The AWiB Strategic Leadership Team (SLT) Journey: Lessons Learnt

According to PwC, only 30% of heads of organizations are confident they will have the talent to grow their organizations (PwC, Trends in Human Capital, 2012). In addition, research shows that good leaders create three times more economic value for their organizations than ‘not-so-good’ leaders, and extraordinary leaders create significantly more economic value than all the rest (Zenge and Fulkmen).

It is the influence of the above facts, and a tangible issue around leadership sustainability to be solved, that at the end of 2015, AWiB embarked on an intentional journey of looking for, and securing dynamic leaders to take on leadership roles for the year 2017 and beyond.

It is with the spirit of learning that some of the details of the rationale, process,outcome and lessons of such leadership scouting and development activities, happening throughout 2016, are shared here, with the hope of eliciting feedback and input from like-minded teams, equally committed to sustainable futures in organizations, through the development of its leaders and contributors.

What is Strategic Leadership?

Towards the end of 2015, AWiB as an association was preoccupied with the fact that, due to the high turnover of Board membership, there was actually no Board in place for the year 2016. Cognizant that this challenge could be lived with for one year, a sense of urgency was perceived regarding AWiB leadership for the subsequent years, and the need to pause and reflect on past lessons, clarify a vision for the future, and generate new solutions for the future.

The initiative that followed was the AWiB office inviting some nine AWiB active members, ex Board members and past presidents to take on the challenge of AWiB leadership sustainability. The process this team embarked on led to the searching, identification, recruitment, and orientation of AWiB’s 2017 Board Members.

In other words, the above-mentioned team was seeking to secure new leadership, and to do so in a strategic manner. Indeed, as per the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), strategic leadership is ‘leadership that promotes organizational and human capabilities, that enables the execution of the strategy of the organization’s full performance potential and competitive advantage.’ Similarly, this newly-created team for 2016, was committed to a task that would, in the short term, search for ideal candidates for Board membership, and in the long term support AWiB’s vision of emerging female leaders in every sector of Ethiopian society, thus contributing to moving the country to the next level.

SLT’s Mandate, and its Process

Setting off to work, the SLT members determined the following to be their mandate, i.e. to:

  1. create a process to set in place a leadership for 2017 and beyond,
  2. reflect on the work and dynamics of work carried out so far by AWiB’s past Boards,
  3. define capabilities needed to be a Board member, the expected tasks to be accomplished (TOR), the level of commitment required, and the competencies required of each member, to carry out each task,
  4. define and determine an approach to develop the capacity of Board members,
  5. determine the system to facilitate the leadership behaviour to lead AWiB, and
  6. examine and articulate the role of organizational culture and values in facilitating the leadership behavior.

Thus, commencing on this assignment, the four core things required in an AWiB Board member were defined, these being:

  1. passionate about the women’s cause, but specifically about enhancing/promoting women’s leadership in Ethiopia,
  2. has a foresight for long-term planning and can be fully invested/committed to AWiB,
  3. invested in her personal development through AWiB, and being
  4. invested in giving through AWiB, and not only taking.

A process was also laid out to roadmap the filtering of possible candidates, all the way to the official announcement of their new role at the January 2017 General Assembly and full agency and action in their new role. This included the nomination of possible candidates, conducting a first informal interview with them, orienting them, interviewing them for a second time, officially welcoming them as Board members, mentoring them through personal action planning (around personal development goals, and a focused intention to contribute to AWiB through their new role), and inviting them to workshops focusing on strategic planning, legalities of Board membership, and the influence of culture on one’s leadership and action.

In the process, a total of 14 candidates were identified, 11 showed interest, 7 were officially invited as AWiB 2017 Board members, and 5 were officially presented and endorsed by AWiB members at the January 2017 General Assembly.

The SLT members met to deliberate, plan and report at least once a month. In a journey that included visioning, deep reflection, debates, and the experience of a feeling of flow, they did so with resolve and focus for a whole year.

There’s plenty to Celebrate, and there has been plenty to Learn

As SLT members, the fruitful year was celebrated because of the true sense of co-creation/co-initiation stage to develop a common agenda: there was no blueprint, no roadmap to accomplish the mandate; just commitment, to the extent that this required the team members to meet a whole afternoon on a Sunday, on a monthly basis. Surprisingly enough, the process that was designed rolled out smoothly, and assisted in achieving the results envisioned. The team stuck to the schedule, and was aided by some gentle monitoring.

A great point of celebration was the commitment each SLT team member showed, as she worked deliberately, in an organized manner, and with a creative sense of urgency, to contribute to the team. When reflecting, many members asserted how (aligned with AWiB’s vision), holding the higher vision of enhancing women’s leadership development in the country kept them focused and motivated, even though at times, a dip in energy or sense of discouragement were experienced when three SLT members announced they couldn’t continue with the team.

Finally, it seemed clear how, the SLT members were positively touched by the journey, and positively changed by the learning and experience.

Some of the lessons learnt from this Board recruitment journey are as follows:

  1. The composition of the SLT members themselves seemed to matter, and worked, as the common driving force of the team appeared to be addressing the challenge for AWiB, and, beyond personal interest, contribute to the development of women’s leadership in Ethiopia,
  2. An orientation and rigorous on-boarding process for new Board members appeared to be key. Indeed, part of the feedback from the present 2017 Board members is that it enabled them to understand more clearly what was required of them, with no sugar-coating of how demanding the task is. Indeed, two of the seven invited to take on this role resigned in late 2016, not feeling ready to serve in a role that required such high commitment, and
  3. There was a sense of surprise at how many nominations were required to reach the number of five willing Board members (when in fact, it would have been helpful to have an even bigger pool).

And so, in laying a foundation for sustainability for a team, it became clear how helpful a Think Tank team can be. As the steps and details have been documented, to assist in the institutionalizing, it is hoped that future AWiB leaders can make it their own. And in this way, greater value will be generated for AWiB’s greatest assets: its members, who have the potential of becoming the leaders of today and tomorrow.

In the photo, SLT members, AWiB’s 2017 Board candidates, and AWiB staff. From left to right: Nadia Waber, Sara Tadiwos, Helal Tamirat, Siham Ayele, Mekurianesh Abebe, Metasebia Yilma, Nahu Senay Girma, Semhal Guesh, Seble Hailu, Billene Seyoum, Tsedey Hailu, Lidet Tadesse. Also, not in the photograph, but members of the team: Roman Tafessework, Sehin Teferra, Ruhama Michael, and Sewit Haileselassie.

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