Storytelling: An African Leadership Journey of Performance Improvement Innovation

Storytelling: An African Leadership Journey of Performance Improvement Innovation

Lucy Surhyel Newman
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 30
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3673-5.ch008
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This case study presents an insight into an African leadership journey over a period of two decades within a professional storytelling format, from 1999 to 2019. It provides an overview of the subject's application of germinal and emerging theoretical concepts in performance improvement innovation, as a female executive of African descent and a working mother. For context, the chapter presents the case study subject's leadership trajectory from early life, with insights to her personal orientation on related issues via an interview with the subject, testimonials, and organizational outcomes of the case study subject's leadership styles. The chapter closes with emerging challenges facing performance innovation practice in Africa, solutions and recommendations for further action, leveraging the case study subject's experience as a performance improvement practitioner. Although the case study presents an African experience, the principles can be explored across cultural and environmental settings, based on this self-application narrative
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Tibetan Buddhist monks excel at concentration. They tell a traditional tale about focus called ‘The Lion’s Gaze’, which says; When you throw a ball to a dog, it chases the ball. But when you throw a ball to a lion, it keeps its gaze on you. When we tell a story, our Lion’s gaze is one thing – connecting with our audience. (Murray Nossel, 2018. pp.1)

This chapter titled Storytelling: An African Leadership Journey of Performance Improvement, presents insights into the leadership journey of a female executive of African descent and a working mother, over a period of two decades from 1999 to 2019. The chapter’s ‘lion gaze’ is to demonstrate practical application of Transformational Leadership and other Performance Improvement Innovations, over a two decades window into the case study subject’s leadership journey as a female executive. The unique aspect about this chapter is that the author narrates the case study subject’s personal application of concepts and standards to her individual career, as narrated here-in, using a third person professional story telling methodology.

In terms of structure, this chapter starts with an executive summary which provides a broad purpose of the chapter, followed by an introduction which gives a perspective to the chapter by specifically stating the chapter’s objectives. For more context, the introduction is followed by a background which gives broad definitions and discussions, incorporating some review of related literature within which the chapter situates concepts. Having set the boundaries via the abstract, introduction and background, the main focus of the chapter discusses issues as applicable to the case, controversies on the subject and problems observed. The chapter then naturally closes with solutions and recommendations for consideration and action for aspired levels of improvement in practice.

The author hopes by presenting the chapter using third person professional storytelling narrative to present the case study’s pursuit of meaningful impact and contribution within her sphere of influence as a leader at home, at work and in society, the ‘lion gaze’ of readers will be that employees, executives, professional career coaches and emerging performance improvement professionals will find the case study inspiring in planning how to personally apply some of the concepts in their continued aspiration for performance improvement innovation.



Leaders don’t move mountains with mountains of data. They do it by giving their audiences a piece of their heart. (Carmine Gallo, 2016. pp.213)

This chapter is a case study on an individual case study subject, using a third person professional story telling format. As such, this background section will start with an overview of the case study subject’s early life, education, work life and an interview with the case study subject. Thus, giving the reader an opportunity to strike a personal connection with the case study subject’s situation.

Early Life and Education

The subject of this case study was born into an African mixed family of nine [9] siblings. Her Wikipedia profile indicates that she completed sixth grade [called primary level in most of Africa] at Shehu Garbai Primary School and the twelfth grade [called secondary education in most of Africa], at Federal Government College, Kaduna. Figure1 titled The Case Subject’s Leadership Journey in this chapter, provides a schematic of the case study subject’s educational and work progression from the completion of her undergraduate studies to the beginning of her career break to explore new areas, in 2019. As indicated in Figure 1, for her high school or what is referred to in some countries as high school education, she attended the Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria’s School of Basic Studies and then proceeded for her undergraduate and postgraduate programs at the Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, in Nigeria. For a tertiary degree, she attended University of Phoenix Arizona, in the United States of America. With her academic journey giving her various areas of focus from financial management at undergraduate level, international business at master’s level and the leadership and performance all within the broader area of business administration, she found performance improvement easy to adapt. Theoretical constructs such as Transformational Leadership, Systems Theory and Adult Learning Theory obtained from her tertiary degree, provided a framing for her leadership journey. Her mixed family and extended family context within the African society, helped her appreciate the Kaufman Mega Thinking concept.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Africa: Africa is the world's second largest and second most-populous continent, being behind Asia in both categories. It covers 6% of Earth's total surface area and 20% of its land area. With 1.2 billion people as of 2016, it accounts for about 16% of the world's human population. The continent is surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, the Isthmus of Suez and the Red Sea to the northeast, the Indian Ocean to the southeast and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. It contains 54 fully recognised sovereign states (countries), nine territories and two de facto independent states with limited or no recognition. The majority of the continent and its countries are in the Northern Hemisphere, with a substantial portion and number of countries in the Southern Hemisphere. Africa's average population is the youngest amongst all the continents; the median age in 2012 was 19.7, when the worldwide median age was 30.4. Algeria is Africa's largest country by area, and Nigeria is its largest by population.

Nigeria: Nigeria, officially the Federal Republic of Nigeria, is a country in West Africa, bordering Niger in the north, Chad in the northeast, Cameroon in the east, and Benin in the west. Its coast in the south is located on the Gulf of Guinea in the Atlantic Ocean. The federation comprises 36 states and 1 Federal Capital Territory, where the capital, Abuja, is located. The constitution defines Nigeria as a democratic secular state. Nigeria has been home to a number of ancient and indigenous kingdoms and states over the millennia. The modern state originated from British colonial rule beginning in the 19th century, and took its present territorial shape with the merging of the Southern Nigeria Protectorate and Northern Nigeria Protectorate in 1914. The British set up administrative and legal structures while practising indirect rule through traditional chiefdoms. Nigeria became a formally independent federation in 1960. It experienced a civil war from 1967 to 1970. It thereafter alternated between democratically elected civilian governments and military dictatorships until it achieved a stable democracy in 1999, with the 2011 presidential election considered the first to be reasonably free and fair. Nigeria is often referred to as the “Giant of Africa”, owing to its large population and economy. With 186 million inhabitants, Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa and the seventh most populous country in the world. Nigeria has the third-largest youth population in the world, after India and China, with more than 90 million of its population under age 18. The country is viewed as a multinational state as it is inhabited by 250 ethnic groups, of which the three largest are the Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba; these ethnic groups speak over 500 different native languages and are identified with a wide variety of cultures. The official language of Nigeria is Nigerian English, chosen to facilitate linguistic unity at the national level. Nigeria is the world's 20th largest economy as of 2015, worth more than $500 billion and $1 trillion in terms of nominal GDP and purchasing power parity respectively. It overtook South Africa to become Africa's largest economy in 2014.

Human Performance Technology: According to Wikipedia, the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI) defines Human Performance Technology as: “a systematic approach to improving productivity and competence, uses a set of methods and procedures—and a strategy for solving problems—for realizing opportunities related to the performance of people. More specific, it is a process of selection, analysis, design, development, implementation, and evaluation of programs to most cost-effectively influence human behavior and accomplishment. It is a systematic combination of three fundamental processes: performance analysis, cause analysis, and intervention selection, and can be applied to individuals, small groups, and large organizations” (ISPI, 2012 AU23: The in-text citation "ISPI, 2012" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. ). A simpler definition of Human Performance Technology is a systematic approach to improving individual and organizational performance (Pershing, 2006 AU24: The in-text citation "Pershing, 2006" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. ). A common misunderstanding of the word technology with regards to Human Performance Technology, is that it relates to information technologies. In Human Performance Technology, the term technology , refers to the specialized aspects of the field of Human Performance. Technology: the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in industry, as a branch of knowledge dealing with engineering or applied science. In terms of origins of Human Performance Technology, Wikipedia further explained that the field also referred to as Performance Improvement, emerged from the fields of educational technology and instructional technology in the 1950s and 1960s. In the post war period, application of the Instructional Systems Design (ISD) model was not consistently returning the desired improvements to organizational performance. This led the emergence of Human Performance Technology as a separate field from Instructional Systems Design, in the late 1960s to early 1970s when the National Society for Programmed Instruction was renamed the National Society for Performance and Instruction (NSPI) and then again to the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI) in 1995. (Chyung, 2008 AU25: The in-text citation "Chyung, 2008" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. ) indicated that Human Performance Technology evolved as a systemic and systematic approach to address complex types of performance issues and to assist in the proper diagnosis and implementation of solutions to close performance gaps among individuals. The origins of HPT can be primarily traced back to the work of Thomas Gilbert, Geary Rummler, Karen Brethower, Roger Kaufman, Bob Mager, Donald Tosti, Lloyd Homme and Joe Harless. They (Gilbert and Rummler in particular) were the pioneers of the field.

African Union: In May 1963, 32 Heads of independent African States met in Addis Ababa Ethiopia to sign the Charter creating Africa’s first post-independence continental institution, The African Union (AU) is a continental body consisting of the 55 member states that make up the countries of the African Continent. It was officially launched in 2002 as a successor to the Organization of African Unity (OAU, 1963-1999).

10 Standards of Performance Improvement: According to the International Society for Performance Improvement ( ISPI, 2020 ), as obtained from the society’s website, “our approach and our 10 Standards of Performance Improvement are universal. They can be applied to any individual, group, organization, industry, or sector and can be used to create meaningful results for any performance challenge or opportunity.”

Certified Performance Technologist Discipline: According to the International Society for Performance Improvement, the Certified Performance Technologist (CPT) certification was established in2002, to help practitioners distinguish themselves in the performance improvement industry. This proficiency-based certification involves practitioners documenting examples of their work based on a set of standards, criteria, and code of ethics. Applications are rigorously reviewed by peers who evaluate how the work submitted has produced results through a systematic, measurable process. Those who earn their certification demonstrate their dedication to the field by keeping up with continuing education requirements, which is required to re-certify every three years. This certification is in demand by organizations hiring for specific expertise from individuals who have proven they know how to get results. It is therefore, apt to infer that the Certified Performance Technologist designation, is awarded by the International Society for Performance Improvement, to individuals whose work demonstrates their ability to get results by systematically identifying and removing barriers to performance.

Agenda2063: It is Africa’s blueprint and master plan for transforming Africa into the global powerhouse of the future. It is the continent’s strategic framework that aims to deliver on its goal for inclusive and sustainable development and is a concrete manifestation of the pan-African drive for unity, self-determination, freedom, progress and collective prosperity pursued under Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance. The genesis of Agenda 2063 was the realisation by African leaders that there was a need to refocus and reprioritise Africa’s agenda from the struggle against apartheid and the attainment of political independence for the continent which had been the focus of The Organisation of African Unity (OAU), the precursor of the African Union; and instead to prioritise inclusive social and economic development, continental and regional integration, democratic governance and peace and security amongst other issues aimed at repositioning Africa to becoming a dominant player in the global arena. As an affirmation of their commitment to support Africa’s new path for attaining inclusive and sustainable economic growth and development African heads of state and government signed the 50th Anniversary Solemn Declaration during the Golden Jubilee celebrations of the formation of the OAU /AU in May 2013. The declaration marked the re-dedication of Africa towards the attainment of the Pan African Vision of An integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens, representing a dynamic force in the international arena and Agenda 2063 is the concrete manifestation of how the continent intends to achieve this vision within a 50 year period from 2013 to 2063.

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