Leadership Development in Ghana

The conceptualization and description of leadership development have not been consistent across countries. For example, Africa is by no means a monolithic entity with a vast cultural diversity, although “certain indigenous trends of thought, cultural influence, and value orientation are commonly shared by the majority of people in Africa” (Edoho, 2001, p. 79). However, there is the tendency of describing leadership development in the context of Africa monolithically from the Western perspective (Amenumey & Yawson, 2013). Particularly, the whole concept and practice of leadership in the Western world are to some extent different from most emerging economies (Amenumey & Yawson, 2013). In this chapter, we attempt to describe how leadership development is conceptualized and practiced in Ghana; however, we do not suggest that the case of Ghana is a microcosm of the entire situation in Africa or that of other emerging markets.

Traditional Leadership Development in Ghana

Traditional leadership is an important part of leadership in Ghana’s sociopolitical system. During the precolonial era—the period before Ghana was colonized by the British—traditional leaders were the center of development and continued to play an important role in Ghana’s developmental efforts. “Traditional leaders/chiefs can claim special legitimacy in the eyes of their people because these institutions can be seen to embody their people’s history, culture, laws and values, religion, and even remnants of pre-colonial sovereignty” (Ray, 2003, p. 5).

Leadership development in Ghana is grounded in the country’s traditional sociopolitical systems such that it will be deficient to discuss this topical area without referring to the modalities used in developing Ghana’s traditional leaders. Leadership development in the traditional system is as complex as it is interesting. Ghana’s traditional sociocultural system is heterogeneous such that different tribes observe certain unique values and customs that distinguish them from other tribes. However, in a general sense, each member of the society has a responsibility to respect the traditional authority that ensures peaceful coexistence of residents in their jurisdiction, irrespective of their tribal affiliations. Traditional leaders in Ghana are vested with the authority to mobilize their subjects for development, to inspire them to behave morally, and to impact public discourse in a positive manner (Ray, 2003). Incontrovertibly, traditional leadership cannot be ignored in discussing leadership development in Ghana.

To understand traditional leadership development in Ghana requires a good understanding of the social stratification and inheritance systems. The social system of Ghana can be described as a network of individuals bonded together by blood relations and geographical location. Thus, a collection of individuals forms a family, a collection of families forms a clan, a collection of clans forms a town, and a collection of towns form a tribe. At every level, there are procedures for leadership selection and development that all members must understand and uphold. The father assumes leadership position of every family by default; the lineage head is the head of the clan; the chief is the head of the town, and the paramount chief is the head of the tribe. The queen mother is the female leader who has the joint responsibility with the chief to promote the development and well-being of the community and the people in their jurisdiction. The queen mother is also the principal custodian of the oral traditions and the one who leads the determination of the rightful successors to leadership roles (Gibson, 1995).

In Ghana, the traditional system of leadership development uses an inclusive model that requires every family’s representation at the palace that serves as the residence of the chief where all dignitaries are received. Also, all major political and economic decisions are made at the palace. To this effect, every family is assigned a specific role that they play in the developmental effort of their community. There are many subdivisions in the leadership circle of Ghana’s traditional system that can be equated to the modern system of leadership. For instance, as one family assumes the responsibility of finance, another assumes the responsibility of security. Every family is required to develop their kinsmen for future leadership roles in the palace because only kinsmen from a particular family have the birthright to succeed a particular sub-chief when they die.

Traditional leadership development in Ghana involves a unique set of training that ensures the individual leaders understand their role and also conduct themselves credibly. This model of leadership development focusses on teaching individuals the customary rights, public speaking, dancing to the tune of traditional drums, dispute adjudication, ethical conduct, and other ancestral heritage because of strong belief that these and “other local matters, are best expressed by traditional leaders” (Ray, 2003, p. 5). Competency-based modeling themes underlie these training experiences. For instance, being a traditional leader in Ghana requires knowledge of an individual’s customary rites, ability to adjudicate disputes effectively, and skills in particular assignments to the ancestors at the chief’s palace. This model is in convention with the knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics (KSAO) model that is emphasized by industrial and organizational psychologists and scholars from other business related fields.

Competence and character are two important elements of traditional leadership development in Ghana. Alabi and Alabi (2014, p. 124) emphasized that traditional leadership competencies in Ghana include: administrative competences (planning, and organizing resources); people competences (respect, patience, listening, conflict management, negotiations skills, facilitation of peace and harmony, and being a change agent and role model); visionary competences (strategic thinking, networking, ability to establish the requisite social capital); and personal competences (honesty, trustworthiness, credibility, self-awareness, confidence, and selfrespect). These are some of the leadership attributes emphasized by traditional leadership development models in Ghana.

There are no written models that guide traditional leadership development in Ghana. However, there are various informal information dissemination mechanisms that are used to ensure information flow from one generation to another. These include assigning unique meanings to particular artifacts that symbolize significant events that occurred in the past. For example, the picture or carving of a dog with flaming fire in the mouth is one clan’s symbol. Those who aspire to be leaders of that clan need to know the history of such artifacts and their implications for that particular family. This is critical to traditional leadership development in Ghana because belief systems and symbolism are very important to practicing leadership duties. Traditional leadership development modalities are rooted in the customs and traditions of a particular tribe and are transferred from one generation to another through interpretive discussions. In the case of unresolved ambiguities, the elderly who are deemed knowledgeable in all aspects of the customs and traditions are consulted for clarification. Three primary modalities used for traditional leadership development in Ghana are storytelling, coaching, and mentoring. Each of these modalities will be discussed next.

Storytelling. Storytelling is one of the bedrocks of traditional leadership development in Ghana. Many researchers have emphasized the significance of storytelling in leadership development (Bennis, 1996). Alexander Mackenzie (2014) indicated in his popular article, “Storytelling Is the Heart of Leadership” that, “a good leader is a good story teller” (Mackenzie, 2014, p. 1). For example, Kofi Annan, a Ghanaian diplomat and former United Nations Secretary General, was described by one of his advisers to a journalist in the following way: “he runs the U.N. like an old fashioned African Village, with long discussions among the elders, periods of reflection and eventually a decision” (Mintzberg, 2010, p. 6). Perhaps unknowingly to this adviser, he was describing the storytelling approach to traditional leadership development. Ready (2002) indicated that storytelling is an effective means of communicating important messages related to culture and that “great stories create a rich visual imagery in our minds” (p. 64). Through storytelling, leaders self-disclose themselves and engage and inspire others (Harris & Barnes, 2006). The storytelling approach to traditional leadership development in Ghana helps to remind leaders of their responsibilities and commitment to their subjects. Through storytelling, leaders continuously educate the youth and visitors about the reasons behind certain actions and the need to preserve their customs and traditions.

Coaching. Another popular approach to traditional leadership development in Ghana is coaching. Coaching is the one-on-one process through which leaders confront their competencies to lead and develop an awareness of the way to master this capability (O’Flaherty & Everson, 2005, p. 2). Coaching is critical in traditional leadership development in Ghana because there is no documented information on the requirements of a leader. However, just as coaching from a Western perspective is a formal process, with assessment and deliverables attached to it, the traditional approach to coaching in Ghana has some form of formal component of assessment and deliverables as well. Hence, young people who aspire to hold leadership roles need to have one-on-one interactions with the elderly to be able to understand the customs and artifacts that define the traditions of society. Coaching served as an important tool for preserving and passing on time-tested skills, customs, and knowledge from generation to generation, and the mastery of these attributes are assessed in different ways, including initiation ceremonies (Adeyemi & Adeyinka, 2002). In line with the views of Mccormick and Burch (2008), coaching is used to shape the personality of potential leaders in the Ghanaian traditional system and also to identify deficiencies in essential traits for effective leadership. Skills such as communication, articulation of vision, and interpersonal relationships are developed through coaching. When the family identifies individuals as potential leaders, these individuals are assigned elderly persons who work closely with them, teaching them about the traditions and customs and encouraging them to practice such in public occasionally. Mistakes are corrected as the development process goes on until the individual is confident to act with little guidance. Coaching continues throughout the leadership development process.

Mentorship. Mentoring is another approach used in traditional leadership development in Ghana. Because traditional leadership in Ghana is usually kin-based, succession planning is critical. Mentoring is a leadership development process in which “an experienced colleague engages in the professional development of a less experienced colleague” (Dziczkowski, 2013, p. 355). As indicated by Dziczkowski (2013), mentoring helps to reduce stress and anxiety related to taking on new responsibilities and lead to greater self-awareness. Identifying credible persons and preparing them to take leadership roles whenever the need arises is a difficult task in the traditional societies of Ghana. Selection is based on the individuals’ personal conduct among his peers. Young men who are identified as potential leaders are recognized as conducting themselves credibly and with no visible disabilities and have not been convicted of any crime. It should be noted that selection is focused mainly on the males, except for a few instances where females are targeted for the queen mother position. Some of these selection criteria have come under heavy criticism as dated tradition which is discriminatory regarding gender and disability. Potential leaders are informally mentored by an elderly person in a leader?ship role who guides them through life in a manner that transcends ordinarily growing up in a community. Mentors are usually respected people in society who have made a significant contribution to their community. A mentor should be knowledgeable in traditional and customary matters and identified as a competent “teacher” who is patient and can disseminate information accurately. Traditional leadership mentees are assigned leadership roles among their peers and are monitored closely by the elderly person whose responsibility it is to shape the mentee’s character in a manner that helps to keep a balance between traditionally sanctioned and personal conduct.

Mentees are usually observed by their peers as having special characteristics and enjoying exceptional privileges in the community. In a typical traditional system in Ghana, mentees build their character and assume some level of authority among their peers during the extended period of mentorship when they understudy a more experienced leader. They are introduced to the key functions of leadership and are provided the opportunity to practice such and participate in decision-making processes. Processes used for traditional leadership development are still relevant in Ghana’s current developmental efforts. Even with absolute colonization that impacted the lives of the people of Ghana, major traces of traditional leadership development modalities have translated into all aspects of leadership development in the country.

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