“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).
Dr. Owusu Banahene
At a time when for once leaders of a developing country cannot escape the infrastructure and systems they might’ve failed to build to benefit from someone else’s in the developed world, this presents a fine opportunity to experience the harsh reality for themselves and sit up, post COVID-19. A pandemic is a terrible thing to waste.
I would like to add my voice to concerns that some have have expressed recently about lessons that Ghana should draw from the coronavirus pandemic. This is crunch time for us. It is a wake-up call. There is no doubt that the health system in Ghana would not cope if we were to be faced with even a quarter of the cases that we have seen in countries like China, South Korea, Iran, Italy and Spain, to name but a few. Even Italy, with one of the best health systems in the world, cannot cope. The UK has adopted drastic measures because it recognises that its National Health System cannot handle the expected cases. Equally, the USA does not have enough test kits, ventilators, hospital beds, doctors, nurses etc. to manage the numbers expected.
Ghana’s health system is nowhere close to these countries. Even under normal circumstances, our public hospitals have low capacity—we struggle with shortage of beds, with many patients sleeping on the floor or in corridors. We cannot even deal with Malaria nor vaccines without going cup in hand to the Global Fund and GAVI. Yet, our politicians and governments over the decades have lived and continue to live in largesse. For example, for a small, debt-ridden, low middle income country like Ghana, we have well over 100 ministers, most of whom live in expensive houses in posh neighborhoods provided by the state and drive expensive cars (so-called V8s). Their favourite car, the Land Cruiser, costs about USD 135,000 to buy new. All of these ministers have two or more cars provided by the state.
It is not just ministers. I have seen parliamentary delegations travelling abroad, sometimes about 15 of them. They travel in Business Class. When you engage them in conversation, they tell you about some of their other trips to places like South Africa, the UK, Kenya etc. One gets the impression that they travel frequently and regularly. They get significant per diems on these trips and stay in expensive 4-star and 5-star hotels. I recall one such delegation on a trip to the UK, made up of MPs from the ruling party at the time and the opposition, not to mention their escorts. Most were in First Class, whilst the rest (the escorts) were in Business. Upon arrival at London Heathrow, there was a fleet of Mercedes cars on the tarmac from the Ghana High Commission to meet and collect them. Of course they did not go through immigration and customs like the rest of us did.
Add to the above the corruption and kick-backs from contracts and other rent-seeking activities and you get an idea of the scale of the loot and largesse. In consequence, infrastructure projects such as airports, roads, hospitals, electricity etc. cost twice or more what they should, to say nothing of procurement of routine and regular supplies across the country. These monies, amounting to hundreds of millions of US dollars, end up in the pockets of the politicians, public servants and their cronies.
I could go on, but now, consider what we could have done with such monies at a time like this with COVID-19. Consider the test kits we could have bought, the hospitals we could have built across the country, the isolation wards, the ventilators we could have procured, the number of doctors, nurses and other health personnel we could have trained and retained in Ghana—with all the extravagant spending, waste and corruption of the past three or four decades! We could have been like Singapore or South Korea but, no, our politicians, public servants and their cronies have chopped and wasted the money—and continue to do so.
I hope and pray that COVID-19 would be a wake-up call for all of us. I wish some smart Alec would identify and do an inventory of all the properties and monies, including those stashed abroad, of the politicians and public servants and ask them to account for them. Those that cannot be legitimately accounted for should be confiscated and auctioned, with those monies going into a special fund for development. It is crunch time. It is time for us to wake up!
The day after my trial I sent a newsletter to all my family, friends and ministry partners around the world who had been praying for righteousness, truth and justice to prevail, giving them a ‘blow to blow’ account of happenings on that eventful day, November 28, 2018. You may read it here. Acquitted! Discharged!! Free!!!
“Now I am on trial because of my hope in the fulfillment of God’s promise made to our ancestors.” ~Paul the Apostle, A.D. 62
Although the official book of the story of God has been ‘closed’ with the canonized 66 books of the Bible, God is still writing his story every day in and through our lives.
Today, November 28, 2018, I will be defending myself against three criminal charges leveled against me by one James Simon of Montreal: assault, assault with a weapon and attempting to steal his iPad. One day, not long after this trial is over and I am vindicated, God-willing, I shall tell the full story publicly. Suffice it to say I was officially served notice in September 2017 regarding a parking incident involving the two of us in May 2017 in the course of my duty as an Associate of the Christian Medical and Dental Society (CMDS). Up until last year, for about seven years I had been mentoring medical students at McGill University. Fortunately, I had two of my medical students present at the time of the alleged incident who are willing witnesses in court today.
I have asked myself several times why God would allow such a wicked triple venom to be spewed at me and how the Montreal police and Quebec judicial system could even allow these frivolous accusations to travel this far but be that as it may I have taken great encouragement from the life of one of my top three historical mentors in the Bible: Apostle Paul.
If you should ask me, it is no accident that a day before my trial I found myself in Rome of all places (for the first time in my life). While on a five-hour transit at the Leonardo da Vinci airport en route back home to Canada I felt led to take a pilgrimage to the Mamertine prison area (Carcere Mamertino in Italian) where Paul was kept in AD 64, under house arrest for two years, awaiting trial by Emperor Nero (Acts 28:30). It was from there he penned the amazing book of Ephesians. I arrived in the frigid hours of the morning and spent quality time between 6 and 7am supplicating and interceding with tears mixed with rain to Paul’s God that my trial too will be for his praise, glory and fame.
False accusation against God-followers is an old tool of Satan the adversary and “accuser of the brethren”—from Joseph through Jeremiah to Jesus. Speaking of that and Rome, that particular Mamertine prison (carcer) has held several Christians, including Apostle Peter, especially in the time of Emperor Nero who even accused Christians as being behind the ravaging July 19, AD 64 fires of Rome. Oh, the other famous accusation was that Roman Christians hated humanity (popular till date especially among humanist-secularists).
My trial was originally slated for June 2018 but had to be postponed because the police officer who took my accuser’s statement and processed the case (without ever taking my side of the story!) went on vacation! During that time in June when my lawyer pointed out the baseless nature of the accusations to the Crown prosecutor who then sought the consent of my accuser to withdraw the case the latter said “no way,” and that I had still been coming around (during a time I was away in Ghana with my family for eight months!). He supposedly added that I was dangerous and ought to “be put away!” Ha!
Back to Paul and his inspiration regarding trials. Interestingly, only two weeks ago I was in Israel (again, for the first time in my life). When I had the opportunity of a customized one-on-one tour of selected places, one of the sites my gifted Jews for Jesus tour guide, Dalia, felt strongly we should visit (and at that time the name meant nothing to me) was Caesarea Maritima. Dalia must’ve been led by God’s Spirit unbeknownst to her. I was familiar with the other Caesarea, Caesarea Philippi, where Peter had made his famous divinely-inspired confession about Jesus: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” But Caesarea Maritima, that strategic port Herod the Great built along the Mediterranean, did not ring a bell. Yet it was here that I got to walk on the very grounds of the room that Apostle Paul was kept in as prisoner two years earlier (AD 62) than the Roman incarceration while being tried by Festus and Felix (Acts 24-26). Was my pilgrimage to Caesaria Maritima an accident or a ‘God-incidence’?
God is still writing his story in the lives of his people and his earlier recorded stories are for our inspiration and instruction. Incidentally, when St. Paul wrote to the very Romans many years prior that was his exact encouragement: “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope” (Romans 15:4, NIV).
Today, I too will be standing trial, comforted by the words of Apostle Paul that, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body” (2 Corinthians 4:8-10, NIV). I am counting on Jesus, who not only knows how it feels like to be falsely accused and unfairly tried but made his followers, like me, a solemn promise: “On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Matthew 10:18-20, NIV).
In a court case I call “a bizarre cocktail of mental health, racism and spiritual warfare” I trust truth will prevail, justice will be served and ultimately God will be glorified. God is still writing his story in our lives every day, even today. And He has the last word. Be encouraged.
In medical school this wasn’t one of the diagnoses I was taught I could make but on the other side of the doctor’s desk, this may be an even more dire diagnosis than a clogged gut.
MAINLY MEN; BUT NOT ONLY
Last Sunday, in a suburban church in Montreal, this was the summary of the middle-aged chap who shared his life-long struggle of dealing with his past: “I don’t do emotions.” Me too! Well, no more.
In many world cultures, that is the manly thing to do; it is macho. Some women try it too 🙂 In fact, in my own language, there is a saying that, “Obarima nnsu;” to wit, real men don’t cry. Even as a little boy growing up in Scripture Union circles in Accra, I always knew there was something wrong with that statement because I considered no one more manly that Jesus Christ yet he wept. Ever since then, I haven’t had a problem with weeping (you probably have seen me weep!) but errm… not done so well with a whole range of other emotions.
FACE, FIGHT OR FLIGHT?
I still remember my rather unemotional response to one of my staff’s emotional appeal when he said, “I feel…” My immediate response was, “Good thing that it’s only a feeling; but what do you think?!…” I don’t need to tell you that conversation didn’t go very well after that.
The Lord has been particularly convicting me of my emotional immaturity since the beginning of this year. Prior to that, I was the kind of leader Ruth Haley Barton would describe in Parker Palmer’s words as having risen to leadership based on “extroversion, which means they have a tendency to ignore what is going on inside themselves. These leaders rise to power by operating very competently and effectively in the external world, sometimes at the cost of internal awareness… but the link between leadership and spirituality calls us to reexamine that denial of the inner life.” (Barton 2012, 44, emphasis mine).
In fact, I might never have picked up a book like Peter Scazzero’s The Emotionally Healthy Leader because hitherto the word ‘emotional(ly)’ anywhere put me off. But for Dallas Willard and Scazzero, I had never thought of my emotional life as specifically needing to be discipled! I certainly did not have the theological, mental or practical framework for that!
Scazzero astounded me and totally destroyed my perception of what spiritual formation consists of when he emphatically stated, “it is not possible to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature!” (Scazzero 2015, 17). Gordon Smith drove the dagger deeper into my heart when he confirmed that “what is happening to us emotionally is not secondary to our spiritual experience, but may actually be—pun intended—the heart of the matter” (Smith 2014, 27).
And whole squadrons of the ancients agree, that “few things are so crucial to our growth in faith, hope and love as our capacity to be alert to the emotional contours of our lives” (28). Smith then adds another dimension, that not only are my emotions an area to be discipled for sure but they are also indicative, a dashboard sign, in the sense that “the depth of our hearts reflects the depth of our emotional lives; nothing so captures the inner recesses of our beings as what is happening to us emotionally” (28). In fact, St. Ingatius exhorts that we check for feelings of consolation and desolation in the Examen.
For all those as emotionally constipated as I used to be, we need to decide now: are we going to face our emotions, fight them or flee?
DENIAL, DISTORTION & DISENGAGEMENT
I could give myriad reasons (in addition to the couple above) why being emotionally aware and emotionally expressive in a healthy way is non-negotiable in life and leadership but just take a moment to consider why Dan Allender and Tremper Longman, in The Cry of the Soul, find this paramount:
“Ignoring our emotions is turning our back on reality; listening to our emotions ushers us into reality. And reality is where we meet God…. Emotions are the language of the soul. They are the cry that gives the heart a voice…. However, we often turn a deaf ear—through emotional denial, distortion, or disengagement. We strain out anything disturbing in order to gain tenuous control of our inner world. We are frightened and ashamed of what leaks into our consciousness. In neglecting our intense emotions, we are false to ourselves and lose a wonderful opportunity to know God. We forget that change comes through brutal honesty and vulnerability before God.”
THE DOCTOR’S DOCTOR
So where do we go from here? Personally, I have not only devoured Scazzero’s The Emotionally Healthy Leader but also led my entire ISMC national leadership team and still taking the fourteen country CEOs of The HuD Group through it chapter by chapter. At ISMC’s recent biennial national staff conference in Montreal, there was a daily ‘Emotionally Healthy’ segment (spirituality, relationship, leadership). In fact, the picture you see above was taken in May 2017, when Anyele and I had the privilege of joining the authors, Peter and Geri Scazzero, at their conference in New York (together with the CEO of The HuD Group Canada and his wife). I’m still learning and eagerly walking with a few others through Emotionally Healthy Spirituality over the next few months.
Having gleaned from Smith that “the genius of good [spiritual] direction is that we probe together, director and directee, and attend to the emotional wake that is left by the myriad of experiences we have had or are having” I have begun a search for a well-fitting spiritual director, apart from the amazing mentors, accountability partners, counselors and coaches I have in my life. And a good practice, encouraged by my wife, has been to “name my feelings,” because “what you name you can tame.”
How about you? Could you too be suffering from emotional constipation? What may God be calling you to do about it? Take a personal Emotional Healthy Spirituality assessment here. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to admit your state of emotional immaturity or bankruptcy, because hey, “God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.”
Other Works Cited
Barton, Ruth Haley. 2012. Pursuing God’s Will Together. Downers Grove, IL: IVP.
Scazzero, Peter. 2014. Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Day by Day. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Scazzero, Peter. 2015. The Emotionally Healthy Leader. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Willard, Dallas, 2002. Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.
The idea of ‘leadership ellipse’ is perhaps the most striking leadership concept I’ve come across most recently. How in the world is one supposed to ‘balance’ the inner spiritual life and the outer demands of leadership and tame tensions like being in the world but not of it, faithfulness and fruitfulness, impact and profit, being and doing… and remain sane?!
So after paying lots of money to take a course in Mentoring these were among the final words of admonishing (from Dietrich Bonheoffer): “Let him who cannot be alone beware of community” and “Let him who is not in community beware of being alone.” Huh? Now, which is which? Give me back my money! LOL!
Welcome to the business of life and leadership–paradox and ambiguity. To live in one extreme or the other is the easy option (any ‘fool’ can, excuse me to say); but to be able to hold two extremes in balance in your head, heart and in life is the real deal and few are able to handle this well. Yet that is an essential ingredient for success. In fact, sometimes these apparently contrasting dimensions of life are not even to be balanced per se but to be continually held in tension. To be comfortable with the uncomfortable tension and do well therein, that is the issue!
Pursuance of a life and leadership of integrity is living as activists and contemplatives, following and leading, managing our outward leadership responsibility and inward spiritual reality as well as having external organizational success principles and internal spiritual disciplines jiving. Robert Fryling, in his insightful work, The Leadership Ellipse, brings these to the fore and challenges leaders to integrate our lives in the sense of one’s outer and inner worlds being one, synchronous. Fryling’s metaphor to describe a life holding these foci and tensions together is the ellipse.
CALL IT WHAT YOU MAY—BUT IT’S THERE!
Why does Fryling use the ellipse (an elongated circle) metaphor and how useful is that in all the cross-cultural contexts in which I serve? I ask because there are too many times when one is caught off guard trying to use a metaphor (like ‘snowball effect’) that does not cross cultures well. I don’t want a situation of trying to relate a concept that I appreciate so well from a Western context but struggle to transmit.
Fryling’s love for, and deep understanding of, geometry led him to employ this amazing metaphor 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.”
For Fryling, “one focal point is our inner spiritual life, our longings, our affections and our allegiance to God. The other focal point is our outer world and organizational life, what we do and how we do it. Together these focal points define an ellipse that circumscribes our true spiritual leadership. It represents the dynamic tension between our soul and our actions, and gives us a mental image for personal, spiritual and professional integrity in who we are and how we lead.”
While almost every schooled person, irrespective of culture, may ‘get it,’ I’m glad he uses other metaphors which everyone can appreciate, like form and freedom, the fixed bone structure and flexible muscles of the human body plus basic theology of the full humanity and full divinity of Jesus Christ.
PREDICTOR OF LEADERSHIP SUCCESS
This sense of dissonance between a leader’s outer world and inner world is normal. “We live with paradoxes all of the time,” says Fryling; even Jesus the ultimate leader wasn’t spared. His prayer for his followers was “to live in the world without at the same time being of the world.” In many ministries, like mine, there is a constant struggle between being faithful and being fruitful.
Those are leadership ellipses right there when “waiting on God to move or to shift something inside me while at the same time still needing to lead in the public arena” (Ruth Haley Barton). In fact, Barton goes on to mention how “we might notice tension between what the spiritual life requires and what it takes to be (or at least appear!) successful in the current cultural milieu. On our good days, we might experience these tensions as a place of paradox where creative solutions might be found, but on other days they feel like polarities that are impossible to manage.”
In rapid fire, she continues: “…there is real tension between what the human soul needs in order to be truly well and what life in leadership encourages and even requires. There is the tension between being and doing, community and cause, truth-telling and putting the right spin on things. There is the tension between the time it takes to love people and the need for expediency. There is the tension between the need for measurable goals and the difficulty of measuring that which is ultimately immeasurable by anyone but God himself.
“There is the tension between the need for organizational hierarchy with all the power dynamics this creates and the mutuality and interdependence of life in community to which we as Christians are called. There is the tension between knowing how to “work the system” and entering into trustworthy relationships characterized by trust and a commitment to one another’s well-being. There is the tension between the need for an easy discipleship process through which we can efficiently herd lots of people and the patient, plodding and ultimately mysterious nature of the spiritual transformation process. And there is the challenge of knowing how to speak of these things in fruitful ways in the very inside places of power without becoming polarized in our relationships with one another.” Phew!
Living in the tension of this and that, yin and yang, and learning to be comfortable in the space and place, while taming the tension has a lot to do with living a life of integrity. Remember, integritas is about being one whole (integers); not fractionated. And it’s hard.
My seminary president put it this way in his book, Called: “Authentic discipleship delivers us from a compartmentalized life. Rather than having a life with segments and partitions—divisions between sacred and secular, personal and public, image and reality—we’re called to one whole and integrated life. It has to be said, of course, that we usually don’t want such a life and prefer the separate compartments. Such divisions provide room for our conflicting and contradictory instincts and desires. This is how we try to manage our several selves. It’s the hedge-your-bets approach to life, highly appealing but ultimately disappointing. It’s like approaching life as a series of snacks rather than committing ourselves to a full meal” (Mark Labberton).
Fryling, Barton, Labberton, Scazzero and others have assured me that the paradoxes and tensions that I sense as a leader are not only real but normal…and can be successfully grappled with. I’m more willing to embrace elliptical leadership. How about you?
After studying several leaders I have come to the conclusion that 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 dexterously handling both well.
As long as we are alive we will live with ambiguity and grapple with paradox. Part of our discipleship—learning to live and lead like Jesus—is to master how he lived his elliptical leadership life as the God-Man, knowing it can be done; and it must be done.
Barton, Ruth Haley. 2008. Strengthening the Soul of your Leadership. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Fryling, Robert. 2010. The Leadership Ellipse: Shaping How We Lead by Who We Are. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Labberton, Mark. 2014. Called: the Crises and Promise of Following Jesus Today. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
When “what people say, what people do, and what they say they do are entirely different things” (Margaret Mead) we’re in real trouble. On this Father’s Day, I want to honour the one person, of all the leaders I know in this world, who I can vouch for as walks his talk: my own father.
WHO SAID WHAT?
In my head I was debating whether or not to continue this “I Don’t Care How Good You Are” series on character, ethics, morality and integrity when I chanced upon an quote from the newly-launched book of a dear family friend (actually my Dad’s Best Man nearly 40 years ago!): “What a person truly believes isn’t what they think or say, it’s what they do” —Queenie in Lark Rise to Candleford. That was it; that was my confirmation to do this piece. So let’s roll with another in this character series. But this one is very special because it is dedicated to my own biological father.
In many places and pieces of literature, even in Scripture, the life we lead is often referred to as our “walk.” Let’s examine what it means when our talk (what we say we believe in, who say we are or what say we do) doesn’t match our walk.
If there ever was a man of integrity I could vouch for it is my father: Reindorf Kofi Baah Perbi. In fact, even way back in the 1980s during his days as Chief Accountant at the then Social Security Bank (now SG-SSB), when his signature was forged and monies stolen it was his integrity that saved him. Everyone vouched for him: “Chief would never do such a thing,” the convincingly told the authorities.
Those were the heady days of revolution and military rule in Ghana so he had even received a pre-judicial slap or two already when he was picked up by soldiers and sent to Gonja Barracks. After several weeks of tribunal hearings (and I remember us going to fetch him from tribunal hearings after we had been picked up from Ridge Church School), eventually, the perpetrators were found, tried and shot via firing squad. It was no joke. One of them, I believe, is still on the run—he must be still running now or dead from running.
When Dad retired as Ghana’s Deputy Senior Partner of KPMG (one of the ‘big four’ accounting firms in the world) in April 2015, it was humbling to hear how many of his accounting, management consulting, and audit colleagues honoured him for this one thing: integrity. I sat at those banquets (yes, there was more than one! Lol!) soliloquizing, “I want that. When all is said and done, that’s the kind of man I want to be!”
LAYING IT DOWN
Contrast Dad with Kenneth Lay, who was the CEO of Enron. He played a leading role in the corruption scandal that led to the downfall of the Enron Corporation. Unfortunately, Lay and Enron have become synonymous with corporate abuse and accounting fraud since the scandal broke in 2001.
In an interview with the indefatigable Larry King of CNN, after pleading not guilty to criminal counts having to do with his leadership at Enron, these were Mr. Lay’s words: “I lived my life in a certain way to make sure that I would never violate any law – certainly not criminal laws – and have always maintained that most important to me was my integrity, my character, and my values.”
Something doesn’t add up here because in 2004, Lay was indicted on 11 counts of securities fraud and related charges. He was found guilty on May 25, 2006, of 10 counts against him which meant he could face anything from 20 to 30 years in jail. However, only three-and-a-half months before sentencing, Kenneth Lay died of a heart attack while vacationing.
Same thing with Bernie Madoff who founded a Wall Street firm in 1960 of which he was chairman until his arrest on December 11, 2008. He would soon plead guilty to 11 felonies, having turned his wealth management business into a massive Ponzi scheme with almost $65 billion of fabricated gains. Yet hear his defense attorney, Daniel Horowitz: “…Bernard (Bernie) Madoff is a longstanding leader in the financial services industry. He will fight to get through this unfortunate set of events. He is a man of integrity.” Madoff is currently serving a life term in a federal prison for his kind of integrity.
Did you not just read Mr. Lay saying integrity was most important to him? In my short life, perhaps there is no word I’ve found more misunderstood and misappropriated than the word, “INTEGRITY.”
Integrity comes from the Latin root integritas, which means entire or whole. It’s the word from which we get “integer” in Mathematics. It may help to remember that integers are positive or negative whole numbers. To have integrity, therefore, means you are whole, you are one: your private and public lives are one; your charisma and character jive; what you say and what you do are in sync.
Extending the Math metaphor, a life of no integrity on the other hand is fractionated—instead of integers, we have fractions. That is when the Yaw you see behind the pulpit is different from the Yaw you see at the pub; and different from the Yaw you experienced on vacation in Panama; who is also very different from the Yaw at home… Sadly, not too long ago even a pastor whose public image did not match who he truly is was exposed on CNN.
THE ONLY TIME I BELIEVE IN ATHEISTS
When it comes to integrity, I dare say that many non-religious people, even atheists, have more integrity than many so-called religious people. This is what I mean. If Steve says, “I lie, I deceive, I steal.” Steve has low morality. 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 walk his talk. However, if Steve 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 walks his talk. He said he will do these and he does.
The extent to which your walk and talk jive is the extent to which you are a person of integrity.
I’m not perfect; none of us is. Many times I haven’t kept my word—including keeping appointments. It isn’t a perfect world either; stuff happens that alter our good intentions. One thing I do, however, is strive to call or email and apologize profusely, letting the person know I had every intention to keep my word but now very sorry I’m unable. The Psalmist David, takes this even a notch further saying a person of integrity is one who keeps his/her word, even when it hurts.
Integrity doesn’t mean you are perfect; but it sure means that when you ‘mess up’ you quickly and truly ‘fess up’. That is what made God call David, albeit an adulterer and a murder, a man of integrity (Psalm 78:72), even “a man after my own heart.”
I have observed with shock how people say things they don’t mean and mean what they don’t say; and say things they have no intention of ever acting on. Time wouldn’t allow me to go into my private disappointments in the lives of public speakers whose private lives don’t measure up to their public statements or images. And they have no qualms about it. The Lays and Madoffs did not just wake up one day and find themselves in court—a little slip, a little lie, and slowly slowly but surely surely down a slippery slope we go.
It doesn’t matter how good you are at what you do (skill, talent, gifting). If consistently what you say does not match what you do (walk), I shan’t hire you. Or if I do by mistake or because I want to give you a chance, you’re already on the firing line—it’s just a matter of time, if nothing changes. The world has billions of smart phones; what we need now is truly smart people. We need more walkie-talkies—people who walk their talk and talk their walk.
Thanks Dad, for showing me the way. Happy Father’s Day!