Feature Article of Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Columnist: Sarfo, Silas

A New Guide for Ministerial Appointments

*What We Need is Highly Effective Leadership: A New Guide for Ministerial Appointments*

To begin with, it is important to emphasize that in order to transform a nation from a poor, developing status to a prosperous, developed status, highly effective leadership is paramount. In other words, if we want remarkable results, we will need remarkable leadership.

Undoubtedly, all of the current government ministers are respectable persons who have had respectable careers as lawyers, doctors, professors and other various professions. However, as respectable as they all may be, how respectable they are is not the crucial question as regards leadership effectiveness. The crucial question that must be asked is: Do they possess the kinds of highly effective leadership qualities that are necessary for bringing about not just reasonably satisfactory results, but remarkably significant results? And of course, this question then begs the question: What kinds of qualities must we be looking out for that are the hallmarks of highly effective leaders?

One of the most prominent qualities of highly effective leaders is their ability to be visionary.

For instance, in 1965, when Malaysia expelled Singapore and forced it to exist as a city-state with a small population, limited land space and no natural resources, few people gave it much chance of survival. Though initially greatly distressed by the separation, the Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, had a compelling vision to transform Singapore into “a first world oasis in a third world region”.

Symbolic of true visionaries, beyond merely conceiving this vision, Lee Kuan Yew was able to clearly visualize and pinpoint exactly what needed to get done in order to bring it to fruition. With a clear sense of direction and a strong conviction, he meticulously masterminded fresh strategies for accelerated development, put policies into operation which proved to be extremely effective and came up with breakthrough solutions for various problems.

The whole world became astounded by how Singapore rapidly grew from being a developing country to one of the most developed countries in Asia, and leapfrogged the status of development of many other nations in the process. It had thus emerged as a shining example of what a small state with no resources could accomplish, thanks to the visionary leadership of Lee Kuan Yew.

"The very essence of leadership is that you have to have vision" (Theodore Hesburgh). “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way” (John C. Maxwell). "The whole world steps aside for the man who knows where he is going" (Anonymous). “Leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion” (Jack Welch).

In the course of the approval process for the President's nominees for ministerial appointment it is therefore advisable that clear and compelling visions for the ministries that they have been nominated to be in charge of are required, as well as proposed actionable strategies that they intend to put into operation in order to bring their visions to fruition. Further, these must be critically assessed by the Appointments Committee of Parliament and deemed very promising before the nominees can be approved for appointment.

Another prominent quality of highly effective leaders is the possession of a substantial wealth of knowledge and experience that is relevant to their leadership responsibility.

For instance, in 1999 Nissan was on the brink of bankruptcy after having incurred losses for seven of the past eight years and many thought it was headed for disaster. The critical task of turning around Nissan was given to Carlos Ghosn, who was appointed as Chief Operating Officer because of his prior experience in successfully recovering automobile companies.

While skeptics asserted that turning around a company in such a dire situation was scarcely possible or would probably take several years, Ghosn made headlines by boldly pledging that he and his entire managerial staff would resign if Nissan was not profitable in 2001, which was to be just two years of his being in charge.

Equipped with his previous turnaround experience, Ghosn spearheaded the speedy execution of a number of radical reforms including instituting a sweeping reorganization of the entire company, reducing costs in all of Nissan’s operations and announcing an ambitious slate of new vehicles. Less than 18 months after Ghosn was appointed to be in charge, Nissan was not only profitable, but had achieved the best financial performance in the company's history.

Only leaders who have a remarkable wealth of knowledge and experience can display such a remarkable execution of competence and confidence.

For an additional example, at a management seminar in 2011, Mr. Kyle Whitehill, CEO of Vodafone Ghana, talked about how soon after he had arrived in Ghana to assume duties as the CEO of Vodafone Ghana, his 25 years of business experience in the UK, Central Europe and India equipped him with the necessary competence to feel confident about knowing exactly what needed to get done.

Even though Mr. Whitehill had never previously been to Ghana, over the course of his business career in both developed and developing countries he had gained a substantial wealth of business knowledge and experience that was very relevant and readily applicable to being in charge of Vodafone’s branch in Ghana. He said that he always tells people that he has had 25 years of training to be an overnight success.

Concerning the selection of highly effective persons for ministerial appointment, it is very important that each ministerial nominee must have a substantial wealth of knowledge and experience that is relevant for the particular ministerial position he or she is nominated for.

Accordingly, it would be misguided for one to deduce that by virtue of the fact that a certain politician is well-educated, has had a career in a respectable profession and is of good reputation he or she is competent enough to be allotted a ministerial position.

Deductions cannot be made about true competence from such general attributes. And competence in relation to ministerial appointments should not be assumed to be a generalized matter of being competent enough to be allotted a ministerial position; it must be in reference to a particular ministerial position and to be competent enough he or she must have a substantial wealth of knowledge and experience in relation to the particular ministerial position.

It is therefore unfortunate that in the case of ministerial reshuffles, the periodic “musical chairs” of ministers and ministries brings about many instances where a government minister is suddenly reassigned to assume another ministerial position for which he or she does not have a substantial wealth of knowledge and experience. It should be noted that this shuffle-around technique for appointing leaders cannot bring about first-rate results.

Yet another prominent quality of highly effective leaders is the presence of a passionate drive that motivates them. Unlike money and working conditions which are extrinsic sources of motivation, people’s passions intrinsically motivate them. “A great leader's courage to fulfill his vision comes from passion, not position” (John C. Maxwell).

For instance, Dr. Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng, the renowned Ghanaian heart surgeon and founder of the National Cardiothoracic Centre, had a burning passion to champion the establishment of a cardiothoracic clinic in his motherland since there were no cardiothoracic surgery facilities or heart surgeons in the country formerly. Therefore, in his late thirties he chose to part with the lucrative rewards of a career as a heart surgeon in Europe and returned to Ghana.

Initially, very few people believed that Dr. Frimpong-Boateng would be able to accomplish his mission, but because of the intense passion that drove him, he was relentless in his pursuit despite financial challenges, impediments and setbacks that he encountered. Against all odds, the National Cardiothoracic Centre was eventually established as a public institution under the Ministry of Health and along the way, several individuals and institutions supported Dr. Frimpong-Boateng’s efforts through donations in cash and kind.

From its humble beginnings in 1989 with just a small number of staff, the National Cardiothoracic Centre now has over a 100 personnel, it is recognized by the West African College of Surgeons as a training center for heart surgeons and cardiothoracic technicians and it is well-regarded across the West African sub-region as a leader in complicated heart procedures. It is what it is today, thanks to the passion-driven leadership of Dr. Frimpong-Boateng.

Passion is inborn. Different people inherently tend to be passionate about different things, and likewise different leaders inherently tend to be passionate about different areas of leadership responsibility. But when a leader happens to have a very intense passion for his or her particular leadership responsibility, his or her passion, which serves as an intrinsic motivator, becomes a key ingredient that provides the impetus for highly effective leadership.

It is therefore important that the passion factor is always taken into consideration regarding the selection of the most suitable person for each ministerial position, and it is unfortunate that the abrupt shuffle-around nature of ministerial reshuffles is inimical to the facilitation of this ideal.

Apart from the selected prominent qualities of highly effective leaders that are mentioned above, there are several others that highly effective leaders have been noted to possess. But it is important that there must always be a focus on whether the totality of a person’s unique set of knowledge, experiences, skills and passions makes him or her ideally suited for a particular leadership position.

For example, let us assume that Bill Gates was persuaded to become a member of his country's government's team of executive ministers and then as a consequence of a ministerial reshuffle, he was appointed to assume a vacant ministerial position which happened to be at the Ministry of Tourism.

Though he may well have been a very accomplished and visionary business leader as CEO of Microsoft, it is highly unlikely that he would be able to be highly effective in a tourism-focused leadership position, because the individual skills, knowledge and years of experience of a computer software tycoon do not come into play as effectively in the field of tourism; and it will be very hard for him to be able to develop a compelling vision concerning a role for which he does not have intense passion or great insight.

It is therefore unfortunate that in ministerial reshuffles, where the search for the best person for the job is mostly confined to a small group of government ministers, the sudden multiple exchanges of ministerial portfolios that take place instantly bring about multiple analogous instances of the scenario above.

However, to some extent the above is unfortunately to be expected because of the first clause of Article 78 of Ghana’s constitution, which requires that the majority of government ministers must be appointed from among members of parliament. Many wish for this clause to be repealed from the constitution as they disapprove of it because it restricts the pool of eligible individuals from which the president can choose persons possessing particularly effective leadership qualities for ministerial appointment.

Nevertheless, much more scrutiny must be applied in the selection government ministers. Unfortunately, considerations regarding political loyalty are often placed before competence and though the exposure of ministerial nominees to a vetting and appointment process is indeed carried out, there is always wholesale approval for appointment.

It is very important that at this very high level of public appointment, very high standards of competence are required. Nothing short of impressive should be acceptable. It is therefore critical that when ministerial nominees are being vetted, probing questions, intentionally designed to bring out much more specifics are asked, requiring the nominees to demonstrate the full extent of their knowledge, experience and leadership abilities that pertain to their particular ministerial designations.

Members of the Appointments Committee of Parliament should try to avoid getting carried away with introductory chats with ministerial nominees and steer clear of the extraneous questions that have been posed time and again which have had little or no bearing on leadership competency.

It is also important that in the course of vetting at this very high level of public appointment, repetitive “I will do my best” responses from ministerial nominees must not be accepted as satisfactory. As much as it is estimable when leaders commit themselves to doing their best, hard work alone is not sufficient for bringing about needed improvements in our lives.

Consider that before 1913, factory employees of car manufacturers would work in groups to painstakingly construct one car at a time. As much as they perspired in their labours, there was no faster way of manufacturing cars until Henry Ford conceived the brilliant idea of devising a moving industrial production line for the production of cars by means of a conveyor belt and an assembly line system.

Ford’s new ingenious process for manufacturing cars proved to be much faster, cheaper and greatly efficient. As a result, in 1914, the Ford Motor Company manufactured more cars than all 299 other car manufacturers combined.

Thus, as valuable as hard work is, ingenious solutions for overcoming challenges are vital. Many of the challenges we face as a nation have existed for a very long time not necessarily because of laziness, but mainly because we have still not been able to come up with adequate solutions for them. It is therefore important that members of the Appointments Committee of Parliament deliberately inquire whether persons who are nominated for ministerial positions are able to offer fresh ingenious solutions for these long-standing challenges.

Moreover, the kinds of challenges our nation faces require from our leaders much more than mere routine day-to-day management. To thrive in the 21st century we are going to need leaders who are not just managing as an occupation, but with a passionate and pertinacious drive; not just able to manage the status quo, but also able to envision and strategize for their vision to be realized; not allowing themselves to be boxed in by complexities, but are able to think out of the box to overcome difficulties; and capable of spearheading rapid progress towards achieving the ultimate goal of transformational change.

By Silas Sarfo