The story is told of a man who traveled from a developing country to a more economically advanced one in search of a better life. Upon arrival, the man was shocked to find that no one managed the local milk shop. Customers would take what they needed from the refrigerator, leave the exact amount of money for their purchase, and be on their way. Neither the milk nor the money was under lock and key. This would never happen in my country, he thought.
The only thing that surprised the man more than the honor system of the unmanned milk dispensary was the price of the product. The milk was cheaper here, even though his country had more milking cows than people—and in turn produced more milk. How could this be? Then it finally hit him. The higher price at home included the additional costs of dishonesty and thievery.
In his country, locks would be purchased for the refrigerator and money box. A worker would be hired to conduct the transactions. Another person or two would be hired as security, in addition to needing expensive CCTV cameras. This is not to mention the added logistical and utility costs from inefficient or unreliable systems. It all adds up, reflected in the price of a single bottle of milk.
What the society of the man’s home country lacked in cultural values, it paid dearly in economic value—in other words, a higher cost of living than a country with a higher standard of living.
The commercial cost of values
What makes a nation great and strong, ultimately, is its people and their values. Societal values determine what people consider good or important, and this informs how they act. If we consider present-day Ghana in this context, we are likely to be disappointed.
Money and material possessions. Greed and selfishness. These values permeate our society. So I thought it wise to speak to the issue of values in terms of commercial costs. My hope is that even those who place money and materialism and personal gain above all else—including the common societal values espoused in our national anthem and pledge—will realize that real values, such as service and integrity, still affect their bottom line. They will make more money with them, than without.
Consider that Warren Buffet, one of the world’s richest men and most successful investors, advises leaders to look for three things when assessing job candidates: intelligence, initiative, and integrity—but to weigh integrity above all else. If a worker lacks the latter trait, Buffet says, “the first two will kill you. Because if you’re going to get someone without integrity, you want them lazy and dumb.”
It is with near-total trust that we poke an opaque tin of milk and pour out its content without a second thought. We’ve got to trust the regulator, trust the manufacturer, and trust the entire supply chain. A friend and former senior manager in a company that produces perishables once told me that the company would destroy whole batches of product at the slightest hint of compromised quality, because the negative cost of their brand being brought into disrepute would be much greater in the long run than the temporary loss of the thousands of dollars flushed down the drain by an honest act.
Values at the core of a nation
Little drops of values at the individual, family, organization, and sector levels of a society eventually coalesce to make a mighty nation. This is how I have long thought of Ghana. As a mighty nation, rich in social and cultural values to emulate.
I grew up in the early 1990s, when neighboring countries like Liberia and Sierra Leone were decimated by war. Hordes of refugees made their way into Ghana. As a World Vision Youth Ambassador, I toured refugee sites in the country with donors, and the tentative nature of life in tents made me tear up. I have always been grateful to God that Ghana in my life has been an island of peace in a sea of strife.
But bombs and bullets are not the only way to destroy a country. Rather than exploding in external violence, a society can implode through internal valuelessness. I fear Ghana is on this path. I see it all around. We have swung from one extreme to another in a few generations. My grandfather cared little about money or material possessions. He was not alone. How often can we say such things now?
Too often, money and materialism seem to the motivation for the world around us, even at the peril of our lives and at the cost of future generations. Look no further than the dastardly acts of inordinate illegal mining (galamsey), stinky corruption in politics and public service, brazen cheating in exams, rampant illegal practices which combine modern internet-based fraud with African traditionalist rituals (sakawa), food sellers using dirty (waste) water to cook, changing expiry dates on expired medicine or outrightly selling fake medicine… need I go on?
Building the Ghana we want, rooted in values that matter
I worry that in our hurry to catch up with the rest of the industrialized world, we are focusing on infrastructure, industry, and education without a values-based foundation. For instance, STEM education is being touted as the panacea for the challenges we face. But what use is STEM without roots? STEM or any other body of knowledge must grow from a deeply rooted network of shared social and cultural values and norms. Otherwise, patients needlessly die, shoddy infrastructure inadvertently collapses, common funds are looted, and justice is denied.
Ghana is at a crossroads, not just economically, but also culturally. There is a commercial cost to values that must be recognized and incorporated into the policies needed to set Ghana on a more prosperous economic course. Thankfully, influential Ghanaians are talking about it.
Earlier this year, the African Center for Economic Transformation (ACET), which is based in Accra and was founded by Dr. K.Y. Amoako, a Ghanaian, organized a retreat at at the Peduase Valley Resort for more than 50 people representing various civic and political stakeholder groups and organizations in Ghana. The topic of conversation was a new initiative that is set to launch officially in the coming days: the Compact for Ghana’s Political and Economic Transformation.
A roadmap for a stronger democracy and lasting economic prosperity, the Compact is a hopeful approach because it is rooted in strengthening our common values. I attended the Peduase Valley retreat, and values featured heavily in the discussion. It was stressed that the quest for Ghana’s economic and political transformation is meaningless unless it is underpinned by a radical shift in our mindset and values.
Indeed, the discussion focused on identifying values we can glean from the national anthem, the pledge, and the lyrics of “Yɛn Ara Asaase Ni,” written almost a century ago by Dr. Ephraim Amu, one of the fathers of our nation. From the conversation, values such as honesty, selflessness, hard work, and loyalty stood out.
Such discussions must continue in Ghana. Particularly, the all-binding value of integrity needs to be ingrained in every stratum and segment of our national life if we are to realize a greater Ghana, rooted in values that matter rather than tarnished by ones that do not.
Although less dramatic, a definite way to destroy Ghana without bombs or bullets is by eroding the very values that birthed the nation, slowly but surely. “Whether or not this nation prospers,” goes the resounding anthem from Dr. Amu, “clearly depends on the character of the citizens of the nation.”
Dr. Yaw Perbi has practiced medicine in both his home country, Ghana, and with the United Nations Operation in Cote d’Ivoire as a U.N. peacekeeper. He is the founder and Global CEO of The HuD Group, inspiring holistic emerging leadership development in 25 countries on all continents. He is co-founder of PerbiCubs, an edtech company impacting over 8,000 children in Ghana. Yaw is a Fellow of the Africa Leadership Initiative as well as the Aspen Global Leadership Network.
Dr. Tim Elmore’s passion for leader development began in 1983 when he worked alongside and was mentored by best-selling author, Dr. John C. Maxwell. Since then, he’s emerged as an author, leadership expert, and keynote speaker who’s trained more than 500,000 leaders in hundreds of organizations worldwide. Speaking of intergenerational leadership, he’s also the Founder and CEO of Growing Leaders, a non-profit team that equips students and young professionals around the world to become life-giving leaders. Tim has developed young leaders on every continent and has spoken in 50 countries including India, Russia, China, Brazil and throughout the Middle East.
Dr. Elmore has advised corporations such as Chick-fil-A, Cox Communications, the Home Depot, Cici’s Pizza, Delta Global, Coca-Cola Consolidated, and more. He’s spoken at top-tier universities such as Stanford, Texas, Duke, Ohio State, Georgia Tech, U.C. Berkeley and more. And he’s presented to executives and world-class athletes with the Kansas City Royals, New York Giants, Houston Rockets, and San Francisco Giants. His blog is read by over 100,000 people weekly.
THE INTERGENERATIONAL WORKPLACE OF THE 21ST CENTURY
At Live2Lead on October 7, come hear how Tim brings his decades of research and leadership experience to bear on what might be the biggest, most dramatic, and most disruptive shift the workforce has ever seen: the vast diversity of several generations living—and working—together. Tim Elmore explores the fact that for the first time in history, up to five generations find themselves working alongside each other in a typical company. The result? There can be division. Interactions between people from different generations can resemble a cross-cultural relationship. Both usually possess different values and customs. At times, each generation is literally speaking a different language!
How can we hope to work together when we can’t even understand each other? Tim will provide the tools to:
- Get the most out of the strengths of each age group on your team.
- Foster effective communication instead of isolation among people.
- Build bridges rather than walls so that loneliness becomes connectedness.
- Connect people to learn how both veterans and rookies can mentor each other.
ADD VALUE TO YOU AND YOURS
At YAW PERBI Executive Leadership Education all our offerings are to the end that leaders grow personally, succeed professionally and become significant societally. Join Dr. Tim Elmore and the other stellar faculty Dr. John Maxwell has put together for this year’s Live2Lead conference and tune up your leadership game. Register now through this link. Impress upon your organization to join the movement that will transform society by becoming a Patron of Live2Lead. A Patron company or individual is one that sends at least 10 leaders to Live2Lead. Together we can change our world for the better!
Register HERE, NOW.
No single individual has influenced my leadership paradigm and praxis like Dr. John C. Maxwell. I started reading and understudying John in the late 1990s and have been teaching his materials ever since, both as a bonafide EQUIP trainer and a certified Maxwell coach/speaker/trainer on the John Maxwell Team (JMT).
Meet John Maxwell–my mentor emeritus–the #1 New York Times bestselling author, coach, and speaker who has sold more than 30 million books. John has been identified as the #1 leader in business by the American Management Association® and the world’s most influential leadership expert by Business Insider and Inc. magazines.
Dr. Maxwell has also received the Horatio Alger Award, as well as the Mother Teresa Prize for Global Peace and Leadership from the Luminary Leadership Network. His organizations—The John Maxwell Company, The John Maxwell Team, EQUIP, and the John Maxwell Leadership Foundation—have trained millions of leaders from every nation in the world.
The annual Live2Lead conference is John’s brainchild, and he always opens and closes, with other phenomenal faculty sandwiched in between. I have been privileged to host it on both sides of the Atlantic, in Montreal, Canada as well as Accra, Ghana.
LAWS OF COMMUNICATION AND LIMITS-BLOWING CONTENT
At Live2Lead this year, John C. Maxwell will be sharing new content from his upcoming book on the 16 Laws of Communication. Maxwell explains how to identify, grow, and apply your critical capacities. Once you’ve blow the “cap” of your capacities, you’ll find yourself more successful in your daily life.
We are absolutely convinced at YAW PERBI Executive Leadership Education that leadership (including communication) is taught; not just caught. Join John and the stellar faculty he’s put together for this year’s Live2Lead conference and up your leadership game. Register now through this link. Impress upon your organization to join the movement that will transform society by becoming a Patron of Live2Lead. A Patron company or individual is one that sends at least 10 leaders to Live2Lead. Together we can change our world for the better!
Register HERE, NOW.
I just arrived at my room in Cape Town after three flights from Accra to Nairobi, Nairobi to Johannesburg and Jo’burg to Cape Town. A question on my mind as l flew here far above sea level, sometimes as high as 38,000 feet, has been, “How high is your leadership lid?”
THE FIRST OF THE IRREFUTABLE LAWS OF LEADERSHIP
Of course you know what a lid is, the cover of a container. How high your lid is determines the quality of the leadership that you provide for those you lead. I learnt this a long time ago, some 20-25 years ago from John Maxwell’s 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. It was the very first of the principles of leadership he espoused in that bestseller and my life has never been the same since.
As John challenged me then from the written word—and many years later in-person—I must always endeavour to lift my leadership lid because no family, organization, church, community or country would ever grow past their leader. The leader is the lid over those (s)he leads. Sometimes when training leaders I ask, “are you a leader or ‘lidder’? because a leader is literally the lid on the progress and prosperity of their constituency. In a sense, every leader is a lidder; the question is “how high?”
IMAGINE THIS PRESIDENTIAL LID
You probably have heard me tell the story of a certain African president that a group of us, Maxwell certified leaders, were trying to connect in-person to John C. Maxwell for a national transformation process and programme. This president had never heard of John. In all probability, he hadn’t read any other contemporary leadership experts but hopefully he has digested at the very minimum some of the leadership classics like Plato’s, ‘The Republic’. It is a scary thought that this African nation—and by extension every family, organization, corporation, community, church etc. within her—would be constrained by the tightness of this head of state’s lid. I almost added, “through no fault of theirs,” but I guess they voted him into power.
HOW TO LIFT YOURS
While we educate a new generation that should be too enlightened to allow such tight lidders to lead African nations in the next decade, let me ask you, let’s get personal: how high is your lid? We forget, many of us (or we might even not know), that leadership is not just caught, it must be taught. And that’s why I love the opportunity, come October 07, for us all to be part of a life-altering, lid-lifting Live2Lead virtual experience with local faculty and global ones beaming all the way from Atlanta, Georgia.
We are gunning for 2,000 leaders—from emerging (youth) leaders, through leaders in the establishment (i.e. government/public sector leaders) to established leaders in the private sector, including executives from the corporate space. We will be taught in word and deed by powerful speakers and shakers like John C. Maxwell himself, two Patricks (Lencioni of the USA and Awuah of Ghana) and a Patricia (CEO of Vodafone, Ghana).
RAISE THE ROOF!
One of the most powerful discoveries in psychology over the last generation has been that people can learn and grow and change! So wherever your lid is today, if you learn to lead better you provide more room for those you lead. John will be the first to tell you that “your capacity determines your impact.”
Perhaps, some of the conflicts you are experiencing right now in your organization, church or wherever you lead is because your lid is too low and so people keep hitting it. And there is going to be continued tension and banging (conflict) till at some either you leave the stage or your people take their exit. As you have probably heard it said, people join organizations but they leave people (managers/leaders). It’s time to make room, lift your lid, raise the roof!
I have been part of things l left because the lid was too low. It just wasn’t life giving and l know people have also left my leadership when my lid was low because it was just too tight. Learn to lead. Each one of us can learn to lead better. Blow off the lid so that all of a sudden the people under your leadership feel this space and freedom because you lifted your lid and now they can breathe and create and innovate and… live again.
Join us at Live2Lead Ghana 2022, on October 7, and let’s all learn to lead better so that the people following our leadership can live better. If leading is your purpose on earth—that you live2lead—then you might as well as learn2lead, and do it well. As Donewell Insurance puts it, “If it must be done, it must be done well.” If we must lead, then we must lead well. Let’s blow off some lids and see our constituents blessed beyond measure, growing great and strong.
Right outside my hotel room window is the breathtaking view of the majestic, towering Table Mountain at 3,500 feet above sea level with no real ‘peak’ per se. No lid! So in the meantime, while you contemplate your lid, I will enjoy Cape Town on your behalf.
Register and join LivetoLead here.
The world is not in a good place. Leadership is the cause. And when it comes to Ghana’s situation in particular, I have personally been shocked at the number of C-level leaders I have interacted with that have either completely lost hope in the future of the country or nearly have. “How did we get here???” one CEO of a major bank asked me (yes, with three question marks).
If “everything rises and falls on leadership” and “leadership is cause, everything else is effect,” then there is no other way than to attribute the politico-socio-economic state of our nation to leadership (or the lack thereof). In the same way, if there is any one thing that will elevate the conversation, and the nation with it, it is leadership.
DO OR DIE TRYING
As one belonging to the tribe of eternal optimists, I have sworn that in my lifetime I will either see the flourishing Ghana that our forebears anticipated on 6th March, 1957 when the modern state was born, or die trying. When the nascent nation was named ‘Ghana,’ our great grandparents were hopeful it would reflect the prosperity of the old Ghana empire, hence our new name (from Gold Coast). Oh, it bears repeating: our tribe of eternal optimists will see to a prosperous Ghana in our lifetime or die trying.
“I HAVE A DREAM, I HAVE A DREAM…”
Every true leader has a dream they passionately pursue with their people. I realize there is a day dedicated to almost every cause under the sun and Sustainable Development Goal—women’s day, water day, literacy day, friendship day, founders day … even toilet day. Yet the one thing that makes each of these causes to rise and fall has no such day dedicated to it to elevate and emphasize it. Is a day enough? Surely not; but it is a good catalyst for the remaining three hundred and sixty four or five days.
My fellow Maxwell-trained and certified collaborators in Ghana and I have a dream that ultimately the first Friday of October each year will become universally known as LEADER DAY. There is nothing special about the first Friday in October per se except that consistently for about a decade now, our mentor and leadership expert, John C Maxwell, has been gathering some of the best leadership minds and hearts on the planet to speak to the issue, and we might as well leverage the opportunity rather than reinvent the wheel. Live2Lead is the name of that event. The name says it all, that’s our purpose on earth: We live to lead.
Gwen Addo, the pulchritudinous CEO of the Hair Centre and speaker at Live2Lead Ghana ‘22 affirms this vision: “I also pray your dream comes true and October 7 becomes a “leadership day” or perhaps October becomes a “leadership month.”” She continues, “leadership is close to my heart … and why not dream it bigger than just a day.”
You and I know the dearth of leadership in our country. We Maxwell certified trainers who are Ghanaian are aiming to get 2,000 leaders at all levels to benefit from the LIVE simulcast from Atlanta. We will organize local content for our context first, sandwiching the global feed. You would want to be with Patrick Awuah (Founder & CEO, Ashesi University), Patricia Obo-Nai (CEO, Vodafone), Uncle Ebo Whyte (CEO, Roverman Productions), Gwen Gyimah Addo (CEO, The Hair Senta), Kathleen Addo (Chairperson, National Council for Civic Education) and Kwamina Asomaning (CEO, Stanbic Bank). The core issue on the table this time, or shall I say by the fireside, is “Leading with Integrity & Inspiring Hope, for the Common Good.”
On October 7, we shall convene 2,000 Ghanaian leaders online. At least half of them will be from 100 companies, institutions and organizations which would send 10 of their leaders to Live2Lead as their investment in themselves as well as boldly staking their claim in the prosperity of Ghana by raising the leadership lid in the country, one company at a time. All these companies will be listed as patrons in the event handbook, website and social media (in alphabetical order).
The other half will be made up of executive leaders from the private sector, the establishment leaders (public service) and emerging leaders from our schools and universities, representing the next generation. Companies, institutions and organizations which want to go beyond patron status will be given opportunity to sponsor the establishment and emerging leaders in exchange for significant air time and eyeballs.
This 2,000 is only starters; we shall double in 2023; and double again and again till at least 2% of all leaders in Ghana are connected to this Live2Lead tribe of learners who lead and leaders who learn. That is the exact critical mass need to see a self-propagating movement of leaders worth following in Ghana.
The feedback from the ground as I’ve gone around is damning. Ruinous to the extent that although the theme we initially chose for our local content is ‘Leading with Integrity for the Common Good,’ we’ve had to come up with a conjoint theme of HOPE. Our people need hope. Leaders are brokers of hope, thus when they themselves are broken to the extent that they have no hope, what shall the rest of the people do?
Arise Ghanaian leaders!, established and emerging ones alike. We are better than this. Yet perhaps we are expecting leadership behaviours, values and attitudes that we haven’t first trained into people. Since we Live2Lead (that’s our purpose) let’s then Live2Learn (that’s the process) so we can all lead better and all make our nation great and strong. When the leader gets better, everyone and everything else does too. So let’s all show up!
One day in October, for starters. Just one day but who knows? Perhaps ‘October Day’ will in my grandchildren’s day be as well-known as ‘May Day’ is today. And for even better reasons, leadership-wise.
An event is not enough for sustained transformation thus there are leadership development and training pathways that will later be shared as a follow-up process between October 7 and the next Leader Day a year hence.
Earlier this year, my homeland Ghana was in the news again, trending on social media for all the wrong reasons. Citizens were tired of apparently failed campaign promises and mounting socioeconomic challenges from illegal mining destroying our ecology to pot holes, no, man holes, in our streets. All of these complaints were bundled together in a #FixTheCountry campaign that made a dent in Twittersphere. Some ill-advised government sympathizers then began a #FixYourself counter-tweet, which only added insult to injury. A much more compassionate and smarter response, which might’ve calmed nerves, would’ve been #LetUsFixItTogether but be that as it may, as a student of leadership let me show you how both sides got it wrong in the first place.
There are officially over 360 definitions of leadership. The simplest yet most profound one that makes the point I seek is this: a leader is a Person who influences People to achieve a shared noble Purpose. Although there are three ‘P’ players in this equation, the tendency for most, and not just Ghanaians, is to focus on the third ‘P’ (Purpose), in this case the country that needs fixing. That makes sense because it is often what pinches and the thing we would’ve been sweet-talked about during the animated political campaigning prior to elections. So the citizenry said #FixThePurpose and what some government functionaries did was to then shift what needed fixing to the second ‘P,’ the people i.e. #FixThePeople.
As I prepared to speak to alumni of the Central Leadership Programme a couple of weeks ago on ‘The Impact a Transformed Leader Can Make‘ it dawned upon me heavily that while both sides of the hashtags might bee sincere, they are both sincerely wrong. The most important ‘P’ that fixes the other two ‘Ps’ is the Person of a leader! We can cry #FixTheCountry all year long and hear a minor counter-chorus of #FixYourself all year round but until the primary hashtag and passionate focus becomes #FixTheLeaders, it’s all a waste of time, energy and a whole lot of other scarce resources!
PRINCIPLES AT WORK
You might not like what I’m saying, or even not believe in it, but the thing with principles is that they are timeless, universal truths that don’t care a hoot what you and I value. As the famous director of the 1956 epic movie The Ten Commandments said, we cannot break commandments, we can only break ourselves against them. Until our leaders are transformed, the people will not be transformed, neither will the situations that need transformation. In other words, until and unless the leaders are fixed, the people will not be fixed and the problems will not be fixed. It doesn’t matter how sincere and passionate we are about the latter two, we would ironically only be breaking ourselves against leadership principles, rather than fixing anything.
In transformational leadership, the following principles hold true:
Principle #1: Transformational Leaders are transformed first, then their community (from family to town/city to district to region to country and continent)
Principle #2: The Person (of a Leader) gets fixed first, then the People, before the Purpose
Principle #3: Only deeply transformed leaders can deeply transform society.
PORTRAITS OF THE POINT
In my talk, I shared examples of the impact transformed leaders have had on society, irrespective of the era, whether 2,000 years ago like Zacchaeus, 200 years ago like William Wilberforce or barely 20 years ago like Nelson Mandela. When Zacchaeus, the short and filthy rich chief tax collector, encountered the rabbi Jesus Christ, he was transformed. That’s what led to his unforced famous declaration: “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
What do you suppose was Zacchaeus’ impact as a transformed tax leader (say, as the head of the Ghana Revenue Authority)? If every African politician since 1957 said and did similarly, not only will we hardly have the poor amongst us, our socioeconomic indicators will drastically improve overnight as Swiss banks and vaults are emptied swiftly! That’s the impact a transformed leader (#FixedLeader) can make in transforming a people and a context. This brings to the freedom two more faith-based transformational principles: #4 No one can truly encounter the transformational Jesus and not be transformed and #5 No one can be truly transformed by the transformational Jesus and not transform society.
These principles are again exhibited in the modern story of William Wilberforce and the contemporary biography of Nelson Mandela. You might want to check out the video of the said talk to appreciate how the transformative societal impact of both, also came from the fountain of their personal transformation as leaders. For Mandela, see the quote below that summarizes well his transformation and transformative leadership:
Former South African President Thabo Mbeki makes the point for me about fixing leaders first to get the product in society we want in this video. He challenges incumbent African presidents as follows: for whatever kind of Africa we want, the question is, “what sort of leadership do you produce to get that kind of result?”
It’s easy to be impressed by Wilberforce’s purpose, which he influenced thousands to share in: ““God almighty has set before me two great objects: the abolition of the slave trade and the reformation of manners.” But what you might not know is that his wasn’t always a noble story. Although young and gifted, his biographer Eric Metaxas wondered, “But to what would he rise? For beyond making it to Parliament and succeeding there …he had no dreams. He was ambitious and he was talented, but he was also directionless.” Years later Wilberforce himself remarked, “The first years I was in Parliament I did nothing—nothing to any purpose. My own distinction was my darling object.” What changed everything and began a life-long pursuit of the abolition of the slave trade and emancipation was how all that pre-occupation with himself, his status and ‘success’ began to change in 1784 (at 25) when he started to explore the religious faith of his youth. Again, the transformed Person he became, influenced a People to transform, and together they transformed and reformed the world!
Citizens are powerful. “Power to the people,” was the mantra in the revolutionary days of the 1980s in Ghana. I was a only a lad but I still remember. And it is true. But leadership is incredibly important, as everything rises and falls on it. True, citizens (People) can use their thumbs to vote leaders (Persons) in and out of office and press their demands on them. True, citizens can campaign ad nauseam about the plights and dreams (Purpose) that matter. All I’m asking is that if principles are true and cannot be broken, then our strongest and loudest campaign should be #FixTheLeaders. If we do, the people will be fixed (#FixYourself) and so will the country (#FixTheCountry). There’s no other way around this. If we do not go this route, come 100 years from now, those two #FixTheCountry and #FixYourself hashtags will still be trending. We would only have have successfully recycled unfixed leaders of fixed colours every four years while the country itself remains unfixed. Leaders must fix themselves first, then serve and influence the people to be fixed and together, fix the country.
As someone with an advanced degree in leadership and being a leadership practitioner across various industries and on every continent, I do reckon that this issue is nuanced. It takes an entire ‘leadership ecosystem’ and multi-dimensional, multi-directional processes. Yes, I agree there has to be 360 degree leadership. We can play around with all the possible permutations there are but we fool ourselves without this primary transformed/transformational leader —> transforming people —> transformed society piece. It is akin to what will be referred to in Chemistry as ‘the rate determining step.’ If that (#FixTheLeaders) doesn’t happen and in ample time and measure, we will still be arguing about #FixTheCountry and #FixYourself 100 years hence. We’re in a fix (pun intended).
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.
Sixteen years ago I subtitled my ‘Youth Power!’ book, “unleashing the potential of the most powerful people on earth.” This pandemic year is giving us ample proof.
The recent George Floyd protests in the United States of America and around the world and current #EndSARS campaign in Nigeria against notorious police brutality have reignited my convictions about Youth Power!, well-documented in a 2004 book by that title. “This [#EndSARS] protest has been largely driven by young people,” I just heard from a CNN report.
YouthPower! is a revolutionary paradigm which seeks to start a fire in Young People for them to get their act together and do something significant with their lives…Now! For the last 16 years I have “been preoccupied with looking for evidence of Youth Power! all over the world and in all spheres of human endeavour since introducing that paradigm-shifting concept” in the mid 2,000s. Some other books that I have written to document such stories have included 15 Inspiring Young People and 15 Successful Global Businesses Young People Built, from Amazon to Time magazine.
Young people have a lot going for them; youth have a lot of power! First, the numbers–there are more young people on earth than ever before in the history of the world! And that is power. But wait, there’s more. Young people have influence, the ability to control people and situations–even holding governments to ransom. That is power. Young people have incredible talents and special abilities which peak at this time of their lives. We have seen how they have utilized their tech savviness and power of mobilization to literally get the government of Nigeria to dissolve the said Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) they’re protesting against on 11th October 2020. Shall we talk about the sheer passion, strength and energy of youth? Throughout the history of the world, young people have touched, shaped and shaken the world in politics, academics, business, sports, arts/entertainment etc.
More often than not, though, all this power is stored in the form of potential. The rest of the book Youth Power! is full of keys to unlocking all this power in terms of principles, the proto principle, purpose, planning, preparation, people, places, practices, pruning puny behaviours and ultimately how all of this results in pay.
YOUTH POWER! IN AFRICA
In 2005, the year after Youth Power! was published and widely distributed in Ghana, I was on a break in South Africa, after failing my final year medical school exams in Surgery. A pilgrimage to Soweto inspired me to write “a historical and tourist account of how Youth Power! that broke the back of apartheid in South Africa.” That sequel is entitled “Youth Power! in Soweto.” For the whole year I served as a doctor-captain with the United Nations Operations in Cote d’Ivoire, it was my joy and pleasure to walk scores of Ivorian Young People at the Université de Bouaké through the paradigm and practice of Youth Power! They even run a contest, translating the book into French.
Today’s protests remind me of the eternal words of one of the young student protestors back in apartheid South Africa in the late 1970s. You can see those words becoming flesh in today’s young protestors also, from Washington to Lagos:
“Our parents are prepared to suffer under the white man’s rule [or any form of injustice and brutality for that matter]. They have been living for years under here laws and they have become immune to them. But we strongly refuse to swallow an education [or whatever] that is designed to make us slaves in the country of our birth.”
As I participate in hash tagging, donating and encouraging the strong network of The HuD Group (publishers of the original Youth Power!) in Nigeria and around the continent of Africa to keep pressing for positive change, I look forward to adding to the thick annals of Youth Power!, yet another sequel: the contemporary history of Youth Power! in Nigeria.