The 3 Best Strategies: What I Learned From Running An HR Mentoring Programme in Ghana

“Mentorship creates more confident and knowledgeable professionals and turns them into great leaders” - Irene Asare

Mentoring engagements are a great way to gain professional development. In my own career, I have been the recipient of some wonderful mentoring. Like myself,  many individuals are looking to develop their careers. Often, turning to a mentor as a source of knowledge, experience, advice, guidance, and insight, a decision that changes the trajectory of your professional life. But making a mentoring relationship work is not easy, but it doens't have to be uncomfortable. 

I have learnt during my time working as an HR practitioner across Ghana, Africa and Europe that mentoring can be a huge benefit to those who receive it, those who mentor and organisations as a whole. It was my own experiences with speaking to early-career HR practitioners looking for assistance that led me to conceive the HR Mentoring Programme back in 2017. In this article I share:

Why I started the HR Mentoring Programme. 

Towards my senior leadership as HR Director, Regional Head of HR in Africa, and Ghana specifically, I have been approached by colleagues - young and old for career advice - spanning different aspects of professional life. From these experiences, it has become clear that many HR practitioners in Ghana, especially those working alone and reporting directly to the General Manager, feel isolated and don’t have the necessary support to carry out their role effectively. This was an experience that I could very much relate to from my early years as a practitioner. As more HR practitioners approached me, I realised an opportunity, not only to share my knowledge and experiences - but a chance to give back to the HR profession, I began to do some research. 

It became apparent that many HR professionals struggled to find the support necessary to take on challenges, navigate relationships, and ensure that they were giving balanced and sound advice. Many felt that they were dealing with difficult, and challenging senior management, and had nowhere to turn. HR practitioners experience several issues in the day-to-day execution of their roles, not to mention - the popular view of HR as a “nice” function that business “should” have, rather than a key tool for ensuring corporate success by shaping and influencing employee behaviour and corporate culture. Faced with this reality, and acutely aware of the limitations on my own time, I began to brainstorm ways to effectively transmit the wealth of knowledge and experiences I had gained navigating a career’s worth of HR related issues to these practitioners. That’s when I had the idea to create the HR Mentoring Programme - a year-long mentoring programme that would equip HR practitioners, with skills, tools, resources, and advice to enable them to provide enhanced HR outcomes for their respective organisations and develop their careers. My aim was to bring together and provide a support system for the future of HR professionals in Ghana.

“Mentoring builds trust and creates a safe environment for honest feedback and unbiased career development advice” - Irene Asare

I didn’t want to just run another training programme and leave the mentees without any support in implementing their actions; so I turned to other experienced practitioners in Ghana - calling up friends and colleagues. These practitioners were invaluable resources. Over the course of a year, we ran regular training programmes, as well as monthly resource sessions - led by industry practitioners. In addition,  we assigned mentors to each of the 25 mentees that were accepted to the programme, giving them invaluable one-on-one support that many felt they lacked in their organisations. 

The programme proved to be successful with numerous mentees. And it was definitely one of the most fulfilling things I have done in my career as an HR practitioner.  Since the conclusion of the programme, many participants have reached out to me to express their gratitude for giving them the platform to learn, develop, and grow in their profession. Initially, I was unsure about the appetite for a programme like this. However, the mentees responses let me know that HR practitioners across different organisations required support that they can’t always readily access in their organisations. Additionally, running the HR Mentoring Programme helped me realize the importance of professional mentoring relationships; especially their ability to contribute to human professional development. Next, I share 3 key insights to help make any mentoring arrangement more fruitful. 

3 key principles for running an effective mentoring programme

Designing a proper mentoring programme is important - a badly designed programme drains the energy of both the mentor and mentee. To make sure that your mentor-mentee relationship is an effective one, with long-lasting impact, here are three key principles to implement: 

(1) Be Reflective  

(2) Set SMART Goals - Before engaging in any mentoring engagement, both mentor and mentee should establish SMART goals. Setting clear, and explicit goals is a great way to provide direction, and a clear focus to your mentoring engagement to ensure that you get the most out of it. SMART is an acronym for Specific - Measurable -  Achievable - Realistic - Timely.

(3) Be prepared to put in the work. 

The success and popularity of the last HR mentoring Programme, has convinced us to run it again this year. Many have experienced life-changing outcomes. In order to be considered, HR practitioners will have to be sponsored by their organisations to be part of this transformational programme. Please read more about the programme here. Sign-Up today, to join us on this transformational journey. 

To read more about the effectiveness of mentorship as a career development and leadership tool, click here.  

Why Coaching Should Be Part of your Talent Development Plan for 2021

“Coaching can be likened to a good GPS, sometimes, without one, you have no idea where you are going”. - Irene Asare

During my career working across Africa, and Europe as a Human Resources (HR) practitioner, professional coach, and mentor, I have taken keen note of the potential of proper, effective coaching in organisations. I have personally had the benefit of people who have looked out for me throughout my career.

In my professional journey, I have been able to learn and be guided by some wonderful coaches. These coaches have been like mirrors in many ways - helping me realise things I hadn’t noticed I needed to improve on, or identifying strengths I hadn’t noticed I had. Coaching can be a wonderfully fulfilling experience.

What Is Coaching?

Coaching is the process undertaken to enable the development of ‘self’ focusing on what is required at the time. A good coach will ideally come to guide you through a specific personal or professional goal or challenge - leading to personal or professional development or growth. The coach can help you navigate the specific challenge or goal, having either navigated others or themselves successfully.

Is it time to get familiar with Coaching? 

In Ghana, and within the HR profession - more specifically, many people are given leadership roles, without adequate preparation and support. This can lead to feelings of confusion, stress, and lost productivity ideally. Besides, these individuals may not be fulfilling their full potential and may be executing their role in a sub-optimal manner.  

Coaching is often an untapped resource for professional development. In light of all the technological changes, it is easy to forget the transformational role coaching can have on an individual’s career. In many ways, proper professional coaching received at the right time can be the catalyst that someone requires to begin to fulfill their potential. Coaching, especially done in-house, can have a positive impact on employee behavior and corporate culture. It can also, sometimes, be a less costly way of enhancing employee skills. 

In Ghana, and throughout Africa, where many small and medium-sized enterprises work with real budget constraints, and allocation to training and talent development may suffer, coaching may provide a more cost-friendly opportunity to developing talent. Coaching can be a great way to get more achieved with the same resources.  It may be time for many institutions to revisit the idea of coaching, leveraging it directly as a tool to improve corporate outcomes. HR managers take note. By investing in employee development and providing them with an environment where they can be successful, you also create an environment that means success for the company.

According to Milner & Mccarthy (2019), in the Asia Pacific Journal of Human Resources, managerial coaching enhances employees’ willingness to take risks, try new things, cope with change, and indeed to become agents-of-change themselves - what business wouldn’t want people with these characteristics? For this reason alone, it may be time to take another look at coaching. 

With a plethora of professional development resources available in today’s business environment - online courses, external training, and workshops, I find that coaching is often neglected as a tool for professional development, especially in Africa. In my time working as HR director at Tullow, I learned that many tangible and intangible benefits accrue to both the organisation and the beneficiary. 

Here I will present some reasons why I have come to believe that coaching represents a wonderful and unique opportunity for businesses, especially in Africa.

Let’s dive in. 

Employee Engagement and Organisational Culture

Africa is uniquely positioned compared to the other regions of the world. One of the main differentiators and potential drivers of growth on the continent is its youth demographic. According to some estimates, up to 60% of the population is under 25.  This “youth dividend” as it is often referred has already begun to have a considerable impact on the labor market, on the continent and will continue to do so in the future. This growing demographic is already finding themselves in corporate and work environments. They have different needs and demands, and coaching can be a great way to respond to those. 

In many African institutions, control and power are very hierarchical. Authority and decision making are concentrated at the top - with leaders, who are often leaders by title, or position than by their ability to motivate people towards a common goal. Certain cultural norms often mingle with these characteristics to develop organisational cultures that are not open, not transparent, suppress freedom of speech, expression, and don’t encourage open and honest communication. 

In a lot of these organizations, there is a chasm between management and employees. This divide can limit the growth potential of more junior employees who often feel like they operate on their own, and without any guidance. It is also likely that they might feel like their work is of little value to the organisation, harming productivity. 

The drawbacks of such an organisational culture are clear and obvious. Companies that exhibit this type of culture are not innovative, are slow to respond to changes, waste resources, and in the long-run are often not sustainable. Frictions cause inefficiencies that eventually work to cripple these institutions.  

Creating a coaching programme in the organisation, and creating the capacity for coaching at all levels can motivate staff and eventually boost improve performance and productivity levels throughout the organisation. Coaching and development done within an organisation may also lead to increased employee engagement and retention, strengthen employee loyalty, and foster increased belief in the organisation. 

According to Milner and Mccarty (2019), coaching can lead to employee empowerment. The coaching rendered by leadership to more junior members of staff helped employees feel more aligned with their organisation. Indeed, those who benefited from supervisory coaching noted an increased sense of belonging, ownership, and ability to contribute. 

According to Lee, Awang, and Tuckey (2018), development-focused leadership behaviors, such as supervisory coaching and performance feedback, act as resources in employee development and, in return, benefit the organisation by retaining human capital and promoting work engagement. Increased engagement can boost things like business innovation, and lead directly to the bottom-line or profit of a business. 

The knowledge that is transmitted can be more targeted because coaches are more likely to have a better understanding and relatability to those that they coach. This gives coaches the ability to impart invaluable institutional knowledge - which helps to enhance corporate outcomes. 

In my career, I have had the opportunity to engage with coaches at different stages that have been able to help me grow. These coaches, here in Ghana - and in different places that I have worked, have been part of my professional support system. Having someone directly invested in your career and your work, who can give you advice can be an important asset, and can also engender a sense of belonging. 

Making the Team Stronger 

Coaching arrangements within an organisation can strengthen teams through improved relationships, and the building of trust. Milner & Mccarthy (2019) note that improvement in the relationships is more likely to encourage an employee to discuss issues that may be affecting their performance.

By building a strategy that leverages coaching, especially one where senior leadership takes up the role of coaches, an organisation can create a culture that enhances the flow of communication. This can also directly boost the confidence of employees.

In more advanced countries, coaching is actively leveraged, especially in leadership and management programmes. It is often the prefered talent upscaling method because feedback and guidance can be provided in real-time, and the skills and learning happen in the context of the current jobs without requiring employees to leave their day-to-day responsibilities. Efficiency is not lost. 

Through coaching arrangements, employees can build and reinforce direct relationships, enhancing organisational effectiveness in the process. By leveraging coaching, a company can strengthen its teams, and develop more effective leadership directly. Building a coaching relationship takes time, patience, and understanding - much like trust. Trust is an important part of any coaching relationship, therefore coaches must be patient, emotionally intelligent, and be willing to build trust over time. 

Again, according to Milner & Mccarthy (2019), the key elements of coaching are active listening and open style questions allowing people to think through issues themselves. Most people generally respond positively in conversations to this technique, feel more in control of the coaching experience, and therefore more at ease and more likely to open up and self-discovery share. 

It is important that coaching is done in a way that is fair and non-discriminatory, and that all employees have equal access to coaching opportunities within an organisation. Coaching works when it’s systematic and studies show that many organizations use coaching as an integrated part of a larger talent development program.

Let’s talk Chemistry

For a coaching engagement to be successful there has to be chemistry. Real growth occurs where there can be openness and honesty. If these ingredients are missing it is easy for the coaching engagement to fizzle out. For a coachee to feel comfortable sharing their strengths, weaknesses, successes, and failures with a coach, they must first trust him or her. If this element of trust is missing, and the trainee does not feel or believe that they can open up, then the growth and learning are nearly impossible. Trust and confidentiality are imperative. 

For coaching engagement to work, there must be trust. Trust like any good relationship must be built upon. This does not mean just having a coach that you can trust to simply tell things in confidentiality. It also means having a coach who you can trust to challenge you. 

A good coach can act as a source of challenge for an employee, forcing them to rethink their assumptions and ideas. Essentially, a good coach understands that true growth occurs often at the edge of one’s comfort zone, and so understands that there is a need to challenge the one he/she is coaching. The idea is not to leave the employee at sea with no hope though; the coach will also work to equip those they coach with the necessary skills/knowledge and insight to be able to navigate the challenges and gain the required growth. A coachee must trust that the coach will provide this challenge to them and equip them with the necessary skills.

I have had the benefit of experiencing different coaches. Coaches with different personalities, from different nationalities, and with differing focuses.  All have brought something unique to me. Looking back now, I believe what they all had in common was approachability, empathy, chemistry, and represented a real challenge to my own often narrow thinking.  Each one of them helped on my journey of leadership and each was extremely valuable.

Coaching can be a wonderfully effective tool for HR practitioners, in creating institutional change, or improving organisational culture. As well as self-development in boosting professional and personal outcomes that enable you to contribute wherever you are in your journey of self discovery.

Mind, Body and Soul

'The mind is it thoughts, the heart is it desires and the soul is it experiences’

Without all three we would be aimlessly walking through life.

Before you are a CEO, Senior Manager, Student, Parent, Aunty, caregiver etc, you are first and foremost a human being. I have to remind myself of this sometimes, I am sure you do too! These are some of the focal areas that keep me well balanced.

Connection with God.

I don’t play with my relationship to God my spiritual guide, father, brother, friend, confidant, leader. For many of us, our religious affiliation is a source of sanity, peace and tranquillity. It has taken many years of me, resisting, opposing, not believing that there is a higher creator watching and caring for me like no other in this world. For me, this personal relationship with God keeps my mind and soul at peace.

It is not as easy as it seems. Despite the often-many challenges I go through, I can pull through because I have that great connection with him. Consistency of prayer, reading, listening and most importantly, understanding the material helps build my self-confidence and guide my personal and spiritual growth. This is key certainly at this time in my life, when I have chosen to build an organisation and business that will impact people for generations.
My connection with God helps me stay positive.

Building a daily routine.

We are such creatures of habit. You may not always be aware, but we have certain neural pathways we follow. This is basically a series of behaviours exhibited one after another. Many of the neural pathways we have implemented in our brains over the years are largely unconscious and this is where the power of building a morning routine lies.

Building a morning routine is all about being deliberate in the habits we want to cultivate. How you build your morning routine will be specific to you and your environment but irrespective of these factors you can build an effective routine for your life. My morning routine consists of the following:

I set my alarm, although I generally wake up before it goes off. Stay in bed a little longer, meditate in silence, and pray, then wake the kids up and help them get ready for school, which involves, hurry up, brush your hair, have you brushed your teeth and making sure the lunches are prepared. Then see them off and off to the gym for the morning workout. By 7am I have my work out and then prepare for my day ahead!

Make sure to factor in the following features to your morning routine:
Mediate, Hydration, Exercise, Sunlight and learning, Sleep.

Do what you love.

‘When you do what you love, you never work a day in your life’.

People are my passion, leading change and daring to be different, going against the norms and impacting people is what I truly love.

People management, giving advice, support, helping to provide solutions, as well as coaching for specific outcomes and mentoring young people, is where I see my true passion come to life.

It’s exciting to be involved in a major change programme, which will turn people and business upside down for the better. Whilst going through it, it can feel uncomfortable and painful at times, but the delight and satisfaction when it's delivered and has achieved positive results, is a well worth it, especially when the doubters come back and say great job!

Giving my advice, that comes from many years of experience and being recognised and commended for it, is truly a blessing.

We all have our different passions and not all of us are lucky enough to work on our passions full time. However, what I encourage is that you find time in your day to work on your passion whether you are in-training, or informally working with your passion

Gratitude

I’m so grateful for all that has been given to me, the opportunities that I have had, the times when I have worked so hard for great results. The development opportunities that have nearly broken me! I’m genuinely grateful for them all!

Gratitude for me keeps me on the positive side of life. When we become bogged down by all the negativity this world has to offer then it becomes hard to keep a positive focused mindset. We have all met people before that are unnecessarily negative and bitter and I find those people hard to be around.

I choose to have a positive attitude and spread this to others. A coaching friend of mine suggested I do the high 5’s every Friday. This is where you write down and send to your accountability partner, 5 things you are proud of for the week. I urge you to try it, it’s easy to forget what you really have achieved for the week, it’s a great reminder and can instantly improve your mood.

Audio Books

Using audio books is a great way for me to relax in the evenings, when I am travelling or when I was doing my morning commute. There are specific reasons that I listen to audio books, sometimes for insights or to challenge my own perspectives. For motivation, to help me think through a specific challenge, to get to know a personality a little better or just as food for my soul!

These are some of the recent audio books I have listened to, have a listen to them and let me know what you think.

Becoming - Michelle Obama

Becoming is a biography on how a young Michelle Robinson became Michelle Obama, the woman who the world admires today. She depicts her youth in Chicago and how she had to battle hardships and discrimination to become the icon that inspires many women around the world. She could not have become who she is today without confidence in her ability, her voice and unwavering mental strength to challenge a society that places her at the bottom on the totem pole.

The journey she took, of course came with its moments of failure but without the drive to succeed she would never be where she is today.

Rising Strong - Brene Brown

Brene Brown has a wonderful and special way that she is able to ‘get to you’ and connect your thinking. I found her as a PhD Doctor and researcher, down to earth and personable. Rising strong is a self-development book that teaches tools to bounce back from moments of failure and disappointment. Brown realises that without failure, one does not grow, there is no change.She is able to break down aspects of life into simple and understandable concepts that inspire me to get up, brush myself off, and fight back to create the ending I want for myself.

Resisting Happiness - Matthew Kelly

Mathew Kelly is a teacher, author and speaker. I really connected with this book, he recollects true stories and uses them to address self-sabotage, disregarding our hopes and dreams, and self-expressions. When addressing the question of happiness, Kelly realises that he is not a Philosopher but knows that there is a sense of accepting your current quality of life, when greater levels are achievable.

When discussing self-sabotage, he explains concepts such as resistance. To Kelly, resistance is the self-destructive act of lazily attending or a lack of motivation toward tasks that are for your benefit. However, you may conjure the energy for tasks that are undoubtedly against you and your progression. This book helped me dig into my faith and challenge myself.

5 dysfunctions of a team - Patrick Lencioni

I have read and used this book when navigating my last leadership team and the journey we took. It is truly a very interesting book that makes you come face to face with some of your ‘challenges’.

Lencioni’s 5 Dysfunctions of a team is a powerful story on leadership and the plights that leaders may face. It follows the journey of Katheryn Peterson, the CEO of a company and the tasks she had on her hands to unite a team whose lack of cohesion put the business in jeopardy. As well as the various individual characters that made up the leadership team, that is where I think we can begin to identify the character that we are. Katheryn Peterson had to show extraordinary levels of leadership skill to bring the team together. The book then goes on to explain how to surpass obstacles that hinder teams from performing to their maximum.

Let me know your thoughts on any of these books by sharing your comments below.

5 Top Tips for Success!

Over my years in the professional space I’ve learned several lessons that have helped me gain success in my career. Today I’m sharing a few of my top tips to help you flourish in your own careers.

Decision making

It is your decisions that will define you. We have all been there, where we’ve made a decision and we either instantly knew it was a bad one, or we were convinced we had made the right one only for things to turn out horribly.

Your decisions are the difference between living a life full of regret or enjoying life to the maximum. So how do you ensure you make unbiased, well-considered decisions? How can you identify and evaluate the risks of your decision? How can you make sure you’re addressing the right issue?

If you are anything like me, you’re always in a rush to make a decision. Unlearn that and understand that taking your time to make a decision is ok. It doesn’t mean you're less of a professional or indecisive. With this being said, always be mindful of when quick decisions need to be made and when you have a bit of time to really reflect and take into account all the factors before your final decision. Once you make a decision, stick with it and see it through, right or wrong, you will learn from it.

Have a great mentor

A great mentor will show you everything you need to be to succeed as well as help you find your own way of enacting this success. A mentor that you respect, can be open with and who you can your highs and lows with is critical to your growth and success.

I recall one of my mentors had mastered the art of networking. Everywhere we went we would bump into people she knew, everywhere! I was amazed, I noticed that her cheerful personality helped her build so many awesome relationships, something that I took away from the relationship.

Develop strong communication skills

No matter what position you hold in a team, you need to master communication. Irrespective of whether you are a manager or entry-level employee, when you speak, people need to understand you with ease. In many organisations today, we move at such a fast pace, being clear and concise in your verbal and written communication is a critical skill.

Another aspect of good communication is the effect you leave on the listener. Some people naturally tend to be sharp speakers, by this I mean they can say something with no harm intended but unbeknownst to them their tone comes across as offensive. This will leave the listener feeling as if they were on the receiving end of a punishment, when that wasn’t the case.

I’ve been accused of this in my day (I’m glad to say I’m much better now). It’s important to be mindful of how you come across when communicating. Clarity shouldn’t be mistaken for condescension.

Build a feedback culture

There is a famous quote that goes ‘when the farmer is mowing the crops, he cannot see when he has gone off course, it is only when he is directed by an onlooker can he realise his mistake’.

All professionals at every level should be willing to listen to feedback and accept constructive criticism. There are times when we may not be fully aware of the mistakes we are making. If we do not open the channels for feedback we will continue to make those mistakes and they can eventually develop into harmful habits. Listening is one part of the job, acting on the feedback you have been given is where the value lies.

Stay on top of your profession

You need to be ahead of the curve to move. This means that you need to go out and find all the novel information needed for your job. The easiest example of this is technology. With the direction the world is taking, the future of work is upon us. Having a strong understanding of the recent and best technological devices that work to improve yourself, your job and your company will make you an outstanding employee or CEO. Aside from technology devices and applications, this also applies to job-relevant knowledge. How often do you renew your mind and research the recent findings relevant to your profession? This world is in an era of excessive information and it is easily accessible. The information is literally on your fingertips. We don’t have any excuse to not be in the loop.

How will you incorporate these 5 tips into your professional life?

Ted Talk Summary

Ted Talk Title: The power of believing you can improve
Ted Speaker: Carol Dweck
Author Biography: Carol Dweck is a Psychologist famous for her research into motivation, success and growth.

I have always been a fan of the Growth mindset in my last organisation, I ran a 1-hour power hour.

Growth Mindset

The growth mindset is not a new phenomenon, but it is unfortunately one that is understated and not as popular as it ought to be. Formulated in the 90s by Carol Dweck, the Growth Mindset was initially born from research into young school children. It speaks to one's ability to believe that they can improve through continual learning. From the research, it was found that the lowest performing students were able to outperform seemingly naturally gifted students. Results also found that children from traditionally low performing schools and regions were able to surpass the traditionally high performing schools and regions and perform within the top 1 percent of schools nationwide.

What does the growth mindset mean for organisations and people?

Ask any organisation what one thing they want from their employees and most will say results. There is a large impetus on employees to provide ever increasing results, within their time at the company. To keep up with this demand, the employee must continually increase their capacity and simultaneously the company must provide resources to enable growth.

Growth Mindset vs Fixed Mindset

The findings from this research has inspired me and many other people and organisations around the world to adopt a growth mindset. From the organisations point of view, each individual should have the ability to become better at their job, as long as they foster the growth mindset effectively. Organisations have a critical role to play in this too as the culture must feed into the growth mindset and give people the time to learn on the job. A company that fires as fast as they hire will struggle to implement the growth mindset. The path of growth may not be linear and mistakes will be made along the way, but the company must be steadfast in the faith they have in the employees.

The fixed mindset

The talk also highlights what is called a fixed mindset, which is when an individual is in a mental state of stagnation. The belief that the level they are currently at is the end point of their progression and may not be changed. For example, if you constantly tell yourself that you are incapable of learning a skill, you will never learn it. A practical example is an individual with poor writing capabilities, the fixed mindset will dictate that that is their level and they are not able to change that. If this mindset is adopted within the company then that company will have to constantly fire employees that do not have that natural skill to achieve desired results and replace them with a more naturally gifted employee. Not only is this an expensive process, it casts the company in a negative light that may harm employer branding. In the long term, this may cause the company growth to plateau as they will not be able to attract most talented employees.

My last organisation encouraged this mindset in our training and development programmes and we progressed to be one of the biggest companies in the industry.

I strongly advise everyone to listen and absorb the content of this talk as it could possibly be a life changer. In my experiences over the years, I have come across many professionals who find it very hard to self-assess and figure out their weaknesses. These are people that are contained within a fixed mindset. On the other hand, some of the most successful and progressive professionals, I have come across are always looking to find ways to improve their lives, whether it be personal or professional. It is undeniable that the many people that I have mentored, the individuals that showed the most progress were people that embodied the growth mindset.

How often do you renew your mind?
How often does your company give you the opportunity to increase your capacity?
Let me know your thoughts.

Topical – COVID19 Corona and the challenges of working from home

Presenteeism was a problem before the proliferation of COVID-19, now we have to shift to outcome and performance-based management. We can no longer get away with just simply showing up to work, we are now in a world where results will matter even more than ever.

How do we now manage expectations and performance?

Working from home brings its own challenges and a multitude of distractions. An example of this is for people that have children, there is no way you can have a whole workday to yourself as your children will invariably need your attention.

How can you prepare for your day, by creating a space at home which you identify with working. Separating work from home and being self motivated to get work done. Let's explore!

Creating your own workspace

Not everyone is able to have an in-house office where they can almost guarantee silence. Many people want to work from a place of comfort such as their bed, but this may not bring the answers although it is highly tempting and comforting. If we do not have an already designated workspace that doesn't not mean that we cannot create one. I watched a video recently which highlighted that you don't not need to recreate an office setting in your home to have a designated workspace. The video stated that all you need is a table, chair and a decent internet connection and you are good to go.

Differentiate between work and home

When working from home it is easy for people to start ignoring working hours and work at all manner of the day and night. However, as is key with all things, balance is needed. Work within your usual work hours. If you are working a 9-5 then work as you normally would. If you would usually end up having to spend a couple more hours in the office to finish tasks or attend meetings then do not drastically change this. Furthermore, enjoy your lunch break. You are in the comfort of your own home after all. As well as taking regular breaks, this helps to refresh and renew your mind.

Self-motivation

Working without the direct supervision of your manager can allow people to take liberties with their work. Some will do as little as required and nothing more. Procrastination may become a true issue and must be addressed before it becomes habitual. This is a time where we need to hold ourselves accountable for our actions and stick to our deadlines.

A way of keeping to this is by having a schedule displayed in front of you at all times. At the end of each day set out the calendar for the next day. This makes it very clear what you are doing at all times and how to mentally prepare yourself for the following day. This takes a lot of self-discipline and if you struggle with this and want to cement that accountability then you can share your calendar with your supervisor.

What methods do you use to maintain your performance when working from home? Comment Below.

Innovation and Creativity in Your Career Development

Innovation starts from within. The concept that every individual is capable of birthing the next big innovation idea seems to be one that is met with some level of skepticism in the world today.

At the recent Young Professional and Youth Coalition (YPYC) 10th Anniversary event held on Saturday, October 5th 2019 that hosted a platform for an extensive discourse on professional development in Ghana, I embarked on a simple exercise during my speech on 'Innovation & Creativity in Career Development’ to prove this point: that innovation was inside everyone.

The Accra International Conference Centre was filled with a diverse mix of business professionals and a good number of Africa’s leading mentors, including the CEO of CDH Investment Holdings (The Chairman of the event), Mr. Emmanuel Adu Sarkodee, Dr. Olu Ajayi, CEO, Maddison Pine; Mr. Abraham Kofi Asante, CEO, Ghana Investment Fund for Electronic Communication (GIFEC); and Mrs. Abena Biney, Partner, Deloitte-Touche. Hon. Dr. Benjamin Bewa-Nyog Kunbuor, former MP for Lawra Nandom and former Minister for Defence, represented the special guest of honor, His Excellency, Former President Jerry John Rawlings.

In the heart of the graceful event honouring notable achievements of colleagues alike, the founder and president of YPYC and a fellow mentor in my HR Mentoring Programme, Mr. Andy Osei Okrah joined this ‘Imagine 2029’ exercise that captivated the room:

I began my presentation asking the audience to take a moment with their eyes closed.

"Imagine this is the year 2029, it's the 20th anniversary of the Young Transformational Leadership Conference, I am in the audience as a guest and you are up here on stage talking about how your company or the business you work for has made a difference through innovation and creativity. You did it, all from your own idea. How did you do it? How did it feel? How are you feeling as you stand on stage and have the chance to inspire the next generation of innovators?”

As the group opened their eyes, a sheer sense of possibility and positivity filled the room as the attendees proceeded to murmur the content of their ideas and visions to one another. They had felt it: the mark of innovation, not as inventors, but as career people. My point was made: “Innovation starts from within, and exists inside everyone”.

Innovation is not only the application of the latest Artificial Intelligence (AI) or tech innovation. It is what we do in our small way that creates impact and has value; a unique adaptation from everything that has been done before within that context. Many usually think their creativity only exists outside the corporate world. They leave behind their hidden talent/s and channel all their energy into the monotony of their corporate paths.

I encourage you as I did with the YPYC audience to:

  1. Create a vision without restriction & stay relentless in its pursuit.
  2. Explore your passion for change within your context and do not let your environment "box" you in.
  3. Learn to embrace the knock backs as they are an iconic part of the journey.

The Essence of Good Leadership

If you aspire to become a great leader who can engage and transform the lives of those around you then you must take action to improve your daily habits.

Irene Asare

Great leaders seek daily self-improvement, not because they want to be perfect but because of their ambition to further develop personally and professionally. They seek to constantly evolve into better leaders rather than be complacent. They make a conscious effort to make learning visible to empower those around them.

A recent World Economic Forum article titled “Here's what research can teach you about being a better leader”, states, “Leadership has been in the spotlight as never before, as people around the world look to their leaders in all spheres of social, political and organisational life.”

Expectations of Good Leadership

There is leadership wherever you find yourself on any given time or day. The question remains whether it is good, bad or great leadership. Let’s examine our institutions for instance. Every institution in society is established for a definite purpose and governed by leadership. The difference good leadership has on society and the workplace is the purpose-driven factor and success of that society or organization.

Good leaders impact lives by exhibiting high level of integrity. It is the way in which leaders handle challenging situations or conflicts directly and in a transparent manner that proves their honesty. In addition to integrity, any goal-oriented leader must not only set but achieve goals. In doing so, leaders make their priorities for both themselves and their followers clear. When a team fails to meet its goals, leaders are expected to provide constructive feedback and suggestions for improvement.

Having the ability to motivate a team is an equally important trait expected from a good leader. Motivation should not be entirely negative or positive, but a mixture of both. For example, a leader can introduce initiatives that either reward employees based on outstanding performance or punish them for poor performance. The combination of negative and positive reinforcement, outlines a leader’s expectations and ideally serve to motivate their team.

We have all experienced mediocre or poor leadership at some point in our career. I certainly have, and therefore, know all too well how it can seriously affect an employee’s morale and even lead to the downfall of a company. Research shows that authentic leadership positively correlates with an encouraging work environment, which increases self-esteem, friendliness, well-being, and work performance (Grandey, Fiske, Mattila, Jansen, & Sideman, 2005; Kernis, 2003).

Lead with Purpose

There are many schools of thought on good leadership. I see a good leader as someone who does not merely manage people but also serves as a role model for the people they lead, motivates, supports and mentors them. They are more than an authority figure. They are the first to inspire and light the way for others to follow. One way they do this is by transforming with the everchanging world of work especially now as we confront changing mindsets in an evolving decade. A leader can lose their potential followers, those they coach and mentor, if they fail to change with the times because now more than ever, people have the freedom to choose the kind of leadership they want.
For me, the crux of great leadership requires:

Authenticity
Authentic leaders know their personal strengths and vulnerabilities and lead with awareness of their shortcomings. This awareness of self allows them to build rapport and improve the quality of their communication skills, and workforce engagement.
Boldness
Leaders who are bold are inspiring not just because they get big things accomplished, but because they also instigate growth, progress, and movement for themselves and others around them.
Bravery
Leadership takes courage, the courage of confidence in others. Bravery in leadership is about letting go off the need to control situations or outcomes, having faith in people and being open to direction and change.
Humanity
When we recognise others as imperfect human beings, we admit our own imperfection and that our world. This imperfection gives us the possibility to learn, to improve our leadership skills, and to change ourselves every day.
Vulnerability
Great leaders embrace moments of vulnerability by being honest about their feelings and admitting or acknowledging their mistakes. It leads to trust and real connections, which helps improve a group's performance.
Empathy
Empathy is a leadership aptitude like none other. It is being able to understand the needs of others. It means you’re aware of their feelings and their thinking. It means inspiring them to take actions beyond their capabilities, leading them in a direction that is compelling and inspiring.
We must constantly be self-aware, reflective, and fearless to make mistakes or admit our shortcomings. To earn the trust, respect, and cooperation of our team, we should first make selfless sacrifices and put the needs of the people around us ahead of our own. The truth is people will only naturally trust and cooperate with their leader when they feel safe and protected by them.

My Failed Leadership Story

I remember a time at my former organisation when my team failed to deliver what was expected of them and had to go before my boss and colleagues to explain the unfortunate situation. I had to assume the full blame and take the heat because their inability to deliver was a result of my inability to lead. Although I had conversations and expressed my challenges and disappointments with the team, I also took the time to reflect on myself and came to terms with the fact that I was responsible. What a difficult pill for any leader to swallow? In the end, I was glad I made that decision and the team respected me more for it. So much breakthrough happened from that one incident. There was great appreciation and acceptance from my team, which made it easier to take my rightful place as their leader and engage them more.

There must be an element of trust when leading people. I understood that my team would do whatever it took to see my vision become reality, simply because they knew I would do the same for them. Employees should always be able to trust their leaders to make the best decisions for them in tough times. What sets a good leader apart is their transparency in difficult calls. When leaders focus on the wellbeing of their employees, they end up with a more loyal, motivated workforce, ready to invest more in company success. When workers are respected and valued, they are more likely to give their all on the job, which benefits the organisation at large.

Rediscovering Leadership : The road to becoming an effective leader

I have taken time to reflect and partake in activities that have taught me about my leadership style and the type of leader I wish to become. The situational theory of leadership suggests that no single leadership style is the best. Instead, it depends on the situation at hand and which type of leadership and strategies are best suited. According to this theory, the most effective leaders are those that can adapt their style to the situation and look at cues such as the type of task, the nature of the group, and other factors that might contribute to getting the job done.

As a leader, I have learned that I need to be a better observer and more conscious of others around me. Empower them to equally contribute to the overall success of the team. After all, there is no "I" in team. I certainly do not have to have all the answers, but I must be aware of the different situations, adapt and use various approaches if I am to get the best from those around me.

As a mentor, the passion to constantly engage, empower, and transform others remains constant. It is a never-ending road that may not always seem clear. But, while walking along this path, I have discovered that good or bad leaders have great influence over others including themselves. I choose to be a good and effective leader because good leadership means maximising potential and empowering people by recognising and indirectly or directly teaching them to leverage their talents and strengths.

Effective leaders make the workplace a more efficient and favourable environment for their team, which I believe I have been able to do throughout my career. Not everyone has the skills to achieve these results. Luckily, there are a few things we can all do to become better leaders and transform our respective places of business; even transform our lives.
Here are the three things we can all do better as leaders:

1. Clarify and share mission.

Before you can lead a group, you need to understand where you are leading them. Be transparent and clear about goals for your team and business. It is also important to help your team understand the overall mission and their role in making it a reality. In one of the many leadership exercises I have done, I recall a scene where my group and I were split into three smaller groups called islands. Each island was given different information and the same problem to solve. What was interesting about this task, is that some of us were blindfolded, hand strapped behind our backs, or not able to speak. We were all given different aspects of the same problem. While working separately with our various deficiencies, it quickly became evident that none of us had enough information to make sense of the problem. To find the solution, the groups needed to merge to gain enough insight, realise the bigger picture and solve the problem. Not only did this have a direct benefit of making work more productive, but it also empowered and motivated the team to work together to find appropriate solutions. Its key in these situations that happen in real life all the time, that we stop and think broader and ask ourselves, do we have all the information to help make an informed decision or solve the problem at hand? We generally always need others.

2. Be Aware of Situations.

How many times have you said to others ‘Don’t worry, I know what to do, I’ve done this before so I’ve got this’ only to find that the situation didn’t turn out quite as you imagined. It has happened to the best of us! We often believe we have diagnosed the problem and end up applying the same process or actions as we did to a similar problem. So why didn’t you get the desired outcome? You were busy feeling overconfident, thinking you know the answer only to get an awakening that your master solution cannot solve the problem. While you may have seen the problem before, you failed to pay attention to that ‘something’ that changed. What might seem a minor difference could change the entire landscape.
Note that it is easy to apply the same process as before, but every situation is different and may call for a different solution. Before you proceed to solve a problem, stop and think. The ability to adapt your style, action or process to different challenges will also help you address situations appropriately. You won’t fall flat on your face so often and likely to gain more respect as a leader, which will yield positive results.

3. Apply Active Listening

M. Scott Peck rightly said that: ‘You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time’. One key aspect of active listening is focus. This may seem very clear but if you delve deeper it may not be just external stimuli that may take our focus. Often, it may be our mind’s mouth, the conversation that occurs in our own brains, that may take our focus.'
For your team to be well-functioning, they need to feel heard and not just listened to. You may liken the relationship with your team to the relationship a driver has with their car. After driving the car for a while, you understand the car, the way the engine sounds, the way it drives. As soon as unrecognizable alarming sounds emerge from the engine you need to take time out to truly understand and diagnose the origin of the troubling sound. If you ignore the sound or poorly diagnose it, it may lead to a greater issue in the future. With my team, we schedule informal meetings which can be just showing up at their desks every month where we all just talk, it does not have to be work-related. This gives them a frequent avenue to express some of their highs and lows throughout the month and it also gives me the opportunity to show them that their voices are truly and wholly heard.

4. Build and Leverage Meaningful Relationships.

To be an effective leader, it is imperative to have great communication skills, as well as the ability to manage conflict to foster meaningful relationships with those around you. Leaders must create a fabric of personal contacts, whether local, national or global who will provide support, insight and resources. A leader’s ability to network effectively and keep relationships for the longer term is a critical aspect of relationship building. This is deemed as one of the core competencies for effective and influential leadership.
Building relationships is important at all levels; with employees, colleagues, industry professionals, business managers, influencers, graduates etc. It is key that you try to do this and ensure that it is mutually beneficial.
Think about the ability to call upon different people in various situations because you kept a good relationship. Not to mention, the power of your network can help introduce you to a key stakeholder you have been trying to reach for a while.

In summary, rediscovering leadership, as I tried to do recently, taught me more about my strategic and transformational approach. To be a good and trusted leader you must be assertive when leading a team and set clear measurable objectives that everyone can visualise. I also learned that situational awareness and actively listening are key. If we are unaware, then it leaves very little room to find the appropriate solutions. Lastly, we must learn to effectively network to establish an unwavering connection with likeminded individuals who can be a resource in times of need.
Are you on the path to re-discovering leadership?