The fourth of our 20 Leadership Lessons Learned in East Africa: be flexible (and more inclusive) by using the environment available. Too often, we think we need a spacious classroom, comfy chairs, and air conditioning for productive dialogue. But whatever the environment, meeting people where they are can be a game changer.

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Train Where You Can (Like Under the Mango Tree)


Photo by Aaron White

A pipe stand, an old barrel, and a mango tree…

When combined with the right conversation-making tools, these are the elements of a great training environment. No, really.

Too often we’re stuck thinking that we need a spacious classroom, comfy chairs, and air conditioning. But what people really desire is meaningful, constructive dialogue, and participatory methods that get them on their feet and wrapped up in an issue they can relate to.

When we do provide a training or workshop for leadership development (more on that later), we want to focus on what really matters most—content, methodology, and conversations. By using the environment available, we make the approach inclusive rather than exclusive.

Here’s what we mean:

  • Exclusive leadership development focuses on a narrow band of high potentials, usually managerial level, with a relatively high education. English is used, as opposed to people’s daily vernacular. Trainings must happen in a comfortable classroom setting.
  • Inclusive leadership development is contextualized, using local language, stories, and without “insider talk.” The space available is the space used, making it more accessible to those that might not normally be considered for leadership development. In our context, this means youth and women with low education.

Meeting people where they are is the big game changer here in Africa. Plus, if it’s mango season, you’ve got snacks for everyone.

Questions for Further Reflection

  • In what environments are you most productive?
  • Have you ever been to a business that has a exclusive approach? What about an inclusive approach? How did you feel about each one?

Tell us your big ideas in the comments.

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Leadership Beyond Boundaries - Center for Creative Leadership logoThis series, 20 Leadership Lessons Learned in East Africa, was brought to you by CCL’s Ethiopia office and Leadership Beyond Boundaries, an initiative by the Center for Creative Leadership to democratize leadership development and unlock the power of human potential around the globe.

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