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General

A toast to Prophet Samuel.

 

It was his retirement party. After serving his people as a public servant for many years, he was retiring – old, grey and tired. Like it happens at some retirement events, he was expected to give a speech. Typically, everyone expected he would pay glowing tribute to his team, say a bit about his achievements, maybe joke a bit about his failures and possibly the nicknames his teammates may have called him. He did not. This leader kept it short and sweet. He said:

“Here I am. Witness against me before the LORD and before His anointed: Whose ox have I taken, or whose donkey have I taken, or who have I cheated? Whom have I oppressed, or from whose hand have I received any bribe with which to blind my eyes? I will restore it to you.”

I Samuel 12:3 NKJV (Bible).

Here are a few lessons of leadership from Prophet Samuel’s example. An example of accountability, responsibility, humanity and integrity – 4 key attributes of a successful leader.

You see, in our part of the world, leadership is first considered in terms of position, title and privilege. The leader is typically the one who gets priority parking, prominent seating and perks to go along with it.

It is always an expression of “oh it’s not his fault”, “he is a nice man”, “it’s the people around him…they are the ones squandering our money”.

A leader must be accountable to the people, responsible for all his/her actions, be real enough to exhibit humanity and be a person of integrity.

The old prophet said:

“Here I am” – I am an open book. I am asking you to tell me, publicly, who I have stolen from, cheated or lied about?

The response: “You have not cheated us or oppressed us, nor have you taken anything from any man’s hand”

But he gave a caveat – a human leader, he knew he was not perfect. He knew he could falter but he also exhibited what leadership is – responsibility.

After asking, “Who have I oppressed, or from whose hand have I received any bribe with which to blind my eyes”, he made a simple but profound statement of responsibility – “I will restore it to you”

That statement says – I will take responsibility and I will make it better. No excuses, no explanations, no passing the buck. Just plain and simple – taking responsibility.

A leader must have integrity. Wholeness, no crooked corners.

He was aware of his humanity and the possibility of mistakes. Leadership does not make us gods…it makes us the first among equals.

Let me add one more lesson for good measure – from the greatest leader of all time. Also at his retirement party, this time unknown to his team. He was a young man, at the peak of his career. He had just been the leader of this team for 3 years…he was doing great! No one wanted him to leave, but He had to leave when the applause was loudest. So, he decided to have dinner with his management team. After dinner, this leader did the weirdest thing.

He “rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.” John 13:4-5 NKJV (Bible).

When He got to Peter, one of his executive council members, he said: “no way! You can’t wash my feet” but with some persuasion, he succumbed and even wanted a full body wash. Talk about an Oliver Twist asking for more.

Jesus showed us the greatest attribute of a leader – service. Those disciples had dirty feet! They were always out and about walking the length of the country. They were busy men! So, to think the leader after having dinner will descend, undress, wash and wipe – possibly smelly feet….is the greatest lesson of leadership.

I am convinced that if we can adjust, just a little bit of what we believe leadership is, our families, our businesses and our nation will be a better place.

Accountability
Responsibility
Integrity
Humanity
Service

©Petra Aba Asamoah 2017

 

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General

First among equals

 

My first real test of leadership started in the year 2010. It was the fading embers of the year, I had returned from maternity leave and was moved into a management role. I remember the birth of my son as a blessing to my career. The challenge of being a new mother and a new manager is one I will share another time.

 

I knew what I wanted to accomplish, what I was expected to do and how exactly I was going to do it. I was a woman on a mission. Imagine my first few days in the role, I was on fire! Sending emails – instructing and directing. My team complied. But I was on my own. I sat at my desk. Alone. If a customer wanted to see the manager, I was called and then left alone to resolve the issue. It was a lonely place.

 

You see, I experienced what it meant to move from being one of the ‘players’ to being the ‘coach’ of the team. Just a few months prior, I was a member of the team, but now I had joined the ‘them’ group. It was very difficult. In my estimation, I believe it took me close to 18 months to get back into the team. Whilst I was the manager, I was not the leader. I was not the one influencing the team. Someone else was doing that. I had to find a way to get into a place of influence. That place was earned not designated. I had the position and the title, but I didn’t have the ‘office’ yet.

 

I learnt the hard way. Many mornings I’ll arrive at work and sit in the car park for extra minutes…dreading the thought of going upstairs into the office, where as soon as I walked in, everyone went silent (or so I imagined it). My silent prayers that said, “Help me Lord” were from a sincere heart that felt quite helpless.

 

I had to learn that my position did not mean I was better than or more privileged than others; so, I had no business using that position as the reason why my team mates had to do things. I was better off explaining to them each time, why what we had to do at that point in time was good for them. And for the whole team and the business. Instead of sending out instructions, I had to discuss some of the things I was thinking with some key influencers in the team, get their interest, ask for their support, include them in the decision-making process before communicating with the larger team. I had to get off my high horse and get back into the team. I didn’t always get it right. But when I started having the key influencers in my team coming to me to propose solutions to challenges they had identified or asking for my help to solve a problem they couldn’t seem to address, I knew I had finally become the leader in the group.

 

People can do what you ask them to do. They can go by their job description just enough not to get into trouble. But to be truly committed and devoted, they only do that when they believe their work is appreciated, that they are meaningful to the organisation and what they do really matters.

 

It was my responsibility to get to know them and gain their trust. That, I had to do by being a real person. Not just a boss. I had to learn that they were first human ‘beings’ and not human ‘doings’. Whilst the job had to be done, my team were people – with feelings. When I began to truly and sincerely care, my team responded by putting in their 200% best performance. I am confident that anyone who had worked with me close enough over the last decade, will attest to my ability to switch from colleague-friend to colleague-boss, tactfully.

 

A leader is the first amongst equals. I learnt the hard way. You don’t have to.

 

©Petra Aba Asamoah 2017

 

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General

A Journey of Grace, Serendipity and Hard Work

In 2013, I was the guest speaker for a personal development programme in my church. A participant asked me during the Q and A session: “you have a degree in Political Science but you work in sales, don’t you feel like a round peg in a square hole?”

Interestingly, I remember that question because many times it had come up at similar events; maybe not in the same words each time and often not directed at me in a question, but many have wondered and questioned how I have functioned in my roles, given my background and education.

I didn’t intend for it to be this way when I started off, the truth is, I was already 2 years into my career path when I began to get a good sense of what I should build into a career. Originally, I was just living by my mantra – whatever your hands find to do, do it well. So, it started as a quest to survive in the working world by being the best employee I could possibly be, wherever. But in the end, everything I did fit well into my big picture.

I remember very clearly a conversation I had with the Managing Director of the first company I worked with when my national service period ended (national service is a, one-year minimum, mandatory post-tertiary internship in Ghana). He asked what I wanted to do (with my life) and asked that very difficult question of “where do you see yourself in the next 5 years”. I didn’t have a clear answer at the time. I believe I said something to the effect that,

“I didn’t know really…but like I’m good at…” I thought up a seemingly smart answer and said something…which as soon as I left his office I knew was pure rubbish.

Well, aside not really knowing what I wanted to do with my life at the time, I simply just wanted a job. It wasn’t that deep. You know, I had left university with one mission – work hard with my national service opportunity and secure a job wherever I did it. It was a simple formula.  The background to this survival formula was because I was on my own. I was no longer being supported financially at home…I was given a great foundation and just like the postcard my mum sent me for my final exam put it, it was my responsibility to “build on that foundation” I had been given from the very beginning of my life. I recall receiving my last allowance, from my mum, in the month I wrote my finals. My father had passed on. A year later, I had taken my first bank loan to rent a place of my own.

And so very early in my working life, 40% of my earnings was deducted monthly as loan repayment. I managed on the remaining 60% for my livelihood. So, I didn’t have time or money for frivolities. I was not in the least bit interested in conversations about the latest hair pieces or fashion trends. I was typically the type who got to work early most days because I understood the nature of our public transport system and had to beat those long queues. I arrived at work early because it had to take me 3 bus changes, to reach my office and even an extra 5-minute delay at home would mean a late arrival at work. So, I often left home most mornings by 5:30 am…to arrive before 7 am. If it was a rainy day, I would have my office shoes in a bag, umbrella in hand, ‘charley wote’ (flip flops) on and off to work I would go. I rarely called in sick. Sick? Noooo not when I was trying to get hired. So yes, I really put in a lot of work to get retained. Remember, I needed a job.

Before my national service started, I had interned with an NGO for 5 months and tried everything I could to be allowed to spend my national service period there. However, it wasn’t meant to be and that made me quite sad. I loved my work there and I was excited with management of projects and causes to serve the community. In the end, getting to do my national service in an airline was a great blessing as well and I wasn’t going to let it go without giving it my best shot. I believe I did because, post-national service, that resulted into my 8-year working experience in the airline industry.

Over the last decade, I’ve worked in a few roles across two main industries – the airline industry from 2006 to 2015 and media (management) from 2016 till date. These have been my roles:

  • Front desk executive
  • Reservations and ticketing executive
  • Call centre agent
  • Sales Executive
  • Reservations and Ticketing Manager
  • Sales and Operations Manager
  • General Manager – Sales
  • Head of Station – of a radio station
  • General Manager of 4 radio stations
  • Currently, General Manager – Commercial for a media group made up of a TV station, 4 radio stations and a digital company.

I stopped thinking survival along the way. I started thinking purpose. I started thinking about value and instead of thinking ‘job’ I started thinking career and building a reputation.

As I approached the age of 25, I began to think more and plan more. The list I had written when I turned 19, was now more in focus. I had made a list of things I wanted to do by age 25. Admittedly, I was late on some of them including the one that said, “get married” – which came a year later – Oh and yes, it was on my list of things to do.

By stating that my journey has been one of grace, serendipity, and hard work. This is what I mean:

Grace – because I have been enabled supernaturally to function in capacities that I would naturally have been unable to. I wouldn’t refer to that as a “square peg in a round hole”. I was graced to grasp knowledge, systems, and procedures very alien to my original training. This has shown me that it could not have been just me. I am your typical ‘words’ person. I am not a natural ‘numbers’ person, but again, I have mastered a knack for business and can think commercial and money very quickly. That, for me, is grace.

Serendipity – because I think about the opportunities I have had and I believe a lot of it has simply been me being at the right place, at the right time. I wasn’t always the best candidate at every point in my career and in some cases, I was simply the one available and willing to try – so the opportunity was given and I was willing to seize it.

Hard work – because I have always believed that working hard is essential for success. Very early in my career, I developed the habit of only leaving when my job was done. So, it didn’t matter if I was meant to close by 5 pm; if I had pending items on my “to-do-list” for the day, I will finish them before leaving. And if I didn’t finish, I’ll make it a point to arrive early the next day to get a good head start. I have also had to combine further studies with work over the last 7 years – becoming a chartered marketer and studying for an MPhil in Marketing. During these 7 years as well, I have had the blessing of being a mother to two wonderful children. So yes, hard work is a critical success factor in my story. Aside just long hours, I learnt to work ‘smart’ by focusing on tasks that are core to my work, cutting out distractions, always planning, using lists to keep me focused and being able to say no, tactfully.

My work is my craft. Whatever I have been entrusted with, 101% of the time I give it my very best shot. And like we say in Ghana, I take each task like the desire to win the “world cup” to wit – very seriously. Though I must confess, sometimes a bit too serious – all the same, I’m learning to appreciate the lighter side of work and happiness.

Oh, and when I left the airline industry to take up an opportunity in media, the round peg question was asked again. The most interesting one is “she doesn’t have any experience in media”… So, how did the round peg manage the square hole? – Grace, Serendipity, and Hard work – Do stay with me on this journey to discover more.

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General

If You Do Well, You will be accepted.

“In the world of work, if your absence is not felt, then your presence is not needed” – Petra Aba Asamoah, LiFT Conference, 20.5.2017

I’ve thought about this statement several times after I made it last weekend.

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General

You Can

I remember very clearly my first promotion and the deep sense of inadequacy I had. The person I was replacing had many years of experience and was much older, he had a solid network and people knew him. That was my first sales job.

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