Based in Nairobi, Lucy Brewster is a workplace trainer and people-development consultant with copious experience of working for international firms. Lucy is also East Africa’s first, certified Lumina practitioner, having trained with Inemmo Leadership Development Solutions to use the coaching method.
Here, she explains why psychometrics have such a powerful role to play in enhancing leadership and teamwork in East Africa’s rapidly evolving business landscape…
How we relate to each other, and the methods we come up with for refining that process, have formed the bedrock of my work for more than 25 years. My longest role was at Hill + Knowlton Strategies, one of the largest groups in the communications sector, with about 4,500 people in offices all around the world. In the UK, I was board director of H+K’s Brands Marketing and Communications Division. Then I had two years in Buenos Aires, two years in Istanbul and 10 years in Bangkok.
Over that first part of my career, I assisted hundreds of international companies in every industry, doing a huge amount of work in areas such as crisis management, reputation management and helping firms enhance their communications – not just externally, but internally too. The places where I’ve worked, and the projects I’ve tackled, have provided me with enormous exposure to an array of business issues at a very senior level, helping me to analyse critically the often complex ways in which companies work.
About three years ago, I called time on working for other people. I wanted a new challenge… one that would enable me to use my experience on fresh turf, and in a company I would personally drive forward. So I came with my family to Kenya, and set up Summit Training: a complementary business to Summit Recruitment and Search. The firm’s ambition is to help companies in East Africa become more effective, and aware of their people potential, at a time of rapid corporate development in the region.
We do a lot of work on interpersonal skills, customer service skills and conflict resolution, all of which tap into my career as a communications specialist. But the one area I have begun to get much more involved with is psychometric testing. That typically entails me carrying out assessments of senior figures in businesses and running team-building programmes, all with the aim of enhancing leadership and people development so the firms can fulfil their objectives.
I was already very familiar with the best-known psychometric methods, but as I’ve been working out here in Kenya for a while, I wasn’t fully up to date with some of the innovations that have been happening in the US or Europe. Some of the firms I worked for mentioned a handful of the newer approaches, so I started researching them. Then, quite by chance, Joy and Atiya of Inemmo got in touch with me at Summit via the British Chamber of Commerce here, and that’s when I first found out about Lumina Spark. From that point on, I was eager to learn as much about it as I could, so I would be able to enfold it into the suite of leadership development services that Summit Training provides.
Portrait of flexibility
There are three reasons why Lumina Spark really jumped out at me:
1. Humour and energy I’m a real colours person – as a communications expert, I love how colours can be used to get points across, and Lumina has been designed to be highly visual and interactive, with its colour scheme appearing on the mandala, the mat and people’s individual portraits. That creates a lot of lively, positive discussion, which is incredibly valuable for training sessions that need to bring people together.
2. Fresh answers More intellectually, it helps me form new responses to some of the questions or feedback I receive from clients. One of the most interesting things about Lumina is that its portraits don’t restrict people to type – so if a senior figure I’ve been working with comes up to me with their portrait and says, “Wait, that’s not me… sometimes I’m like that, but at other times I’m more like this,” then Lumina has the flexibility to absorb that kind of pushback, and accept contradictions. That, in turn, stimulates further discussion and debate, which goes back into the process in a very healthy way.
3. The Personas This is a really helpful area – particularly with respect to the causes and effects of the Overextended Persona [Inemmo note: for a crash course on that, check out what this previous blog has to say about the arguably Overextended behaviour of football manager Jose Mourinho]. What I have seen with some of the managers and leaders I’ve worked with in Kenya is that they haven’t had a lot of guidance throughout their careers on how to lead. Then, at some point, they are thrust into positions of authority, and the people they’re managing haven’t had a lot of guidance either. As a result, their “take-charge” impulse often slips into that red, Overextended zone, because they don’t have faith in their people and feel unsupported. That heightens stress, and causes people to behave in ways where they say: “That’s not me.” Lumina helps to debug those circumstances.
I’m also fascinated by the commercial potential that may be unlocked through Lumina Sales – that’s something I definitely want to look into. But one of the most useful aspects of Lumina Spark is what it has told me about myself. It has shown me how my leadership style has changed in the transition from being a director at the world’s second-largest communications firm – where I had teams on the ground – to now, where I’m overseeing everything from training delivery and finance, to business development and even marketing. Lumina has shown me what I’m doing well, and what I must still focus on.
Appetite for change
Right now, the main challenge that companies in East Africa face is to make the most of their people. There’s a rapid evolution in the region’s business climate: standards are rising all the time, and so are expectations. Customers are not prepared to queue for hours to buy something on a Saturday afternoon anymore. Likewise, corporate clients expect their enquiries and concerns to be handled with a high degree of service quality. That puts a lot of pressure on business leaders to differentiate their firms so that their reputations flourish and they will be well placed for growth.
At the same time, however, while education here is broadly good, graduates entering work often don’t have a thorough grounding in areas such as interpersonal skills, teamwork, or even how to deal with customers, prioritise workloads, get on with people or handle conflict: all fundamental parts of working life. It’s a big shock to people when they start arriving in the workforce, and I certainly see a major role for training and development, and the kind of psychometrics that can deliver self-awareness, in shaping the future capabilities of East Africa’s employees – particularly their understanding of others.
The more management teams I speak to, the more I sense an appetite for change. A recurring sentiment is, “We know we have some really bright staff – but how can we help them work better as a team?” Here’s an example: I recently worked with a big law firm here, and did psychometrics across the whole organisation – from managing partners to drivers, over 170 people in all. One partner, who was actually a little reticent about the process at first, ended up saying that it was the best staff initiative the firm had ever done. Then, when I went through the process with one of the drivers – a man in his 60s who’d worked very diligently for the firm for three decades – his eyes started to fill with tears. I thought I might have said something wrong, but he said, “No, Lucy… it’s just that nobody has ever asked me how I feel before.”
Psychometric testing has the power to raise the bar for East African leadership by encouraging firms to move from unsustainable, top-down management styles to more collaborative models. By asking people to focus not just on how they perceive others, but on how they themselves may be perceived during difficult, stressful times, Lumina opens the door to that kind of transformation. This is particularly important at a time when technology in the region is on such a sharp rise: Kenya has become the world leader in mobile money (I couldn’t get by without my M-PESA account), and the ecosystem of technology firms that will build upon that revolution must nurture a collaborative outlook in order to succeed.
I’m very excited to become the first Lumina practitioner in East Africa. My plan at the moment is to run introductory sessions on Lumina for curious companies, just so they can get a flavour of how it works and what kind of potential it holds. That will help to familiarise the method, and spark leaders’ imaginations about how it could help them push their firms – and East Africa as a whole – towards even brighter horizons.
Image of Nairobi by night courtesy of Africanmodern, via Wikipedia