AWiB Annual May Forum 2024

AWiB Annual May Forum, held every year at UNCC and attended by up to 500 participants, is about AWiB’s capacity and contribution to the nation.  Organized for the tenth year the conference cultivates a culture of dialogue and reflection. This year’s theme is “Agile Leadership:  From Authority to Partnership.”

AWiB is a membership-driven leadership association operational since April 2010, committed to developing women’s personal and professional competencies. The association does so by creating a platform for information-sharing, learning, and supporting its members’ development through weekly, monthly, and annual events (workshops, seminars, and Round Table Discussions) and online media.

We have been in a state of transition good or bad for the past six years with uncertainty looming at every corner in what direction we, as a country, will be heading.  This uncertainty is built in the people for many reasons: the continuous conflict rising among citizens, ethnic-based violence, economic hardship, and uncontrollable inflation. The lack of protection of citizens by the government from forced internal displacement and ethnic-based violence have built a sense of insecurity and frustration resulting in lack of trust in the system. Politically, the government led by Prime Minister Abiy had taken many reforms and actions to liberalize the country’s political sphere moving towards a democratic state. Some of the bold reforms and actions had been the lift of restrictions on access to the Internet, the release of pioneer opposing journalists, politicians, and bloggers, and the revisit of repressive laws that used to silence the citizens by the parliament paving the way for freedom of expression.  However, some of these bold moves seem to regress over time. A polarized, fragmented, unstable political atmosphere that is covered by seemingly irreconcilable demands of various ethnic parties and other interest groups challenges any sustainable reforms. This fear of the unknown has been aggravated by the unclear intentions of the ruling government. The continuous unrest has also shredded the trust people have within their communities hindering open discussions of one’s political standpoint.  This has made collaboration and transition difficult making the change socially unpredictable.

Historically, we as a nation have a poor track record facilitating a smooth transition between regimes until recently.  Although the transfer of power has been exemplary for the continent and world, its sustainability is at risk.  Looking at our current situation with a critical view, we as citizens have not yet gone through the transition – the psychological process that happens within us in response to the change.

As a community, we lack the culture of dialogue. As a result, our relationship experience is mostly authority/subordinate based making it difficult for us to find a collaborative environment that builds partnerships.  Furthermore, we are a community used to being led instead of proactively taking ownership of and responsibility for our agendas.  We do not have the habit or the courage of asking questions.  To add to these cultural challenges, the scarcity mentality embedded in our society creates disputes over resources and stagnates creativity.

As citizens’ responsibility, it is our duty to put in our two cents on how our future should be shaped and seek out the type of leadership that will deliver us from the clasp of anarchy.

Balancing between anarchy and strict structure is crucial to strive and thrive in today’s uncertain and ambiguous environment. In such context, to sustain fundamental transformation requires agile leadership. Agile leadership is a new management paradigm that thrives in an unpredictable rapidly changing environment of today as opposed to the traditional organization models that only find comfort in the safety of a stable and familiar environment.

Agile leadership encompasses embracing every aspect of agility setting a clear and shared vision. It builds a culture of self-organizing and self-managing teams with a focus on delivering value.  An agile environment organization is stable, dynamic, inclusive, and non-hierarchical. It effortlessly adapts to environmental changes and continuously evolves to embrace uncertainty and ambiguity.  Agile leaders focus on developing new mindsets and capabilities. They lead by example engaging, enabling, and energizing their teams toward achieving shared goals. A mindset shift with agility at the core requires a set of attitudes: respect, collaboration, continuous learning, pride in ownership, focus on delivering value, and the ability to adapt to change.

Research has shown that most adults spend the majority of their time reacting to circumstances or people around them.  Mastering the mind-set shift starts with moving away from a reactive to a creative state of mind.  To react is an ‘outside-in’ way to experience the world while to create is an ‘inside-out’ experience that taps into our authentic self, core passion, purpose, transcending organizations and communities.

Agile mindset transformation requires fostering a culture of innovation, collaboration, and value creation.  A culture of innovation entails embracing risk, experimenting, thinking outside the box, and seeking diversity of thought. Above all, it is about managing by agreement based on freedom, trust, and accountability leading the way from authority to partnership.

Leading in service of purpose and passion, not in fear of punishment or sanction, how can we as a society:

  • Take ownership and be proactive in addressing our agenda?
  • Act on our rights and commit to our responsibilities as citizens?
  • Build trust and commitment?
  • Make our intentions clear & known?
  • Have a constructive dialogue without animosity?
  • Let go and embrace change?
  • Embed autonomy in the fabric of our culture?   

“Bridging the Gap: From Authority to Partnership” is a panel discussion that dwells on bringing innovation and public private partnership (PPP) in light of agile leadership. An educated society is creative and this panel discusses how education could be innovative for it can be the foundation of inquisitive social structures in Ethiopia.

  1. What should be government’s approach to transform the nation from authority to partnership? What’s the government’s role in building a nation that is inclusive, progressive, and just?
  2. How does the private sector gear to forge equal relationships with the government, clients, and workers – all stakeholders to succeed in the Ethiopia that we would like to see?
  3. As quality education is the basis for nation-building, how does Ethiopia’s higher educational institution prepare to influence and bring about an enlightened society?

What would happen if you wanted to persuade a bunch of people to come along with you on a journey? What are the two things you need to do? Well, you’ve got to start where they are and you’ve got to give them a reason to come with you.” —CHRIS ANDERSON

We communicate for one of these three basic purposes: to educate/inform, to relate, or to influence.  There is more to influence than good communication.  We can communicate without influencing but we cannot influence without communicating.  Influencing translates to moving a person towards action without the use of direct power.  We are not intentional about influencing because we do not get close enough to what our audience expects, wants or needs.  We do not show the contagious passion it takes to ignite action.  Instead, we present our agenda and the logical arguments to support it then expect our audience to come right along with us.  We shortsightedly expect others to take our information the way we present it then do something with it.

Effective communication is all about conveying our message to other people clearly and unambiguously.  But most of us focus on passing out the information we want or need to share. We get stuck in an information overload of facts, stats, updates, and action items. We do not make an effort to create an emotional connection because it is just too hard or maybe because we do not dare. When we miss the emotional connection, we miss the opportunity to influence, inspire, or even mildly entertain because we don’t consider the experience we’re creating. 

According to Stephen Covey, “In order to be understood, seek first to understand.”  Therefore, the best way to influence people through communication is to be aware of the five E’s of listening:  Ears, Eyes, Experience, Emotion, Expectation, and finally Evaluate.

In this session, we will discover the core competency of an effective communicator and what is required to communicate successfully—taking out the guessing and sharing the practical tools of how to communicate to influence.

  • The importance of influence in shifting mindsets
  • Skills needed for communicating to influence
  • The role of strategic communication in influencing others
  • Understanding the importance of storytelling
  • Listening with empathy

“If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.” – Henry Ford

In this day and age, we bear witness to the human phenomenon – social media – which serves as a virtual platform for self-organizing groups.  Be it Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, we see a plethora of people converging and organizing into groups based on interests, affiliations, relationships and common views.  All underpinned by shared ideas and realizations, clearing the intent that teams are founded on shared ownership.  However, we have to ask “Is setting shared goals to motivate members enough to generate high-performing teams?”

Great performing teams are defined as a number of people with complementary skills committed to a common purpose and a set of performance goals with an approach of holding themselves mutually accountable. Thus, high-performing teams come through commitment and contribution.

Teams are the core unit of any organization.  As such, agile leadership focuses on guiding and supporting rather than directing and micromanaging.  Creating a sense of safe space where people feel comfortable to openly share ideas and admit their flaws is the prevalent characteristic of high-performing teams.  Commitment and collaboration – pillars of agile leadership – transform groups into highly efficient and vibrant teams.

A.     What is Commitment?

Commitment means creating common goals with the willingness to achieve them.  High-performing teams have a well-defined, mutually agreed on and shared set of goals for which they hold themselves accountable.  Whether a team sending a space shuttle to Mars, a medical team in an operating theatre or a dispersed sales group, only teams with unyielding commitment to a common sense of purpose will be effective.

To unleash purpose and meaningful results, team commitment requires understanding of direction so that organizational and team goals are understood by everyone.  A clear, compelling and inspiring purpose focuses on results that matter to all stakeholders. 

Leaders in agile organizations foster commitment by adopting a people-centric approach, engaging teams by providing supportive leadership styles as opposed to directive, command and control styles.  They unify teams by focusing on their well-being and affording a deep sense of fulfilment and accomplishment for each team member.

B.      What is Collaboration?

Collaboration is an essential ingredient for an effective performance.  Collaboration involves a high degree of support and sharing as well as a healthy challenge to achieve win-win outcomes.  High-performing team members are cooperative rather than destructively competitive. 

Collaboration within the context of an agile environment consists of a collaborative leadership style with the ability to adapt to change; the approach is people-driven rather than process-driven. Agile leaders create a network of collaborative teams with more autonomy for decision-making. It encourages individual contribution, joint problem solving, and accountability.

Successful collaboration requires a cooperative spirit and mutual respect. Leading a high-performing team is undoubtedly challenging.   Employers normally seek employees who can work effectively as part of a team and are able to balance personal achievement with group goals.  Collaboration starts with trust.

  • How to create team commitment
  • How to successfully engage teams for high-performance
  • How to empower and create collaborative teams
  • What are the environments of successful collaboration?
  • How to identify opportunities and barriers for collaboration

“Women leaders who have broken the glass ceiling in medium-sized, nontraditional organizations have proven that effective leaders don’t come from one mold.  They have demonstrated that using the command-and-control style of managing others, a style generally associated with men in large, traditional organizations, is not the only way to succeed.”  (Harvard Business Review)

Agility or agile leadership comes at ease for women. This is mostly because women in general possess the traits seen in agile leaders. Agile leadership traits such as collaboration, communication, and inclusiveness are the cornerstone of successful leadership and also labeled as feminine traits. Women leaders are mostly empathetic, nurturing, strong communicators and most of them focus on teamwork and leading by example. They also possess strong emotional intelligence. While female agile leaders embrace change, they don’t leave bodies in the wake of change. Instead, they understand that change can trigger emotions like fear and uncertainty so they boost their team members’ sense of confidence with positive energy. In this dynamically changing world, we cannot lead by the 19th-century mindset – organizations need to modify their norms and rules and enhance gender diversity for better business results.

 The 21st-century leadership characteristics are defined by:

  • Collaboration:  Empowering, achieving, innovating
  • Communication:  Developing, reflecting, learning
  • Commitment:  Inspiring, engaging, unifying

So, the questions are:  Why are we still not able to break the glass ceiling in the 21st century where women have the required leadership behavior and capability?  What is the contribution of women leaders in society, particularly in uplifting more women to leadership?

Talking points:

  • Discuss and share knowledge, skills, and ideas based on the experiences and practices of speakers as well as others
  • Create an understanding of why women make great leaders in agile environments
  • Increase collaboration among stakeholders to infuse feminine qualities of collaboration, communication, and nurturing of relationships, national systems, and processes. 
  • Explore challenges that come from the assumption of taking power away from men when we bring more women to leadership

Join AWiB on Thursday, 30th of May, 2024, at the UNCC for a one-day forum with prominent speakers—eminent personalities and leaders—to be inspired and re-energized, and to work on your next steps of personal, business, and professional development.

Sources:

  • How To Build High Performing Teams? | Agile Transformation Coaching. (2019, June 22). Retrieved from https://leadership-tribe.com/in/building-high-performing- team/

The AWiB Team

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