Inspiring Leadership Abroad

So thankful that I reconnected with my friend Mike Henry Senior founder of Follower of One, a ministry devoted to following and living life like Jesus, especially in the market place. Mike and I forged a friendship a few years ago when Mike was leading and facilitating the Lead Change Group. Lead Change brought thought leaders together from all over the world to share leadership principles, practices, strategies and actions through articles and books. Mike has been influential in my leadership journey as he has with so many other leaders. 

A few weeks ago I met with Mike to catch up on our my leadership journeys since we last spoke a few years ago. Mike was interested in learning more about my current passion of sharing the collaborative voices of African leaders.

 

Thank you Mike for posting and sharing our discussion. I would encourage you to discover more about Mike’s passion by checking out his Facebook page and following him on Twitter.

 

Perseverance and Grit: A Relentless Pursuit for Success

“Perseverance is the real test of leadership ability. It is one thing to set a goal or an objective for a group of people; it is quite another to persevere toward it and inspire others so that they are motivated to follow us.” (Cyril J. Barber in Nehemiah An Expositional Commentary, 1991).

If I had to narrow the choices down to one specific leadership quality that my Kurumbuka colleagues consistently activate it would be perseverance. Determination and grit describe their relentless pursuit of achieving transformation for their organizations and communities.

I began to understand their dedication and even stubbornness of action when many shared their testimonies of overcoming obstacles during their leadership journeys. What struck me was how devoted and faithful they are. Despite daily roadblocks, they never seem to give up hope.

My colleague John (name changed) is an exemplary model of perseverance and faith. As a coordinator of education for three new schools, John was tasked with training teachers in best teaching practices. When he started his new role, he visited the schools to discover the teachers’ learning situations and abilities. John soon recognized that the main challenge was that the teachers lacked knowledge of and application of teaching strategies. He discovered that there was a dire need for extensive teacher training.

In his own words, John describes the challenges that he discovered, the challenges the teachers faced, and his perseverance to overcome this obstacle, which hindered student progress. While gaining success implementing the teacher training during the year, John discovered an unexpected and potentially insurmountable impediment; the challenge of authoritarian leadership.

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I was committed to helping these teachers, and without waiting, I organized the first teacher’s training on basic knowledge and skills. I introduced skills on how children learn and develop, how to introduce new curriculum. I had them visit model schools for observing how other teachers deal with how children learn and grow. The training went well and was successful. Some of the teachers started to apply what they had learned during the training. 

I was amazed by how the teachers were picking up and applying what they learned so quickly. After eight months on the job with intense teacher training and monitoring, I recognized that some of the teachers were doing well, while others were not. 

I wanted happy, active and engaging teachers but realized that some of the teachers were happy and enthusiastic during the training, but unhappy and quiet when they were at their schools. I started wondering why some teachers seem to have the potential to do well but were not. I wanted to understand them, their challenges, feelings, and thoughts on what could be done to help them do their job better and find out the problems they faced within the school. 

During these discussions, teachers at one of the schools shared how they were treated by their headmaster (principal). I encountered leadership issues that I didn’t think would be an issue before starting the new job. Here are some of the challenges that teachers at this school faced;

  1. The teachers could spend four to six months without being paid, while they knew that the school had money because the teachers were the ones who collected fees. The teachers were always afraid that they might be fired. 
  2. The headmaster refused to let them try out the new practices learned in training. They were only allowed to do what he told them to do. 

After conducting my research with the teachers, I found out that the headmaster was difficult to work with and was even harsh to the teachers. Teachers were not allowed to ask him anything; he did things as he wanted and, he even locked things up so the teachers did not have access to equipment the children could play with. I also discovered that the headmaster did not trust the teachers and fired those he disliked and hired those whom he liked. He did not care about the teacher’s performance. All he cared about was that the teachers stay obedient to him and accept whatever he wanted. 

I realized that I also needed to solve these leadership issues and not just focus on the teachers. So, I began to organize headmaster meetings and provide training to the headmasters. I wanted to obtain a shared understanding and shared vision on how leaders should lead. The training was conducted, and some headmasters started to improve their schools’ leadership while others resisted. Some of the problems were solved, teachers got their salaries, and the newer teaching strategies were used. 

Even though some of the problems were solved, there is still a long journey to go. Other things need to be solved, such as transparency on school resource management, fair treatment of teachers, and flexibility to allow teachers to be creative and try new skills and strategies.

I learned that leading is a continuous process where you need to keep on trying, adjusting, changing, learning and teaching so that you can bring impact to a whole school system from students, teachers, leaders, parents and community in general.  

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John’s leadership was tested right from the outset of his new position. Although his initial perceptions of the teachers’ abilities were not accurate, he swiftly moved to purposefully overcome their inexperience by implementing a successful teacher training program. His intentional actions and perseverance addressed the initial challenge, which resulted in some teachers improving and some not. John was not satisfied, however. He continued his pursuit to ensure that all of the teachers in the training program improve. His diligence led him to discover that the authoritarian leadership practices from some headmasters alienated teachers, causing them to lose heart and motivation to learn.

John’s persistent journey to address the barriers were successful. Self-admittedly though, he still recognizes that more energy and effort is required. Knowing John, I am confident that he will succeed and, in the process, motivate others to follow him.

Biryoha Bisangiwe! It Is Sweeter When Shared

Phocas Ngendahayo writes today’s guest post on Leadership is Heart. Phocas currently serves as the Rwanda Country Director for Kurumbuka Leadership Solutions, which was created in response to a felt need, to walk alongside a new generation of leaders as they fulfill God-given visions to transform their families, institutions, communities, and nations. Seven years ago, Phocas and I met in the Land of a Thousand Hills, where I began my service with the Wellspring Foundation for Education in Rwanda. Phocas was operations director for Wellspring, and from the time I met Phocas, I knew I had met a leader full of integrity with similar a similar passion for raising other leaders through collaboration and sharing. Our friendship has grown in seven years, and I am forever grateful that we continue to serve together.

Today Phocas not only defines why it is so essential for leaders to collaborate, but he also outlines the benefits he has encountered when leaders share around a table of many. 

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Leadership is Heart’s new initiative, “from one table to a table of many” is timely. The project emerged as a result of Claudio’s involvement with the Abundant Leadership Institute (ALI), which was a precursor to the establishment of Kurumbuka Leadership Solutions. During the birthing process of Kurumbuka, Claudio coined the acronym, DEAL, to summarize his purpose and mission of developing and empowering African leaders.

Faithful to the call, Claudio is passionate about empowering leaders, and his current initiative may suggest a military plan, a business breakthrough, or a lucrative strategy, but none of this is the case. One can see instead an expanded circle of friends, of like-minded people and professionals who share what they care about together, in a circle of common interests.

The initiative is just what is needed for leaders in Africa. It invites people from diverse backgrounds to come together to find a space of stimulating and constructive ideas. A collaborative table is a circle of trust, equity and equality, building an ecosystem of learning and resulting in mutual benefits. The collaborative table is at the core of what Kurumbuka has and will continue to strive for.

There are benefits to sharing. A Swedish proverb says, “A shared sorrow if halved, but a shared joy is doubled.” A Rwandan proverb says, “Biryoha bisangiwe!” which means “it is sweeter when shared.” In French, it is said, “du choc des idées jaillit la lumière!”. This can be translated as, “Out of clash of ideas, light comes out!”.

Sharing enriches and sets one free. As people sit together around the table, collective wisdom emerges, resulting in a gain for the entire community. Sharing dignifies both the giver and the receiver. It sets free burdened souls and troubled minds. Truth is revealed, lives are built up, and transformation can take place.

During the last five years, I’ve seen graduates from ALI/Kurumbuka report that the program has been stimulating, inspiring and transformational. Methode, who works as a director at Youth for Christ, shared with me that for fourteen years he used to be a leader with an authoritarian leadership style. When he came to the ALI/Kurumbuka program, he learned about servant leadership. He went back to his school and applied the principles he learned. It didn’t take long for his staff to notice that something changed in his leadership style. He became approachable, and staff retention improved. Children became comfortable to come to greet him and hug him. Where there was gossip, mistrust and social polarities, slowly and increasingly, a new culture started to emerge within the school. A culture of ownership, care, accountability and trust. A culture of collaboration around a shared table.

Let us continue to seize this opportunity to build a collaborative culture, to make our voices heard, to share our best practices, generate collective wisdom that will bless our nations, our institutions, our families and our communities. We will be amazed how, in the end, we shall be enriched, united in our diversity. Our horizons will be broadened, our hearts and minds inspired and play a role confidently to make a better world around us to live.

It delights me to be among the many to engage in this sharing.