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!
One of the most sold yet least bought commodities in the leadersphere is integrity. There’s hardly a set of corporate core values one comes across without it showing up somehow. What’s even more intriguing is how mystical people make it sound and look. In fact, I’ve heard politicians throw it about in a way that’s made me wonder whether even I understood what the heck it is. But hear me good: integrity is not that complicated.
Although there are so many definitions of it, I’ll share with you one that is as simple as primary school math and then show you a simple litmus test of integrity. Integrity comes from the Latin root integritas, which means whole, complete, entire, unbroken. It’s the same word from which we get the word integer. See, I told you it’s as simple as grade school math! What are integers? Positive and negative whole numbers.
Integrity then basically means you’re whole, not divided. The opposite of that would be fractions; not whole. You’re fractionated, broken up.
What’s the litmus test I speak of? Integrity is not that complicated. How can you tell I’ve got it? How do I know you have integrity too? I don’t need a KYC (know your client) form or a testimonial from a referee or even your long list of impressive achievements. Integrity is keeping your word–not letting your word fall to the ground, not breaking your word. Integrity is being what you say you are and doing what you say you’ll do.
BEING WHAT YOU SAY YOU ARE
Let’s consider two guys, Kofi and Yaw. If Kofi says, “I lie, I deceive, I steal.” Kofi has low morality, by that particular society’s general standards of acceptable behaviour in that era. When Yaw says, “I abhor lying, I don’t deceive, I never steal,” he has high morality.
BUT, if Yaw goes on lying, deceiving and stealing then Yaw is not a person of integrity. He doesn’t keep his word. However, if Kofi goes ahead to lie, deceive and steal, although he has low morality he actually is a person of integrity (albeit in a very twisted way) because he keeps his word. He said he will do these things and he does. Integrity is being what you say you are, being what you say you will.
DOING WHAT YOU SAY YOU’LL DO
Again integrity is keeping your word, this time, by doing what you say you’ll do. I still remember the shock of a new friend I made when I showed up at her place exactly when I promised I would. She was brutally honest with me that she wasn’t expecting me to keep my word. I was hurt that he would think so lowly of the human race, more specifically the XY chromosomic Homo sapiens, and even more specifically a Christian gentleman. But you couldn’t blame here–she had experienced too many people promising and failing to deliver all too often.
Integrity is keeping your word. Of course, sometimes we give our word and due to extenuating circumstances we’re not able to keep it (we can’t control everything, especially the elements and emergencies). If you are a person of integrity, however, although you are not able to keep your word you still honour your word by reaching out in advance (preferably in advance), apologizing for not being able to and renegotiating to make things right.
My editing team for the weekly PEP Talks I do expect my videos to get to them by Sunday night each week. I had such a long day last Sunday that I realized there was no way I was going to be able to make a good video to send at the end of the day. To keep my integrity, however, I sent a note to the team saying, “Hey, it’s been a very tiring day and I wouldn’t be able to give this video my best shot. I’ll work on it tomorrow instead and send it to you.” I was unable to keep my longstanding word, but I did well to still honour it. I wish that were always true. Sometimes I’ve failed to keep my word and gone on with life as if I never gave my word in the first place. That is not integrity–not matter how much I claim to have it!
I get amazed how many people give their word with no intention whatsoever to keep it! And then there is the category of people who give their word intending to keep it but when they are unable to don’t see the big deal in still honouring their word–apologizing and redressing it. I’ve had to correct several people I work with to the point that now they not only keep their word, but if for some reason they are not able to, they now honour it by apologizing, letting me know and re-negotiating.
By the way, when we make plans and don’t keep it (even if they don’t involve anybody else), we violate our integrity. Many of us do not take our own word seriously; we don’t take ourselves seriously. I insist on 100% integrity with my coaching clients when they give their word about what they commit to doing in between our sessions.
Inasmuch as I want to keep this article to the personal level, I cannot help but take a swipe at politicians who are notorious for giving their word during political campaigns only to take office and not only fail to keep their word but sometimes even pretend they have no clue what the citizenry and civil society organizations are reminding them about and trying to hold them to account for! There is a joke about how before elections they call us “the masses.” When they win and we make our demands of them we become “them asses!” In my short lifetime, on both sides of the Atlantic, I have met very few politicians worth their salt. Politicians with integrity are almost extinct.
So integrity isn’t this highfalutin, mystical, metaphysical thing. It’s not that complicated. It is as simple as primary school math: integers. What shows you have it or not is as simple as keeping your word. Period. Nothing more, nothing less.
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.
It’s amazing how much most people know about subjects in our world, literally from Archaeology to Zoology, but very little or no ME-logy! In my book, Cutting a Straight Path: Leading with Self-Awareness, I ask these poignant questions:
- How can you live with yourself without knowing who you are?
- How can you be true to what you know little or nothing about: yourself?
- How can you succeed in life, self-actualize, without first becoming self-aware?
- How can you authentically lead others without first learning to know yourself?
- Have you ever felt frustrated why others are hesitant to follow your lead?
“Maybe it’s time to check yourself as a person and as a leader,” is my conclusion. Yes, it’s about time! Indeed, the Chinese have a powerful saying, “Before preparing to improve the world, first look around your own home three times.” Forget about authentic living, let alone authentic leadership, without self-awareness! So welcome to home base. Self-awareness is the starting place of all true and lasting success.
SELF-DISCOVERY THROUGH THE DISC
Self-awareness comes basically by introspection (by ourselves) and feedback (by others). Both however, are greatly enhanced by assessment tools, just like magnifying glasses help us see tiny objects and the binoculars enables us to view distant things closely and clearly. I have found the DISC as an amazing personal assessment tool that is incisive and powerful in the quest for self-awareness. Since 1972 it has been used by over 50 million people to increase self-awareness, stimulate and guide growth and thus increase chances at personal success. It is used to engender teamwork, communication and productivity in the workplace. The DISC has saved many a marriage, including mine!
DISC assessments are used in thousands of organizations around the world, from multilaterals and multinationals to government agencies and Fortune 500 companies, nonprofits and small businesses. Recently, we were privileged to serve the Centre for Disease Control Foundation in Atlanta, USA with nearly 150 of these assessments as they train medical leaders in about 30 nations of the world.
SO WHAT EXACTLY IS DISC?
DISC is an acronym that stands for the four main personality profiles described in the model: (D)ominant, (I)nfluencing, (S)teady and (C)ompliant.
People with D personalities tend to be confident and place an emphasis on accomplishing bottom-line results.
People with i personalities tend to be more open and place an emphasis on relationships and influencing or persuading others.
People with S personalities tend to be dependable and place the emphasis on cooperation and sincerity.
People with C personalities tend to place the emphasis on quality, accuracy, expertise, and competency.
The DISC system we use at YAW PERBI in partnership with People Keys generates 41 personality blends from these basic four, just like many colours of the world are generated through the three primary colours. There’s one I used to coach international students in Canada that was limited to 28 personality blends. What we use now is like the difference between a regular car and a four-wheel drive. As they like to say at People Keys, “people are different, true, but they are predictably different.”
CONVICTION, VISION & MISSION
Our conviction at YAW PERBI is that since every true and lasting success begins with self-awareness, then everyone must have easy and affordable access to self-DISCovery! ACCESS FOR SUCCESS, please! Everyone has a right to self-awareness. We need a DISC Revolution!
Our vision is to see a world of awareness through every individual’s self-DISCovery. We are on a mission to democratize the DISC personality/behavioral assessment until no one is left in the dark. We want to recalibrate all leadership development to begin with self-awareness at the core through the Perbi Perspective DISC is a great start.
CHIEF CORNERSTONE FOR THE CHIEF-LEVEL LEADER
When you read my article on how I build leaders differently now (compared to 10-15 years ago), you will understand my seriousness about this issue of recalibrating all leadership development to begin with self-awareness. People have big, fat leadership books and terabytes of leadership materials and yet have next to zero knowledge of themselves. What sense is there in that? I was telling a certain Christian leader the other day that he can forget the list of a dozen books people typically ask me to recommend for leadership training and development. The only two books his emerging leaders need to learn almost everything they need to know about leadership are a self-awareness printout of their DISC assessment and the Scriptures. Every other book is garnishing.
In all the major success paradigms, praxes and paths—from Emotional Intelligence to Authentic Leadership—self-awareness is first base, the chief cornerstone. I increasingly get alarmed when I encounter C-level executives, both in the public and private sector, who have never taken a personality assessment like the DISC!
STRATEGY AND HOPE
Some say hope is not a strategy but I beg to differ. (I’ll leave that argument for another day, another blog). I have hope that together we can strategically exponentially multiply impact through an army of Accredited DISC Coaches and Certified Behavioural Consultants while significantly creating thriving businesses and income for all! Just like our governments wish to get everyone vaccinated, we at YAW PERBI desire to get everyone DISCed! The former may be controversial to some, but you had better not second guess the latter. Everyone has a right to self-awareness to grow and succeed. Would-be authentic leaders really have no choice in this primary matter. We need a DISC Revolution!
Recently I received an email (partly screenshot above) announcing my nomination to receive an honorary doctorate degree. It is is possible that I would have felt more flattered and been more tempted to go after this fake degree from these fictitious institutions had I not already been a “Dr.” (medical). Coming from a family in which my grandfather was an emeritus professor and where my mother and father-in-law are PhDs in history and economics respectively, these titles don’t exactly faze us. Yet those who offer them know they are toying with very powerful human emotions, motivations and identity issues at the core of our being and have made a good business of it. As my best friend said when I forwarded the said email to him, “this has nothing to do with you; it has everything to do with business.”
Some however, including many Christian leaders, have taken the bait and gotten decorated with very dubious degrees and titles. Recently, there was a huge brouhaha over a popular Ghanaian musician based in London who was alleged to have amassed three degrees, including a PhD, within four months! Perhaps if he had even shut up, none of this would’ve become an issue of investigation and castigation setting social media abuzz but he was flaunting it and ‘praising God’ for the fake feat. The desire to flaunt it itself reveals the very identity and emotional challenges he might have that perhaps led to him to go for those inauthentic accolades in the first place.
The above picture of Sonnie, whose giftedness is unquestionable but his academic credentials are, was uploaded by himself on social media touting his feat. I have met Sonnie. He is a fine young man and anointed. But I can also tell you he is far from perfect; just like you and me. Speaking of Sonnie and musicology, incidentally, my grandfather was a celebrated ethnomusicologist. His work earned him many accolades including several honorary doctorates but he never used the title “Dr.” because although he had done enough original research work to deserve ten doctorates he never really formally pursued a PhD per se. Interestingly, he shot straight from ‘mister’ to ‘professor’ and was ’emeritus professor’ for the last three decades or so of his life.
This degree brouhaha touches on at least three issues: identity, purpose and authenticity.
There was once a programme organized by a friend of mine. The MC got on stage and introduced a certain pastor to come up and offer a prayer. He inadvertently introduced him, with no malice, as Mr. XYZ. XYZ comes up, grabs the mic and makes a correction, “I’m not Mister, I’m Pastor.” That wasn’t all; it gets worse. Later he clears his throat and amends his correction saying something like, “In fact, I’m not Pastor, I am Reverend.” Ahem. Wow! What a shock, what a shame.
But lest I come across as holier than thou, remember I told you that the people offering fake degrees know exactly what they are massaging in us: the ego. I can tell you that as a medical doctor myself there are many times when people address me in speech or in writing as ‘Mr.’ and I have a natural gut reaction to get offended, said in my head something like “do you know who you’re talking to?” and yearned to correct them. There’s a part of me that even justifies it thus: “mehn, but you earned it.” That, my friend, is not the authentic self.
We need not, and indeed should not, root our identity in external things like what we wear, how much we earn, what degrees or title(s) we have acquired. Anything that man can give you, man can take away. Let’s not root our identity in any such thing. And you would think that supposed men and women of God would know better and root their identity in nothing less than Christ himself.
You may have ‘more degrees than a thermometer’ and still not accomplish your God-given purpose. There are some without degrees at all and yet have made much more impact in the world than those with many letters behind their names. Your purpose in life determines the vehicles and tools you need to use. It’s strange to make the acquisition of vehicles and tools our primary objective when one hasn’t first sat down to evaluate if that is what they need to get done the job they came on earth to accomplish. It’s about dreams, not diplomas and degrees.
Did you read about the recent brouhaha over the apparent insistence of Jill Biden, wife of the current U.S. president, to be called “Dr” ? It’s really been going on for at least a decade now: “Hi, I’m Jill. Jill Biden. But please, call me Dr. Biden.” The December 2020 op-ed by Joseph Epstein in the Wall Street Journal implored Jill Biden to “think about dropping the honorific, which feels fraudulent, even comic.” Personally, I think the essence of what Epstein was trying to say became lost in what became an embroilment in sexism. The real question should be: does being ‘Dr.’ make Jill a better educator (that she’s been for decades) or not? Everything else is secondary; even tertiary.
This degree saga leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to authentic leadership. It speaks to the core of authenticity. Authentic leaders have:
- nothing to prove–a matter of humility (not try to project self worth)
- nothing to hide–a question of integrity (no playing of games but totally transparent)
- nothing to lose–a matter of simplicity (not strive for social image or popularity).
As you might have noticed, humility, integrity and simplicity as an acronym spell HIS. This is particularly instructive to Christian leaders. Those of us at the Third Lausanne Congress on world Evangelization in Cape Town in 2010 were passionately exhorted by theologian Chris Wright to be God’s saints, Christ’s people, HIS people of humility, integrity and simplicity.
NOT SO WITH YOU
Again, especially for Christian leaders, the primary power base of an authentic (wo)man of God is spiritual power—not positional or personal power. Others may go that route but Jesus was very clear to his followers who would be leaders: “not so with you.” In May 2020, I wrote quite extensively on that here. We need to lead different. This issue just won’t go away until Christians really chose to be H.I.S. people.
In light of the recent brouhaha about fake degrees, Friends, BE WARNED. Don’t allow your ego to be stroked and stoked, making your false self acquiesce to receiving fake degrees from fictitious institutions. If you want a degree, go to school and study for one! In any case, one doesn’t necessarily need a degree to succeed in life! Hopefully your going for a diploma or degree would only be because you have observed It will a good vehicle or tool towards your dream. Again, the thing is: You can have ‘more degrees than a thermometer’ and still not fulfill your God-given purpose in life.
I have a mentor who likes to say, “the thing about titles is that if you’re good you don’t need them; if you’re not they won’t help you.” Heaven help us!
There has been such an overwhelming response (over 80,000 reached!) to a social media post I made regarding a misconception about the essence of family planning that I felt it might be useful to document that write-up on this blog.
On Tuesday, March 2nd our seventh child was born. The rather long boy descended down his mother’s birth canal at the Montreal Jewish Hospital in all his 3.895kg glory. The posting of this momentous occasion on social media sparked a flurry of responses, almost 100% affirmative but I won’t be fooled. Not everyone thinks my wife and I are smart, planet-friendly, trendy, progressive, modern and such.
Just a couple of weeks earlier I had been on a Zoom call with a just-married pastor in Ontario who hopes to have a family of three children. Upon hearing that Anyele and I were expecting again, our seventh child for that matter, he unwittingly asked, “why so many?” To which I responded, “why so few?” The blushing of his face and awkward laughter revealed his embarrassment.
I have mentioned before how people have made it very clear to Anyele and I that they would rather raise pets than have children. Generally our human selfishness/self-centredness doesn’t allow us to do the parenting thing (at all or well) because children are an inconvenience, suckers, an unwelcome reflection of our marred selves, among a host of other postmodern reasons. See here.
“WHY SO MANY?”
We have met people who are proud DINKS–Double Income No Kids. In many circles we’ve been in, this has been the ‘in thing’ or at best two is the most ‘decent’, ‘smart’ and even ‘cute’ thing to do. As I heard one preacher humorously quip, “a boy for me and a girl for you, and praise the Lord we’re finally through!” A year ago, I shared here some of the reasons why Anyele and I have chosen to have “so many.”
Having children or not, many or few at the end of the day is more of a worldview issue than a socio-economic or even climatic one. I share our Christian theist view in this blog. In summary, “There is a higher Being than our selfish selves that beckons; a higher purpose than the painful inconvenience that compels; and a deeper fulfilment of something (and someone) that outlives making merry today and just dying tomorrow.”
THE INTEGRATED LIFE
At our executive education firm, YAW PERBI, we strive for LIFE in all its fullness—#Leadership, #Integrity, #Family, #Entrepreneurship. I personally find it curious that many in the corporate space ignore, even hide, family (and faith) until occasions like Christmas. All of a sudden families come out of the shadows, whipped out and splurged on Christmas cards. You can go on LinkedIn right now and see how it is so ‘professional,’ meaning, almost family-sterile.
I’m super proud of my Wonder Woman Wife, Economist-Entrepreneur Extraordinaire, for the safe delivery of our seventh. We thank God for the privilege of a full quiver of seven lethal arrows for life’s battles, conquests and such. This baby, like the preceding six, will change our lives no doubt—rescheduled meetings, halted plans, budget increases… but what else could life be about?! True success, as my mentor succinctly puts it, is “when those who know you the best, love and respect you the most.”
At Yaw Perbi, we promote people and cheer on companies that seek leadership authenticity by making the integrated life the way to go. Call it life/work balance or whatever you may, our corporate folks, especially C-level folks, must find a way to bring their whole selves to family and same to work. My favourite MBA teacher on this, Bill George, says more about this more eloquently than I could here. Cheers to the #integratedlife, where marriage is not an inconvenience, children are not a nuisance and family is not an afterthought, only receiving the crumps of our time, talent, treasure and efforts.
FAMILY PLANNING ISN’T NO/FEW CHILDREN
Why do so many people wrongly think ‘Family Planning’ means having few/no children? Family Planning is “the ability of individuals and couples to anticipate and attain their desired number of children and the spacing and timing of their births.” Although it was clearly a quote (inverted commas and all), a lot of people on social media were giving me a pat on the back for this spot-on definition without realizing it isn’t something I cooked up to justify my number of children, but actually a World Health Organization (WHO) definition. Of course they add contraception as the means to achieving this desired end of number, spacing and timing.
Even before we got married 15 years ago, Anyele and I purposed and planned to have seven children. There were no guarantees; God ‘engraced’ us. Don’t judge us for having “too many” (in your opinion); we shan’t judge you for having “too few” (in our opinion) or even none.
Your purpose and plan may be different from ours. The most important thing is to ensure that it is God’s unique plan for your unrepeatable family that you are following and not just “comform[ing] to the patterns of this world.”
We hope your Family Planning excites you a lot and scares you a little—just like ours!
I wouldn’t be where I am today but for books. I mean precious books like the Holy Bible (which I’ve read cover-to-cover about 10 times), Rich Dad Poor Dad (Robert Kiyosaki), The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Stephen Covey), The Purpose-Driven Life (Rick Warren), Before You Say I Do (Yaw Boamah), The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership (John Maxwell), The E-Myth (Michael Gerber), The Prayer of Jabez (Bruce Wilkinson), Create Your Own Future (Brian Tracy), The Emotionally Healthy Leader (Peter Scazzero) etc. My life five years ago is totally different from my life now—and so was my life five years prior to that totally different—just because of the books I’ve read.
Consequently, for a decade-and-a-half now I’ve been a serious reading campaigner. Now, not only have I grown further fierce in campaigning for people to love reading, my wife and I have stepped up by stepping down. What I mean by that is, we’ve enhanced our campaign but decided to go further down to the age where humans are most pliable: childhood. And we began with our own seven children. This is the philosophy behind Perbi Cubs Library Services. You may find the story behind Perbi Cubs here.
But being a reading enthusiast, let alone champion, hasn’t always been so. I used not to like reading, at all! Then two statements hit me hard and totally shifted my paradigm, absolutely altering my way of thinking.
THE ‘RACIST’ & ‘TREMENDOUS’ STATEMENTS THAT CHANGED EVERYTHING
The first statement, I randomly encountered on the internet. I was but a youth then. As I confess in my book READ!, “I was so angry my intestines could have gushed out. If I were light skinned my face would’ve turned tomato-red instantaneously. Yet deep, very deep down my heart I knew there was a truth in this almost racist statement glaring at me from the computer screen.” This is what it said: “THE BEST WAY TO HIDE SOMETHING FROM BLACK PEOPLE IS TO PUT IT IN A BOOK!” Ah! Upsetting! Yet in many ways this is true, I’m ashamed to admit: We don’t read!
The other paradigm-knocking statement was Charlie ‘Tremendous’ Jones’ rather prophetic pronouncement: “You will be in five years where you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.”
These two statements turned my life around to not only become a voracious reader and prolific writer, but an advocate of the same!
WHAT IS READING?
We all have read (or even still reading even right now) academic or technical texts to pass an exam or for promotion, for professional growth etc. That is not what I mean by my read campaign. When I speak of reading I mean leisure reading. Also known as “recreational reading, pleasure reading, free voluntary reading, and independent reading,” it is “independent, self-selected reading of a continuous text for a wide range of personal and social purposes. It can take place in and out of school, at any time” (International Reading Association).
Samuel Johnson shares the following sentiments: “A man ought to read just as inclination leads him; for what he reads as a task will do him little good.” I get him. Leisure reading must be voluntary and pleasurable–not just a chore–if it is to benefit us maximally.
WHY MANY ARE SCHOOLED BUT STILL “ILLITERATE”
Several of us who have learnt “ABCD…” and can practically function simply do not read. In my book READ!, first published in 2005, here’s my thesis: If you know how to read and you don’t, you are no different from the illiterate! The bottom line is the same: you both don’t read! That’s why the subtitle of the book is “You are an “illiterate” if you can read but don’t.” Many years ago Mark Twain put the same idea this way: “The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them.”
If it’s any comfort to you, a guy who used not to like reading today reads several books at the same time! Even further, I’ve acquired this new habit of writing several books at the same time too! Something you need for your future to happen is hidden in a book near you. As they say at Perbi Cubs, “success is just a book away.” And it’s true. If you don’t believe Perbi Cubs or Charlie ‘T’ Jones, take it from me.
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.
Here is the entire preface to the 2020 version of YouthPower! in Soweto for your enjoyment and edification. This book was first written 15 years ago upon a life-transforming visit to South Africa in 2005. The anti-racial protests in 2020 were like a 1976 déjà vu and inspired me to get this re-release going for today’s generation to remember and soldier on.
“It is better to die for an idea that will live,
than to live for an idea that will die.”
The Definition of Black Consciousness, I Write What I Like, 1978
It is 2020. The pandemic year. The epochal events of this year, on both sides of the Atlantic, have had such significant parallels with the youth uprisings and protests in apartheid South Africa in 1976 that after procrastinating the republishing of this book for years I finally got the umph to do it.
“Police brutality.” “Systematic racism.” “Peaceful protests turned violent.” “We are dealing here not with a spontaneous outburst but with a deliberate attempt to bring about polarisation between whites and blacks.” “This government will not be intimidated and instructions have been given to maintain law and order at all costs.” Do any of these phrases and sentences sound familiar? Yet these are not from 2020; these are all 1976 words and phrases!
With the world slowed down, even locked down, we all had the time and bandwidth to take in the slow slaughter of an American young man, George Floyd, by those paid “to serve and protect” him. The aftermath of #BlackLivesMatter protests in the United States and around the world seemed like a coordinated tsunami. Perhaps no other year has there been more concerted protests against police brutality, systematic racism and no-nonsense towards anything or anyone glorifying an apartheid, segregationist, slavery or colonial past.
At a point, the confluence of 400th year anniversary of the first slave setting foot in America, a plague (COVID-19) and protests by the oppressed made me wonder if this was not a modern replay of the biblical Exodus, the liberation of Israel from Egypt.
Then just when things seemed to be settling down, #endSARS happened. Nigerian youth wouldn’t take the brutalization of their kith and kin anymore either. The well-organized air war (via social media) and on-the-ground protests did result in the dissolution of the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) that had been unleashing untold mayhem on the Nigerian people, especially youth, for years. Some paid the ultimate price for daring to express their Youth Power! May they rest in peace. May their death bring life.
In all the standing up to, shouting out and marching against, the core demographic has of course been Young People. Youth Power! at work again; just as in 1976. In fact, my favourite picture of the 2020 protests in the U.S. so strongly correlates with a scene from 1976 although both events are seas and decades apart. On the streets of America in 2020 the youth held placards that read, “We are not our ancestors. We will fuck you up.” In Soweto, 44 years earlier, the youth had asserted similarly, “Our parents are prepared to suffer under the white man’s rule. They have been living for years under these laws and they have become immune to them. But we strongly refuse to swallow an education that is designed to make us slaves in the country of our birth.”
It seems to me that like the Boomer generation of 1976, the Millennial, Gen Y and Gen Z generations alive and kicking in 2020 have also taken seriously their mandate to leave the world better than they found it. “You see things; and you say “Why?” But I dream things that never were; and I say “Why not?”” [said a certain wise man]. I believe that was the Youth Power! mindset in 1976, replayed in 2020. Here’s to celebrating Youth Power! from Soweto to Minneapolis to Lagos to the ends of the earth.
I am humbled by my very rich family history of Black story-telling. My grandfather, J.H. Kwabena Nketia, was an emeritus professor of ethnomusicology whose lifework was dedicated to documenting the songs and drum language of African peoples while my mother, Akosua Adoma Perbi, is a professor of history with a specialization in the slave trade, indigenous and trans-Atlantic. It seems my turn has come to continue a family tradition.
I can understand those in my generation who feel Black people are too yesterday-focused and are pushing for this month to be Black Future Month instead of Black History Month. A word of caution though: we must know our history well–although not dwell in the past–if we are to be and do today what will make our tomorrow better than yesterday. As a wise man once said, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” 2020 has proven that history tends to repeat itself.
“The novel coronavirus is not just something for leaders to ”get through” for a few days or weeks. Instead, we need to treat Covid-19 as an economic and cultural blizzard, winter, and beginning of a “little ice age”—a once-in-a-lifetime change that is likely to affect our lives and organizations for years,” says Andy Crouch et al. I concur.
Just before Christmas 2020 my lawyer-banker friend and fellow John Maxwell Certified Trainer/Coach, Samuel Anim Esq., asked that I join him do an autopsy of the pandemic year 2020 live on Facebook/Youtube to draw leadership lessons. I was honoured and humbled. Honoured because it is a privilege to offer thought leadership and there is a myriad of leadership experts to choose from. I was humbled because not only do I not know all the lessons from Covid-19, I am still evaluating and learning from what I would perhaps call “the strangest year of my life.”
Nevertheless I managed to throw a few of my reflections together and gave it a funny title. Since around that time of the year there is the traditional Festival of Nine Lessons & Carols I thought of making this a Festival of Nine Lessons & Corona. Certainly there are more than nine leadership lessons from this Coronavirus pandemic year but here are some:
1. EMBRACE PARADOX
Perhaps no one and nothing captures the paradox of 2020 like Charles Dickens and his classic phrase, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” (from A Tale of Two Cities). This same 2020 year, over 1.67 million have died and 42.6 million have recovered. You may have lost someone to COVID-19 but you are alive. I’ve been stuck at home but I’ve had the longest unbroken quality bonding time with my family ever! We lost our family’s physical library services business but gained online business five times the physical capacity. Whole old industries, like aviation, have been decimated but whole new industries have emerged and are booming like Zoom. 2020 has been catastrophic yet catalytic.
Welcome to leadership. Embrace paradox. Think of the paradox of a servant leader, as a prime example of leadership paradox. True leadership is almost always straddling two seemingly opposing worlds, something Bob Fryling describes as “the leadership ellipse” because an ellipse “is defined by two distinctly different focal points that are of equal importance. One point is not inferior to the other, and both are needed if there is to be an ellipse.” I previously blogged about this in more detail here.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” ― Charles Dickens, ‘A Tale of Two Cities’
If leadership has always been about managing the tension of tasks or people, money or mission, the present or the future, inner spiritual longings and the outward needs of the group we lead, being and doing, community and cause, truth-telling and putting the right spin on things, to live in the world without being of the world, to be faithful or fruitful etc. then all of these have been put on steroids in a para and post-Covid world.
I have said before and I repeat: “the degree to which one is able to be comfortable with and live, love and lead well in the tension of this and that, yin and yang, determines their ultimate leadership success or otherwise. From my little experience and research, the best leaders in the world are those who are not only able to get comfortable with being uncomfortable living in such tensions but mastered the art of dextrously handling both well.” The post-Covid world leaves us no choice. Embrace paradox or die.
2. MAINTAIN THE MISSION, MUTATE THE MEANS
You and yours don’t want to end up like the Choluteca Bridge in Honduras. It was initially built in 1930 and reconstructed in 1996 to withstand tough weather conditions, including hurricanes. Well, two years later, in 1998, the bridge did prove its mettle, withstanding the category five storm, Hurricane Mitch, that devastated Honduras. Buildings were destroyed and roads wiped out but the bridge survived in near perfect condition. The only problem was that there were no roads for it to connect to anymore (roads wiped out at both ends) and the strong winds of the hurricane had caused the river to carve out an entirely new path that no longer ran under the bridge!
Think about it: a bridge connecting to nowhere and no one; and over nothing! If a bridge is no longer a way or a means to a desired end, then what is it? Similarly, if your pre-Covid means are no longer effective post-Covid as ways to deliver your mission, then of what use are they?
You certainly don’t want to lose sight of your vision or your grip on your mission but when it comes to your strategies, your ways and means to accomplish your mission, you don’t ever want to be dogmatic about that. In matters of mission, be as solid as a rock; but regarding the means flow like a river.
THE OTHER SEVEN LESSONS
3. Global community is the real deal context of leadership
4. Capitalize on era of Business without Borders
5. Heed the Harm to our House (Earth)
6. Inequities, Inequalities, Integrity-lessness will be exposed with time
7. Reflective lifestyle is the must-have rhythm of leadership
8. Become and raise agile “VUCA Prime” Leaders (VUCA is an acronym for Volatile Uncertain Complex Ambiguous)
9. HOPE is the real vaccine.
For further details of each lesson, watch the full video here.
If there is any one of these nine Covid-19 life and leadership lessons you need to grow in for a more successful 2021 you’re in good company. Join me. Come to the growth table. Join the 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth January journey in the form of a mastermind group of just 15 high level executives. Register right now here. The way COVID-19 has fundamentally changed our world means we all need to radically change the way we do life and leadership too. And that requires new growth. Will you grow or die?
Earlier in the last quarter of the year I shared my faith-based Covid-19 reflections vis-a-vis Christian mission with pastors and church leaders here.