Leadership Thought – Cultivating

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Mr. Patrick Awuah, from Ghana, now an accomplished executive from Microsoft recently provided a presentation focusing on educating leaders as a TED Talk. During his presentation Mr. Awuah attempts to define leadership and discuss why he feels its crucial for the continent of Africa to re-think its approaches in developing future leaders.

Mr Awuah, appears to define leadership as positional stewardship. He appears to feel strongly that individuals who assume positional authority, have a moral responsibility in the way in which those duties were exercised. However, these same individuals were often un-skilled in aspects of leadership in fulfilling those responsibilities. Included in Awuah assessment of “real people”, which are doctors, lawyers, policeman, or as he described them as the “Guardians” of society. (Note: The problem is “out-there”)

Patrick asserts that what needs to be re-done, or re-thought about is how leadership skills are acquired, and what could be offered as a viable way in acquiring leadership skills. This was deemed crucial by Awuah, as he observed the African continent plagued by corruption, ethical lapses, war, and abject poverty. Awuah strongly felt that something needed to change.

During his talk, Mr. Awuah was able to illustrate the ineptness of current leadership by telling a story about a nurse who did not have very basic materials, supplies to help the most vulnerable individuals in the society seeking medical attention, although the materials were available. It was evident that the ability to distribute basic equipment in this incidence was lack of management, or as he describes, failures in leadership. He attributed this travesty as a shortcoming in developing leadership skills with those who might benefit the masses most.

Mr Awuah’s journey to this revelation was from his upbringing in Ghana Africa, to his education in America, influenced by his position in Seattle with Microsoft. Mr. Awuah readily identified with what the fruits of a quality education has created for him and his family, and wished it for his countrymen he had left behind in Ghana. He wanted to show his children that there is more to living a upper middle-class existence (Western?) than they might currently realize.

Mr Awuah believed that the issues in Africa was that of leadership, and that individuals in politics, business, others have spoken on what was their responsibility might be. However, Awuah wanted to go deeper to the “real people” , again, described as doctors, lawyers, civil servants, policemen, and ascertain how did these folks acquire leadership skills, how was training done in an attempt to develop extraordinary leaders. He felt one way to cement attributes of leadership back into the fabric of Africa was to integrate leadership and ethics as a part of the educational curriculum children and young adults were exposed to.

Patrick spoke on several issues, road blocks, challenges in Ghana, and proposed a plan in an attempt to rectify it.

Mr. Awuah, wanted his countryman in Ghana to have a similar educational experience as he had at Swathmore. He viewed the current educational system does not instruct in critical thinking, but a memorized “rote” process, with little focus on ethics, facilitated by a population possessing a strong sense of entitlement. Hmm. reminds me on how I successfully passed the Series 7 Investment exam.

Awuah attempts to impact that by starting a school called, Ashesi. The core objective of this University in Ghana is to offer a curriculum which empathizes exceptional integrity, critical and innovative thinking, with an entrepreneurial spirit. His results so far seems to be moving towards that end.

Mr Awuah stated that a email that haunted him was from a student that participated in his University. It was an email thanking him, and stating “I am thinking now.”

Well for me the phrase, “I am thinking now” relates to becoming aware of the thinking or thought process, as if that’s the “holy grail” of human existence. So for me, it is a low level of consciousness, often facilitated by a Western, America culture. Born out of the Enlightenment Era, where rational thinking, and the perception of “senses” is all that exists. That the cultivating of the mind is the highest of all achievement.

I would be amiss if I did not acknowledge how much I have benefited from the material niceties currently enjoyed had it not been for the progress facilitated by the Industrial Revolution and the underpinnings of the rational mind. However, I have some difficulty with putting complex societal issues on the doorsteps of educators, and the process of education, although extremely important, addressing the complexity of the current landscape, which I expect will intensify.

Jeff Skilling, from Enron fame, went to Harvard, yet he will go down in history of squandering billions of dollars, and ruining millions of people’s lives. And even today I have read, he feels he was innocent. Can ethics be taught? I do not believe so. Can ethics be acquired? Yes, however for me it appears to be more of the results of the social construction of institutions, rather than a course in ethics. When I think of an “institution” I think of systems such as, families, religions, schools, communities, regions, countries, and the such. Whereas, each one has an impact on the other.

I took a course in ethics as an undergrad, because it was a requirement. However, it was a complete waste of time and I don’t remember anything from that class. LOL! My ethics appear more of a result of my experiences with individuals I loved, and who loved me. I was fortunate to have a caring family, which taught me to have a strong work ethic, and appreciation towards education.

After having the privilege of coaching over 500 senior executives, CEO’s entrepreneurs and business owners, I am convinced, although I do not have empirical evidence, the two challenges they all share is, the intentional development of their character, and the strategic use of time. To date it appears to be be better addressed through times of crucibles, than an educational process. And finally, it appears to me, that “so-called” leaders need to spend less time “thinking” about the “what” or results, they desire, less time acquiring the skills, to show them how to solve issues, and much more time, “thinking” about “who” they are, and their complicity in the issue they are trying to solve. And that would include me as well!!

What I did not hear from Mr Awuah’s talk was what could we learn from the Ghanian’s, versus, lets try to import into aspects of our culture of consumption and materialism, which is what we here in the West, are really “thinking” about. Just my thought!

Leadership Practice:

What new ways can you do business this week? How is your current level of thinking, education, practices, getting in the way of you experiencing a breakthrough?

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