Albert Ocran

Albert Ocran
Albert Ocran is one of Ghana's most prolific authors and an award-winning motivational speaker

Monday, 26 September 2011

Why I Left Church So Angry

On the night of 21st May, 2008, Chelsea FC captain John Terry stepped up to take what was supposed to be the winning penalty of the Champions League Final in Moscow. All was set for the festivities and he straightened his arm band in anticipation. However, just before he kicked the ball, he slipped on the watery turf and saw his effort clip the outside of the post. A few minutes and four penalties later, Manchester United were crowned champions of Europe leaving Terry and his teammates disconsolate with grief.

My Chelsea-supporting friends did not take the loss so graciously. To them, that moment, that mistimed kick, was the culmination of years of hard work and preparation. The feeling was that he had not maintained his focus and had ended up taking the opportunity too lightly. Some sports analysts even accused him of fantasizing about the next day’s newspaper headlines and engaging in premature celebrations. Similar feelings and thoughts resurfaced when Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan missed that last gasp penalty that would almost certainly have taken his country into a historic semi-final at the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Unexpectedly let out of jail, the Uruguayans seized their moment and progressed at Ghana’s expense.

How do you feel when someone with a rare opportunity seems to be taking things rather easy and running the risk of losing out on a historic or life-transforming experience?

That is what got me angry at church today. In fact I am still angry as I write. I do not know who I am angry at….  But before I go into that let me tell you what provoked me. Sharing an unusual message entitled, “Do You Understand What You Are Reading?” Pastor Mensa Otabil took congregants on a journey that lent solid credence and a scriptural framework to something I have been feeling so strongly about of late - the fact that Africa’s time has come.

I will not attempt to serialise the sermon as time, space and context would not permit me. For my purposes however, let me say he laid the foundation with the encounter in Acts 8 between the Philip the disciple and the Ethiopian Eunuch.
26 Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, “Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is desert. 27 So he arose and went. And behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship, 28 was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet. 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go near and overtake this chariot.”
30 So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?”
31 And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him.

The man from Ethiopia (Dark Face) was described in seven interesting ways:
1.    A Black Man
2.    Eunuch (Powerless/Unable to Produce)
3.    A Bureaucrat (Man of great authority)
4.    Submissive (under Candace the Queen)
5.    Trusted (Steward of great Treasure)
6.    Educated (Reading)
7.    Religious (Travelling from worshiping at Jerusalem)

“To all intents and purposes, this is the story of today’s Africa.” Dr. Otabil stressed.

“An educated, religious black bureaucrat with access to great resources yet unproductive and lacking understanding.”

Africa has so much potential, so much promise but very little to show from our recent past. The result is an inferiority complex and a sense of despondency about the future. As is his custom, Dr. Otabil intricately navigated his way through the Old Testament, starting from Abraham through Moses. He made special reference to the role of Jethro the Midianite (or Ethiopian) priest who mentored Moses in law, worship, governance and leadership. The conclusion was that the black man had been the source of light and knowledge to the world before and could step up to the plate once again. Of course, I impatiently await the concluding part next week.

While I do so, let me give you 10 reasons why I feel so angry.

1.   There must be a reason why the Eurozone is in such a deep debt crisis and the well-oiled American economic machinery is tottering so badly. But are we thinking of what that means for us?
2.   The number of African countries in the list of top ten fastest growing economies in the world must surely mean something. But do we really know?
3.   Why are we not able to massively rally the young people, who form the majority of Africa’s population, around the solutions to our problems? It is easy to get people on the streets to demonstrate for or against one cause or another but there surely must be a higher calling. There is so much untapped energy but so little understanding of what it takes to positively galvanise it.
4.   Every prediction about the future seems to suggest that global food security will be a very big issue going forward. Sadly, we still do not seem to have found an integrated solution that massively utilises the huge tracts of arable land that literally engulf us.
5.   We are so deeply divided along political, tribal and religious lines that someone reading this will be spending all their time trying to place me in one narrow box or another. It is a pity that we think the things that divide us are more important than those that unite us. I thought that the years many of us spent in boarding school were supposed to neutralise these unnecessary divisions. Maybe I am naïve…
6.   The last time I was in Lagos on the Springboard Road Show, I was impressed with how Governor Fashola had cleaned up the city. He had cleared the most notorious slums and planted grass and flowers along the street sides with sprinklers working and ambulances parked at designated slots. I know how that city looked like before and I sincerely don’t care about any explanation. I just got one message… It can be done!!! We are not a dirty continent and should not accept it.
7.   It is unfair for a substantial chunk of our political discourse to focus on trivial issues like who is suffering from what sickness and who smokes what when major issues like unemployment, corruption and sustained economic wellbeing are crying for significant, long-term solutions.
8.   There is talk of a new scramble for Africa with our Asian friends at the very forefront of the effort. While others spend day and night strategizing about how to completely take over the pillars of our economy and our resources, we seem to be content to see everyone as a friend or partner. There are parts of our economy that are literally no-fly zones for any Ghanaian. We know them but do not seem to care.
9.   We celebrate the mediocre and pat ourselves on the back for having come close to the so-called advanced countries in any activity, sport or business. We crave their endorsement and rejoice whenever the “bosses” have something good to say about us. Every small organisation or person in some country somewhere thinks that they can relate to us with some imaginary authority. African businesses pay thousands of dollars to receive awards from fictitious organisations and flaunt them just because they come from Europe. Come On!!! Aren’t we worth much more than that?
10. Isn’t it sad that some of the greatest Africans of our time have passed on without publishing as much as a word as a legacy for posterity? We surely cannot sit quietly and let our heroes die with all their wisdom when in other jurisdictions, butlers, drivers and even neighbours of accomplished people publish books providing their perspectives as observers of their achievements.

Dr. James Emman Kwegyir Aggrey (1875-1927) did not mince words when he stated that “Only the best is good enough for Africa.” I wholeheartedly agree. There is nothing like African time and African quality, especially when it refers to mediocre work that is allowed to pass off just because it is African. Our books, music, schools, businesses, churches and leadership must all aspire to the highest global standards. We must believe that we are good enough to compete in anything and at any level. Let’s not apologize for taking our place and insisting on being heard. We have a story to tell and tell it we must.

I must confess that I am still not sure about who or what I am angry at but does it really matter? I suppose it doesn’t, especially if I channel that ‘righteous’ anger into something fruitful. After all, isn’t it more empowering to contribute to the solution than to complain about a problem? God bless the Aggreys, Nkrumah’s, Otabils and the several others who have championed African excellence over the years. May posterity be far kinder and more appreciative of you than we seem to be today!

Let me end with the words of the man they called the “Aggrey of Africa” who told the story of the eaglet that stayed with chickens for a long time until it had a revelation of what it really was. It then flew away never to return to scratching for crumbs.

“My people of Africa” said Aggrey “we were created in the image of God, but men have made us think that we are chickens, and we still think we are, but we are eagles. Stretch forth your wings and fly! Don't be content with food of chickens.”

So help us God!!!

Peace & Many Blessings!!!

From A Very Pensive Albert

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Wednesday, 21 September 2011

The Priceless Gem of Public Speaking

Public Speaking Is An Arrow Every Leader Needs In Their Quiver - A. Ocran

I really enjoyed listening to former German President Horst Koehler delivering his lecture at the Legon Great Hall to mark the launch of the John A. Kufuor foundation. While most people were assimilating his thought-provoking views on the social capital market and fitting it into their capitalist, socialist or centrist frameworks, I just chose to focus on the beauty of effective public speaking at work.

HE Horst Koehler
My interest was in how a man who spoke so differently and did not even come from our part of the world could endear himself so well to the packed audience and connect so directly to the issues underpinning our very existence. It wasn’t so much what was said as how it was delivered. For instance, speaking to the oft-repeated paradox of leaders asking their people to sacrifice while they do the very opposite, he said something to the effect that: 

“The citizenry is patient when they are convinced that as they endure hard decisions, serious action is being taken about the things that concern them. When you sit in traffic and are assured that people ahead of you are moving and it will get to your turn, you will wait. Frustration only sets in when space is created ahead of you and others slip in while you wait.”

At another point, in apparent reference to the pressure that governments come under to depend on one economic model or the other, he said “When it comes to resource mobilisation and development, both the hit-and-run model and the Robin Hood model will not succeed in the long run.” Public speaking is not just about great content. Other factors like style, articulation, language, body language and the use of illustrations and anecdotes also matter.

Dr. Kwame Nkrumah
Still not convinced? Who is the most oft-quoted head of state in Ghana? Is it not surprising that almost five decades years after leaving power, Kwame Nkrumah’s speeches remain the most frequently quoted by any Ghanaian leader? The man understood timing, style, crowd dynamics and the symbolism and iconography that countless leaders throughout history have often used to their advantage.

10 Attributes of the World’s Best Public Speakers

If public speaking is so essential for leadership success, what are the critical success factors? Here are ten attributes of the world’s best speakers. I have chosen to explain each one with a famous quote on public speaking:

1.    Ability to Speak without Fear. “According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.” ~ Jerry Seinfeld (American comedian).
2.    Effective Delivery. “There are always three speeches, for every one you actually gave. The one you practiced, the one you gave, and the one you wish you gave.” ~ Dale Carnegie (Author of “How to Win Friends and Influence People”)
3.    Brevity. “Be sincere; be brief; be seated.” ~ Franklin D. Roosevelt (32nd President of the United States)
4.    Ability to Connect. “Speech is power: speech is to persuade, to convert, to compel. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882, Philosopher and Poet).
5.    Command of Their Subject. “Grasp the subject, the words will follow. ~ Cato The Elder (234 BC-149 BC, Roman statesman)
6.    A sense of Timing. “Make sure you have finished speaking before your audience has finished listening.” ~ Dorothy Sarnoff (1914-2008, American operatic soprano, musical theatre actress, and self-help guru).
7.    Passion. “Be still when you have nothing to say; when genuine passion moves you, say what you’ve got to say, and say it hot.” ~ D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930, English author and literary critic).
8.    Constant Preparedness. “It usually takes more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.” ~ Mark Twain (1835-1910, Author and humorist)
9.    Emotional Maturity. “Speak when you are angry—and you will make the best speech you’ll ever regret.” ~ Laurence J. Peter (1919-1990, Formulator of the Peter Principle).
10. That rare ability to actively engage people without really saying anything. "Public speaking is the art of diluting a two-minute idea with a two-hour vocabulary."Evan Esar

I hope you have enjoyed this. Have you identified any areas where you could improve as a public speaker? Get to work today. And may your next speech be better than the last one.

Peace & Many Blessings!!!

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Monday, 12 September 2011

In God We Trust… Everyone Else We Monitor

Personal Lessons from Post 9/11 Era
Last night the nightingale woke me,
Last night, when all was still.
It sang in the golden moonlight,
From out the woodland hill.

- Christian Winther

Ten years ago, I was sitting in my MBA class in GIMPA getting ready for lectures when my friend Coby Asmah walked in. As soon as he settled into his usual seat next to me he turned to me with a bewildered look and said “two planes just crashed into the World Trade Centre.” I turned to him in disbelief and said “How possible?” And that was my introduction to the events on September 11, 2001 or 9/11 as they call it. Over three thousand lives were lost as terrorists seized four planes and sent them plunging into sensitive American installations.

Those incidents in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania were to change the course of history. The eyes of the world were forcibly opened to the reality of our own vulnerability and the destructive potential of person(s) committed to killing the innocent and willing to take their own lives in the process. The war on terror was launched, internal security strengthened across several nations and American installations on foreign soil reinforced to reduce the attendant risk. How does that affect you thousands of miles away in Accra, Sydney, Tokyo, Beijing or California?

“Trust is like a vase.. once it's broken, though you can fix it the vase will never be same again.”

In reality, you might be paying for it in ways you may never have considered. In his book, The Speed of Trust, Stephen M. R. Covey establishes a correlation between trust, speed and cost. He suggests that trust is positively related to speed and inversely related to the cost of getting things done. As a result, where trust is high, things get done faster and at a lower cost. On the other hand, in low trust situations, things proceed slowly with all manner of checks and naturally higher costs. He contrasts air travel before and after September 11 to buttress his point. Today, travellers require longer periods to go through all the immigration and security checks. You may therefore need to check in at least three hours prior to an international flight instead of an hour as was the case previously. Today, when you approach a security point, foreign mission or airport dressed in a particular way you can almost guarantee that you will be given "special treatment." Interestingly, in addition to the time wasting, there are extra costs borne by the traveller as a result of these changes.

Can anyone blame governments and nations for being extra careful? Obviously not!!! Since 9/11, similar incidents in Madrid, London, Dar es Salaam, Nairobi and a number of unsuccessful attempts or plots give cause for concern. There is a Ghanaian proverb that literally translates as “The person who has been bitten by a snake gets terrified at the sight of a millipede.” While some measures may seem highhanded and stiff, families of victims of 9/11 might probably have wished there had been even more in place. The words “NEVER AGAIN!!!” became the universal mantra after the attacks.

Have you experienced your own personal 9/11? Have you had your business ‘terrorised’ by trusted employees while you were looking the other way? Has your faith been shattered by someone you trusted who took away everything you had toiled so long for? Have you invested in a home and other assets with your spouse only to lose it all in a divorce? Have you learnt any lessons? Are there measures in place to prevent a recurrence? Are the ‘terrorists’ who raped organisations still prowling around unobserved and ready to pounce again?

Careful monitoring is an integral aspect of responsible leadership at all levels. Management expert Brian Tracy says “Inspect what you expect.” In a discussion on ‘Effective Supervision’ with one of my mentors, Rev. Agnes Philips, she used the phrase “In God we trust… Everyone else we monitor.” The import of that thought-provoking statement has since remained with me.

When we act naively and fail to safeguard our businesses, assets or relationships, we behave like the nightingale and run the risk of losing everything God has blessed us with.  In our book, The Lord, Madiba and The Eagle, Comfort & I describe nightingales as beautiful birds that are also naïve and gullible. They typically sit on a perch and sing until a hunter strikes them down. “Nightingales” in business take things at face value. They trust easily and enter into transactions without duly signed agreements. A nightingale will hurriedly enter a relationship without thoroughly checking on their partner’s background. Nightingales do not consider a broad range of factors in making important decisions and easily come unstuck. Sadly, even after being defrauded, people with a nightingale mentality keep repeating the same mistakes.

You may have suffered setbacks in one area of your life or another. The pain of the past might still be fresh in your heart. However, the most important key is to learn the lessons and avoid a recurrence in future. As we remember 9/11 a decade after, it offers a unique opportunity to evaluate the “security installations” of our lives and their compliance with the complicated challenges of the present. It’s time to say “NEVER AGAIN!!!”

Peace & Many Blessings!!!

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Are We Not Walking Alone?

Why we must preserve social networks in spite of modernisation and urbanisation

I walked through my neighbourhood with the family last Christmas, knocking on doors, sharing hampers and fraternising with people that I should have known but didn’t. The most interesting experience was when my next door neighbour opened the door and looked at us with this curious look that almost said, “Yes, can I help you?” I could understand her consternation but the bigger question was begging to be answered. How could we live next to each other for over a year and not be acquainted with each other?

As I pondered over the impact of urbanisation on our social lives and the individualistic nature of modern society, I cast my mind back to my childhood in the early seventies in Takoradi and the contrast was clear. I particularly remembered the fun times we had staying in a four storey block with eight apartments housing different families. We could spend hours playing soccer, watching television, reading together, doing our homework or even eating in one flat or another without our parents being too alarmed or concerned. If you ever went out of order, the nearest parent or an adult passing by would take responsibility for meting out the required discipline. It was part of the unwritten social contract.  

"You'll Never Walk Alone" is a show tune from the 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel. The song is also sung at association football clubs around the world, where it is performed by masses of supporters as they remind themselves on match days about mutual support and togetherness. This tradition began at Liverpool Football Club in the early 1960s and later spread to several other clubs. These are the foundations the communal kind of socialisation birthed in us. Not surprisingly, there are a number of people in my professional network that can be traced all the way back to those childhood associations. It would however seem that the collective nature of the communities we grew up in is now a thing of the past.

Today, you may just have to learn to walk alone. Many have simply confined themselves to their homes, often complete with high walls and electric fences. The focus on the extended family has given way to an individualistic nuclear family outlook. The exigencies of urbanisation, traffic and economic diversity mean that even spouses could have their offices thirty kilometres apart in the same city. The growing child in many urban homes is often restricted to playing with his or her siblings and often finds solace in a laptop, videogame, television or pet.

This is not a solely Ghanaian phenomenon. If anything we have borrowed it from the fast-paced, developed western society. Robert Putnam, a Harvard University political scientist, famously argued in his 2000 book Bowling Alone that the average American’s social capital has declined steadily since the 1960s. Social capital refers to the collective value of all your social networks (the people you know) and the inclinations that arise from these networks to do things for each other (terms of reciprocity).

It is becoming increasingly obvious that the traditional medium of regular, face-to-face engagement in relationships cannot keep pace with the changing face of our world. Keeping in regular touch and growing relationships through continuous communication inevitably have to depend on technologies like mobile telephony and online platforms like the internet and social media.  

This brings my mind to a few loose coalitions I belong to comprising either friends, old schoolmates, business associates or fellows in one leadership programme or another. The most enduring and by far the most closely-knot is MOBA ’84, the association of old boys who were in my class in Mfantsipim School. The level of commitment and camaradie exhibited by members scattered all over the world and the ability to go the extra mile for each other is a typical example of social capital at work. Interestingly, the strongest cord that binds this unique group together is a group e-mail network that is kept alive through regular postings, discussions and arguments about all manner of issues. Not too long ago, I listened to Kojo Oppong-Nkrumah of Joy FM talking about the benefits of belonging to his coalition of brothers known as The Kaladan. It was simply a case of young men with shared interests and perspectives joined together in a social network glued together by a commitment to support each other at all times.

So how important are relationships and networks? Can we really say that people who walk alone are missing anything? Do we not attract a whole different set of problems when we open up to people? These questions flooded through my mind as I read the book, The Virtual Handshake, sent to me by my friend Kafui Dey (and by the way I recommend it for those who want to know how to build social networks online). As I read the book, I stumbled on some evidence of the benefits of social capital to people and to businesses. It was based on a book by Professor Wayne Baker of University of Michigan Business School entitled Achieving Success Through Social Capital. Baker summarized some benefits of social networks as follows:

1.      Getting a job: More people find jobs through personal contacts than by any other means.
2.      Pay and promotion: People with rich social capital are paid better and promoted faster at younger ages.
3.      Influence and effectiveness: People who are central in an organization’s networks are more influential than those in the periphery.
4.      Venture capital and financial stability: Seventy-five percent of start-ups find and secure financing through the informal investing grapevine: the social networks of capital seekers and investors. Similarly, bankruptcy is less likely for firms with well-connected executives and board members.
5.      Organizational learning and doing: As much as 80 percent of learning in the workplace takes place through informal interactions.
6.      Word-of-mouth marketing: Advertising increases awareness of products and services, but personal referrals and recommendations are extremely influential in the decision to purchase.
7.      Strategic alliances: The more strategic alliances a company creates, the more alliances it is likely to create in the future.
8.      Democracy: Robert Putnam found in his 25-year study of democracy in Italy that those regions with rich social capital enjoy stronger economic development and more responsive local governments than those regions with poor social capital.
9.      Happiness: Extensive studies in psychology and medicine also demonstrate that social capital can improve your personal quality of life. A stronger social network leads to greater happiness and a greater sense of meaning.
10.  Health: Robert Putnam writes, “People who are socially disconnected are between two and five times more likely to die from all causes, compared with matched individuals who have strong ties.”

A high level of social capital is critical for your professional and personal success. It is practically impossible to rely on personal face-to-face contact as the sole means of maintaining relationships or networks. In the light of rapid changes in our world and the ever-growing importance of the internet and social networks, it is imperative for each one to spend time crafting a strategy for using online platforms to preserve some of the benefits of social networks and relationships that we simply cannot afford to lose.

Peace & Blessings!!!


Aerial view of a high class urban community in Accra