Why it is vital for leaders in West Africa to close the ‘self-awareness gap’

In our previous Inemmo blog, we took a bird’s eye view of West Africa, where entrepreneurship is flourishing with dizzying speed and innovative firms and leaders are springing up at a rate that puts the UK’s ‘Silicon Roundabout’ to shame.

However, as the blog noted, West Africa must dig deep and harness the power of the most effective leadership-development experts and tools if it is to make the most of the opportunities it has given itself.

As an entrepreneur and business-development manager with more than 27 years’ experience in marketing and corporate affairs, Annie Babah-Alargi – head of Ghana-based consultancy Customer Matters – is on the frontline of efforts to ensure that the region will modernise its business practices to maintain its momentum.

In this guest blog, she tells us about where the region is falling short, and how it should improve to realise its incredible potential…

Living your values
Many individual Ghanaians and corporate organisations are opening up to new technology, and employees are constantly being encouraged to hook on to the new tools that their businesses have put in place – for instance, I am aware of several food giants here who have linked up with SAP and other tech gurus, and those software experts are helping and supporting business here very well.

Unfortunately, though, many firms are still not living their values.

Annie Babah-Alargi of Customer MattersInstead, those values have been relegated to statements or words that are put together and hung in the corner of the office – or, in certain organisations, they’re not visible at all. So that makes it harder to hold them to account. In fact, a lot of organisations profess to do one thing, then do the opposite. That has an effect on how employees relate to their organisations, and what they feel those firms – and therefore they themselves – stand for.

In many ways, Ghana is held back by a “self-awareness gap” that individual managers, and companies as a whole, must do something about. Organisations need to start behaving in the same ways internally towards their own people as they do externally towards their customers. In the end, they must remember that just as customers have a choice, so do employees. Customers can venture elsewhere if they are unhappy with the treatment they have received, and employees can leave if they have encountered unhelpful attitudes that prevent them from feeling part of the company.

Fundamentally, it is leaders who create the working climate. When a leader is self-aware, then subsequently, the working climate becomes a community of strong and meaningful stakeholder engagements and relationships. That results in happy employees, personal efficiencies, process effectiveness and – ultimately – satisfied and happy customers. These are all the ingredients that contribute to business sustainability. So, on that basis, being self-aware is incredibly important.

When I think about who is doing it best here at the moment, the first organisation that comes to mind is Herbalife Nutrition – and I would also say that quite a few of the large, fast-moving consumer goods companies are doing well, too. In Herbalife’s case, the leaders are self-aware, and they have mirrored that in their staff, hiring employees with the right attitudes and the right outlooks. This has led to high levels of customer service and satisfaction, which is the ultimate target.

Willing… but unable?
The main challenge with leadership in Ghana is that it is not open enough. Leaders must be all-inclusive towards their employees – but we have a problem where, very often, leaders are acting like ‘Godfathers’ towards preferred staff. What happens there is that you end up with cliques, and anyone who is not in the right clique is marginalised in the workplace, and their voice isn’t heard. So there must be more openness: we all come from different backgrounds, and we all have different talents that we bring to the table, so having cliques in the workplace is not very constructive.

We also have issues with employee engagement. Many organisations lack the best practices for managing and developing the talent pool, so businesses are suffering. People’s strengths are not matched to the relevant tasks. In some cases, there are not even any job descriptions, and in many cases, no succession planning, either. This means that, at best, employees’ leadership ambitions are stifled – or, at worst, members of staff are putting off decisions in fear of their bosses. If employers are able to rally their staff around a common vision, and then communicate that to them in an engaging way, then they will find that the work environment will dramatically improve.

On the point of talent development – which is another major area where Ghana faces challenges – training is key. Often, what’s happening in firms here is that they are hiring people who are willing, but not necessarily able, and it’s really a question of closing the gap between those two states of mind. Unfortunately, though, whenever an organisation is failing to achieve its targets, the training budget is always the first thing to be cut. Another common misconception among leaders is that they think too often that if they do train their employees in a substantial way, those members of staff will just leave. But that is where engagement comes in: it helps to support training, and ensures that once staff have added new strings to their bows, they will continue to work for your organisation.

If you are not rewarding staff very well, and then you train them, then they are obviously likely to leave. If you want the best for your company, and want it to thrive on certain, key competences, then you can’t do without a blend of training and engagement. You can’t sacrifice employee development for anything else. If staff are in a position to drive the business effectively, then you will be able to achieve your targets. If not, then they will just continue to do what they know best… and it will be business as usual.

Spark for the future
At present, there are very low levels of awareness in West Africa about psychometric programmes with business-development dimensions. You may occasionally hear about larger firms sending their leaders outside the country to go through psychometric coaching with practitioners in places of very high awareness – but really, that is the extent of it.

I myself have been fortunate enough to explore a variety of personal-development programmes, and the Lumina Spark system is the best I have seen. It is something that I am keen to bring to West African leaders, because of how it promotes self-awareness. When you are self-aware, you communicate better, you foster better relationships and you have greater influence, because you improve on your behaviours and attitudes in interacting and dealing with people. All of that helps to make you a better team player, leading to a more positive outlook among staff, and therefore, to business optimisation.

It is clear to me that there will be excellent benefits for the business community in West Africa if we adopt the psychometric method here.

As someone who is looking to spread the word as a Lumina Spark practitioner, it is my hope that, as soon as leaders begin to understand and embrace the method, they will start to see positive results and changes unfold automatically. They will be able to become more effective, to live the right values, to develop staff – and to grow the opportunities of their businesses. All of those will be steps in the right direction for West Africa.

Use this link to register for the Lumina Spark Practitioner Qualification in Ghana 1st – 3rd October 2016 at The Holiday Inn Accra

For further details on Annie’s firm Customer Matters, check out its website

Find out about the suite of Lumina coaching tools provided by Inemmo Leadership Development Solutions

Image of Independence Square in Accra, Ghana by Rjruiziii, courtesy of Wikipedia

Annie was interviewed by Matt Packer on behalf of Inemmo Leadership Development Solutions