In mid August 2012, I visited my old time friend Fafa Asiedu-Dartey. Amongst the many things we had to catch up on, we got to talking about the facilitation of the management retreat of a leading financial institution in Ghana that I had just done the previous day. I had actually come to Accra for that, from Lagos, and was returning to base that evening. Actually, this was the second such role I was playing in a matter of three months, the first instance also for a leading bank in Ghana.
Fafa asked me when it all started, and how I had become such a resource. A pause, and I responded that it started way back from the first major talk I gave in Ghana National, perhaps in 1993. Now I can’t remember which club, society or church group invited me, but I was in Upper Six and it took place in the assembly hall. I have always been a collector of quotations and anecdotes, and I recall that the speech was full of them. It turned out to be disjointed and I could feel that my audience didn’t have any attachment with what I was sharing with them. I wasn’t sharing my experience, I was just reciting what others thought. I still have that picture in my mind. I am certain that it was that day I learnt that the best speech or sermon is one that infuses one’s own experiences.
Reflecting further after my chat with Fafa, I realised that actually I didn’t give her the right answer. The starting point was earlier.
I was a quiet reserved guy right up to form five, who loved to stay in the background more than infront. Though I had some responsibilities as class prefect in preparatory school and as dormitory monitor in during O Levels, I remained mostly shy and afraid of speaking before large people.
I continued to sixth form in Ghanacoll, and was active in the Scripture Union as I had been always. The time came for appointment of SU officers and our patron Mr Gordon Egyir-Croffect called me to his office. The news he gave me surprised and frightened me: they wanted to appoint me as the Secretary and Financial Secretary for our SU. Me? Thinking back, I don’t know how Croffectus was able to convince me. One position was scary enough, and the most challenging was not the Financial Secretary role, which was a support, in-the-background sort of role. The Secretary was responsible for taking minutes when the Executive met (I honed my writing here) but that wasn’t the toughest part. The Secretary was responsible for facilitations and for making announcements anytime the entire congregation met, three times a week. The first time I addressed them in the theatre in the Red Block, I shook like one of those Ghana flags the boys sell in traffic, atop a moving car. I recall later realising that I couldn’t remember what I actually said that evening. That day marked the break from my stage fright and shyness, as I wrote in my book Excursions In My Mind, in the chapter entitled Shyness Is Not A Virtue.
When I got the invitation to give a talk and organise a team building activity for a bank in June, at the forum of their top management including their board (they were three speakers, I was the only Ghanaian), I was asked how much I would charge. I went blank! I responded that I had been doing it for free for churches, groups and para-christian organisations. Those were the preparatory stages.
John Maxwell speaks about three stages in a person’s career: learning, earning and giving phases. I have used this many times in my discussions with young friends of mine. At the learning phase, the focus is not on money, but on getting depth and breadth of experience. Averagely, this lasts for about ten years. Then one moves into the earning phase where you decide and chose which roles to take and make some bucks too. The final phase is where people like Carnegie, Rockefeller and now Gates got to, where you go chasing after legacy, giving to society.
The problem with most of us is that we don’t spend good and quality time in the learning phase and rush on, half-baked.
The quality of the performance one has on the big stages of life is usually determined by the quality and quantity of preparation time spent off the stage. Consider the life of Jesus. All he did and is mostly captured in the gospels happened over three and a half years, in his thirties. It took him thirty years of preparation off-stage before he got onto his platform. Churchill, Lincoln, Mandela: they all had baking time, time in the oven of hard preparation. Nkrumah had years in prison and also in the trenches before becoming Prime Minister and President.
One person whose life challenges me when I think of preparation time is Dr Mohammed Ibn-Chambas. For ten years, he was Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, and then he was appointed, again as Deputy Minister, for Education for three years. In these supporting roles, he learnt. When the break came, first with ECOWAS as President, and now with the African, Caribbean, and Pacific (ACP) Group of States as Secretary General, he was ready.
When I shared this piece on Facebook, my friend Kwabena Antwi-Boasiako added his insight which is too apt to edit. I quote him verbatim:
“My late Dad called it the ‘kyeekyee-soosoo’ phenomenon, which means going through pain first (kyeekyee) and then enjoying the fruits of those pains (soosoo). It involves sacrificing for tomorrow, going through the apprenticeship stage, focused on how best you can develop yourself instead of what you will get today. This stage is like cultivating the land. Harvest almost always follows.
The opposite is ‘soosoo-kyeekyee’, which is enjoying at the beginning and then suffering in the end. Sadly, we the youth of today are not prepared to bid our time, we want to drive the latest cars and eat in the best of restaurants now.
At the workplace, for instance, we are much more concerned with short-term gains and thus engage in fishy deals. We sometimes get what we want overnight. Unfortunately for us but fortunately for society, our gains do not live long because we get caught, dismissed and sometimes, imprisoned.
Life, they say, gives back to you what you’ve sacrificed.”
After my facilitation of the second institution’s management retreat, their new HR manager asked me what other training modules my company gives! Company? I did it with my pal Kofi Akpabli. Well Kofi, that is a message!
Other opportunities continue to emerge, but it all started from that small beginning, and that fiasco of my first speaking appointment. I am still off-stage, still learning.
How are you using your time or chance off-stage? Will you be ready when the platform beckons?