By Dr. Modupe Taylor-Pearce
Thirty years ago, Africans wanting to travel to the USA used to wait in long lines to apply for visas. The waiting lasted hours, and sometimes days, and in the occasional melees that would predictably and periodically occur, some people got seriously injured.
Today, thirty years later, Africans are still risking their lives trying to emigrate to Europe and America. In 2017, 115,000 African youth emigrated to Europe via the dangerous Mediterranean Sea crossing and over 2000 of them lost their lives trying to cross.
If Africa is a continent of so much potential, why do Africans risk life and limb to get away from it? Why do so many Africans feel that in order to be successful, they must leave their continent? For those who are unable to leave, why do so few appear to make it?
My name is Dr. Modupe Taylor-Pearce, and I am a scholar and practitioner of leadership and organizational development. Put simply, I study what makes people SUCCESSFUL.
In the past two decades, I have met with, interviewed, studied and researched thousands of Africans of all ages, from over thirty different African countries, of varying levels of reported success. Consistently I have found out that success for the Africans that I studied is independent of these Africans’ nationality, physical stature, gender, birth status, place of birth, country of origin or their looks. The levels of success that I have observed in these Africans – whether they are successful, or whether they are not, did not depend on any of these factors. It also did not depend on whether or not they were born into wealth or poverty, or had parents who were educated or illiterate. I found out that the for the people that I studied, those that were successful had three things in common, that stemmed from three choices they made. These three things are not genetic traits or attributes they were born with . They were the result of choices that each of these people made. The people who made all three choices were successful.
The first of the three choices that they made was to be VISION-FOCUSED. A vision is a clearly defined long-term goal. The people that were successful always had a very clear idea of where they were heading; what their long-term goal or vision was, and they were focused on that long-term goal or vision. The successful people that I studied had written down their vision for their destination. In some cases, people thought they were crazy or just dreamers.
In 1990, when I joined the army in Sierra Leone, I went through basic training with a group of other recruits, all of whom came from poor backgrounds. One of the recruits was a young man named John Williams. John loved to play the guitar and he loved to draw. Whenever we would have some free time during our basic training, John would pick up a pencil and paper and would draw. Once when a group of us were sitting around and talking John told us that he was going to have an art studio and a music studio where he would produce records and promote art. At that time, the cost of building and equipping a music studio was in the thousands of dollars; it was so expensive that there were only 2 in SL at the time. Many of John’s fellow army recruits laughed at him. I did not, because I noticed that whenever he talked about his vision, his eyes appeared resolute. When we would sit alone, he told me that he was sure that he would achieve his goal, and he had written the vision on paper, showing me drawings of the studios. A few months after basic training I lost touch with John. I met him again fifteen years later. Not only did he have an art studio and a music studio, but some of the people he employed in the music studio were the same fellow recruits that had been laughing at him.
Success is the achievement of a goal.
If you want to be successful, write down a 10-year vision for yourself. Why 10 years? Because it is far away enough that you can un-chain /detach yourself from your present situation or constraints, and near enough that it can still inspire you to become focused. Write down what you want to be doing and where you would love to be if you had a fairy god-mother who promised to grant you whatever wishes you wanted. BUT REMEMBER WRITE IT DOWN. Don’t tell yourself that you will keep it in your head. Everyone’s memory is faulty and porous. Writing down a vision is powerful – it brings together the visible and invisible forces of nature to make the vision come to pass. In fact, write the vision on tablets. Your tablet. Electronic or paper. When you are vision-focused, life-decisions become easier, you use your time wiser, and you cannot help but make smarter choices. Successful people have a clear long-term goals expressed in writing. To be successful, make the choice to be vision-focused. This is the first of three choices you must make.
The second choice that I noticed successful people in Africa making was the choice to be a LIFELONG LEARNER. Every one of them was a lifelong learner. They made a choice to learn something new almost every day. And they did not just learn for the sake of learning. They were intentional about acquiring skills or knowledge that was useful to the accomplishment of their vision.
In 2007, while I was facilitating a leadership training seminar, I met a man named Joseph A. Bangura. Joe, or Abass, as many people called him, was a chartered accountant when I met him, and he worked in the finance department of a telecoms company. He is the son of illiterate parents and had grown up very poor. At the time I met him, he was clearly middle-class and was already the most highly-educated member of his entire family. But what I noticed quickly about him as I got to know him was that even though he was earning more money than anyone in his family and more educated, he was still hungry for knowledge, especially about business and leadership. Every time I met Joe he was reading a new book – and he would ask me questions about leadership and was always seeking to learn. When I asked him why, as a chartered accountant with a comfortable job, he was so eager to learn more about business management and leadership, Joe informed me that he had much bigger goals than being a finance officer in a telecommunications company. He had a vision of making an impact on young people in Sierra Leone to equip them to make better choices for their lives and creating new jobs for them and through them. At the time I met Joe, he knew a lot about accounting, little about business, and nothing about printing, media, television production, and IT services. Today, barely eleven years after we met, Joe Abass is the host of the highly rated TV show “Life by Design” which supports the leadership development of Sierra Leoneans by educating them on how to lead themselves; he is also the part-owner and CEO of ACTB, a holding company with controlling interests in a printing company, a media production company, an IT company, a bank, and a micro-finance institution.
How did Joe go from being a finance officer of a company to a CEO and part-owner of a conglomerate that is one of the fastest growing company in SL? He made a choice to be a lifelong learner. He made a choice to learn something new every single week that was related to his vision. He refused to buy into the notion that learning has to happen within the walls or halls of a classroom, school or university or that the attainment of a Bachelors, Masters, or Doctorate degree signals the end of his journey of Learning! Joe refused to allow his brain to stagnate, or to be lazy. He recognized that he needs to continually grow and upgrade his skills and knowledge because the world around him is rapidly changing.
You too can make the choice to be a learner. And guess what? It does not have to be expensive or cost you money. Learning is something that can be done at very low cost or even for free. Today, knowledge is everywhere and it is cheap to access. There’s Google. There are books. There are Ted Talks. There are knowledgeable people in your community with whom you can spend time; asking questions and learning from their answers. When we take ownership of our need to acquire new skills and knowledge every week, we set ourselves on the path to success.
This is choice number 2. Choose to be a learner.
The third choice that all successful people make is the choice to be TRUSTWORTHY.
Trustworthiness is a combination of honesty and reliability.
Trustworthiness is incredibly important to your success in Africa, because trust is in short supply among Africans. Many Africans destroy their future and their chances of success by being dishonest or unreliable. We do this because there are often no systems or structures in place to hold us immediately accountable, so we think we can get away with it and in some ways we do – in the short term. But in the long run, it does not pay to be dishonest or unreliable. You will be found out and people that you will need for support in achieving your goals, will not trust you enough to invest their time, talent, or treasure in you or with you. And you will need those people to support you with their resources in order to achieve your vision.
I do not recall the first time I met with Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, but I do recall the first meaningful conversation I had with her. She was promoting an investment project called Mape which sounded almost too big to be believable and I admired her courage for undertaking a project of such magnitude. Before long, the project started to take shape with the first stage – the development of Sierra Leone’s first 5-star hotel – the Hilton – and as I watched Yvonne deliver on one promise after another, I realized that this woman was going to go places. She was focused. She had a voracious appetite for knowledge and demonstrated her thirst for learning by reading and by asking questions and listening intently. Her integrity and her reliability quickly gained her a reputation for being a dependable person, and she became invaluable to the Government and to Donor Partners because whenever they had a critical project of national importance, they knew they could rely on her. She was recently voted the Mayor of the city of Freetown and in just her first month in office she has already been successful at getting people with resources, contacts and money to voluntarily commit their resources to her plan for achieving success in Freetown.
Three choices: Choose to be vision-focused; Choose to be a lifelong learner; Choose to be trustworthy.
When you make all three of these choices, money and influence will run after you.
Many Africans spend their lives chasing money and influence, thinking that they are required for success. They have it backwards. Money and influence are not ingredients of success; they are simply by-products. Money and influence are always looking for people who are vision-focused, lifelong learners, and trustworthy to hang out with. When you demonstrate these traits, the by-products will come to you and you will not have to chase them.
I encourage you to make a decision TODAY to be successful. Your present situation is a result of choices that you made in the past. Your future situation does not have to be dictated by your past; it will be determined by choices you make today. If you want to be successful in the future, make the three choices TODAY.
And if you ever want to know whether you have made these choices, just ask yourself these three questions:
- Have I created and written down my vision (10-year goals)?
- In the past seven days, have I acquired any new skill/knowledge that is relevant to my vision?
- Am I honest and reliable?
When you can consistently answer yes to these questions, it means that you have made the three choices and you will be successful. When a majority of Africans can answer yes to these three questions, we will create a movement of success in Africa that will propel this continent to greatness and success.
It starts with you and I. Please join me in making the three choices. Let’s make Africa a continent of successful people.