Falling in Love Again: Reconnecting with Purpose

So last week a friend quickly sent an email saying if I am looking for change I can apply at their university there is a post. I was flattered but that was not the reason why I wrote Part 1 of ‘falling in love again’. My objective was to sincerely reflect openly on where I am, what I have done wrong and also just to let go of some steam with the hope that it may help others who find themselves in similar circumstances.  I may have fallen out of love with my current gig but I am not looking- I believe I can work my way back into good graces with TrustAfrica. I have also noticed that honest reflections are not a part of what leaders do publicly. Which is a shame. We need a new leadership culture that appreciates and takes into consideration that we are humans, bound to make mistakes and also deserving of second if not third and fourth chances.

I must also start off by stating that there are a number of things that are working very well, it’s not all gloomy. Here is a list of what is working:

New Offices – We have just moved into our brand spanking new offices here in Dakar. There is something about new things/offices – it just renews energy. The offices are very airy and quite modern – but the most important thing is it’s our own building. I am very glad to have overseen the process of acquisition, remodeling and now we are proud owners. That alone is a major statement in the topsy-turvy world of non-profits.

Effective Teams – This may sound like a cliché, but the TA team including the smaller clusters within the team (the wheels within the big wheel) have their own energy and many things here are working essentially because colleagues are willing to do things that are not in their job descriptions or part of their usual 9am-5pm schedules.

We are part of something bigger than ourselves – just knowing that you are a part of a community is in itself gratifying. Everywhere I go I come across people who tell me how much they admire our organisation and what it stands for and others have been rooting for us even in places where we have not been to. That alone can keep one going for a while. We are doing some things right.

It’s not as bad as it seems-the more I receive emails and calls from colleagues in grant-seeking institutions I realize the need for gratitude. Yes, we are not where we are supposed to be but we are also somewhere far away from extinction as an institution – we are much closer to being sustainable – me thinks. We are still highly regarded.

However, the above in itself does not chase away the insomnia devils – it is not enough – I feel like I need more to sleep easy and here is what I am planning to do to ensure that firstly I bring my absolute best each and every day:

Disconnect

You can literally strangle to death what you love. I see this with my daughter – I am always the first to rush to her whenever she cries or just raises her voice. Whilst being concerned is good it can also choke growth. It’s the same with my work at TrustAfrica – I have spent some time trying to know every facet of the organization – which is good but I should let those running those facets take on responsibility and feel that I trust them to do a good job without constantly checking on them. I would insist on weekly plans – which is good but I should also come to a place where I trust them that they can plan even if they do not share with me – but are working efficiently. I think privately they called me a micro-manager.

I have come to understand that despite the need for making decisions concerning urgent day to day issues there is need to devote significant attention to important questions about tomorrow and work towards that. Adopting such a stance requires some level of disconnecting from every day concerns. I am also comforted by research which has shown that once managers command their agendas and sense their own freedom of choice, they come to relish their roles…they begin to search for situations that go beyond their scope and enjoy seizing opportunities as they arise.

Ensure a Congruence between my personal and TrustAfrica’s Goals

In his book Give and Take, Adam Grant makes reference to a speech that was given by Bill Gates where he spoke about the two great forces of human nature; self-interest and caring for others. Adam Grant goes on to explain that successful givers are otherish – that is they care about benefiting others but they also have ambitious goals for their own interests. Crudely put being otherish is being able to ask ‘what’s in it for me’ – this has always been like a taboo subject especially in our sector. We are supposed to be the force for good with very little regard for ourselves.

Last year I had the misfortune of losing a lifetime mentor and he departed with his legacy intact but am not sure about his estate. We have made the assumption (which maybe a mistake) that in our sector we need not devote so much time worrying about our wellbeing because there is a world to change – so we have subsumed the personal question into the national (or continental) question. I am making a deliberate choice to ask what’s in it for me. My personal goals should align with the goals of the organisation not necessarily by forcing myself to be in congruency but because there exists real opportunities for the two to co-exist. Otherwise I will not be able to bring the passionate me to the table and that is a recipe for failure.

Grow My Circle of Influence I am obviously borrowing terms. I have learnt that one is always caught in two situations; focusing on things you can change (circle of influence) or things that you cannot change that literally depend on others (circle of concern). When it comes to the circle of concern I am seeking for ‘the serenity to accept the thing that I cannot change’. We spend a lot of time in the circle of concern worried about how so and so is doing this to us and if I may take this further; you see, this in the behavior of our political class who will not accept blame for anything but also putting problems into the circle of concern where they can do nothing about it. However, for things that are in my circle of influence – I will hit hard and leave no doubt –  we have to restore confidence in African leadership.  The following are things that are within my control such as:

A pleasant attitudeno-matter the circumstances. John Maxwell wrote a book entitled, Attitude: The Difference Maker. I am sold to the idea that a pleasant attitude is infectious and even in difficult circumstances it makes the burden of conversation and bargaining easier. It’s literally like a bright and sunny day in Yorkshire in England in the middle of December.

Work-ethic – continue to devise methods of improving productivity. One of my colleagues used the phrase ‘productive paranoia’ to describe my work-ethic. I love working. I come from a culture that has a saying to the effect that he who does not work should not eat and also I subscribe to Calvinist values around a strong work ethic as part of the formula for success. Hard work never hurt anybody.

Being on time – there is nothing as refreshing as finding oneself at the meeting place ahead of time. It does not require talent but just sheer discipline and being better organized

Being Coachable and Humble – I also appreciate the fact that I still have rough edges. I remember a time when I was traveling with a friend from Capetown in Chile and they kept on offering us red wine and I would turn it down – his retort was ‘culture my friend’. There are many things we take for granted especially us the ‘book-long types’ (Ghanaian pidgin for the educated ones). I have come to appreciate the fact that no matter how many paper qualifications one still needs to learn and it can only really happen if one is available and ready to be coached/trained. Our hectic schedules and assumptions of superiority can hamper these efforts if one does not deliberately set aside time for learning. Besides reading lots of books during weekends I have also realized the need to learn from colleagues – just by listening to their experiences.

Being Prepared related to a good work ethic is the need to be prepared for many eventualities. I have been to many meetings where I literally start writing the presentation in the meeting. That is ending. I choose to prepare on time, get others to check and give feedback well ahead of time.

Being Comfortable in my own skin– one of the things I have come to realize is that no matter what I do there is a benchmark which I will l be compared against set by others or the stature of my predecessor. Regarding the latter- I am no way near that level. However, I am pressing on to the mark of my higher calling- I am giving it my best shot and in the process I am very aware that my best will probably not be good enough. I will sleep easy knowing that I made the effort.

Having a Plan– I have always developed these amazing 12 months and five year plans- sadly they are soon forgotten after being written. I am starting with weekly plans- developed every Sunday evening and of course feeding into the big picture of working with the end in sight.

UnburdeningDespite the fact that I am a disciple of the school of delegation I still find myself with too much on my table. There is nothing wrong with the team. One of my early mentors identified a serious weakness in me – the inability to say no. I am a Yes man – I take it all – I make commitments, promises at times even without checking the calendar and before you know it I have a congested schedule.  I also do not easily trust others to do my work-especially my speaking engagements. Whilst lack of trust is understandable it’s a shame that I have not done anything about it up to now. I have also come to learn that every time I say Yes I am also saying No to something that could be important. There is a need for clarity for what needs to be achieved in the day, week and month and whatever is thrown at me should be evaluated vis a vis already existing priorities.

But there is more to unburdening – it also speaks to unwinding. Creating a separation between work, family and also my own personal time. We work across time-zones using all the smart things that drop emails into your inbox which is literally in your pocket or in front of you. If you are like me, you likely receive emails on four devices so you cannot miss it. I have learnt a new phrase -’ airplane mode it’ – not a joke this is serious. The boundaries between work and private life have literally disappeared thanks to technology but also just consumerism. We need to re-establish the boundaries in order to ensure sanity and calm prevail again. Time spent away from the office is not time lost – it rejuvenates and we need to place a premium on that.

Working with the end in mind What is the game plan? What is this all about. This traveling, these presentations, being away from the office etc. It can easily be just seen as part of the routine especially if the desired end is not clarified. We have established our end-game at TrustAfrica – and that should help us/me in mapping our priorities. I also have my own end-game in mind – I have developed a list of things I should have achieved at TrustAfrica by the day I walk away/step down. But what is the end-game for Tendai at a personal level? What should I have achieved in my personal life by the time I step down? Therein lies the question of congruency? Is TrustAfrica also helping me achieve my personal goals – I believe so and that is why I am still here and will be for a while.

Growing Leaders I still feel (and am at times surprised) by how much we all need reassurance that we are doing ok now and again. I need it and so does the team. I will be spending more time listening with the intention to learn and above all, be their biggest supporter.

Conclusion

I have come to realize that being clear about purpose is not enough, actually it can kill you if you do not create sufficient mechanisms to live a balanced life each and every day. I have mostly discussed my own experiences in this two-part blog, but I believe it speaks to many of our experiences. I have come to the conclusion that one needs to live by design and in the process appreciate that life is a marathon and not a sprint. That we live in a community of people who also have goals and rhythms that are dissimilar to ours. Most often tensions arise when we do not affirm diversity of thought, approach and interest as a virtue in itself. We lose/ risk losing what matters most by focusing on what is temporal. As for me and I where I am I choose to take control over my schedule and ensure that there is enough room to breathe. I am choosing to exert influence over how my day, month and year is organized and I want to have fun whilst doing it. I am sure I will fail here and there but it’s worth trying and I will do it with a pleasant attitude. In the process I am reconnecting with purpose and falling in love again!