Slow and risky

We are now two days into what should be a three day workshop. It is going to take four days. We do have to accommodate a meeting with a delegation of the mother institution and added extra time. I thought we had some wiggle room as a result but now I am no longer sure. Everything takes longer in French and with a rookie facilitator, focusing the conversations is not easy because everyone has so much to say about so many things that are not the way they want them to be. And since my co-facilitator is both and insider (from the region) and an outsider (seconded by my organization) to the system, his position is ambiguous. Cutting conversations short is tricky. For me it is easier as I am completely outside the system and also from outside (West) Africa. People are polite and forgiving of foreigners.

One the one hand people want, as a result of this program, to see themselves as change agents, more courageous to question things, more confident but then when these qualities are tested in real time interactions, there is hesitance and a recognition that walking the talk is not easy; of course it isn’t – if things were easy they would already have been done. Leadership is glorious and wonderful in the abstract but can be rather slow, tedious, difficult, or risky, a journey that nearly always includes a passage through a landmine-filled landscape.

One of the participants shared a story of some enthusiastic reformer crossing one or more people who saw themselves either exposed or losing important benefits. The reformer disappeared. A dear friend of mine, who must have stumbled on something dark was conveniently killed in what was billed as a lover’s quarrel. Leadership is risky. We don’t always mention or acknowledge that. No wonder there is hesitance.

The organization is effectively an international organization and thus embedded in structures that are created and governed by 15 countries, with different cultures, perspectives, histories, religions, laws, etc. The big boss joined us for awhile and pointed out that all change takes place within a larger context, and this one is particularly complex. He finds himself surrounded by constraints that make even small changes quite challenging.

I couldn’t gauge whether his staff thought his presence in our midst and his words were a source of comfort or not. I hope they were as this group needs some encouragement from what seems to be the only person that can give it.

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April 2014
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