I just read an article on NY MAG on how to be powerful, likable, and female, and it made me think about the differences between work culture on the continent, and the US. While American women may want to be liked as they rise up the corporate ladder, in Africa I would argue that women and even men in positions of leadership could care less. Not because they don’t like people, or want people to like them at work, but because doing your job properly often means maintaining a strict, by the book, as some may call it “unafrican” way of doing things. I have long since been convinced that anyone, man or woman who is liked by his or her staff in an African working environment, is probably slacking on their work responsibilities.
All the leaders and business owners whom I have admired, and who have stood the test of time in Sierra Leone doing business are disliked by their employees, or subordinates. They are not liked because they hold their staff accountable, and they refuse to give in to things like “immoral begging”. You know “immoral begging”, its that apology you get from staff who have wronged the company greatly, and they have shown such a blatant disregard for the job that any self respecting human being would never return. Oh definitely not in Sierra Leone.
Someone will steal thousands of dollars worth of fuel from a company, and still show up with their family to come, and roll on the ground and ohmohjuba to touch your feet in apology, asking that you don’t press charges, and even worse accept them back on the job. If you are the kind of boss who will not give in to their pleas, you will not be liked in fact they will say you are “wick3d”. News will spread around the office, from the security guard, to the assistants, and they will all say, “hmmm da wan dey e wick3d”. And the reason why they do this is basically because they now know, that if they were ever thinking of pulling that kakatowa behavior on you, that they too would face similar “wick3dness”
The people who tend to be most successful with their staff also happen to be the “wick3d” ones, because when they know you are stern, they tend to fear you. I wont say respect because it is difficult for female leaders in the workplace to get real genuine respect from their staff in Sierra Leone. I mean generally they probably think you don’t deserve the post anyway, so why would they respect you. Maybe we can call it reverence, and not fear. After you have shown them that the only place their BS will fly is in the latrine, they tend to buckle up quick.
Case and point Sierra Leoneans during the NPRC military regime. Those army boys put the fear of God in every single civil servant in the country. After they flogged several for being late in front of their offices in public view, come see how 7am (2 hrs before they were to start work) became the unofficial new time to check in. No one liked the army boys, but fear forced a nation to clean its streets, light up its homes, an even qualify for two African Nations Cups. The likes of which has never ever happened again in Sierra Leone’s history. Tay tiday wi noh enter Cup of Nations na 14 iya di go so! Salone man noh lek saful a local saying that means that if you want results you have to be tough.
I have tried to be tough myself, but I cant say that I have quite succeeded at it. I spent most of my life in Yankee where likability is a big part of getting along in school, and at work. Though I wasn’t always good at being liked, I have realised that as a product of both places, I am now neither here nor there. I don’t know how to crack the whip, and be proper “wick3d” with my staff, nor do I do the like me I am your friend and I care about your personal life either. Though my significant other has strongly criticized me for being too nice with my staff.
I don’t want my staff or colleagues to like me, but I do want to treat them with fairness, and dignity. So if we are having a meeting at a restaurant (which we often do), and it is lunch or breakfast time I let them have what I am having. Which is a no-no really on the continent. Apparently level foh dey. If I am going in their direction I give them a lift, this too I have been told makes them think we are equal which is also not good in the African workplace. The difficulty in all of this is that once you move back home, and you choose to be aware of the wide gap between what you earn and what you staff earns, it often times makes you a little softer on them than say your peers who have been home-based all the while.
It is going to take a long time for work place behavior a l’Africaine to show its true form, as industries are just taking off. African female managers, and leaders will not need to care about their likeability around the office for a while. For better or worse, everyone will need to stay “wick3d” a lot longer until staff learn to abide by rules, and regulations without strict enforcement.