I be home soon…. October 15, 2014
I started this post Saturday morning, but events preempted completing it by Sunday evening (more about that below). Here is how it started Saturday morning:
It’s Saturday morning and the beginning of my last week in Accra. I’m struggling to put this amazing 7 ½ month experience in perspective. The best I can say at this point is that it has been part of my journey to explore “who I am” that has been a rewarding, intense, learning experience exposing me to new ways of thinking and a different perspective on people. It’s also been a mini MBA refresher, 43 years after the original.
As the early readers of my blog recall, my motivation for writing one was to provide a record for my granddaughters (Lucy, age 3 and Audrey, age 9) to explain why “Papa” left them for 8 months. I hope when they’re older, they will go back and read my posts allowing me to share with them my experiences in a part of the world I knew little about.
Twenty plus years ago, I recognized there was a difference between “who I am” and “what I did”. While my career as an entrepreneur and business builder was rewarding and consistent with who I believe I am, it was also limiting. Because of my inability to maintain balance, I put so much time and energy into my career, it limited my ability to explore other aspects of who I am. It was only after leaving the full time work force that I began this journey. It began with spending more time with my family.
My experiences is Ghana and Nigeria have been almost the ideal way to live “who I am”…except for the most important part of me—my family. The tug of family and friends is stronger than the joy I experience being a business coach to some amazing entrepreneur-business builders I’ve had the great pleasure to work with.
Upon returning home, and after reconnecting with Kathy and my family, I’ll begin my search to find other ways to balance my love for my family, and engage with and contribute to others.
Friday was a fitting reminder of my comment in my first post…”if you can learn patience, you will experience unimaginable joy”. I volunteered to lead a “Design Thinking” workshop at the Leadership Conference of the National Society of Black Engineers. Aaron, a fellow coach and I arrived a little before the workshop was to begin, only to learn that the supplies that were critical for the workshop had not been purchased.
I was told “no problem”, that they would buy the supplies at a local store which we assumed would take less than an hour. We finally began the workshop 3 hours later. But this was not time lost as we watched a scholastic bowl-type STEM competition, similar to the old “College Bowl” TV series between 3 regional senior high schools. The teams consisted of two all boys teams and one all girls team. All the students were impressive in their range of knowledge from biology, chemistry, physics, and information technology, but the girls blew away the boys with the final score 74, to 50 and 39. The winners:
We then got to review the science projects other high school students had developed. These included a robot built with legos using an optical reader to sort rice grains by color (which has commercial value), a robot that automatically navigates a path for an emergency rescue vehicle, and a client server intranet built with public domain software, including Apache server software.
Finally the supplies arrived and we began the Design Thinking exercise. The purpose of the exercise was to show people they are creative and to teach the participants the importance of “customer empathy”. At the beginning of the exercise, only 1 our 36 people raised their hands when I asked them if they were creative? After the exercise, 3/4th of them said they realized they were creative…a success and more joy.
After the program, I shared with the girls high school team and a woman engineer who attended the Design Thinking exercise a quote from an article in a recent Stanford GSB Alumni Magazine. The article, an interview of the 2 male authors of “Scaling Up Excellence” (a book we use in the SEED program), was titled “How do you build a culture of excellence?”
One of the questions was “How do you build the right mix of people for positive growth?”, and the response was “…you should make sure to have as many women as possible, because the more men you have in a group, the dumber it gets, controlling for their IQ.”
Big smiles spread across the ladies faces as they read. They knew they brought special value and were pleased to see it recognized in writing. Unfortunately, they were also resigned to the fact that their male counterparts wouldn’t accept the statement as feminism hasn’t yet reached Ghanaian shores.
As a result of my participation in the Leadership Conference I was given a gift that I would have never guessed I’d be wearing— a T-shirt for the National Society of Black Engineers—that I’m wearing as I post this.
As this will be my last post from Ghana, I would like to thank the SEED Accra staff that have provided much help and support. Specifically, I want to thank Emmanuel, Flora, Maame Efua, Melissa, and Winfred. I also want to thank our drivers, Annan, Dodoo, Henry, and Obed, our “supper club” chef, Mark, and our “house boys”, Ernest and Prince.
I also want to thank my “supper club” fellow coaches, Corinne, Jim and Kweku who are now good friends and helped me be a better coach. The last group I want to thank are the “new” coaches, Aaron, Andy, Grant, and Hans, who will be carrying on the legacy of the coaches that proceeded them.
There’s one more group at the top of my “thank you” list—and no surprise, it’s my company entrepreneurs who made this experience so rich for me. I can’t express how deep my admiration and appreciation is for Chioma (Karen Happuck), Carl, Godwin, and Michael (African Concrete Products), Gideon and Kofi (Nsano), Charles and Tilly (International Community Schools), Annie, Evans, John, and Samuel (Agrana Ghana), Baffour and Benedicta (GHS Housing), and Richard (Richard Brainsworth).
Lastly, I want to thank Marilyn Bardet, Kathy’s longtime friend, for suggesting I write a blog to my granddaughters. It was definitely a stretch for me, but I’m glad I accepted the challenge, making my experience deeper and more rewarding.
I return home feeling mentally younger, but physically a bit older, with only 2 specific goals—to reconnect with Kathy, Robin, Amy, Dan, Audrey and Lucy and my friends, and to see if I can find some way to stay connected to Ghana without living there. Beyond that, I hope to find new ways to continue to live a life with meaning.
So why didn’t I get out my post on time?
As I get ready to leave, there’s so much I want to do, including my Saturday morning drumming lesson, meeting a Nigerian student at the Accra bus station at 11:00 PM Saturday night as he visits Accra (I met him through Corinne in Lekki Market in Lagos when I first arrived in West Africa), a Sunday afternoon party Carl organized at his home for “my” entrepreneurs and the coaches to say thank you, a Sunday dinner party at our apartment put on by Vencentia, one of Corinne’s entrepreneurs, to show me again how to cook kelewele, and my last company meetings Monday and Tuesday with the new coaches who are taking over “my” companies. This is an emotional time for me as I think about reconnecting with my family while also leaving my new Ghanaian and Nigerian friends.
I fly to Dubai Saturday evening where I’ll spend 2 nights. This is the view from the room I booked on Airbnb.
So excited to see my family and friends soon.