AWiB’s 2019 May Forum Adaptive Leadership: Welcoming the New Frontier

AWiB May Forum, a reputable and eye opening yearly event has come and gone. More than 500 curious participants, first timers and regulars attended. This year AWiB’s annual May Forum’s theme was: “Adaptive Leadership: Welcoming the New Frontier”.

AWiB May Forum presented 9 speakers. This highly inspirational, impressive yearly Forum also attracts a number of the international community and college students to AWiB.  This year’s Forum has also included 25 Female scientists college lecturers. As AWiB May Forum is a professional development day, many from corporate world joined and participated in most important workshops: Negotiation Skills and Emotional Intelligence that support the smooth operations of corporate processes to accomplish vision.

AWiB May Forum is also set up first and for most to develop the culture of dialogue in our beloved nation, our main panel “Gaining Perspective in challenges and uncertainty: seeing the Gap”, we discussed the current situation of Ethiopia’s transformation Era.

Opening Keynote Speaker: Billene Seyoum, Press Secretary, PM Office

AWiB is home to me. It nurtured me. It watered me. It supported me to bloom.

Billene Seyoum

Billene began her speech thankful to AWiB for its choice of this year’s theme stating that it was “timely, current, and relevant”. She shared her story on her experiences at the Acumen East-African regional leadership program a while back, drawing relations to the idea of Adaptive Leadership. She mentioned how the term ‘Adaptive’ conjured the image of the West African “Denkyem” symbol, a graphic representation of a crocodile, used by the people of the Ashanti Kingdom in Ghana, that she had been using for years as part of her email signature. The symbol represents adaptability, the crocodile that lives in the water but also breathes from the air, demonstrating an ability to adapt to circumstances.

Billene conveyed key principles of adaptive leadership using her experiences, stating that both technical and adaptive challenges are involved. Technical challenges being straightforward and easily identifiable, while the adaptive challenges are more difficult to identify by nature. Solutions to adaptive challenges require shifts in deep seated beliefs, attitudes and behaviors that we may have existing blind spots to, but nonetheless have a bearing on the issue at hand. As uncomfortable as adaptive challenges get, there are no quick fixes and the solutions require the commitment to distill the issue at hand and respond from a place of awareness.

When I reflect on where we are today as a country and the milestones the new administration has achieved, I stand here with a sense of optimism and possibility. This sense of possibilities I sense is rooted in the unwavering belief that our collective human capacity to transform our society and country for the better is within our individual and collective reach.”

Billene Seyoum

Using the analogy of finding the right balance between being on the dance floor and observing the dance floor from the balcony, Billene was able to connect the idea of adaptive leadership by showing how one can choose to be on the dance floor,  intervening in challenges of an adaptive nature and taking action, or calmly observing from the balcony as one who chooses to contemplate from the background. Ultimately stating that we must find our balance between the intricate blend of both.

We are a nation of multiple viewpoints; experiences, cultures, attitudes – multicolored yarns all woven into this fabric called Ethiopia. What adaptive leadership invites us to explore is the nature of the challenges we are faced with and work in addressing them in a concerted manner – sourced in love and not in fear of one another.

Billene Seyoum

Making a covenant with the audience, Billene closed her speech by asking each of us to remember to be conscious of how we balance our time and energy in lure of a higher purpose. She asked us to be mindful of what we choose to be influenced by, suggesting we choose love and compassion as much more powerful of a narrative to follow than of that of social media references. She finalized by asking each of us to commit to positive collective and individual actions that builds on the current momentum and opportunities for good that have emerged, quoting Heifetz, “exercising adaptive leadership is about giving meaning to your life beyond your own ambition.

It is with these people committed to being the best version of ourselves that we WILL make Ethiopia a new horizon of hope!!!

Billene Seyoum

Gaining Perspective in Challenge and Uncertainty: Seeing the Gap

Tamrat G. Gebremariam, Managing Editor of Ethiopia’s Fortune Newspaper, spoke about the socio-political landscape as it right now. He was asked to highlight the current state of politics, what driving factors brought the nation to its current state, what can reverse this progress, and what kind of mindset and leadership were required for the continual of the nation’s progress. He started out by pointing out a factor he had caught on off of Keynote Speaker, Billene’s speech about her experience when authority and direction was not given to her group at their Acumen Program. He explained that the government we have now is not what it used to be in that, command and authority has been withdrawn allowing for the public and political parties to come together to discuss and debate.

Ethiopia has always been a country that has had a win-or-lose type of governmental approach, where one party would win through various governmental and citizen back and forth, letting the winner have no place to “agree to disagree” with the opposing party and come to some sort of concord; always leaving the public and the political situation filled with animosity. In his opinion, political settlement has not yet existed in Ethiopia, especially with extremely difficult and major national issues, although this is not to say it is not underway. Tamrat asked the audience to seriously consider the idea of Ethiopia as an entity. What is Ethiopia? Who is Ethiopia? What does it mean to be an Ethiopian? These are the very difficult questions that we have been battling to answer for years, and unfortunately, have yet to come to an agreement about.

Tamrat explained to the audience about the two very important factors to grasp, Nation State (Agere Biher in Amharic) and State (Agere Mingist in Amharic); two very different concepts. Although Ethiopia has never been a Nation State, it also hasn’t been quite a State either, although it has been battling for years trying to achieve that category. With the new government in place and the withdrawal of command and authority, two, what were once underground, very strong forces have emerged to fight for the categorization of Ethiopia. One force sees Ethiopia as a “Civilization State”, in which the country is the government, per say, in that it stands firm with the country’s ancestral history and long standing traditions and cultures as a whole. The second force, as Tamrat explained, denies Ethiopia being such and instead believes it be a ‘state-in-the-making’, in other words a state under construction as so many others around the world have been going through as of the 16th century. These two forces have been at each other for years and years.

With the coming of the new administration, who have admittedly refrained from stating where they stand as far as this subject goes, it has opened up the floor for these two forces to come together and publicly debate each of their sides. So everything we see with the political unrest in the country are a direct result of these two forces fighting each other for power. With the lack of technology back in the days, the stronger force has always prevailed, each in their own time. But as of five, six, years ago, now each force has used the ability to influence the public to gain more strength to push their individual idea.

After discussing this issue, Tamrat brought up the idea of the interlocking of the public, as we move forward into becoming a democracy. There are three types of public, he explained, the involved public, which are those directly involved and attached to politics. There is the interested public, those somewhat interested in only specific parts of politics as it directly affects them , and the passive public, those that have no idea about politics,neither do they want to be involved or be informed about politics in any way. The media used to be a one way channel, in which the government controlled what was being fed to the public and the public had only one voice to adhere to. With the new administration and the new-found freedoms given, information is being networked out to the public from both reliable and not reliable sources, making for a difficult battle in the unification of the nation as one entity. With the progressive element in mind, Tamrat asked the audience to consider their individual positions as citizens of Ethiopia and how each person can use their talent, and/or platform if any, to push for progressive thinking and ultimately for democracy for Ethiopia at large.

Tewodros Makonnen (PhD), Country Economist-Country Staff, Ethiopia Team, Researcher, was asked to speak about the macroeconomic reform policies and the direction the country is headed in, the necessary mindset to best reverse the current economic trajectory for the better and what leadership style can enable that. Tewodros starting by stating that the only way to understand where we are now, is to look back at our country’s economical trend in the past years. Around 2004/2005 professional economists were required by the government to stop focusing so much on the agricultural progress and growth of the country and instead try focusing on the urban, manufacturing and other economic sectors. They were also asked to prioritize their times on building the supply side of all sectors, instead of just the demand side.

Now, although private sectors are the driving force of the economy, Tewodros explained, it is still the government’s responsibility to continuously facilitate the work flow necessities of these investors to help them with either overall marketing strategies, by helping find markets and the demand pool, or setting out their business’s direction and not to mention help them with the acquisition of foreign investors as well. It’s quite apparent that without the government’s full support, the private sector will not be motivated enough to help drive the economy into future growth and progress.

Continuing on with more economical trends and background information, Tewodros said after around 2007, the government decided it would cash out all its assets set aside, which is around 70-80% accumulated from the financial sector, including printing cash from the Beherawi Bank and allocated all this money into the various projects it had been planning on launching. This inadvertently caused a 60% inflation rate sour to the country; the country produced more than it could export and imported more than it could consume, causing more cash injection into the economy. As Tewodros explained, when inflation occurs the public becomes less inclined to save their money. The government’s strategy around 2010, to increase public saving was to consolidate all private pension funds to the government.

With all this activity the economy accelerated all the way to around 2017 when it finally hit the brakes, a natural and expected occurrence, said Tewodros due to the reduction of the import/export activities, the running out of foreign currency, and even the foreign business investors’ patience was a considered factor. But now in the midst of this new frontier, we, as a country are re-balancing our accounts and systems. Tewodros said as far adaptive leadership goes, looking forward, we need professionals that have a high respect for institutional knowledge and that don’t just overemphasize on the numerical calculation of understanding the economy but attempt a more serious look at the human element and aspect too.

Saladhin Khalifa, an accomplished senior-level executive with a 22 year track record of successful strategic and tactical leadership within the manufacturing, trade and logistics industry. Assuming many roles in his career path, as chairman, executive president, chief executive officer, he handled several departments including strategic planning, change management, operational excellence, sales management. His operational leadership roles included guided initiatives involving process improvement, staff development and manufacturing and operational efficiency. He championed system designs and implementation for market reducing costs, improving efficiency, and enhancing competitive strength and he successfully involved, and managed acquisition transitions and integration phases.

Saladhin told the audience that he expected everyone of us to continuously strive, and struggle with persistence to create the change necessary to adapt to the new style of leadership required in our now new environment, With a country as desperate as ours to have its problems solved, Saladhin said we each need to passionately contribute in whatever manner we can to the building and improvement of first our communities and indirectly to our country at large.

Success in the end depends on our ability to work with one another in unison. The vehicle is us, and the driver is our attitudes.

Saladhin Khalifa

Emotional Intelligence: A Tool to Managing Change in Difficult Times

“The ability to tune into the world, read situations and connect with others while taking charge of your own life.” Steven Stein

Presented by Zahara Legesse, a psychotherapist devoted to women and youth, providing life skills and capacity-building trainings on different topics such as conflict resolution, team building, self-awareness, and stress and burnout management, to various institutions, public and private. Zahara covered the very basics of Emotional Intelligence, beginning by thanking the attendees for choosing the session, admitting she was both thrilled and excited that the topic was of such interest to so many.

Emotional Intelligence is often not paid enough attention to and is given very little recognition of its importance in leading our lives in a balanced manner. As Steven so eloquently quoted to describe Emotional Intelligence; to have to tune into the world, read external situations in order to connect with others, and all the while take charge of your life can seem quite demanding, Zahara mentioned. Emotional Intelligence is thought and so for Zahara this is the exciting part of her passion. The ability to learn how to be more emotionally intelligent in all aspects of your life, be it personal, or professional, are all capable life skills that one can choose to learn; a set of skills that one continues to work on and get better at through time.

Emotional Intelligence, Zahara said, if left unattended to, can literally create havoc in a person’s life. Two of the first steps towards gaining Emotional Intelligence is self-awareness and self-management. We need to know who we are in terms of what our passions and core beliefs are. We need to truly understand ourselves, know just what emotion we are feeling and then understand how we handle those emotions, as far as how we treat ourselves and those around us. For instance, basic deep breathing exercises can help one to calm our thoughts and focus on our emotions in order to handle them properly, as Zahara showed attendees.

We must always remember to revert back to engaging with ourselves throughout the day. Always questioning our emotional stance at any given situation, “What am I feeling right now?”, “Why am I feeling this way?”, “What is the best way for me to handle this feeling?”, questions such as these, Zahara said, all help calm the mind into understanding what you want and acting accordingly in regards to your own self-being and to those around you. Self-awareness and self-management are very crucial to running a business because at the end of the day, your staff is only going to follow you if you have your emotions in tact and you are able to manage your stress with respect to others.

The last two steps of materializing Emotional Intelligence are social awareness and relationship management, that go hand in hand, so to speak. Both having to deal with the external aspect of being an emotional intelligent person, they refer to the ways in which one begins to approach her/his social circle and how one manages more personal and professional relationships. Zahara stressed the fact that we not only need to understand how we are feeling, but we also have to understand how our unacknowledged emotions can have negative impacts on our social and business relationships.

Being a little more open and vulnerable also helps in defining deeper connections with personal and especially working relationships. As a business owner, it is important to understand that vulnerability goes a long way in showing your staff that, “you are human after all”, as Zahara best put it. Scientific research backs the fact that staff tend to perform their best when given a little acknowledgment from their super-ordinates. Being human entails opening up and connecting with others. Zahara was sure to mention not to blur the lines of boundaries when opening up and showing vulnerability to work-related relationships.

When speaking about Adaptive Leadership, Zahara said in order to be a good leader in times of change, one must be flexible and willing to adapt to change in order to motivate her/his staff to follow in steps. An emotionally intelligent leader considers the impacts of change brought upon the staff, and works to accommodate as best as possible the different scenarios that may need special requirements and needs such as relocation, maternity needs of women, etc…

“Your clients are not the people that you sell your products too; your staff are your first clients.” Zahara Legesse

As an adaptive leader, all these skills have to be combined in channeling emotional intelligence in the approaches we choose to take when running our businesses. Zahara emphasized the fact that nothing is done individually, when running a business, if you want something done correctly, done right, you have to work closely with your staff. This may sound impossible when considering big companies or institutes, but different HR programs can be created to accommodate large scale employee numbers. As a business owner you need to remember that employees want to feel like they belong, like their feelings are considered and that their work is recognized; with such motivations, staff perform their best and will most likely continue their loyalty to your business.

In closing, Zahara talked about the importance of finding the right balance for yourself considering work and self-care. She reminded attendees to work on figuring our what our passions are and to be clear about our visions and missions in life. Know your vision, and understand that it changes over time but will always be in line with what is authentically you.

Essential Skills to Negotiate Space

“To win a negotiation you have to show you’re willing to walk away. And the best way to show you’re willing to walk away is to walk away.” ~ Michael Weston

Ever wondered how some people seem to have things go their way easier than others? When a colleague asks for leave they easily get it approved but when you somehow you ask for it, you don’t? This parallel session was all about understanding just why some attain more than others and the many tricks involved in figuring out how to get what you want by simply negotiating the right way. The session was led by Mesfin Asfaw, Managing Partner of Paradigm Consultancy, renowned trainer and certified management consultant with decades worth of experience managing large-scale projects. Humorously enough, Mesfin began his session by negotiating the time he would like to take on presenting the session.

It is an undeniable fact that negotiation is one of the most important skills needed in all aspects of  life; in marriage, at work, and in professional as well as personal relationships to name a few. Negotiation is all about getting to a “YES” without conflict or compromise. It is a process in which you reach for an agreement with other parties in order for you to achieve your goals. Although very broad a subject matter to cover in only a couple of hours’ time, Mesfin was able to present the very core points the attendees could really benefit from.

The crucial elements of negotiating involve picking the right time to negotiate and being thoroughly informed on the topic of discussion. What makes a good negotiator includes updating oneself with various relevant trainings, having a strong sense of self as in strengthening your self-confidence and self-esteem, practicing patience and empathy. Evidently it would also help for you to work on your basic communication skills in general. With a logical outlook on matters, if you tend to be reasonable yet firm with your stance, and with a clear objective set after thoroughly mastering the issue at hand, including calculating the risks attached, then negotiating should come easy to you.

“Remember in business, as in life you do not get what you deserve but you always get what you negotiate for.”

The four common approaches to negotiating an agreement are:

  • Position- Persuasion

In this approach all you do is state your position and explain your situation. You continue to keep pushing your position’s stance, all the while making sure that the opposing party is well aware that you have made your mind. In this approach you generally demonstrate more of a “it’s my way or the highway” kind of attitude.

  • Concession – Compromise (known as “Tiri” in Amharic)

This is what most local shops or market bargainers, such as in Merkato. In this approach you state double of what you actually want, indirectly giving yourself time and space to eventually negotiate yourself to the number you are aiming for.

  • The Needs Theory

This approach is the most basic of approaches where each party has what the other wants. Here you offer what you have in exchange for what the other party has, with simple negotiating details of how both of you can satisfy each others’ needs.

  • Win-Win

This approach focuses on building a long-lasting relationship in which both parties can benefit from. It’s more about collaborating instead of competing in the sense of negotiating; by creating a synergy between both parties.

With thorough research and preparation, which includes a SWOT analysis and a balance of power assessment as well, any negotiation can be successful. You always want to separate the person from the issue, focusing on the interest and not on the position. It may help in different situations to negotiate in pairs, always making sure you team up with someone who compliments you. In certain scenarios, consider holding back on providing a cost breakdown before receiving one from your opposing party. Always expect the unexpected and be prepared to say “NO”, yet always aiming for a win-win situation. Be aware of your body language as well as your opposing party’s, give ample space and do not corner anyone, if anything allow them to reject your deal, always paying attention to how much you are talking; over talkativeness before or after a deal can have negative results. And don’t forget to follow-up!

Remember repeating your ideas over and over again allows your opponent to have more faith in your argument for negotiation. Take a break when necessary to reflect and maybe even get more information. Never allow the opposing party to put you under undue pressure. If faced with more than one negotiator, always focus on one negotiator at a time, handling them separately. In certain situations, when you feel like you are almost at the end of the negotiation, maybe retracting can be a positive strategy, making the opposing party feel like if your demands are not met, you will most likely change your mind. Setting deadlines, along with a little bit of competition, can also be a means of strategic negotiating, letting your opposing party think you have other options. Last but not least, Mesfin was sure to remind attendees that all the mentioned tactics and approaches are what your opposing party will use against you as well.

Women in Lead: Barriers and Strategies to Overcome

Ekram Akill, General Manager of Yetem Trading was born and raised in Nazareth. Ekram began her career early on right after college, by helping her mother at their import/export family business. She ran errands, she handled staff, she made sells and everything else in-between; learning the business from the all aspects. Ekram mentioned she works very closely with her mother to this day and their relationship is very strong. She thanked her mother, saying that she is her biggest supporter and role model as well. She says that she learned how to be a hardworking female directly due to her mother’s work ethics and influence. She said she also gained a never-give-up attitude from her mother. Her mother instilled in her a strong sense of responsibility and accountability for all actions taken, which she is grateful for considering the many challenges she now faces running the business alongside her mother.

Ekram runs her trading company, now with a pool of 50 employees to manage, with over 10 different brands of items that she imports, Ekram has set her eyes on progressing to the manufacturing sector. With a slight pause, she stated how much hard work and dedicating is required for one to succeed in running a business here in Ethiopia. The first challenge she faces regularly, that she shared with the audience, was the issue of counterfeiting in her line of work, always clashing with unlicensed vendors and traders selling look-alike sham items with her brand line marked on them. She said, her and her mother recently decided to unionize with others, facing the same issues, to bring it to governmental attention. Another issue she mentioned that was a challenge to her business throughout the years is credit-based selling; with no actual legal protection or ramification applied to this long standing system in her field, it has forced them create a customer selection system to differentiate those trustworthy clients with those that are questionable.

The third issue was, of course, the country’s current struggle with access to foreign currency. Although an obstacle for her importing needs, she chose to look at it from a place of opportunity instead, now focusing all her energy in building a manufacturing company to be able to build some of the items herself here at home. The final challenge she chose to share was her struggle with balancing work and home-life in general. With how busy running her business can make her, she thanked her husband for making more times with their kids at home for her to carry out her responsibilities at work.

Fikirte Addis, Owner and Designer of Yefikir Design is fashion designer by passion but development psychologist by trade, Fikirte starting out by sharing her story of how as a young girl she used to cut up and sew anything as a child and always had the support of her mother backing her up to try any new craft she was into. She said she never really thought of designing as career and that is why she continued on her psychological studies all through to her Master’s Degree. After receiving her degree she had her first child and was immersed in the field which was emotionally trying and time-consuming a responsibility to manage while also wanting to spend more time with her new born, hence her moving towards her passion – design.

She had always wanted to be of impact and thought that with psychology she could do that, but that came to no avail, or at least not satisfying enough for her. Instead within the fashion industry she focused on building a holistic approach to her company, allowing for all her employees to train, work and leave as the understanding that she would outsource their service afterwards. The one challenge she continuously mentioned throughout, was her lack of financial background and weak relationship with finance as a whole.

With three kids now and her fashion line well underway, she has made herself an advocate for child labor in the fashion industry working with various government and private associations to lessen the number of rural kids that have been indirectly placed in the industry without knowledge of them being taken advantage of. She has also worked with these organizations and institutes to introduce disability recognition in the fashion industry, with great results. My designs are my feelings and my journey is in my designs, I continue to learn everyday and find peace and balance within myself as I grow each day, she finalized.

Mesenbet Shenkute, a formidable banker who has earned numerous accolades for her contributions to the banking industry is now the last female bank president, as no female has been currently appointed to that position in the banking industry. Her career started at the Development Bank of Ethiopia, where after 20 years of service she reached the core position of the bank as Vice President of Credit Management. At present, Mesenbet is the President of the Addis Ababa Chamber of Commerce and Sectoral Association, she is a Chairperson of the Ethiopian Space Science Society, a Board Member of the Ethiopian Quality Award as well as a Board Member of the Achamo University. Mesenbet established her ‘New Dimension Management Consultancy’ company to contribute her part of sharing her knowledge and expertise to those looking at starting a new business in Ethiopia.

Born in Addis but educated in Dessie, Mesenbet remembers her upbringing to have always been about believing you could achieve anything you work hard towards. With both parents firm on education and no bias on gender differentiation, she was raised competitive along side her brothers. An adamant believer that you can win at anything you set your heart on, she carried this philosophy of hers throughout her tenure in the banking sector. Always being promoted to higher and higher positions within the banks she worked for, she was always aware of the her male colleague’s disbelief in her abilities and capabilities.

She thanked her husband, a well-reknowend Ethiopian writer, for his unrelenting support in her journey. She told the audience that her work ethics, her willingness to always learn whatever it was she didn’t understand and her commitment to continuously improving her capacity led her to the position and place she is in her life and career now. With her position now, she let the audience know that she always looks for female talent and competency and commits to bringing them to the forefront, essentially helping them to reach their full potential. She finalized by saying, the one thing I learned throughout my journey rising to the top, was to always be found well-prepared above what is required of you.

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