Monday, August 07, 2006

Leadership Tips with Dr. Mbacham

Last Saturday, I was privileged to take part in the opening session of a month-long “Christian Youth Leadership Forum,” sponsored in part by the United Methodist Church, but spearheaded by the Fobang Foundation and the Church of Patmos. The forum was actually the brainchild of an extraordinary man, who is fast becoming a good friend.

That man is Dr. Wilfred Mbacham, an Anglophone Cameroonian who graduated from Harvard Medical School. It would take this entire blog to list his credentials – member of the World Health Organization, an adviser to the Bill Gates Foundation, recipient of the Albert Schweitzer Award. Let me simply point you to a place where you can learn more about Dr. Mbacham's work:

Dr. Mbacham invited me to help him teach a small number of youth – from his church and mine – basic leadership skills, over a month of Saturdays.

The opening session was entitled, “Five Reversible Mistakes of Leadership in Africa,” which Dr. Mbacham presented himself. I found it enormously provocative and interesting. Here’s what he presented as the five biggest mistakes in African leaders:

1. Poor Communication: “We don’t say what we think,” Dr. Mbacham said. He urged the youth to be clear in their communication, to avoid big words, to master the language, and, above all, not to conceal the truth. One young man raised his hand and asked, “What about our politicians who lie?” Dr. Mbacham laughed and said, “It takes more energy to tell a lie than to tell the truth. And besides, the truth will always come out in the end.”

2. Lack of Understanding of the Context: “We have a multiplicity of cultures in Cameroon,” the doctor pointed out. “We must respect these cultures, and understand what is appropriate and inappropriate.” Furthermore, Dr. Mbacham lamented the fact that many leaders impose impossible burdens on others, including unbearable work schedules, unclear instructions, and unhealthy work environments.

3. Extremist Tendencies: “African leaders tend to either have too little self-esteem – and thus don’t believe in their own work – or they have too much, leading to arrogance and a ‘the boss is always right’ syndrome,” said Dr. Mbacham.

4. Lack of Vision: This was perhaps the doctor’s main concern. Among the issues raised under this point were professional short-sightedness, not being well-read, an inability to keep abreast with trends and innovation, and the inability to think outside the box.

5. Egocentric Success Builders: “Too many of our leaders think of ‘self’ first – they practice self-promotion at the expense of others,” said Dr. Mbacham. “And they fail to mentor successors.”

Despite this list of problems and difficulties, Dr. Mbacham is not skeptical. He entitled this session, “Five Reversible Mistakes” for a reason – he wants to train a generation of young leaders to take Cameroon boldly into the future. After the opening session, I asked Dr. Mbacham if these five leadership pitfalls were only specifically applicable to the African context.

He was typically honest and forthright: “No, these are not unique problems to Africa. But here we never make the effort to correct these mistakes and move forward.”

But move forward, we did. The next session was entitled, “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.”

As he spoke, twenty young Cameroonians caught a glimpse of their future.