My introduction to the culture and spirit of Nigeria came just a year ago when I first met the engaging Oritseweyinmi Jemide. As my co-facilitator, Mary Cooper, and I were preparing for one of our annual Leadership Challenge ®Workshop and Facilitator Training events in Orlando, Florida, Weyinmi (his preferred name, pronounced Ware-Yin-Me) contacted me and expressed interest in attending. To help him prepare, we shipped a Facilitator Manual to Lagos (not an easy feat) so that he could complete the required pre-work before making his way to Central Florida and his first experience with The Leadership Challenge.
Other than a few email exchanges, I didn’t really know much about this smart, slender man who was traveling all this way to attend our workshop. Fortunately, several years ago, Mary and I adopted the practice of hosting a nightly dinner at a local restaurant as a way for us to get to know more about our workshop participants and adapt the subsequent two-day program based on what we learn. And during that first meeting, we learned much more about Weyinmi: his love of photography and his wonderful sense of humor that was augmented by a hearty laugh. He was already an accomplished trainer and business consultant and had a strong and evident value system that included a spiritual focus and orientation to family.
This pre-workshop dinner also proved important for a number of other reasons. As part of our group we not only had Weyinmi from Nigeria, but two other attendees from Singapore as well, which provided us with a unique opportunity to learn more about some of the cultural challenges involved in delivering The Leadership Challenge® Workshop around the world. And although I wasn’t aware of it at the time, this insight would come in handy a few months later as I headed to Nigeria to help Weyinmi bring The Leadership Challenge to Africa.
Having never been to Nigeria—or any country in Africa, for that matter—I was transformed by the experience. From the first, I was surprised to learn that Nigeria is the largest country in Africa (by population). In fact, Nigeria has more than twice the population of the second largest African country, Ethiopia. And Lagos, the city where Weyinmi resides and we would deliver the workshop, has a population of over 7 million—roughly the size of New York City.
On my first full day in Lagos, I was immediately transported into the Nigerian culture and Weyinmi’s world as pastor of the City of David, a congregation of the Redeemed Christian Church of God. I was graciously welcomed to what became a surprising and wonderful combination of education and celebration. In addition to it being Father’s Day, this was the one Sunday of the year that is dedicated to teaching and preaching on medical and health-related topics. For many Nigerians, church is where they go to learn (as well as to praise) and the City of David specifically provides members of its congregation with information they need to live a healthier lifestyle.
Other differences were also striking. In the U.S., for example, I’m used to a church service lasting about an hour. This service was three hours long, yet it never dragged. The music was phenomenal with a 15-person choir and a full band accompaniment. They sang and danced to one song that lasted over 25 minutes! I was completely enthralled by the dancing, the singing, and everyone in their Sunday best—complete with beautiful hair wraps of extraordinary color.
Fully experiencing the people of a different culture was an important reason why I was excited to make the trip to Nigeria. And this church experience—on my first full day, no less—offered the perfect opportunity to be welcomed into a different country by the hospitality of its people. From there, I was ready to get down to work with Weyinmi to finalize plans for the workshop and get ready to meet our group of aspiring leaders.
From the experiential activities to the Leadership Practices Inventory coaching sessions, the first-ever The Leadership Challenge® Workshop held in Lagos, Nigeria was a terrific success—a testament to the global nature of Jim and Barry’s work. It is truly amazing. Our 30 participants—bankers, teachers, and mid-level managers of community organizations—arrived very eager and willing to learn more about The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership®. They were especially interested in hearing about the issues leaders in the U.S. face, and to realize that the challenge of getting people engaged and motivated in the workplace is the same the world over, whether you’re in Nebraska or Nigeria. Despite any initial concern I might have had about whether the Personal Best activity would work or the stories we shared would make The Five Practices clearly evident, the workshop produced a wonderful two-day experience. During the presentation of certificates at the end of the second day, for example, each participant took time to briefly share with the group the impact the workshop had on them, including one leader who described it as “a deep, soul-searching, fulfilling, enriching, and rewarding time well spent.” And the recognition table was empty!
Because my consulting philosophy combines the elements of diversity and leadership, helping organizations create an atmosphere where everyone can do their best work— because of differences not regardless of differences—this inaugural Leadership Challenge® Workshop in Lagos was an especially enlightening and rewarding experience for me. Weyinmi and I made a great team: I presented the fundamental concepts of The Five Practices from a Certified Master’s perspective and Weyinmi provided the essential cultural context that fully integrated the model directly into the Nigerian experience. And we both look forward to future collaborations. The Leadership Challenge community welcomed Weyinmi at this year’s Forum in Scottsdale and he’s already planning to make his way to New Orleans in 2014. In addition, we have a second workshop scheduled for Lagos in October 2013 with hopefully three or four more in 2014.
Thank you, Weyinmi Jemide, for the opportunity to experience the vibrant Nigerian culture and to manifest collaboration with you and the extraordinary leaders from Lagos, Nigeria!
Stephen Hoel is president of Diversity Leadership Consultants. Along with a team of collaborative training partners—all Certified Facilitators of The Leadership Challenge, including two who are Certified Masters—he has delivered over 80 multi-day Leadership Challenge workshops to individuals and leadership teams in federal and local government agencies, and public and private organizations. He can be reached at www.stephenhoel.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.