did was work hard on your job and never grew your other interests, talents and skills or even never networked beyond the ‘boys club’ in your profession?
When many years ago I decided to take the path of the risk of entrepreneurship rather than the ‘security’ of a regular paid job, some people who thought I was crazy later found out they had been crazy to think ‘owning a job’ was better than owning a business when in spite of their qualifications, loyalties and skills their jobs were cut. Former Microsoft COO, Kevin Turner, said it best: “The only job security we have is our individual commitment to personal development.” Your job today may not be there tomorrow–in fact your entire industry might not be there–but you will. Work harder on yourself than you do on your job forwhen tomorrow comes, your preparation will meet opportunity. That’s what they call success.
Do the following to ensure you are working hard on yourself for your personal growth and development: set aside a time for YOU, a ME time, everyday. Mine is 5-6am everyday during which I read my personal mission statement, review my goals, read for at least 15 minutes and express my thoughts and feelings in writing.
For all the coachees I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, each was working super hard at their jobs. It is my job to ensure that while they do that, they strive towards working even harder on themselves than they do on their jobs. There’s no great future for anyone without that.
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.
Carmen Bernos de Gasztold has a collection of poems called The Creature’s Choir which I just ordered (something I should’ve 3-4 years ago!). In it, she puts prayers in the mouths of animals and birds. Bob Fryling, in his book The Leadership Ellipse: Shaping How We Lead by Who We Are, first brought my attention to the peacock’s cry.
This beautiful bird proudly describes its external beauty, while humbly mourning its discordant cry and mournful heart:
“Lord, let a day come,
a heavenly day,
when my inner and outer selves
will be reconciled in perfect harmony.”
Amen and amen!
“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,” says Andy Crouch et al. I concur.
Just before Christmas 2020 my lawyer-banker friend and fellow John Maxwell Certified Trainer/Coach, Samuel Anim Esq., asked that I join him do an autopsy of the pandemic year 2020 live on Facebook/Youtube to draw leadership lessons. I was honoured and humbled. Honoured because it is a privilege to offer thought leadership and there is a myriad of leadership experts to choose from. I was humbled because not only do I not know all the lessons from Covid-19, I am still evaluating and learning from what I would perhaps call “the strangest year of my life.”
Nevertheless I managed to throw a few of my reflections together and gave it a funny title. Since around that time of the year there is the traditional Festival of Nine Lessons & Carols I thought of making this a Festival of Nine Lessons & Corona. Certainly there are more than nine leadership lessons from this Coronavirus pandemic year but here are some:
1. EMBRACE PARADOX
Perhaps no one and nothing captures the paradox of 2020 like Charles Dickens and his classic phrase, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” (from A Tale of Two Cities). This same 2020 year, over 1.67 million have died and 42.6 million have recovered. You may have lost someone to COVID-19 but you are alive. I’ve been stuck at home but I’ve had the longest unbroken quality bonding time with my family ever! We lost our family’s physical library services business but gained online business five times the physical capacity. Whole old industries, like aviation, have been decimated but whole new industries have emerged and are booming like Zoom. 2020 has been catastrophic yet catalytic.
Welcome to leadership. Embrace paradox. Think of the paradox of a servant leader, as a prime example of leadership paradox. True leadership is almost always straddling two seemingly opposing worlds, something Bob Fryling describes as “the leadership ellipse” because an ellipse “is defined by two distinctly different focal points that are of equal importance. One point is not inferior to the other, and both are needed if there is to be an ellipse.” I previously blogged about this in more detail here.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” ― Charles Dickens, ‘A Tale of Two Cities’
If leadership has always been about managing the tension of tasks or people, money or mission, the present or the future, inner spiritual longings and the outward needs of the group we lead, being and doing, community and cause, truth-telling and putting the right spin on things, to live in the world without being of the world, to be faithful or fruitful etc. then all of these have been put on steroids in a para and post-Covid world.
I have said before and I repeat: “the degree to which one is able to be comfortable with and live, love and lead well in the tension of this and that, yin and yang, determines their ultimate leadership success or otherwise. From my little experience and research, the best leaders in the world are those who are not only able to get comfortable with being uncomfortable living in such tensions but mastered the art of dextrously handling both well.” The post-Covid world leaves us no choice. Embrace paradox or die.
2. MAINTAIN THE MISSION, MUTATE THE MEANS
You and yours don’t want to end up like the Choluteca Bridge in Honduras. It was initially built in 1930 and reconstructed in 1996 to withstand tough weather conditions, including hurricanes. Well, two years later, in 1998, the bridge did prove its mettle, withstanding the category five storm, Hurricane Mitch, that devastated Honduras. Buildings were destroyed and roads wiped out but the bridge survived in near perfect condition. The only problem was that there were no roads for it to connect to anymore (roads wiped out at both ends) and the strong winds of the hurricane had caused the river to carve out an entirely new path that no longer ran under the bridge!
Think about it: a bridge connecting to nowhere and no one; and over nothing! If a bridge is no longer a way or a means to a desired end, then what is it? Similarly, if your pre-Covid means are no longer effective post-Covid as ways to deliver your mission, then of what use are they?
You certainly don’t want to lose sight of your vision or your grip on your mission but when it comes to your strategies, your ways and means to accomplish your mission, you don’t ever want to be dogmatic about that. In matters of mission, be as solid as a rock; but regarding the means flow like a river.
THE OTHER SEVEN LESSONS
3. Global community is the real deal context of leadership
4. Capitalize on era of Business without Borders
5. Heed the Harm to our House (Earth)
6. Inequities, Inequalities, Integrity-lessness will be exposed with time
7. Reflective lifestyle is the must-have rhythm of leadership
8. Become and raise agile “VUCA Prime” Leaders (VUCA is an acronym for Volatile Uncertain Complex Ambiguous)
9. HOPE is the real vaccine.
For further details of each lesson, watch the full video here.
If there is any one of these nine Covid-19 life and leadership lessons you need to grow in for a more successful 2021 you’re in good company. Join me. Come to the growth table. Join the 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth January journey in the form of a mastermind group of just 15 high level executives. Register right now here. The way COVID-19 has fundamentally changed our world means we all need to radically change the way we do life and leadership too. And that requires new growth. Will you grow or die?
Earlier in the last quarter of the year I shared my faith-based Covid-19 reflections vis-a-vis Christian mission with pastors and church leaders here.
Pease porridge hot, pease porridge cold,
Pease porridge in the pot, nine days old;
Some like it hot, some like it cold,
Some like it in the pot, nine days old.
That ‘Pease Porridge’ Mother Goose nursery rhyme is a succinct summary of the biases, tendencies, idiosyncrasies and preferences we all have such that without a certain degree of intentionality we might never do one thing or the other at all because it simply isn’t my thing.
In my medical school days, I found it über interesting that each specialist professor would talk about their field with such passion and all-importance as if the whole body were an eye or liver or skin or heart or bones or whatever. No matter the medical condition, they would find a cause or effect related to their darling body part. In fact, we believed there were consultants who could literally hear and spot diagnose a heart murmur without a stethoscope just by walking into the consulting room!
In leader formation, I have also found that depending on the trainer or coach’s personal preferences, biases or sweet spot, they zoom in on one area (eg. character development or strategy or organizational culture) to the detriment of other equally important aspects of leader formation.
During my Master of Arts in Global Leadership at Fuller, I encountered a schema for the programme which I fell in love with. I have since adapted it as ‘7 Inputs & Outcomes of Leader Formation’ at YAW PERBI, providing a framework and basis, process and end product for our leader formation, whether via coaching or consulting, in our authoring of resources, and certainly in our speaking and training. Here it is (diagram below).
THE SEVEN LEADERSHIP FOOD GROUPS
Your body needs a nutritional balance of carbohydrates and proteins, fats/oils, minerals and vitamins. This is accomplished through food groups like grains, milk products, meats, fruits and vegetables. Similarly, your head, heart and hands require these seven ‘food groups’ to nourish and form the basis of leader development:
1. Classically Informed Practice: This is the origin and objective of leadership. Classical means ancient. Fuller’s original is Biblically-informed for obvious reasons but while that is true for us at YAW PERBI, we also include Ancient African, Asian and Greek/Latin literature (Aristotle, Socrates, Plato). The point of rooting leader formation in a meta narrative is that many people consider the whole area of leadership/leadership development as a creation of Western business schools and or even the modern American management industry but no. The art and science of leadership dates back 6,000 years in scripture, and with the likes of Akhenaten, King of Egypt (1380-1334 BC), Moses (1391-1271 BC), Lao Tzu (604-531), Cyrus the Great (600-530BC), Confucius (551-479 BC), Plato (427-347 B), Aristotle (384-322 BC) and Cicero (106-43 BC) throughout history.
2. Character Development: Constitutes the heart of leadership. At the end of the day, the heart of the matter is the matter of the heart. As I’ve heard it said time and again, charisma without character is a disaster waiting to happen. Invariably it does. That character is the bedrock of authentic and long-lasting leadership cannot be overemphasized.
3. Reflective Lifestyle: Herein lies the rhythm of leadership. This isn’t one of Fuller’s original six. I included it after a meeting with a group of senior leaders mentoring emerging leaders in Africa. Dr. Joshua Bogunjoku, my senior medical colleague and big brother who is the international director for SIM really passionately brought the necessity for stillness, silence, introspection and such to the fore to which I agreed and couched this indispensable ingredient.
4. Missional Community: This is the goal of leadership. Leadership is about serving and influencing a group of people (community) towards a certain noble purpose (cause). That cause or mission, according to my worldview, is a subset of a meta narrative known as the missio Dei that must ultimately bring glory to the God of the universe, benefit creation (people being chief among creation) and vanquish evil. Without a flourishing community on this vital three-fold mission, what the heck is leadership for?
5. Global Diversity: It goes without saying that we live in a global village, made even tighter still by the meta internet connectivity in this Covid-19 era. Not even spatial distancing can change the closeness. It is not uncommon for leaders today to have team members strewn across different timezones and having worldview, cultural beliefs and ethnic values that are very different. Global diversity is the context of leadership today.
6. Lifelong Learning in a Diverse Community: Herein lies the continuing development of leadership. As you already know, the present continues learning of a leader gives them the right and means to keep leading. The day we stop learning, we stop leading. Lifelong learning is catalyzed in diverse community, physical or virtual.
7. Organizational Dynamics: This is how leadership is implemented. I once met a former Fortune 500 company CEO near Chicago who described companies as ‘a necessary evil.’ At the end of the day, as long as two or more people come together, we need some sort of ‘organization’ to make things happen. It’s wonderful to have a great heart, but without the cutting edge knowledge and skillful hands to steer organizations with all their dynamics, these great ideas and causes won’t last very long.
For the last decade I have believed in and practiced going deep with leaders rather than merely going wide (mass production). I believe in Maxwell’s Law of Process, that leadership is built daily; not in day. Consequently, whoever walks long enough with us at YAW PERBI will invariably realize that they have been well-fed and well-formed holistically, with each of the above seven leadership food groups amply supplied, digested and fleshed out.
While I hope Ghana’s former president Jerry John Rawlings does Rest In Peace, his passing has evoked many memories and a slew of strong sentiments–the good, the bad and the ugly. My father was Chief Accountant of the Social Security Bank at the time of J.J.’s ‘revolution.’ I have often touted my dad’s integrity. Here’s one of his recent reflections on how his integrity and God’s grace saved his skin during the days of the ‘revolution’, quite literally.
After the apparent unfinished business in 1979, JJ came back onto the public scene by ousting President Hilla Limann on 31st December, 1981. The mindset was people were corrupt; more corrupt than the public acknowledged, and far more widespread.
Soldiers entered our premises where we were staying, at a place called Pig Farm, in Accra. Word must have gone somewhere that our landlady Mame Boatema was hoarding cloth. Her trade was selling cloth at Makola, and there was a concept called “ hoarding”: some sellers used to keep some of the items for sale away from public view, partly in order to create shortages and hence sell what they had at higher prices, and partly, on a much lower scale, in order to pass them on to their favorite patrons and customers. It did not matter whether the things in your possession were legitimately acquired by you or not; if the quantity constituted more than a certain perceived number, you were branded as hoarding, and you suffered consequences. Consequences; various consequences, from outright seizure of the items, to sometimes seizure plus beatings.
On this evening, we had closed from the office and were home when all of a sudden soldiers entered our house. We were then occupying the lower floor of a two-storey building, Mame Boatema the wife of the landlord occupying the top floor. Apparently the soldiers had climbed up, done their search, found nothing and upon descending opened our front door without knocking and entered. Ma gave them a questioning look; I signaled to her to keep calm. They went to every room, found nothing of what they suspected, and left.
When they left, Mame Boatema went to the entrance of the house and shouted to all who were in hearing range, and somehow addressed to neighbours across the road whom she suspected may have sent false information to the soldiers that she was hoarding cloth, how disgraceful they had turned out to be, seeing that nothing untoward was found in the search.
That was just one domestic scenario. There were several in several places, many receiving beatings etc. Soldiers were all over the place, with an agenda they only knew, but mainly looking for “ enemies of the revolution”: namely people who were profiteering.
I was then chief accountant of the Bank ( SSB), one of the departments under my purview being the Stores. SSB was a very popular bank those days. It had been set up by the late Dr Appiah as a subsidiary of the national pension institution SSNIT, and was intended to help fill some identified gaps in the banking industry. Its department called Consumer Credit Department specifically set up to offer workers loans to buy consumables – fridges, freezers, cookers etc- was very popular with workers. The inflation in the country was not only in double digits but also the changes were so rapid that workers were no longer able to source loans easily to buy their needs. Members of staff felt very much appreciated by members of the public- and apparently also envied and hated by some – notably those who could not access the credit for one reason or the other.
Another aspect of SSB’s uniqueness was its opening of cocoa branches. These were new branches at cocoa farming and buying centres to assist cocoa farmers offer their cocoa sales receipts to the Bank for cash/credit. Prior to this, hard-working cocoa farmers after harvesting and selling their cocoa would only be given sales receipts which they had to hang on for very long periods of time and at the mercy of the traditional banks which were not many to start with, nor operating in thick rural areas. This made the Bank also very much appreciated by cocoa farmers.
In addition to this, warehousing finance whereby importers of goods, usually consumables, could access funds from the Bank usually to finance customs and clearing charges of imports by depositing the products in the Bank’s warehouse and have them released in bits based on how they were selling the items and paying the credit in installments was a very welcome initiative in banking.
The Bank’s warehouse was located at the North Industrial Area in Accra, while the Head Office where my office was was at Kokomlemle. On this occasion, I was told that soldiers had gone to the Warehouse and beaten one of the storekeepers. I wondered why, but almost immediately added “ If he did not do anything wrong, would they beat him? Maybe they asked to open the gates for them to see what was inside and he refused.” Little did I know that I was soon to eat back my own words later that night: being beaten before being heard.
People mingled around the frontage of the Bank wondering what was going on; it was near closing time, and I had also closed and joined the rest of the staff in wonder. Before long a military vehicle Pinz Gauer pulled up and with a couple of soldiers and policemen at the back drove up to the front of the Bank. While we were all at a loss as to what was up, I noticed I was pointed out and signaled to approach the vehicle. A soldier asked whether I would be able to answer some questions on the items in the warehouse and I confidently said “Yes.” I was asked to climb into the vehicle.
It was obvious it was most probable I was not going to drive home myself in my car that evening so I gave my car keys to one of the staff I identified and climbed in. We drove off, not knowing where they were taking me. We first went to a base near 37 Military Hospital, sat in the vehicle, wondering what was next. After a long time, and with dusk well settled and darkness in the atmosphere, we drove on, me little knowing where the destination was.
While going, some of the soldiers and policemen were exposed their beef as they expressed their disappointment with not being able to get some of the consumer items when they applied. I kept quiet, not being the manager in charge of that credit, but also being very much aware that no amount of defence would assuage their bitterness and anger.
Soon we were to turn into Burma Camp, and deeper into what I later got to know was Gondar Barracks. “Meat come! meat come!” were shouts that greeted us from soldiers at the camp, and apparently a couple or so other Pinz Guarers already parked ahead of us. “Meat,” as in reference to people who had been sent to the barracks who would be beaten. The prospect of beating civilians was being likened to enjoying some beef or similar juicy meat. I saw soldiers lifting their boots into the bodies of people, including their groins and any other part of the body they could reach with their legs.
Sooner or later it came to my turn. There was an office not far from the road where the vehicle had parked. When I was called, or rather signaled to enter the office, I descended from the vehicle and I heard one of them ask me to remove my eye glasses. Before I knew what was happening, two hefty slaps landed on my cheeks from behind me. I tried to make my way to the office, somehow convinced that there would be some respite there. It was like fighting unknown and unseen forces. While I tried hard to force my way to the office, I felt being restrained with some bearing. Eventually I made my way to the office.
An officer seated at a table asked of my designation . When I told him, it turned out that I was not one they were looking for. They asked me to go back to sit in the vehicle to be driven back. While waiting in the vehicle, some of the soldiers who had become somewhat apologetic said some people had even lost their lives so … apparently to console me that my fate could have been worse. When we departed to be sent to 37 area to find our way home, I opted to get off as soon as we exited the Burma Camp, and fortunately found a taxi that took me home to Pig Farm. Those were days of curfew: no one was expected to be on the streets from 6 pm to 6 am, later to be adjusted to 9 pm to 6 am.
A member of my staff Aggrey Fynn, himself a retired naval officer who was Stores Manager had also been sent to the barracks. I could only pray as to how he was going to be treated. Nursing pains in the cheeks the next few days and a red eye seemed a small price to pay for what was in store for the country, unknown to many, including even those who appeared to be “ in charge.”
Bank forgeries three years later and how some civilians were shot to death and my escape from it is another story altogether.
Reindorf B. Perbi
17 November, 2020
Leadership takes both being and doing, identity and purpose, character and charisma. In fact, who we are is even more important than what we do, for the latter flows from the former. To lead well it takes both. Always. One without the other is dead on arrival.
A royal train,
than jewelled enamel.
now I spread it in a wheel.
I must say I derive
some satisfaction from my good looks.
are sown with eyes
my discordant cry shames me a little–
and it is humiliating to make me remember
my meager heart.
Your world is badly made,
if I may say so:
the nightingale’s voice
would be properly attired–
and soothe my soul.
let a day come, a heavenly day,
when my inner and outer selves
will be reconciled
in perfect harmony.
(‘The Peacock’ by Carmen Bernos de Gasztold, The Creature’s Choir, trans. Rumer Godden).