We observed the first day of the three day workshop that is the second in a series of four. We met in the same meeting hall that had been re-arranged, to my great delight, with a circle of chairs in the middle. I had introduced this notion to others some time ago, as a much better way to meet (one cannot work on a computer or check a cellphone when sitting in a circle without tables). The idea had trickled down to the next generation of facilitators. It was a new combination of faciclitators and participants, and so a bit stiff for the first part. But eventually thaw set in and the conversations became more animated and the learning began.

Having a workshop that is held, quite literally, in the middle of the hospital, is challenging as participants can be called out at any time for an emergency. The facilitators were scratching their heads on what to do about it. I suggested they stop scratching and give the job to the participants. That is after all the team that is supposed to learn about leadership.

The facilitators create a village and the group selects the name of the village, appoints the chief and notables, a ‘conscience horaire’ (time keeper), a treasurer for the fines that late comers have to pay, etc. The norm setting is a well-worn ritual all over Africa and has little to do with the behavior of people. This version, which I have only seen in Cote d’Ivoire, with its village and chief was at least Africanized. But it did have an entire enforcement system that I thought was too much like the way things are here with the emphasis on extrinsic motivation.

And then, like all the other norms I have seen over my career, immediately ignored. The only part that was respected was the role of the village chief, both as arbiter of divergent opinions and to open and close the day.

The leadership work that we do, and which few recognize, is about awareness. I believe that if you are not aware you cannot make choices. And so I pointed out that they had created a new norm, by ignoring the norms they created, and that was that norms don’t matter and that there are no consequences for breaking the norms. And now that they were aware of this they could either throw out the norms or find ways to stick to them.

At 4 PM the session was over and we drove to the next town and a new hotel. This one also had no power and also no water. It may be hard to imagine this, from one’s comfortable vantage point in the US (or Europe, or fancy hotels everywhere) that a hotel could run without water and electricity. It reminded me of my first month in Beirut, in 1976, after the fighting had stopped. We stayed in the Mayflower hotel and ate our peas and rice in the dark.

I was given the royal suite. A comfortable suite of rooms with an enormous bed, and several amenities that were useless because there was no electricity (two aircos, two TVs and a refrigerator). The bathroom was nice but without running water not usable. All would come back in due time we were told.  Insha’llah, I murmured. But water and electricity did indeed return and I slept comfortably and took a hot shower in the morning. The latter had to happen before 6AM because after 6 the water would be gone again until 10PM. One learns to adapt.

We ate with our colleagues on the side of the road, grilled carp, an onion tomato salad and hot salsa and atieke, the local starch, washed away with a cold beer. Life is good.

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March 2017
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