Creating Enabling Conditions for Transformational Leadership

By Melissa Howell

The wicked leader is he whom the people despise.

The good leader is he whom the people revere.

The great leader is he of whom the people say, “We did it ourselves.”

– Lao Tzu

Like the ancient Chinese philosopher and poet Lao Tzu, AAI believes that the most effective leaders are those who are co-creators of their future by shifting the focus away from the individual effort or reactionary problem-solving. Our approach to leadership development prompts leaders to reflect often and intentionally in ways that promote and plan for change within their organizations to increase and sustain productivity, while remaining inclusive and collectively leading into the future.

Students attending class at Africa University in Zimbabwe. PHOTO CREDIT: Mark Taber

Students attending class at Africa University in Zimbabwe.

In 2014, the AAI programs team launched a new leadership training curriculum – “Leading for Change & Impact”. Given AAI’s long-standing history of supporting leadership development and human capacity building, the course moved beyond the expert-driven workshops that identified structures and highlighted prescribed formulas that produce best practices. Instead, this two-hour course was designed to align with AAI’s approach of developing system leaders by encouraging the process of self-identification and presenting practical guidelines to create the conditions that can produce change. Once leadership introduces these conditions at all levels of the organization, including through an examination and understanding of where relationships and disciplines intersect, this change can sustain itself.

A recent article entitled Dawn of System Leadership, discusses a “widespread suspicion that the strategies being used to solve our most difficult problems are too superficial to get at the deeper sources of those problems.” The article further explores the limitations of rigid assumptions and agendas to change and leadership. Therefore, a leadership approach that recognizes an ongoing willingness to learn will help to uncover the sources of these deep-rooted issues. This approach will also create a space that mobilizes the collective knowledge and wisdom shared by all stakeholders to help infuse growth and a commitment to larger change efforts.

The four core competencies featured in AAI’s leadership development programming embrace the development of leaders through a systems leadership approach, and ultimately supports our organizational mission.

The AAI Leadership Continuum

AAI measures leadership capacity across a continuum of organizational growth and development, including areas to bolster innovation and scale.

Change & Risk Leadership

Our programs improve the ability of leaders to anticipate, encourage and embrace change throughout all levels of their organization and the systems within which they operate. Our leaders are exposed to various methods that help them to lean into the discomfort of change and changing environments.

Adaptive Leadership

Our programs strengthen leadership ability to adapt to changes within the organization and foster this strength amongst peers.

Examining the Future of African Leadership

Local solutions built on local knowledge form the basis for not only examining African leadership, but also the future where our emerging leaders will contend with local problems. Knowledge production of local and African contexts supports further development.

To learn more about AAI’s four core leadership areas and our approach to leadership development, please visit the Transformational Leadership Program page.

This is the first in a series of articles on leadership development in Africa. Upcoming articles will focus on trends in leadership development, including critical topics like funding and evaluating leadership development and direct programs. Let us know what you think on this or other leadership development topics by continuing the conversation on our social media platforms on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Melissa Howell serves as The Africa-America Institute’s Program Manager for the Transformational Leadership Program (TLP), which provides leadership training to NGO leaders in partnership with African colleges and universities.


Resource: Dawn of System Leadership, Stanford Social Innovation Review. Winter 2015.



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