A special shout out to Naa Anyele Perbi, my wife, economist-entrepreneur and CEO of Perbi Cubs. It’s my wife’s birthday (October 3), my wife of 15 years and counting, and as I celebrate her it seems to me that the rest of the world could benefit from 4 F’s that are critical in building a lasting marital relationship a.k.a. life partnership. Marriage is tough in and of itself and so starting with the ‘wrong’ partner is literally starting on the wrong foot. Anyele and I have been asked “how do I know for sure this is the right life partner for me?” so many times that we’ve distilled the answer down to a simple 4 F criteria. Of course, you could have 100 characteristics of the (wo)man of your dreams–why not?–but if you get these four wrong, forget the other 96!
Now, this is not just for young(er) people. Increasingly many people are getting married later in life but not just that, stuff happens. There are those who marriages end sooner than they had hoped and choose to remarry–and want to have a partner that will last this time. Here are our four: faith, future, friendship and feelings.
Faith is number one because it drives everything else. I’ll explain: people do not realize that our entire existence and behaviours our shaped, driven and undergirded by values, which in turn are determined by our beliefs (or as some call them, ‘faith assumptions’) which at the very core come from our worldview!
There is a lot of talk about values-based this and values-based that but values are only fruits of the tree; the roots are fundamental beliefs in the fertile soils of worldviews. So what kind of faith do you subscribe to, or no faith? I know people try to cross faiths, like Christian and Muslim marriages, but we really believe it is important to share a common faith because then you have a common worldview, common belief system, and common values which should lead to common behaviours to do life together that lasts, with unnecessary tensions and fight.
The apostle Paul, who incidentally never got married, waxes lyrical about this to the Christ followers in the ancient Greecian city of Corinth. He pulls no punches as he gives it to them straight up: “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.” For Christians who are true disciples of Christ, the reasons and reasoning I’ve provided above which must’ve informed this command, in additional to spiritual reasons he gives in the text, may be useful to know but obedience nevertheless is the highest value in the kingdom of God. It’s also known as love for God.
You may be two people of the same faith (so values, beliefs and worldview are in sync) but if you are going in two different directions in life, it’s not going to work. First it’s a tension and soon it’s a tear. And this has nothing to do with someone being a ‘bad person’ or the other having ‘no love’ but just because you have two different life purposes that aren’t complimentary let alone synergestic. By future we are talking about purpose compatibility. Two people may have common faith but if they are traveling in two different directions because they were made for two different destinations and destinies, the marriage partnership won’t work. I like the way a friend put it: “we are good; but we’re just not good together.”
Everyone has a specific God-given purpose that must not only be discovered but developed and fully deployed if we are to feel fulfilled. It doesn’t mean both must be doing the same sort of work or in the same field even (all they better if they are). It just means they have the passion and compassion (and perhaps even talents) to contribute to the purpose. Being fulfilled can be described as getting oxygen, and you know how any human being will instinctively fight for air if they are being choked. A life partnership will never work even if you are two people of the same faith yet moving in opposite directions, or towards different destinations and destinies.
It is critical that you discuss the future and truly understand what you are getting involved in during courtship. During courtship, the lips are for talking primarily, not kissing. You can never suck information from the mind of another no matter how much you French kiss a loved one! Decide to go into details about where you’re headed and how you envisage life in the coming years. It is not for nothing the good book inquires, “Can two people walk together unless they agree?”
Friendship is the cornerstone of a lasting relationship, and a good friendship is intentionally formed over time. One of life’s greatest pleasures is friendship. Friendship is wonderful because it is one of the few relationships in life that fosters equality and mutuality. Almost every relationship in the world has a power differential, someone one higher than the other; not so with friendship.
If the creation account is true, then man and woman were made for each other for companionship (friendship) even before parenting for their life’s work (‘future’ above) or procreation. The other thing is that emotions come and go, but friendship endures and transcends the passage of time. Affect(ions) alone cannot always sustain a marriage. Friendship with all it entails is a truly priceless relationship. Life can become monotonous if we do not have some true friends to share it with.
It’s so cute to find an elderly couple who are truly friendships–the body language, the mannerisms. I’ve met many people, especially young ladies, who somehow seem to believe that they will never be able to marry their friends. Au contraire! Marrying your friend is the best decision one could ever make!
Finally, feelings are the icing on the cake of a life partnership that literally lasts a lifetime. Emotions are extremely important and should never be overlooked. They are powerful. They are called e-motions for a reason. They move us. There is a need to feel and this is a requirement for you and me to be exceptionally attracted to our partners. There must be a special thing that draws you to the individual and creates a natural flow between you two. Call it ‘chemistry,’ if you will, or that the person lights your fire. There is a need for connection and a spark between the individuals. It is key because you’ll be waking up by the side this person almost every morning for the rest of your life–you had better get some kick out of that!
There tends to be two extremes when it comes to the role of feelings in choosing a life partner. There’s the feelings don’t matter camp which gets it wrong (of course they do!) as well as the feelings first (or even feelings only) base as well. We absolutely need the feelings to make any life partnership last, but I won’t make them first or foremost. Take a look at Hollywood: more than half of the hunk-ness, über beauty, sexiness and extreme marriage proposals (on helicopters and such) result in divorces within months. Months!
Feelings are important but there aren’t everything. I remember learning 25 years ago when I was a World Vision Youth Ambassador that generally people in the West marry the one they love (have feelings for) while those in the Eastern hemisphere love the one they marry. Even arranged marriages can work if they get the first three F’s right. The fourth ‘F’ can eventually come along. In fact, many of them outlast the so-called “love marriages’ which largely focus on just the fourth ‘F.’
Many people I know have a long list of life partner criteria. Every one of those lists can be divided into two: essentials and desirables; or non-negotiable and negotiable. You can add a whole list of both categories to Faith, Future, Friendship, and Feelings but these four are non-negotiables. You can have an expanded list of 100 criteria but you cannot do without these four–not if you’re serious about a life partner for a lifetime. Ascertain that these 4F’s are in place for a future with your partner that has a lifelong glow and not just a shooting star. The quality of the information you have directly impacts the quality of the decisions you make. You are in charge, therefore, make the best decision. See you at the summit!
Please share your thoughts and experiences too!
I’m very excited to begin my doctorate in global leadership this week. Having been a student of leadership for the last 25 years plus and acquired a Master’s degree in it a few years ago, I’ve felt it’s time to do the whole nine yards, not so much for the title (after all I’m already a doctor) but to go deeper and be even better-seasoned in my darling subject (or is it object?).
In going this doctorate route, I opted for a seminary environment because faith matters immensely to me, and indeed to the majority people in the world. The increased secularization of a formerly mainly ‘Christian’ Europe and certain sections of American society seems like an overwhelming flood to many only because it is a sharp deviation from the not-so-distant past when there was hardly any division between church and state; but also because the West disproportionately fills the media space. Only last week the German national broadcaster shared that a recent poll showed “most Germans find religion unimportant.” Yet the fact remains that the majority of the world has and practices a faith of sorts. In 2025, 90% of the world will be religious, my friends who run Operation World say; and by 2050, at least 87% of the world will still be religious, according to Pew Research.
The mid-twentieth-century secularization theory—that an increase in modernity means a decrease in religion— has been largely debunked by the likes of Berger (2014). According to Todd Johnson, who I just exchanged emails with, an astute associate professor of Global Christianity and Co-Director of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, “Despite increased modernity the world has in fact become more religious; 80.8% of the global population self-identified with a religion in 1970, rising to 88.1% in 2010 and with a projected increase to 91.5% by 2050,” higher than Pew’s projected 87% cited in the previous paragraph! Even the ‘unaffiliated’ doesn’t mean they aren’t religious; it often means they choose not to be identified with any ‘institutionalized’ religion. Just as humans have a physical, social and mental components that cannot be denied, so is there a spiritual capacity that we cannot run away from. French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal put it succinctly, “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of each man which cannot be satisfied by any created thing but only by God the Creator,” and in his experience and exposure, “by God the creator made know through Jesus Christ.”
By the way, I use the world ‘religion’ generally (and maybe even generously) because as an insider of the Christian faith I wouldn’t call Christianity a religion per se. Religion connotes man in search of God while in the Christian faith it is actually God in search of man. Not only that, religion tends to paint a picture of rigorous rules and rituals while true Christianity is more of a relationship with the Divine than a set of rituals or rules per se. That being said, for the purpose of this article faith, spirituality, divine relationship and religion are all being treated as ‘religion.’
FAITH AND WORK, FAITH @ WORK
Without God, and my faith in Him, I do not have a reason for being, a raison d’être. Neither do I have sustainable passion for my doings because all of it feels like, in the words of the wisest and wealthiest monarch ever, “vanity of vanity, it’s all vanity.” I have observed with grave concern the increasing divorce of faith from the work space, treating it like the plague or some highly contagious disease. Even on work-centric social media like LinkedIn, one cannot help but get the feeling that the mention of God in posts ‘spoils the atmosphere,’ which is riddled with human achievements, of brain and brawn (mainly the former), simply singing of how great we are.
But statistically, 90% and over of the people on LinkedIn are religious. There are myriads like me who know we wouldn’t be as excellent professionally but for our faith. Meanwhile, all who have an active religious affiliation yet act at work as if they have no faith are walking on the dangerous ground of inauthenticity. It is not integrous to want to, or have to, hide such an important part of one’s life as spirituality or faith in a space that easily takes up a third to half of our waking hours: work!
This week, a Muslim mate of mine from medical school, now a neurosurgeon, posted on our year group’s WhatsApp platform a screenshot of a heartfelt social media post someone had made about Dr. Aba Folson, one of our Christian colleagues who is now a cardiologist. This person who made the post, a nurse, starts by saying, “I have been blessed in my journey in the Nursing/Healthcare space to be working with amazing, highly religious health workers. One of such awesome ladies is Dr Aba Folson. She is a Cardiologist.”
She goes on to describe “her humility, assertiveness, excellence and brilliance” and how Aba has “broken protocols to help save my very critically ill patients.” The protocols she speaks of, I believe, were put in place to save patients in the first place, but there are situations where one has to do the unusual and even unconventional at great risk, which separates humans from machines and even artificial intelligence. The wisdom and courage to make such calls, Dr. Folson will say, I know for sure, comes from above. The writer of the text seems to be enamoured by the fact that Aba is “an astute Christian and sings in the choir.”
ALL WE NEED IS RESPECT
I still remember zooming down the corridor between the ER and the blood bank to fetch blood for a critically ill child. This was during my days as a medical officer at the 37 Military Hospital in Accra. We usually had junior staff who would do that but no, this young doctor run in his white coat. The child’s mother gathered the energy to attempt to run alongside me. Barely catching up and hardly catching her breath she managed to say these words, which I shall never forget, “Doctor, doctor I can tell you are a Christian.” She must’ve known that for a Christ-follower the Pauline admonition about work is clear and strong: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.”
What is needed, indeed all that is needed, is for respectful co-existence in a pluralistic workplace, which is a microcosm of a really pluralistic world. The fight for diversity and inclusion in the workplace must not, and indeed cannot, be limited to ethnicity, age, gender, (dis)ability and such alone but faith as well. The majority of us wouldn’t be present at work with purpose and perform with passion and excellence without it, and none of us will be authentic in the workplace pretending we didn’t have it.
Faith works. Let your religion work at work—faith, love and hope at work. Your faith should make you a better professional; not worse. If your faith doesn’t make you better at work—which is all about service to humankind made in the image and likeness of God—it’s not worth following. Change it. Let’s see faith at work working, doing good works that bring God glory and bring about the good society—that’s the way it ought to be.
Right after I posted this blog, I came across a photo and headline on LinkedIn that said, “South African doctor: Professor “Mashudu Tshifularo” just became the first surgeon on earth to successfully perform surgery [with 3D technology] to cure deafness. He is also a pastor.” Ahem. Point nailed!
Life is lived forwards but understood backwards. That sounds very much like one of those witty sayings from my bank of African proverbs but the person I read that from first was the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. In his own mother tongue “Livet skal forstaas baglaens, men leves forlaens,” translates into “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
In a recent conversation with my brother and friend of nearly two decades, Rev. Albert Ocran, he prophetically said to me without butting an eyelid that when he looks at my entire life it can be distilled into one word: leadership, to which I replied with my head bopping like an agama lizard, “That is true, you are right!” (By the way I have given him the title, “Thought Distiller.” He’s doing a wonderful job distilling the life lessons of several leaders in society for the general public on his Springboard Road Show.) Albert is one of the few who ‘gets’ my life, probably because he is an ardent believer in something he himself calls “convergence.”
I have been accused by some of living a scattered life (“all over the place”) while others have expressed concern I might not make much of a dent in the universe (impact) because of how spread my life has been (and continues to be?). I have been a medical doctor, award-winning speaker, punching preacher, best-selling author, publisher, military officer, U.N. peacekeeper, cross-cultural pastor, serial entrepreneur from media to real estate to education, president & CEO, television presenter, financial advisor, investment consultant, founder of many things, corporate trainer, life and executive coach, inspirational teacher, lived in three countries over the last dozen years and served in 45 … So who are you, what are you? people wonder. Although I owe no one an explanation except the One who gave me life, permit me to share two pivotal paradigms, nay convictions, with you.
(1) META-PERFORMANCE–Milking Your Full Potential
First of all, there is the notion of meta-performance. Many of us never explore or exploit our full potential because we get stuck in being the best at something in comparison with others, rather than constantly exploring the question, “What am I capable of?” There is no reason to be stuck in a hospital because I was trained as a medic when I have the ability to author books as well, something the majority of my med school mates may not have the aptitude for. Shall I therefore not write because other doctors cannot? I resolved when I was but a youth, as entrenched it in my personal mission statement, to “die empty.” To die having utilized and exhausted every gift in me, but now I add, “within my God-given limits.” After all, like you I have only one life to live and have only 24 hours in each day. Besides, with a wife and seven children, family is a blessing which comes with its own limits as well.
Suffice it to say I encourage the youth in particular to spend their first 30-35 years at least, exploring and exploring and exploring until they finally hit oil. Don’t forget the parable of the talents: one was given five, another three, and a third servant, one, each according to their ability. Why should the chap with five compare himself with the person with one and underperform? As has been wisely said, the talents we have are God’s gift to us; what we do with them is our gift back to God. Meta-perform!
(2) CONVERGENCE–Connecting the Dots
But I digress, which is funny because the point I want to make next is about (a word that Albert loves): CONVERGENCE. We all must get to a point in our lives when we can look back and connect the dots, and see that all these seemingly scattered and unrelated aspects of our lives, including the lows and the pains, can all really come together to make one huge statement and result in an integrated life. The reason Kierkegaard’s words speak profoundly to me is that when I reflect on my seeming scatteredness, when I look backwards, I see that the many different-coloured strands have a common thread: leadership. That is why I doff my hat to Albert for being so spot on. I have not been called to be a medical doctor or military officer or media man or investment guru per se but a leader in every sphere I’ve been given talent and opportunity in. Is leadership a career? If it is then, then that’s mine. If it isn’t then I do not have a career.
The late Apple founder Steve Jobs put this Kierkegaard philosophy of looking backwards and Albert Ocran’s love of convergence into a very powerful statement: “Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something—your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”
BACK TO THE FUTURE
This issue speaks to a powerful leadership practice we must all have: reflection. Reflection, really, is the rhythm of leadership. There is no understanding without reflection. Unless we lead from a place of pause, we will not be able to distill the lessons in life. Not only will we miss out on ourselves, others and even life itself but also our lives and leadership will be shallow. Take it from a guy who is almost always busy running around and has been described by my nonagenarian mentor in Britain as peripatetic. I’m learning more and more to be in solitude and silence, otherwise there is no understanding of the life lived or the thrill of the act of connecting the dots. I would wish that we all, like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, can say after our own backwards reflection, “later the true significance of what happened would inevitably become clear to me, and I would be numb with surprise.”
The fuller philosophy of Kierkegaard is this: “It is really true what philosophy tells us, that life must be understood backwards. But with this, one forgets the second proposition, that it must be lived forwards. A proposition which, the more it is subjected to careful thought, the more it ends up concluding precisely that life at any given moment cannot really ever be fully understood; exactly because there is no single moment where time stops completely in order for me to take position [to do this]: going backwards.” Don’t keep looking only in the rearview mirror, that’s not where you’re going. But surely do look into it momentarily from time to time for the wherewithal to live and lead forwards with meaning. Life is lived forwards but understood backwards.
First of all, my wife (Anyele) and I humbly acknowledge that “15 years is nothing” compared to our parents’ (both sets) over 40 years of marriage and the 70 years some awesome couples we’ve come across have done! Wow! That’s incredible! Yet at the same time “15 years is something” considering that we’ve also come across marriages that were done, finished, caput, in months. In our short 15 years we’ve seen so many do shorter than five years, let alone 10. Fifteen? We’ve tried. We’ve even been used by God to salvage some marriages but have also heartbreakingly seen others dashed right before our eyes despite our efforts.
Secondly, I’m very wary of ‘3 secrets,’ ‘7 keys,’ ’10 ways,’ ’12 steps’ and what have you. So why am I sharing ‘3 Secrets to Lasting 15 Years in Marriage’? Well, Anyele and I just clocked 15 years on August 12, 2021. For us, the bottomline is God’s grace–and right from the start Prof. Kwaku Osam of Legon Interdenominational Church had told us during our pre-marital counselling sessions that “there is a grace for marriage” and we claimed it–in good measure. Maybe it’s true after all, but the thing about grace is that it works; and it has to be worked. Allow me to share three means of that grace for marriage that have made us largely survive (and even thrive in certain specific areas). No, I wouldn’t saddle you with ’15 lessons I have learned in 15 years of marriage’ so be grateful for just three (Lol!).
When we clocked 10 years the main thrust of our marriage lessons thus far was that marriage is the greatest character-forming school ever–even more than med. school. I’ve been to both marriage school and medical school so trust me, I know what I’m talking about! We called it the #1 Marriage Lesson That Nobody Talks About Much. That blog really seemed to resonate with the 50,000 or so it reached within weeks, thanks to social media, and was reproduced on some prominent news agency websites. It made me realize I shouldn’t play down on these key lessons, no matter how few and unwow, no matter how seemingly insignificant, no matter how humble they may be. You might scorn them; they might be life-saving for someone else.
Between year 10 and year 15, we have seen many people get married. Sadly we’ve not only seen many separations first-hand, we’ve witnessed more finalized divorces than within our first 10 years–real people, not just statistics. These three things I’m going to share have been a means of grace for us to do 15 years, especially the last five: Caring Counsellors, Close Cohorts, Cool Tools.
The most stupid thing I’ve done in marriage has been to not seek professional counselling till after year 10. We certainly have never brought any marital issue to any of our parents–it’s a no, no for many reasons that warrant a whole blog. I’ve come to realize, though, that there are certain issues that can never be well resolved between just the couple without a third wise party who is close enough (caring) yet far enough (outside the cleavage of man and wife) to be able to see clearly and share candidly. The notion, or even culture, that suggests that seeking professional counselling means one is weak or sick is toxic, it kills. Even if one were weak and sick, that’s fine too (everyone is at some point in our frail humanity and wretched world). We have seen people reach out when it was too late to salvage a totally hitherto salvageable situation (in our opinion).
Whether it’s through our conversations, their conferences or media (from books to YouTube videos), we really want to thank God for giving us the benefit of having Pete & Geri Scazzero (see picture above), Gerry & Kathy Kraemer, Carsten & Linda Pellman and indeed Shepherd’s Heart Ministry.
Apart from the listening ear, emphatic heart and vulnerable sharing of these caring counsellors, the ‘cool tools’ we’ll be sharing shortly have largely been learnt from them. An underlying paradigm that has buoyed everything else has been the Scazzeros ramming into our heads and hearts to lead in ministry and the marketplace out of the strength of our marriage, not out of the stress/strain of it–or even the death of it.
Of every single one of the divorces I’ve witnessed at close range, the couple did not have clear, regular, serious mentoring relationships. It’s worse when the man especially submits to no one on earth and is a law onto himself. Ha!
You think the things you’re going through are unique to you until you are vulnerable to share with a close community of others. This must be a close community you can be vulnerable in because you are contemporaries (all in a similar stage in life), and are all truthful, honest and committed to the institution of marriage and the principles that make it work.
On WhatsApp, Anyele and I have labeled that close cohort, “inner circle.” We inspire, encourage, teach, tease, correct, rebuke and hold each other accountable. On occasion we meet in person (see picture above). God bless Nana Yaw & Beth Offei-Awuku, Victor & Esi Obeng, Amos & Evelyn Kevin Annan, and Franklin & Amma Eleblu. Franklin is my best friend, was my best man when we got married and soon after became my brother-in-law too!
“Love your wife, Yaw.”
“OK, thank you very much. I would like to.”
“Just do it! Obey the Bible.”
One thing I like about Westerners is their propensity to develop tools to make life a little easier. The Physics I recall says a tool is something to make work easier, any work, but especially hard work. Marriage is work, hard work. How then do we dare think we can make it without tools? There are many marriages that shouldn’t have ended if only the two involved had some of these cool tools.
This year I decided to run Family Foundations Masterminds and share some of these tools like the Community Temperature Reading, 10/10, Genograming Your Family, Family Vision & Mission Statement, Mapping out Emotional Needs & Action Points etc. Even in fighting, there is a tool to fight cleanly! The Kraemers, Scazzeros and Pellman’s, together with Shepherd’s Heart Ministries have blessed us with all these tools! People, we’ve got to invest time, attention and finances in our marriages to obtain and utilize such tools.
On this occasion of our 15th anniversary, it’s really a celebration of Ubuntu–we are because YOU are. Anyele and Yaw will have no marriage but for the community of caring counsellors and close cohorts with cool tools. We’ve not made it because we’re super smart, über skilled and have impeccable character. No. We feel overwhelmingly thankful for the cool tools and community of counsellors and cohorts–three secrets to lasting 15 years (and more) in marriage.
PS. You may find a seven-minute video of the essence of this article here.
The first time I heard the story about the little cow, it was from the lips of a millionaire. Gathered in the conference room of some hotel in mid-town Montrèal, this man who had made his money from the financial services industry was urging us on to let go of our little cows, mainly JOBs (which people in his circle called “Just Over Broke”) and go chasing those dreams that will stretch us, pain us but in the end be most gratifying.
Recently, I decided to search online for the story and finally found it, author unknown. Here goes.
The Little Cow – Unkown Author
A master of Wisdom was traveling through the countryside with his apprentice when they came to a small, disheveled shack on a meagre piece of farmland. “See this poor family,” said the Master, “Go see if they will share with us their food.”
“But we have plenty,” said the apprentice.
The master said, “Do as I say.”
The obedient apprentice went to the home. The good farmer and his wife, surrounded by their seven children, came to the door. Their clothes were dirty and in tatters.
“Fair greetings,” said the apprentice, “My Master and I are sojourners and want for food. I’ve come to see if you have any to share.”
The farmer said, “We have little, but what we have we will share.” He walked away, and then returned with a small piece of cheese and a crust of bread. “I am sorry, but we don’t have much.” The apprentice did not want to take their food but did as he had been instructed. “Thank you. Your sacrifice is great.”
“Life is difficult,” the farmer said, “but we get by. And in spite of our poverty, we do have one great blessing.”
“What blessing is that?” asked the apprentice.
“We have a little cow. She provides us milk and cheese, which we eat or sell in the marketplace. It is not much but she provides enough for us to live on.”
The apprentice went back to his Master with the meagre rations and reported what he had learned about the farmer’s plight. The Master of Wisdom said, “I am pleased to hear of their generosity, but I am greatly sorrowed by their circumstance. Before we leave this place, I have one more task for you.”
“Return to the shack and bring back their cow.”
The apprentice did not know why, but he knew his Master to be merciful and wise, so he did as he was told. When he returned with the cow, he said to his Master, “I have done as you commanded. Now what is it that you would do with this cow?”
“See yonder cliffs? Take the cow to the highest crest and push her over.”
The apprentice was stunned. “But Master…”
“Do as I say.” The apprentice sorrowfully obeyed. When he had completed his task, the Master and his apprentice went on their way.
Over the next years, the apprentice grew in mercy and wisdom. But every time he thought back on the visit to the poor farmer’s family, he felt a pang of guilt. One day he decided to go back to the farmer and apologize for what he had done. But when he arrived at the farm, the small shack was gone.
Instead there was a large, fenced villa.
“Oh no,” he cried, “The poor family who was here was driven out by my evil deed.” Determined to learn what had become of the family, he went to the villa and pounded on its great door. A servant answered the door.
“I would like to speak to the master of the house,” the apprentice said.
“As you wish,” said the servant. A moment later a smiling, well-dressed man greeted the apprentice.
“How may I serve you?” the wealthy man asked.
“Pardon me, Sir, but could you tell me what has become of the family who once lived on this land but is no more?”
“I do not know what you speak of,” the man replied, “my family has lived on this land for three generations.”
The apprentice looked at him quizzically. “Many years ago I walked through this valley, where I met a farmer and his seven children. But they were very poor and lived in a small shack.”
“Oh,” the man said smiling, “that was my family. But my children have all grown now and have their own estates.”
The apprentice was astonished. “But you are no longer poor. What happened?”
“God works in mysterious ways,” the man said, smiling. “We had this little cow that provided us with the slimmest of necessities, enough to survive but little more. We suffered but expected no more from life. Then, one day, our little cow wandered off and fell over a cliff. We knew that we would be ruined without her, so we did everything we could to survive. Only then did we discover that we had greater power and abilities than we possibly imagined and never would have found as long as we relied on that cow. What a great blessing from Heaven to have lost our little cow.”
COW & COIN CONCLUSION
Everyone of us has a little cow that stands in the way of fulfilling our full potential. So what’s your little cow? Now imagine a little child who remains tight-fisted over a quarter, a 25-cent coin, when you are eager to give them a $100 bill you’re hiding behind you and encouraging them to ‘open up’ and ‘let go’ of the quarter to receive. They aren’t able to receive the $100 because they would rather keep the little that’s surely in hand than open their palm and risk losing the quarter, although they might very well know that what they could gain might be way better.
You probably have heard it said that often the enemy of the best is the good. What is your little coin or little cow. Let it go; kill it!
One of my goals at the beginning of the year was to record a short video each week to pep people up in LIFE–Leadership, Integrity, Family, Entrepreneurship. Although speaking-wise I am an award-winning Toastmaster and have been on various media, including hosting television programmes even way back in my medical school days and early professional life, somehow I couldn’t bring myself to starting a YouTube channel and recording something ‘short and sweet’ regularly for my colleagues and coachees.
If today the January goal can now be marked as “done,” having recorded something every single week between then and now (June), it is because I had accountability to close a certain growth gap. The accountability I got was first from my Growth Mastermind group where I shared by goal at the beginning of the year. Exactly on January 15, one of the members, a U.S.-based consultant with Accenture, sent a group WhatsApp message reminding me of my action point to start recording that day. Did I feel ready? No. But to keep my word, I did it anyway! Apparently, we hardly ever ‘feel ready’ for anything. At some point we’ve got to “just do it!” It was Bruce Springsteen the musician who once said, “A time comes when you need to stop waiting for the man [male or female] you want to become and start being the man you want to be.”
MY GROWTH GAPS
In the very opening chapter of his masterpiece on personal growth (Maxwell 2012, 3-9), Dr. John C. Maxwell lists eight growth gaps people get trapped by:
- The Assumption Gap–“I assume that I will automatically grow”
- The Knowledge Gap–“I don’t know how to grow”
- The Timing Gap–“It’s not the right time to begin”
- The Mistake Gap–“I’m afraid of making mistakes”
- The Perfection Gap–“I have to find the best way”
- The Inspiration Gap–“I don’t feel like doing it”
- The Comparison Gap–“Others are better than I am”
- The Expectation Gap–“I thought it would be easier than this”
What had been keeping me from shooting my video snippets and starting my own YouTube channel were the Mistake and Perfection gaps. Those two, I find, are actually two sides of the same coin. There was a ton of information online about how to/not to shoot videos. Now, having 10,000 friends and followers on FaceBook and being well-known and respected in certain circles I didn’t want to come across as a jerk! I was being paralyzed by lighting issues, how my little home office should be arranged, which background would be the best, whether my phone camera was good enough etc. etc.
In fact, I look back with a bit of embarrassment at my first YouTube video which I shot in my decade-old comfy sweater with a Covid-19 bushy hair look, yet I’m so proud that I took the dive. Mistakes and failures are the price ticket to improvement and innovation. No price, no prize. My parents’ generation used to ridicule ‘Made in Japan’ products. My generation has high respect for everything Japanese, from Toyota and Honda through Yamaha to Sony. The Japanese were ridiculed as copycats with poor quality products but the kaizen principle of continuous improvement has brought them this far. Today’s generation has no paradigm of a bad Japanese product. They’ve constantly closed their mistake and perfection gaps. Now, some laugh at China the same way. China would laugh last if they too continually close their growth gaps because guess what? “A mistake is simply another way of doing things,” according to author and professor Warren Bennis. After 10,000 hours of practice, you and I can become geniuses at anything, as my fellow black Canadian, Malcolm Gladwell, asserts in Outliers, largely based on his interpretation of Anders Ericsson’s research.
TO MY FELLOW MISTAKE-AVOIDERS
The desire to find the best way and to be the best is good but I learnt from my mentor John Maxwell looking for the best way can actually be getting things backward. We rather have to get started if we want to find the best way. He says, “it’s similar to driving on an unfamiliar road at night. Ideally, you’d like to be able to see your whole route before you begin. But you see it progressively. As you move forward, a little more of the road is revealed to you. If you want to see more of the way, then get moving“ (Maxwell 2012, 7, emphasis mine).
I once met the American Christian televangelist, pastor, author and motivational speaker Dr. Robert H. Schuller (picture above) in the mid 1990s. As a World Vision Youth Ambassador, my cohort had the privilege of visiting his ‘all glass’ Crystal Cathedral, singing there (oh the acoustics!) and appearing live on his weekly Hour of Power television programme which be began hosting in 1970 until his retirement in 2010. He is noted for many famous quotes but one that has most gingered me to overcome my mistake and perfection gaps has actually been this poignant question of his: “What would you attempt to do if you knew you wouldn’t fail?”
So! Half of the year has gone. If you find there’s a gulf between your year-start goals and your mid-year achievements, it’s a growth gap. Ask yourself: “how do I need to grow to close this gap?” If we would resolve to grow and close the assumption, knowledge, timing, mistake, perfection, inspiration, comparison and expectation gaps, we will end the year smiling. Focus on your growth, not so much on your goals. Then you will grow to hit them. I have, in my video-shooting goal. Now off to the rest!
Maxwell, John C. 2012. The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth. New York: Center Street.
After my last blog on Why I strive for work-life integration and not work/life balance, some got it and said, “important distinction.” Others thought it was just semantics, just a different choice of words but saying the same thing. I beg to differ.
Here’s another attempt to distinguish one from the other: work/life balance (apart from seeming to pit work against life) is the attempt to distribute time, energy and other resources equitably to all four buckets of life to ‘tick all the boxes’. On the other hand, work-life integration is radically different because it harnesses the power of all four buckets, making other buckets better by the power of other buckets. And it is living in such a way that one doesn’t have to hide the other buckets (say, on LinkedIn), pretend they don’t exist or be different things to different people in the different buckets. I’m quite certain a few poignant examples below may make the distinction clearer.
FACEBOOK AND FAMILY
Who doesn’t know about FaceBook and its 2.7 billion users. That number is the combined population of China and India, the two most populous nations in the world. 2.7 billion is more than twice the population of the entire continent of Africa! I was fascinated to learn that as founder/CEO, one of Mark Zuckerberg’s attempt at the integrated life in Facebook’s early days was to host FaceBook strategy sessions at his home on Monday evenings. And for Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg, instead of missing dinner with her family, she would bring her children into the office. Here’s her testimony: “Facebook is incredibly family friendly, so my children were in heaven, entranced by pizza, endless candy, and the huge pile of LEGOs the engineers shared with young visitors. It made me happy my kids got to now my colleagues and vice versa” (George 2015, 173). I don’t know everything about FaceBook’s corporate culture, but these right here are great examples of the integrated life at FaceBook.
I’m proud of Databank in Ghana that has created a nursery in the workplace for nursing mothers as well as a quiet time room for staff to go and nourish their spiritual lives, especially after rushing from home at dawn in order to beat the crazy Accra traffic. These are laudable examples of the integrated life in corporate circles.
I love lions. I call my children cubs; not kids, hence we are the Perbi Pride. Last week, I handed over to the next CEO of ISMCanada after being at this role for eight years. One of the things I recalled at the handing over ceremony (and nearly everyone remembered) is how not long after I took the role I travelled almost the entire stretch of Canada (the second widest country on earth!) to get to personally know the staff and listen for the pertinent issues from the ground. What I haven’t told you yet is that as a family we decided to integrate our lives with my new work by making this a fun family trip. We rented a minivan and spent 30 days travelling from Montreal (on the east coast) to Victoria (beyond Vancouver) in the west. It was beautiful to see the different types of Canadian landscape and wildlife. Because our children our homeschooled, such opportunities are precious as ‘all of life is school.’ By the time we got back home we had clocked 13,000km and had enough geography, history, sociology etc. to last a lifetime! That is one of the best examples of the integrated life we’ve ever had as a family. Family did not get in the way of work or vice versa. We made both feed off each other and were the richer for it.
Over the last couple of years, I have adopted a tradition of travelling with one of the older four children. Just one, to make them feel special and have a one-on-one time with daddy. Don’t forget these are work trips for me and fun trips for them. After doing a Philadelphia and Washington DC road trip with our then four-year old she insisted upon returning home that “I’m Daddy’s travel buddy’ much to the chagrin of the others. I’ve been far from perfect in integrating family and work but I knew we were doing something right when my children got so used to the ISMCanada world that one day our then seven-year old son asked, “Will I become president of ISMCanada when I grow up?” Almost as if it were a family inheritance.
I’ve always worked from home over the last 8 years as CEO (or from an airport/airplane)–way before the rest of the world was forced to by the Covid-19 pandemic. Working from home and homing from work has its pros and cons but it certainly has helped more than harmed my work-life integration.
IMPACTING THE WORLD FROM WITHIN–‘AN INSIDE JOB’
In an article posted on the Harvard Business Review, author Stew Friedman rightly said that the most impactful leaders find ways “to integrate the different parts of their lives to reinforce and enhance each other.” Everywhere he looked he found successful individuals who used who they were as a person to influence how and why they worked. From Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg (as I already shared above) through Michelle Obama to rock icon Bruce Springsteen, many influential people channel what made them a powerful person into creating a powerful product, service or project.
Take Michelle Obama, the 44th First Lady of the United States, for example. Michelle considers her daughters to be her first priority, even if this stance vexes those who would have her do more in seeking broader political and cultural change. However as Friedman rightly observes, in making sure her own children were receiving the most nutritious food possible, she began to advocate for better nutrition through the national initiative Let’s Move!. Her policies have won national and global acclaim.
One of the most impactful social enterprises in Ghana right now is the PerbiCubs Library Services, reaching 2,000 children in 200 schools. It might interest you to know that this did not start out as some mega altruistic attempt to ‘change the world’ through getting every child reading but out of our own family’s need for good, well-curated, reading level-appropriate books upon a long stay in Ghana. Whether it’s the Obamas or the Perbis, we’re running this for ourselves–we only get to scale and share with the rest of the world. If nobody signed on, we would still do it. It’s not just a job ‘out there’, it’s an ‘inside job,’ so-to-speak.
RUNNING MY FAMILY LIKE A CORPORATION
I’ve had partners complain about how their spouse is great at XYZ in the corporate world but doesn’t show even an iota of that competence or skill at home. There are those who might argue that they use ‘all of it’ out there and just want to chill and relax when they get home. While that might make some degree of sense, is it not inauthentic that who we are out there is different from who are at home? If you really believe in the power of vision and mission statements and values in your corporate world, for example, how come you haven’t couched one for your own family?
I’m learning to run my family like a corporation, in the sense of applying the things that have made organizations I’ve run succeed. Why not? Wherever two or three come together, you have an organization! I’m sure you can relate to how some of the most treasured members of your community, say church, actually are so because they bring their corporate skills to bear on the communal organization? On the flip side, I’ve also been the beneficiary of running businesses like family and seeing co-workers go over and beyond their job description and their contractual call of duty. The integrated life is the way to go.
CHOOSE INTEGRATION TODAY
“When you give your whole self to the moment, you not only benefit personally, but it dramatically impacts your business as well.” So says my mentor Bill George. The work-rest of life thing doesn’t have to be a zero sum game. Bill is right about how “Many leaders are reluctant to combine their work and family lives, but bringing the two together can lead to more productive and fulfilling lives, both personally and professionally” (173). I have seen and testify that it takes being open-minded about this work-life integration notion, hard work, creativity, experimentation, patience, much discomfort and many failures to make it work but when it does, it really does.
Friedman, Stewart D. 2014. “What Successful Work and Life Integration Looks Like.” Harvard Business Review. October 07, 2014.
George, Bill. 2015. Discover your True North. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
Even as a boy, I felt there was something not quite right about hardly knowing my dad’s fellow partners and their families at the ‘big four’ accounting firm he worked at. Of course I knew a couple of the names and faces but that was about it. I felt they could organize some social events and such to intentionally bring their families together but hey, what did I know?
In fact, even now I wouldn’t be able to make out the wife of the senior partner when dad was deputy senior partner. The very kind, burly man’s children currently live barely five hours away from my family in the same country (Canada) but we don’t know each other well enough to even give the other an occasional ring. Oh wait, I got to talk to one of them once, when their dad was seriously ill and had been hospitalized in their town, but that’s been about it.
I think what I longed for, even as a boy, was a bit more of work-life integration, without even knowing that was actually ‘a thing’ or that such a term even existed. A feeble attempt at it has become largely known in the corporate space in recent times as “work/life balance” but what I speak of is more profound than that. How can anyone not see that there is a problem pitting “work” against “life” as if life doesn’t encompass work itself as well as one’s personal life, family and community? And it doesn’t have to be a zero sum game, work or die, inasmuch as there tends to be many tradeoffs.
BUY ONE, GET THREE FREE!
It’s a no brainer that having a bad home situation can adversely affect your professional performance and vice versa. Also, despite how stringent your personal health routines might be, your community relationships are a significant determinant of your mental and physical health, a 75-year study proves. Life is not as separate as we would like (or like to think). Somehow we know this when it comes to how something negative in one aspect of our life can spill over to botch another aspect but what if I told you that being a great dad can make you a better CEO or that the skills you use in your community can be a life-saver in some work project? Yeah, work/life balance isn’t the way to go; work-life integration is. I’ll tell you why.
Author Stewart Friedman concurs: “From years of studying people in many different settings, I have found that the most successful people are those who can harness the passions and powers of the various parts of their lives, bringing them together to achieve what I call “four-way wins — actions that result in life being better in all four domains.” These four domains Stewart speaks of are illustrated in ‘The Integrated Life’ diagram below. He continues, “My research has shown that there are ways for everyone — from the managers of sales teams, to executives in government agencies, to computer engineers, to florists, to coaches — to achieve professional success without always having to sacrifice the things that matter in their personal lives.”
COVID-19 BLESSING IN DISGUISE
One of the gifts of the COVID-19 pandemic has been to not only highlight how important the place we call “home” is, but how it is central to our children’s formal education and our own professional lives. Heck, we’ve even done community, like church, from home! Online. This is perhaps the most physically integrated most people have been in their entire work lives. And those of us who like to keep everything prim and proper with no drama have had a really hard time.
I do a fair bit of social media. I find FaceBook much more integrated in terms of all four aspects of life than say, LinkedIn. Several times, I have seen people literally apologize and “make an excuse” or “make an exception” to post something faith or family-related on LinkedIn. I’ve tried to push those boundaries myself sometimes but it’s a weird, I must say. When I recently shared on LinkedIn that I daily run the daycare at home for the youngest ones of our seven children, I was really honoured to have one of my mentors, Bill George (Harvard business school professor and former CEO of Medtronic), affirm me as follows: “Thank you, Yaw, for being the authentic leader you are.” This must be why: Bill really believes, “For authentic leaders, being true to themselves by being the same person at work that they are at home is a constant test, yet personal fulfillment is their ultimate reward. Doing so will make you a more effective leader in all aspects of life“ (George 2015, 16).
WHERE THE RUBBER HITS THE ROAD
At a just-ended eight-week Family Foundations Mastermind I hosted, the prime place of family was underscored over and over again but by the penultimate session we needed to ‘get real.’ How do we do family well while keeping a demanding job, juggling community roles and trying to stay sane? This is where the rubber hits the road.
As I’ve stated before, integrity comes from the Latin root integritas which means whole, entire, undivided. On the other extreme are those who completely separate their professional life from other aspects of their lives. Then there are those who in the name of work/life balance, hop from one of the four parts to the other, trying to “fulfill all righteousness” and tick every box with as little guilt as possible. What I subscribe to and strive for is integration. Bill is blunt: “To lead an integrated life, you need to bring together the major elements of your personal life and professional life, family and friends so you can be the same person in each environment” (159-160).
We’re striving for the word integrated rather than balance. Subtle difference, apparently, but HUGE. Stewart gets it: “The idea I think to replace work/life balance, which treats these categories as independent, is work/life integration. You’re treating yourself whether you’re at work or at play in basically the same way.”
BIG ROCKS FIRST
All the buckets don’t have the same weight. I believe we ought to carry the more important yet not always more urgent buckets of personal and family first, putting the big rocks in first as Stephen Covey would put it, and all the other things will be added to us as well. Easier said than done, but it must be done nonetheless.
My favourite corporate example of this is Nike CEO John Donahoe (former eBay CEO), when he was a consultant with Bain decades ago with a young family. I was most impressed about how he told his client, ”It is important to me to be doing this. I’m committed to working hard, but I can’t be there before 10am.” This is because he insisted on taking his children to school before heading to the client site. The result? Donahoe was amazed that his clients appreciated the choices he was making. “The client responded positively as he appreciated my commitment and contributions even more” he says. “I didn’t have the courage to think about it that way before. There’s an inclination in business to put on a tough exterior to give the impression that you have everything under control” (162).
Bill George reports that “Donahoe learned that the more he integrated his life and embraced his humanity, the more effective he became as a leader … by showing his team and clients his [priorities and] vulnerabilities, he discovered his teams performed better and his client relationships strengthened.” (162)
This is not to say it’s all easy; but it’s worth it–just like med school or doing an MBA. Hear Donahoe: “The struggle is constant, as the trade-offs and choices don’t get any easier as you get older. My personal and professional lives are not a zero-sum trade-off. I have no doubt today that my children have made me a far more effective leader in the workplace. A strong personal life has made the difference” (160).
To be whole (integritas), we need to integrate our personal , family, community and professional lives, not pit one against the other like ‘work/life balance’ suggests. Real life happens were all four meet and they can enhance each other. Indeed, they should. It isn’t easy. How do I know? I’m still trying. So should you. It’s worth it.
In my next blog, I will share a number of practical examples and ideas of how people have made life-work integration happen, and how my family and I have tried to, also.
Friedman, Stewart D. 2014. “What Successful Work and Life Integration Looks Like.” Harvard Business Review. October 07, 2014.
George, Bill. 2015. Discover your True North. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
ONCE UPON A TIME
A number of years ago I was invited to do a keynote for one of the high profile speakers in a certain country. In our private conversations I expressed my deep concern about how an imminent divorce by another significant leader in the country was likely to have a really bad ripple effect on millions of people. In my naiveté I asked, “can’t anyone speak to him?” You know what the answer I got was? “WHO?” “WHO, Yaw, WHO?” In other words, there was no one high enough to hold this ‘big man’ accountable. Apparently, none of the ‘big names’ from around the world I felt might have the gravitas to make this man on a pedestal, rather on a precipice, answerable was worthy.
You see, this otherwise great leader had set himself up to fail by not putting in place relationships and structures to hold himself accountable and to bring him to book. Needless to say, the divorce happened and not only his family and organization but even the nation has not recovered since.
Last week I shared with you A Sure Way to Destroy Your Leadership (and Organization). Well, today I would want to share another sure way to destroy your leadership: not making yourself accountable. My favourite synonym for accountability is answerability. In the sad story I just shared, you could say there was no answer to the question of this big man’s answerability.
TODAY & TOMORROW, PERSONALLY & ORGANIZATIONALLY
Over the last few weeks, there have been significant allegations made against the leadership of a major church denomination originating from Ghana. Everyone I know who I thought was close enough to the denominational head has said to me, “No, I’m not.” The obvious ones, whether by family relation or organizational chart, who are positionally supposed to be in the inner circle are allegedly asking those pushing for a response and/or reform to “PRAY TO GOD TO SPEAK TO THE MAN because he is only accountable to God—no one else can counsel him, let alone question him!” WOW!
Not planning to be accountable is PLANNING TO FAIL—invariably you will, it’s just a matter of time. And principles are not respecter of persons. A survey of about 400 leaders who had all morally failed over a two-year period revealed that none of them had accountable relationships.
So organizationally, do not take lightly the power of a governance board. If you don’t have one, set it up—not a kangaroo board (for the show), a real one. Only last week the accountant of the Canadian charity I’ve been leading as president/CEO for the last eight years called me about a decision I had made to launch a very innovative fund, something that hadn’t been done in the organization’s nearly 40 years of existence. In her opinion this needed board clearance; I did not think that was relevant. Instead of trying to bulldoze my way as CEO and to remove every shadow of doubt, I immediately sent an email to the board chair and entire board presenting the issue to them and requesting a board vote electronically. Within a few hours, it was done. Imagine I had no accountability?
I even heard of a pastor whose church offerings are sent to his house after church. Only God knows the difference between what is taken to his house and how much ends up in the bank, if it ends up at the bank at all!
So organizationally, have a functioning governance board, but personally also, have an accountability partner. In fact, I have a friend who has a personal board which I am privileged to serve on, checking on him each quarter. My best friend of about 30 years is my accountability partner. Franklin was my best man is happens to be my brother-in-law as well. We meet monthly to keep each other accountable—we call it ‘FFF’, First Friday at Five.
The other day, our accountability time fell at a time when I was scheduled to fly out of the São Paulo-Guarulhos International Airport in Brazil. I remember so clearly the exact corner of the huge airport I was seated during that conversation because I recall the shock of my life I experienced, hearing from him. As it turned out, a very prominent member of the music industry had reported to him (Frank is an accomplished musician in addition to his I.T. career) that I was going after a married friend of his in the United Kingdom. I was like “WHAAAT?!” But Frank’s response flabbergasted me even more. He was laughing. Laughing! He laughed and informed me that he emphatically told the person that he must have the wrong guy because if it was really Yaw, he (Frank) would have already been voluntarily told by me! Wow!
Of course the allegation wasn’t true, but more importantly I had such a renewed sense of hope in the art and science of accountability and was energized even more to be 100% vulnerable and transparent with my accountability friend.
SWINDOLL’S ACCOUNTABILITY QUESTIONS
Everyone needs accountability about everything but particularly when it comes to the more common temptations of money, sex, power. In his book, The Body, Chuck Colson (who was imprisoned for his involvement in the Nixon Watergate scandal) lists these seven accountability questions used by Chuck Swindoll:
1. Have you been with a woman [any gender, really!] anywhere this past week that might be seen as compromising?
2. Have any of your financial dealings lacked integrity?
3. Have you exposed yourself to any sexually explicit material?
4. Have you spent adequate time in Bible study and prayer?
5. Have you given priority time to your family?
6. Have you fulfilled the mandates of your calling?
7. Have you just lied to me?
Church Smart Resources have compiled a comprehensive list of a number of accountability questions from different sources, including John Wesley. You may access it here.
“ACCOUNTABILITY” IS A LOVING WORD
I pity people married to unaccountable spouses. I have warned my emerging leaders: Don’t marry people who have no accountable relationships. You’re as good as dead if you do. Friends, we’ve got to have a paradigm shift and consider “accountability” as a loving word. It will save you and me many sorrows and preserve our lives and leadership. It might sound ridiculous to you if I told you I knew someone planning to fail. But I tell you, not having intentional accountability is invariably planning to fail, destroying your life and leadership. And guess what? Invariably, it happens. No matter how ‘big’ you are.
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.