3 Leading at scale: Overcome binding constraints through collaborative approaches
The challenge is huge. There will always be constraints to solving the challenges of the day. The following are some of the constraints I have heard are being offered by leaders as to why a particular challenge cannot be resolved: “the current price architecture does not make it economically viable”, “the current infrastructure does not allow for any value-added services,” “financing for the next phase is not readily available from existing funding sources”, etc.
But as my German friend once told me, “constraints are meant to be overcome”.Subscribe
These constraints require that leaders develop new approaches. So leaders have to be resolute and maintain a firm belief that the constraints can be solved. How do you do this?
Ask relevant and new questions:
The leaders who lead at scale are resilient enough not to lose focus and be paralysed by the many challenges competing for attention. Rather, take a pause, reflect, and ask a couple of relevant questions, such as: “Who can I collaborate with to solve this important challenge today?”; “How can I leverage existing resources?”; “What are the current patterns/assumptions underlying the existing systems and how might we change them?”; “What experiments can we attempt today, rather than aim to change the system in its entirety?” Again, this is borne out of empathy for the customer. This deep empathy has a way of stoking resilience in the heart of every leader.
Engage stakeholders with your mission:
Patrick Awuah of Ashesi University (Case Study 1), reflecting on his engagement with the regulator of tertiary education in Ghana, The National Accreditation said: "I have been dealing with it for 16 years now. I can't remember a meeting with the Ghana National Accreditation Board, where I left the meeting feeling encouraged and optimistic. It is always adversarial. I wish that would stop".
This was a clear roadblock. It’s no news.
The system will frustrate you. He did not allow himself to be confounded by the system. He persisted and engaged in innovative ways to deliver the ethical entrepreneurial curriculum his stakeholders badly needed. What did he do? He kept explaining his point of view and never wavering on what he believed to be right. He prevailed.
Find opportunities to share strengths and collaborate:
Then there was the challenge of how to deliver on the mission of serving millions of learners in Africa who need ethical entrepreneurial education badly when you have only one campus.
Solving such complex challenges is the cathedrals leaders have to build in our time. As noted by Bill Shore, building these cathedrals require sharing of strengths.
In resolving the above challenge, Patrick and his team designed an innovative collaborative model that leverages the existing platform and enables them to partner with existing universities across the continent to share their way of teaching to improve the quality of higher education in Africa. Currently, there are over 260 institutions involved in the network.
This enables Ashesi University to reach nearly 150,000 students with tailored initiatives and programmes. Experimenting with inclusive and collaborative approaches that rely on existing platforms, whatever and wherever they may be, offers unique opportunities for resolving most of the challenges we face in our communities. Ashesi did not have to build new campuses to deliver learning the Ashesi way.
Focus on experimenting with small changes at a time:
Constraints can be overwhelming. Several leaders are tempted to give up and not even try to solve the problem. This is where leaders need to focus on making small experiments. We must acknowledge that several challenges are deep-seated, hence they cannot be eliminated overnight. This will require a little effort at a time, chipping away at the challenge from the source that’s most apparent to the leader.
This is the path that has been taken by Gregory of Mpharma (Case Study 2). They have piloted several minor interventions which have now become breakthrough ideas. These experiments, relative to the challenges at hand, can be viewed as a drop in the ocean, but that is how change starts. An example is the GoodHealth Shop concept Mpharma piloted in the poorest communities in Nigeria, where the average spend of a GoodHealth Shop customer is 50 cents.
This experiment has become a successful breakthrough generating 134 million Naira in revenue at the end of 2022, an increase of over 306 per cent from the revenue in 2021.
Leadership Reflection and Actions:
• What new questions do you need to ask that share a new perspective on barriers that makes it impossible to serve your community?
• What small changes can you pilot today enable your organisation to extend its mission in the biggest way possible.
• What existing infrastructure can you leverage to pilot new ideas that enable you and your organisation to serve the community in a better way?
In the next article, I will share further ideas on how our case study leaders design and focus on metrics that lead to impact in the community.
The writer is a Leadership Development Facilitator, Executive Coach and Strategy Consultant, Founder of the CEO Accelerator Programme, and Chief Learning Strategist at TEMPLE Advisory.
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