Questioning

In my profession it helps to be an extrovert. Usually I am energized  by people who are learning, or eager to work together for a common goal.  But today, during the break, I went upstairs to my room and made my own cup of Nescafe rather than standing in line for exactly the same thing, and since I am not eating any of the stuff that is served at break time (all contains processed sugar) why bother?  Maybe it is because I am tired of having one event after another and being surrounded by people all the time. Or maybe it is because I am getting to be more introverted as I am getting older. Tomorrow I will be a little older.

At lunch time we had a heated discussions – I have heard the arguments over and over. They go something like this:

Me: “Why are there no women in any of your teams?” At first they joked. “We did this express.” When I took their response serious, they became more serious: “Women don’t want to work in this part of the country.” “Why,” I asked. “Because of the crisis (=the contested presidential elections four years ago that dragged Cote d’Ivoire into a nasty civil war). “But that was many years ago,” I said.

We went a little deeper. “They don’t have the right credentials.” “Why,” I asked (why is a great word in my work).  “Because they are nurses and midwives (at least in the health sector).” Me: “There are no women doctors?” At our table is a female departmental director (a doctor). She and a representative of an international NGO contest what the men are saying. We ended up with this: “This is how things are ‘chez nous’.”

Me: “You are willing to put a doctor at the head of a structure? Especially if this person (usually a man in most countries) knows nothing about management or leadership, or for that matter good governance? And, therefore does a lousy job such as depressing morale, being a poor planner, not understanding teamwork or delegation at best or being toxic  at worst? Someone who wastes resources (including such highly valuable resources as human energy and goodwill)? You prefer doing that (failure nearly guaranteed) rather than considering putting someone in charge who has demonstrated her management and leadership capacities but who isn’t a doctor?” “Yes” they say, “because a nurse or midwife could not possibly supervise a doctor!” There you have it. Checkmate!

One of my favorite sayings these days is that we tend to generate most of our own problems. Sometimes people get very angry when I say that, but I ask them to consider the practical consequences of accepting this thesis: if you agree then you can do something about your problems. If you don’t accept it there is not much you can do, and you will have to live with all these problems of today and all those in the future. The latter are the complainers – I have met too many of them.

What our leadership development program does is reduce that number quite a bit – our current facilitators are proof. They have started to question a lot more than they did before and in doing so they become change agents. We are working on a critical mass of questioners and critical thinkers, though this will probably not happen in my lifetime.

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