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What Leadership Training Can Bring to Sierra Leone

We will soon pilot our new Leadership Training Programme in Sierra Leone. ADBEIN SMITH is our National Facilitator in the country, and he's been telling Jake why now is the right time to invest in good leadership there.

Jake: You’ve said that leadership training is especially important at this moment in Sierra Leone. Why is that?

Adbein: I think that poor leadership has been a problem in Sierra Leone. We need to reflect on the fact that it is because of poor leadership that we suffered a decade of civil war, because we had political leaders who didn’t want to listen to their electorate. They just took decisions on their own. But in workplaces, in organisations, and even in homes, I think that a lot of people don’t understand what leadership is. Some think it means that you have to do everything. Others think that you just have to tell people what to do.

J: And I know you’ve said that the Ebola crisis illustrated the need for better leadership in the country?

A: Well during Ebola we had a lot of experts that were flying into the country with all their expertise. But to start with they just told local people what to do: ‘you have to stop washing your dead bodies’, ‘you have to stop doing this’, ‘you have to stop doing that’. They did not give room for dialogue with the community. And because they did not listen to people, then people did not listen to them, and so Ebola continued to spread, and people continued to die.

But when government and NGOs began to work in partnership with community leaders and religious leaders, then things changed. By listening to local people, and understanding their concerns – about for example, how to give their loved ones a dignified burial without touching dead bodies – then real progress was made.

The lesson here is to give space for local people to start talking. So I think yes, the problem was that people were just coming to tell us, they weren’t ready to listen to us. But when they began to listen, then we saw a decline in new cases of Ebola. This shows that we need to all better grasp the concept of a bottom-to-top leadership approach. I think now is the time that we try to do that.

J: And is this what Cluster members have been saying to you?

A: Yes, what has come out clearly in our Cluster meetings is that we need to instill a new culture of leadership in Sierra Leone. Ebola taught us this. We need to better understand what a leader should be, and what qualities good leaders should have, in order for our country to move forward. So for those reasons we think leadership training could be very key. Our Cluster members represent many different organisations, including the Ministry of Health, faith groups and health organisations, and they are all so eager to find out how to be better leaders.

J: So, you’ve talked a bit about Sierra Leone as a whole, but what about you personally? What would you hope to gain from the Leadership Development course? You’re already a very experienced leader after all...

A: For me I see a leader as somebody who is actually a servant. From my past experiences, I have learnt that it is by visiting communities and talking to people that we start to see ourselves as servants, and that we start to find the answers to what we are looking for. I now want to know more about this approach in different cultures and contexts, and how this has created impact in other places.

But also, I want to be able to use these skills to train others – maybe at my church, in my community, with my peers, where I work, for other organisations, and maybe even for politicians. I would like to get parliamentarians together and do a leadership training course for them so they can start to understand that when they go through parliament they are there to serve the people. This is what I want to gain from the course.

J: So you really want to spread the idea of a servant-leader in Sierra Leone?

A: That’s my aim. I anticipate that at the end of this training I’ll see myself as a trainer that will be able to train more people in Sierra Leone. My belief is that if all of them were to grasp the concept of servant-leadership, we would be a very peaceful country.

J: I know you’re a big Manchester United fan, so would you like to see any of the qualities of Sir Alex Ferguson in Sierra Leone?

A: Of course! Of course! Of course! Sir Alex is one of the greatest football managers that has ever lived. My dream is to meet him before he finally gets that call to go to heaven. I just want to tap into his knowledge. You know, during his tenure at Old Trafford, we saw how he leads. He believes in youngsters. Take for instance Wayne Rooney and Ronaldo. Had it not been for his leadership and mentorship skills, they would not have been the players they are today. And as a fan, Ferguson would always give you hope. Even if a team has scored five goals against us, they are not safe until the final whistle. Even in the last minute, you’ll always think they’ll come back, because he had instilled that winning mentality.

J: There’s a number of generous people in London who are helping to fund this training programme in Sierra Leone, thanks to The Funding Network and BeyondMe. Have you got a message for them?

A: Yes! I just want to say, God bless you and a very big thank you. I assure you the money you’ve donated is going to the right purpose, because at this time, what Sierra Leone needs really is servant-leadership. With this training you will be amazed to see the results.

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