In my last blog we discussed when to leave the dance floor as an executive leader. Today, let’s talk about how to leave the dance floor. I agree with those who prefer ‘succession management’ to the term ‘succession planning’ because planning, come to think of it, really is only a third of the management cycle which comprises planning, implementation and evaluation.
I have several succession management experiences in my leadership career spanning over two decades. These have been in multiple C-level roles and contexts, even in different countries and continents.
SUCCESSION SUCCESS STORIES
After pioneering The HuD Group in Ghana in 2003 and leading it for five years, I successfully passed it on to the next national CEO and left for Cote d’Ivoire to pioneer the same work of holistic leadership development there while serving with the United Nations peacekeeping operation. The Cote d’Ivoire transition, when it was time to leave after a year, was one of the trickiest. The very week I was to leave, the one person who had hitherto faithfully served alongside me and was the ‘heir apparent’ suddenly and strangely broke my trust in a significant way. The ‘next best’ I eventually handed over to, ended up being truly the best. Timothée led the organization for a decade and has now also successfully passed the baton to an amazing lady, Ann. Timothée is now the CEO of Francophone Africa for the same organization. We have been working together for over a dozen years. We do not only have a mentoring relationship but are really friends, having spent great times together in several African countries as well as in the U.S. and Indonesia. I have done the same kind of succession management in Canada, handing over The HuD Group I pioneered there in 2010 to a very capable young man who at the time was working for Shell in the oil sands of Alberta.
In a different scenario, although I was initially hired to be interim pastor of the English congregation of a Chinese church in Montreal, when it was time to get serious about handing over to a successor after about three years, several people did not want us to go that route. They liked me and had gotten comfortable with the progress we were making in several areas but I knew it was the right thing to do. As a leader, I had figured out that the church needed to find someone who could give their full attention to the work and not my part-time investment, albeit fairly substantial. That too was an interesting succession management process as it involved interviewing candidates from Canada, the US, Taiwan and the Philippines. It’s been about five years since we eventually hired a young trilingual Chinese-Canadian, Rev. Joseph Cherng, and the church has been thriving since he took over over from me. Again, he consults me from time to time and we are good friends, even visiting our home to share fellowship together with our spouses.
As I shared in the previous blog, I have just made my way off the dance floor after an eight-year tenure as president of ISMCanada and still in the midst of succession management even as I write this blog. I like the fact that in their statement to the organization, the board mentioned that I gave them a whole year’s notice of my stepping aside. That is how to do it–give ample time (unless, of course, it is an emergency). A recent meeting at ISMCanada had two former presidents (myself and Paul Workentine, who handed over to me in 2013) and the new president of ISMCanada (Jakob Koch) all in the same Zoom breakout room (picture below). All three of us still have roles in the organization concurrently. A blessed rarity!
Apart from leaving the dance floor when people are still enjoying your dance, there are two other mindsets that have helped me succeed with regards to succession management in the several leadership transitions in my leadership career in multiple roles and contexts First, “leadership success is measured by succession” and then, “always be closing.”
MINDSET #1: LEADERSHIP SUCCESS IS MEASURED BY SUCCESSION
One of the things that has helped me to be largely successful in all the above stories, even amidst challenges, has been a leadership jewel I picked from John Maxwell’s 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership about 20 years ago. According to John’s Law of Legacy, a leader’s lasting value is measured by succession. So unlike other leaders, and I’ve seen many such in Africa, who even want their successor to fail so that they look good, I have always viewed by success as a leader by how well my successor does. You don’t want your successor to look bad just so that you look good. That is bad leadership.
In all the above successful succession stories, my pride is in the fact that these subsequent leaders are doing well, even better than I did in me era. If really leadership is about the people we serve and the noble purpose we share, then any true leader would want to measure their success by a successful succession!
MINDSET #2: ALWAYS BE CLOSING
When I was a financial consultant with Investors Group Canada, I had a fascinating Italian gentleman called Carlo in charge of my unit. He was quite the mentor figure, doing some rounds with me and even taking me to his home on the east end of Montreal once. Carlo was a straight-shooter and his large clientele was evidence that he was doing something right. He is the guy who first taught me to ‘motivate and disturb’ in the sales process. But the most important thing he taught me about sales, I find applies to succession management as well. He called it ABC–Always Be Closing. That must’ve been his short version of Stephen Covey’s second habit of successful people: begin with the end in mind.
To Carlo, what was the point of all the prospecting, phone calling, presentation preparation, sales conversations etc. if it all these activities in the sales process don’t end up in a sale? But in order to close the sale in the end, one has to have that mindset and talk and behave as a closer right from the beginning of the conversation–even before the beginning–and throughout the conversation. ABC–Always Be Closing.
When it comes to succession management, I feel the same way. Always Be Closing. Right from taking a position or role, one needs to begin with the end in mind and start succession management. Always Be Closing. What if the day after you become VP or CEO you’re hit by a bus? What happens to your organization? Even barring any such tragedy, the reality is, every leader, no matter how good and gifted, will have to leave one day. No one and nothing lasts forever. From the very day I took on the CEO role at ISMCanada, I identified a possible successor and hinted him. Always be closing.
So succession management should be as basic a mindset and requirement as ABC for every would-be-successful leader. Beginning with the end in mind, Always Be Closing. And if one truly believes their leadership success is measured by successful succession, it will make all the difference in how they leave the dance floor. Leadership success is good, but significance because succession was successful, is even better!
This month I clocked eight years as president and CEO of a strategic Canadian charity in the international education space. I was headhunted for the role and felt privileged to be the first ever black president of our almost 40 years old organization. We provide hospitality, faith exploration opportunities and leadership development for the over half a million international students in Canada to be empowered to impact the world. I’ve had the privilege of leading about 90 incredible staff across 23 cities from coast to coast–Canada is the second widest country on earth after Russia–and oh yes, we have a staff family serving in Australia too.
SO WHY ARE YOU LEAVING?
In the first couple of years under my leadership, we grew by about 70% (short of my 100% goal) in new staff and new fields, expanding into about a dozen new cities, extending coast to coast for the first time in the organization’s history. There’ve been many more exciting things that have happened, including seeing such a rich diversification of our staff to about 15 nationalities. One of my greatest joys has been to see former international students becoming leaders of our work in cities, regionally and even in senior leadership. Every quarter we chronicle story upon story of incredible impact on students/scholars by staff and volunteers and impact of our students and alumni around the world, from Australia to Zimbabwe! We’ve seen an organization little known organization gain significant recognition in the international education space in Canada and abroad. Together with the leaders and staff, we worked to move organizational health from OK to healthy to flourishing (as independently adjudged by a third party firm). When I hear of CEO versus board tussles I cringe and thank God that this has been far from my experience. I’ve had such a congenial and synergistic relationship with the board, which has rotated through four chairpersons over the period I’ve been president.
If everything is going as well as I claim, then why am I leaving? My work is done! I believe every leader has a particular purpose to a particular people in a particular place for a particular period and when your work is done, you pack up and go, leaving the place and people better than you found them. I had initially been approached for this role in late 2012 and had laughed it off, especially since I was not only running The HuD Group, which had just received charitable status in Canada, but was also doubling as interim pastor for the Montreal Chinese Alliance Grace Church. Eventually I did take the five-hour flight from Montreal to Calgary to interview with the board. When Anyele and I prayerfully decided to make some adjustments and finally accept the board’s offer, I specifically stated that I planned to do this presidency for three to five years. In fact, I ensured it was clearly spelt out in the documentation. Well, guess what? It’s been three plus five years. It’s time to go!
MUSIC AND DANCING WITH GRAPHS
It is time to leave because my particular purpose to a particular people in this particular place for this particular period is done. As a wise saying in Africa goes, you leave the dance floor while people are still enjoying your dance. What Africans say so well idiomatically, Westerners tend to express graphically. So below is a pictorial illustration of what I’m saying.
While the above graph refers to the life cycle of any organization per se, it is similar to the organizational leader’s cycle too. Don’t wait to peak, let alone to get into decline and eventual death. That is not great for your leadership but even worse, not good for an organization you supposedly believe in (and even love). Just before the peak is when you collaborate with the ‘DJ’ (stakeholders) to start another song i.e. launch another initiative, start a new programme, launch a new organization etc. Just before the peak is when your dance is still being enjoyed so you either start another song or gracefully leave the dance floor!
By the time one hits the peak itself, you are stretching it. Folks are beginning to get tired of your moves. After the peak, it’s all downhill, babe! And no matter how hard you dance (in spite of how very tired you might be) no one’s excited anymore. Not only have eyes started rolling all the way into the head, some may even have begun yawning by now. Bored. Yet, some leaders still don’t get it! Whether it’s because of the adrenaline rush on the dash floor or the perks of the position, they keep dancing and dancing and dancing, while they keep losing the audience until the music is over! Some even keep dancing after the music is over, dancing to the music in their heads. It’s a fight together them off the dance floor! If you don’t leave the dance floor while people are still enjoying your dance, at least leave while the music is still playing! Worst case scenario, far from ideal, leave when the music is done.
A POLITICAL CONCLUSION
Knowing when to leave the dance floor is more of an art than a science; it’s a soft thing akin to discernment and intuition. The greatest leaders like Nelson Mandela have it; they just know. When everyone was urging Madiba to do a bonafide and very welcome second term in office as South Africa’s first black president who had had a good run, he declined. “No, please.” Nelson Mandela left the dance floor while we were all not only still enjoying his dance, we were urging him on for more moves!
Knowing very well that some leaders wouldn’t have what it takes to leave the dance floor even when it’s obvious, many spheres of society have term limits on executive roles. Most political jurisdictions have a maximum of two four-year terms. As an African, I’ve been embarrassed by how many of our leaders haven’t had what it takes to gracefully leave the dance floor while we were still enjoying their dance. Mandela, unfortunately, is more of an exception than the rule. As a former United Nations peacekeeping soldier, I’ve tasted first hand the horror of the ravages of civil strife and war when leaders don’t want to leave the dance floor even after the music is over. I hate it!
I join those concerned about the “pandemic of ‘third terminism‘” in Africa, including in the West African country I served in as a U.N. Peacekeeper from June 2008 for a year and lost two of my medical colleagues to death. Oxford defines ‘third terminism’ as the phenomenon of leaders seeking to break constitutional term limits—usually set at two terms in office—to secure a third term in office. The phrase has also been used more broadly to refer to leaders who refuse to leave power. This isn’t uniquely African; it is simply human. Recently, Putin has done it in the east and in the west, Trump did not want to leave the floor when his music was over. In fact, it was Franklin D. Roosevelt’s ‘third terminism’ (he won, even a fourth!) and the popular fallout about the concept of a long-term president that led to the ratification of the 22nd amendment in 1951 that “No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice…”
According to the National Constitution Centre, “Franklin Roosevelt wasn’t even the first Roosevelt to seek a third term in the White House. His distant cousin, Theodore Roosevelt, ran unsuccessfully as a third-party candidate in 1912, after declining to run in 1908. President Ulysses S. Grant also sought a third term in 1880, but he lacked enough party support to get a nomination.”
George Washington, the first U.S. president, had set the two four-year terms maximum precedent in 1796 when he declined a third term. In 1799, a friend urged Washington to come out of retirement to run for a third term. But as I earlier asserted, the greatest leaders know when to leave the dance floor–and stay off! Washington’s voluntary decision to decline a third term, like Mandela’s voluntary decision to decline a second, was apparently seen by many people as a safeguard against the type of tyrannical power yielded by the British crown during the Colonial era.
In my next article, I shall share about how to leave the dance floor in grand style (some call it ‘succession management’). In the mean time, you, my friend, now know when to leave the dance floor–at best when people are still enjoying your dance; or at least, while the music is still playing!
So the church split. I wish it hadn’t; indeed, it needn’t have. I tried to impress this upon the pastor in the centre of the brouhaha but to no avail. It did split. Why? The leader bit into the same thing that has destroyed many a leader, ancient and modern, male and female, irrespective of race, colour or socioeconomic status. Oh, and this isn’t one church split I speak of. I have witnessed quite a number–from the same root cause. Same as some landmark corporate meltdowns.
YOU WILL MESS UP
The truth is, as a leader you will mess up (you’re already messed up, anyway). The fascinating thing though is that in itself isn’t what will destroy your leadership. In fact, if that were the case, there would be no existing leadership anywhere at all because ‘all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory.’
Precisely because we’re all messed up, team members and followers (all pretty messed up too) are very willing to forgive leaders and find the best way to move on if and when these leaders recognize they’ve messed up and ‘fess up.
What people cannot stand is a leader who refuses to say, “I am wrong, I am sorry, please forgive me” when they are found or caught in some kind of mess.
MY GURU WITH A GUN
The mentor who first brought this to my attention was himself, in 2009, got caught in a situation that really threatened to derail everything he had worked hard for and stood for all six decades of his life then. What happened was that John C. Maxwell received a handgun as a gift after a speaking engagement in Birmingham, Alabama, and placed it in his carry-on luggage. Airport security-wise, it really didn’t matter much as he flew privately back home. But then he then forgot about it as he was racing to catch a commercial flight to Dallas to speak a few days later. When he put his carry-on bag on the conveyor belt, airport security found the gun and immediately arrested him. In his own words, “I was arrested, handcuffed, and taken to jail, where I was fingerprinted and photographed. Needless to say, it opened my eyes to a world I’d seen only in the movies. I was glad when I posted bail and was able to leave.”
Did John mess up? You bet. Big time. But John not only quickly ‘fessed up, he publicly shared this embarrassing story himself in self-deprecating humour to those of us who are part of his John Maxwell Team (JMT). He even titled it “Stupid is as Stupid Does.” This is how he began:
I’ve done a lot of stupid things in my life. Early in my marriage I would win arguments with my wife, Margaret, and hurt her feelings really badly. I have made business moves that lost tens of thousands of dollars at a time. And I’ve made leadership decisions that led to failures for my organizations. But up until now, none of the dumb things I’ve done has gotten me arrested.
And then JM went about writing about it in SUCCESS magazine. It is one of the stories I believe he tells in his book Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn. This posture and gesture has endeared to me and many many more.
WILL YOU FESS UP?!
As a leader, the worst thing you could do when caught in a wrong is first of all to deny it. The second worst thing is to dismiss it. And thirdly (the killer blow) is to double down. To double down is to dig one’s heels in, to “strengthen one’s commitment to a particular strategy or course of action, typically one that is potentially risky.”
Some people not only double down personally but also begin the spin machine organizationally, churning out one traditional news and social media story after the other . That is a sure way to finish your leadership. Take responsibility, ‘fess up for the mess up, otherwise you double down and you’re going down.
Recently, I wrote about how authentic leadership has nothing to prove, nothing to hide and nothing to lose. When the issue of popular Christina musician Sonnie Badu’s doubtful degrees came out, what did he do? He kept defending the dubious degrees and soon deteriorated into name-calling. It was all over the internet that he had said to his ‘detractors’ that he would pay them no mind because he was a lion and that “LIONS DON’T RESPOND TO FROGS.” Frogs!
LANDING THIS PLANE
Fellow leaders, it doesn’t matter whether it was a mistake or an indiscretion or something you even knowingly did. When you confess you will receive grace. If you don’t, well, disgrace. So when you mess up, ‘fess up, get up and let’s move on. The next time you hear I’ve done something stupid (we all will have our opportunity), don’t make excuses for me or come up with a lame hashtag like #IstandbyYawPerbi. Remind me of this blog and encourage me to take response-ability to say, “I am wrong, I am sorry, please forgive me.” I won’t be a perfect leader; but I do know one sure way to lead to last.
It’s amazing how much most people know about subjects in our world, literally from Archaeology to Zoology, but very little or no ME-logy! In my book, Cutting a Straight Path: Leading with Self-Awareness, I ask these poignant questions:
- How can you live with yourself without knowing who you are?
- How can you be true to what you know little or nothing about: yourself?
- How can you succeed in life, self-actualize, without first becoming self-aware?
- How can you authentically lead others without first learning to know yourself?
- Have you ever felt frustrated why others are hesitant to follow your lead?
“Maybe it’s time to check yourself as a person and as a leader,” is my conclusion. Yes, it’s about time! Indeed, the Chinese have a powerful saying, “Before preparing to improve the world, first look around your own home three times.” Forget about authentic living, let alone authentic leadership, without self-awareness! So welcome to home base. Self-awareness is the starting place of all true and lasting success.
SELF-DISCOVERY THROUGH THE DISC
Self-awareness comes basically by introspection (by ourselves) and feedback (by others). Both however, are greatly enhanced by assessment tools, just like magnifying glasses help us see tiny objects and the binoculars enables us to view distant things closely and clearly. I have found the DISC as an amazing personal assessment tool that is incisive and powerful in the quest for self-awareness. Since 1972 it has been used by over 50 million people to increase self-awareness, stimulate and guide growth and thus increase chances at personal success. It is used to engender teamwork, communication and productivity in the workplace. The DISC has saved many a marriage, including mine!
DISC assessments are used in thousands of organizations around the world, from multilaterals and multinationals to government agencies and Fortune 500 companies, nonprofits and small businesses. Recently, we were privileged to serve the Centre for Disease Control Foundation in Atlanta, USA with nearly 150 of these assessments as they train medical leaders in about 30 nations of the world.
SO WHAT EXACTLY IS DISC?
DISC is an acronym that stands for the four main personality profiles described in the model: (D)ominant, (I)nfluencing, (S)teady and (C)ompliant.
People with D personalities tend to be confident and place an emphasis on accomplishing bottom-line results.
People with i personalities tend to be more open and place an emphasis on relationships and influencing or persuading others.
People with S personalities tend to be dependable and place the emphasis on cooperation and sincerity.
People with C personalities tend to place the emphasis on quality, accuracy, expertise, and competency.
The DISC system we use at YAW PERBI in partnership with People Keys generates 41 personality blends from these basic four, just like many colours of the world are generated through the three primary colours. There’s one I used to coach international students in Canada that was limited to 28 personality blends. What we use now is like the difference between a regular car and a four-wheel drive. As they like to say at People Keys, “people are different, true, but they are predictably different.”
CONVICTION, VISION & MISSION
Our conviction at YAW PERBI is that since every true and lasting success begins with self-awareness, then everyone must have easy and affordable access to self-DISCovery! ACCESS FOR SUCCESS, please! Everyone has a right to self-awareness. We need a DISC Revolution!
Our vision is to see a world of awareness through every individual’s self-DISCovery. We are on a mission to democratize the DISC personality/behavioral assessment until no one is left in the dark. We want to recalibrate all leadership development to begin with self-awareness at the core through the Perbi Perspective DISC is a great start.
CHIEF CORNERSTONE FOR THE CHIEF-LEVEL LEADER
When you read my article on how I build leaders differently now (compared to 10-15 years ago), you will understand my seriousness about this issue of recalibrating all leadership development to begin with self-awareness. People have big, fat leadership books and terabytes of leadership materials and yet have next to zero knowledge of themselves. What sense is there in that? I was telling a certain Christian leader the other day that he can forget the list of a dozen books people typically ask me to recommend for leadership training and development. The only two books his emerging leaders need to learn almost everything they need to know about leadership are a self-awareness printout of their DISC assessment and the Scriptures. Every other book is garnishing.
In all the major success paradigms, praxes and paths—from Emotional Intelligence to Authentic Leadership—self-awareness is first base, the chief cornerstone. I increasingly get alarmed when I encounter C-level executives, both in the public and private sector, who have never taken a personality assessment like the DISC!
STRATEGY AND HOPE
Some say hope is not a strategy but I beg to differ. (I’ll leave that argument for another day, another blog). I have hope that together we can strategically exponentially multiply impact through an army of Accredited DISC Coaches and Certified Behavioural Consultants while significantly creating thriving businesses and income for all! Just like our governments wish to get everyone vaccinated, we at YAW PERBI desire to get everyone DISCed! The former may be controversial to some, but you had better not second guess the latter. Everyone has a right to self-awareness to grow and succeed. Would-be authentic leaders really have no choice in this primary matter. We need a DISC Revolution!
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 is no talk of Black History without faith, especially the Christian faith. PBS recently released a fascinating Henry Louis Gates Jr. documentary on the Black Church. What some dubious people tried to oppress and suppress black people with became the very thing that liberated us and is now giving us a global leading edge.
Africa is the most Christian continent in the world today. The year 2018 was the first in history where there were more Christians in Africa than on any other continent in the entire world! (Johnson 2018) THIS IS A BIG DEAL!—this is a one-thousand year record held by Europe that has been broken by Africa in our lifetime. That makes me super excited about Black History Month this year because history is being made right now. As you read this, a number of continental Africans and those of African descent in the diaspora have synergized to birth a new network known as Send Africa to promote further faith formation among ‘unreached people groups’ around the world.
At the formal launch of this Send Africa Network online on February 24-25 during this 2021 Black History Month, my Kenyan friend, Sam Ngugi, and I will be launching a ground-breaking book entitled Africa to the Rest to celebrate this huge feat of Africa becoming a leading global force of faith to the rest of the world. This book is to “celebrate this momentous occasion in world history that has been inadequately highlighted by mainstream missions and missions. It traces some of God’s goodness to Africa in the Bible and throughout history until now to make clear that Africa and Africans have been central to God’s missional purposes; not an afterthought.” You may register for the Send Africa Summit here.
CAPTURED & DISTORTED HISTORY
Of course Africa features in the Bible from start to finish. There were actually two black guys (among the five) that played hands on the apostle Paul and commissioned him on his missionary journeys (Acts 13). Africa is the cradle of monasteries and ecumenicsm. The term Trinity came from Tertullian the Tunisian. St. Augustine was from Algeria, and not a European as we were made to believe growing up in Africa.
As Sam and I state in our book, “People consider Christianity as the white man’s religion to oppress the African due to the last 500 years of Euro-American missionary activity mixed with colonialism without realizing that the first 500 years A.D., Africa was so synonymous with Christianity that one of the most common terms for Christians in Arabic sources is afariqa–indicating a significant degree to which “Christian” and “African” were synonymous concepts (Merrills 2004, 303).”
In fact, the subtitle of our book is “from mission field to mission force (again)“ because Africa(ns) as a mission force first impacted Europe with the Gospel! That notion that Africa first evangelized Europe is the essence of Thomas Oden’s book titled How Africa Shaped the European Mind. “My core hypothesis,” Oden himself says, “is that much intellectual history flowed south to north: from Mumidia to Sicily to France and Italy. It flowed from the Nile to the Euphrates and the Danube. It flowed from Pelusium to Gaza to Cappadocia. …There is ample evidence available that the seeds of African orthodoxy have been lifted by high winds to distant northern climes. Only much later have they returned to Africa in a Western guise.”
Only a century ago, at a world missionary conference in Edinburgh, not only was there no continental African there as a delegate, we were described as “heathen” in need of being saved. Today there are more Anglicans in Kenya than in England. At the time, the continent had 9 million Christians while Europe was home to 406 million. Today, Africa has over 630 million Christians, a clear 30 million more than Latin America in second place with Europe in third place with 571 million Christians. And it’s not a nine-day wonder, for by 2050 (Deo volente), there will likely be more Christians in Africa (1.25 billion) than in the next two continents combined! (Johnson 2018)
It is good to know that Africa leads the world in something. There are churches that began in Africa and are in 198 countries now. The largest congregations in Europe are pastored by Africans, like Sunday Adelaja’s in Kieve, Ukraine. The most multinational congregation in the world—108 nationalities—was founded by and pastored by my good friend and mentor in Vancouver, Canada, Dr. Sam Owusu. I could give you a list of about 10 global mission organizations–including the Navigators, SIM, Langham Partners and SIL–currently led by Africans!
Why is all this important? For many reasons but three will suffice for now. First, black people have been part and parcel, even central, to the purpose and mission of God unlike others have tried to make us think. We are equally made in the image and likeness of God as anyone else. We ought to rejoice and while not bragging about ourselves, ‘make our boast in the LORD.’
Secondly, the Christian faith is authentically African. As one scholar put it, Christianity is a beggar looking for clothes in whatever culture it goes into. The fact that it was captured by Europeans and Americans and tailored as a tool of oppression of blacks in slavery, colonialism etc. is simply not right (not the authentic Christian faith) and doesn’t make the faith the preserve of the white man either.
Finally, the business world and other sectors in Africa that are trying to make a mark on the world stage could learn a thing or two from the African Church that leads the world in faith today, hands down.
THE FUTURE HAS COME
I come from a long and rich family history of black (hi)story tellers. My grandfather was an emeritus professor of ethnomusicology and my mother is a professor of history with a specialization in the slave trade. I feel privileged to take my turn to tell stories of African leadership, and in this particular case, leadership in faith, church and missiology.
The assassinated Congolese nationalist leader, luminary and first Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Patrice Lumumba, must be smiling in his grave that the day he prophesied is here: “The day will come when history will speak. But it will not be the history which will be taught in Brussels, Paris, Washington or the United Nations… Africa will write its own history and in both north and south it will be a history of glory and dignity.” The day has come!
For those of no faith and saying to themselves “who cares if Africa is the most Christian continent?” because we’re yet to see it tell on our socioeconomic indicators or the millennium development goals, just you wait. Works soon follow faith. Unless it’s not true faith; because faith without works is dead.
Johnson, Todd M., Gina A. Zurlo, Albert W. Hickman, and Peter F. Crossing. “Christianity 2018: More African Christians and Counting Martyrs.” International Bulletin of Mission Research 42, no. 1 (January 2018): 20. doi:10.1177/2396939317739833.
Merrills, A. (Ed.). (2004). Vandals, Romans and Berbers: New Perspectives on Late Antique North Africa (1st ed.). Routledge, 303. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315235127
Oden, Thomas. 2007. How Africa Shaped the European Mind, Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, p.71.
Perbi, Yaw & Sam Ngugi. 2021. Africa to the Rest: from mission field to mission force (again). Forthcoming. Xulon Press.
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.