LIfe and Leadership Lessons from Africa

This past summer I was blessed with the opportunity to facilitate energy management/employee engagement workshops for a large, global pharmaceutical company in Africa. I traveled to the Ivory Coast and Nigeria to work with ~45 leaders on how to manage and expand their energy to live a fully engaged life both at work and at home. Although my co-facilitators and I were the trainers and assumed “experts” in energy management, we ended up learning (or should I say “re-learning”) quite a bit about life and leadership from our African brothers and sisters.

Below are five lessons that I was reminded of during my rich experiences in Africa:

Don’t Get Attached to How it is Supposed to Look

At times I get caught up in my assumptions and expectations of how an event or situation should transpire - from the environment and surroundings to the people involved and their actions. I get myopic or “tunnel visioned” into the way things should be and my need for control takes over from there. In Africa I learned that it’s not my perspective and wants that matter most but that of those I am honored to serve. What may be uncomfortable and stressful to me may be comfortable and familiar to others. Changing my attitude and perspective by answering “what’s my purpose for being here right now?” and “who do I need to be to achieve that purpose?” allows me to let go of control and to focus outward on the needs of others – no matter how it looks.

How Very Much Alike We Are

Over my career, I’ve worked with colleagues in many different countries and continents (China, Southeast Asia, Eastern/Western Europe, Latin America, Canada, Mexico, USA) – most recently Africa. Although our cultures and life experiences are obviously different, what I have discovered is that as human beings we are very much alike when it comes to matters of the heart. We share the deep seeded needs of making a difference for others, for being valued and for creating value. We all have a purpose for being alive and the passions and values that go hand-in-hand with it. We all have struggles and life obstacles that get in our way of fulfilling our purpose and being fulfilled. It will serve me well to first seek out in others those things that bind us together so as to view our differences in a more accepting light.

Generously Listen with Your Whole Being

While working in Africa, I had to deal with a foreign language (French), heavy local accents and different ways of communicating a message non-verbally. This required me to quiet my mind, be fully present in the moment, listen to tone of voice and rate of speech, observe facial expressions and gestures, and to take the time to seek clarification. Wow, it dawned on me that this is the way I should listen to everybody in my life – generously and with my whole being. When’s the last time you were listened to in this way?

Be Grateful

It seems that I never appreciate all the blessings I have until I experience those who live without the “comforts” that I am afforded each day. This lesson of gratitude was made clear to me while traveling the streets of Abidjan and Lagos and seeing firsthand what poor and hungry looks like. So, when I’m feeling sorry for myself and a victim of my circumstances, I will pause and take an inventory of all those things and people I am grateful for and then return my focus to serving others and my life purpose.

Be Patient

Talk about traffic? In Lagos, given the sheer volume of vehicles and the narrow streets/bridges, it took 2 ½ hours to travel what should have taken 30 – 40 minutes. Also, many of my African colleagues I interacted with at hotels, airports and in the workshops tended to move at a slower pace, not sharing the same sense of urgency that govern my life. Uh oh, I feel another lesson coming on - that’s right, patience. I get to “chill out” as my adult son and daughter often remind me and go with the “flow”. Being patient with situations, people, and myself leads to being at peace and acting in alignment with my values and purpose.

As you can see, I had to travel all the way to Africa, twice, to be reminded of some essential lessons from which to live my life by. My hope is that you benefit from the insights I gained and which have deepened my appreciation for letting go of control, focusing out on what and who is important, being patient, grateful and connected to what makes us all human.