Pushing Leadership down the Line Knowledge
In Rwanda, even ballpoint pens hold emotional lessons. John Fox remembers the moment a traveling companion handed one to a child on a trek back from a gorilla refuge in Virunga National Park. The child ran off into the bush, squealing with delight. Then came the scolding. guide stopped the entire group, recalls Fox, one of 27 Wharton students who visited Rwanda in January 2012 as part of a special course on conflict, leadership and change, he said, cannot do that. All you doing is teaching these kids to be beggars. That is not acceptable to us. was a moment when Fox realized how nearly every person he met in Rwanda seemed onboard with a common vision to rebuild the country. From the minister of defense to the bus driver, Rwandans seemed propelled by both history and hope, the ferocity of every personal nightmare apparently overcome by an even fiercer collective determination to move beyond it.
It a message that comes from the top. The country president, Paul Kagame, has vowed to transform Rwanda from a country of subsistence farmers reliant on aid to an independent, innovative economy filled with knowledge entrepreneurs by 2020. Less than a generation after a brutal genocide in 1994 that killed more than 800,000 people in 100 days, the World Bank calls Rwanda a country peace and among the most stable on the continent. More than half (56%) of the country parliamentarians are women a larger percentage than in any country in the world. In the past five years alone, according to Rwanda ministry of finance and economic planning, more than one million Rwandans have pulled themselves out of poverty, and the country continues to grow.
think of Rwanda as a very rich case study, notes Wharton professor Katherine Klein, who designed the course with Eric Kacou, co founder of Entrepreneurial Solutions Partners. Students spent four intensive days in Rwanda learning about the country history and meeting local business leaders, genocide survivors and a wide range of government officials. country has made remarkable progress in the nearly 18 years since the genocide, Klein says. observers, and certainly for future leaders, the country transformation provokes questions and deep thought. I see in Rwanda a leadership and management case writ large. Visionary Leader is hailed as the visionary leader responsible for Rwanda dramatic change. His critics attribute his success to intolerant dictatorship that suppresses dissent. Yet Rwanda transformation did not come from one man alone, Kagame supporters say: Rwanda changed by establishing a common history, facing up to past conflicts, constructing a clear path forward and bringing everyone on board to get the job done.
Kagame was born in Rwanda to a Tutsi family in 1957. Amid ethnic tensions, the family fled Rwanda in 1960 and settled in a refugee camp in Uganda, where Kagame lived for 30 years. Leading the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RFP), he returned to Rwanda in 1990 and overthrew the genocidal government in 1994. He has ruled since, elected president in 2003 and capturing a second seven year term in 2010 with 93% of the vote.
a world in which conflict is emerging as a near constant, Kagame example prompts important questions, Klein notes. do you, as a leader, foster stability and healing following traumatic conflict? How do you set a nation or a company or organization on a constructive path following devastating conflict? How do yo wedding dresses u ensure that the entity you lead will survive and thrive when it time for you to transition? is concern in Rwanda about what will happen when Kagame steps down. The Kagame regime has brought the country together after decades of ethnic conflict, insisting that Rwandans work together to move forward and shun the focus on ethnic rivalries that fueled past conflicts. individuals describe themselves not as Hutus or Tutsis, but simply as Rwandans, Klein says. the country history, having a leader who is intent on serving everyone in Rwanda and advancing the country as a whole is critical. But Will He Go?
There are also concerns that Kagame won step down. Klein remembers asking one Rwandan if he believed Kagame would relinquish power in 2017 when his term finishes. he said, hope so. And if he does, I will cry, Klein recalls. me, it was a powerful statement both of Rwandans great respect for and pride in the president, and the ongoing fragility of the transformation. of the first steps in Rwanda recovery was establishing peace, order and security. By many visitor accounts, Rwanda has turned itself into the cleanest, most orderly place in Africa. Streets are swept daily. Plastic bags are banned. Police and soldiers line the streets at rush hour to keep everything running as it should.
things strike the visitor immediately, Klein observes. Today, Rwanda is safe, corruption is minimal and streets are litter free. Such structure provides a platform for rebuilding the country, and has become in attracting tourists and investors, she says. To many Rwandans, however, it feels secure. As one Rwandan explained to Klein: country was broken, and wedding dresses we put it in a cast. A first year student in Wharton executive MBA program and course participant, Dahan was impressed with Rwanda feeling of security and order, and in that atmosphere saw larger lessons.
could not help but think about some of the most wedding dresses successful and creative companies I know Apple, Pixar, Google and how the leadership of these companies has created a strong identity around being comfortable sharing ideas, she notes. is at the heart of this. My experience in Rwanda reminded me that in the workplace, it my responsibility as a leader to cultivate and support that sense of security in order for my team to operate at its best. a Shared History
Security alone did not transform Rwanda. Also critical for the country was creating a shared history that all Rwandans could accept. cultures are founded in part on the basis of critical events, the lessons we draw from them and the stories we tell about them, says Klein. A corporation might have to create a common story after going through a hostile takeover or a series of layoffs.
are, of course, many ways to tell the story of Rwanda past, Klein adds. in Rwanda have sought to craft a narrative that honors the victims but builds a platform for moving forward rather than fueling division and resentment. Rwanda example provides an opportunity to explore how a leader messages may simultaneously honor individual experiences and perceptions and create a foundation for cooperation. a common history was just the beginning. Rwandans also needed to find a way to heal and seek justice without sliding back into chaos. For Rwandans, it came in the form of gacaca courts, a participatory justice system that empowered local communities throughout Rwanda to carry out public, open trials to judge and punish the perpetrators in their midst. A new twist to a traditional way to solve family or village disputes, the gacaca system allowed 12,000 grassroots courts to adjudicate more than 1.2 million cases in just a few years a feat that would have taken decades if left to the traditional courts of law.
gacaca system of transitional justice was at once remarkably innovative and resourceful, and reminiscent of long standing cultural traditions within Rwanda, Klein notes. Procedural fairness is important in any setting, Klein says. may not like an outcome, but if I think the decision making process is fair, I much more accepting of it. gacaca trials have come under fire from human rights groups for incidents of corruption and procedural irregularities, yet Klein suggests that for Rwanda, they began a process of healing and empowerment for communities that had been devastated by violence and felt abandoned by the international community. gacaca courts are not a perfect system, and yet it not clear what, if anything, would have been better, says Klein, reflecting on conversations the group had with the country director of training and mobilization for the gacaca courts. an important lesson here: You may as a leader face extraordinary challenges for which there is no perfect solution you have to find something. Kagame, bringing stability and reconciliation to Rwanda was not enough. He also insisted that Rwanda could become better. power of visionary leadership comes through in this story, Klein notes. and his team had a vision for transforming society. 2020
That vision has been articulated in what is known to Rwandans as Vision 2020. The long term plan envisions the country moving from a subsistence agricultural economy to a knowledge based society by 2020, creating its own savings and reducing its dependence on foreign aid. The ambitious plan requires annual growth of 7%, and is based on pillars of good governance, agricultural transformation, an efficient private sector, health and education, regional integration, and infrastructure development.
vision is simultaneously clear, ambitious, multifaceted and succinct, Klein points out. established a lengthy list of goals and benchmarks literacy levels, fertility rates, infant mortality rates, gender equality in decision making positions, HIV prevalence economic growth indicators, road network coverage, electricity access, non agricult wedding dresses ural jobs and they have made substantial progress towards realizing this vision. Vision 2020 in clear, understandable language has probably helped Kagame carry it out, according to Soumya Pati, a second year Wharton MBA and course participant. Formerly a consultant with Accenture in Singapore, Pati has been involved in projects that deal with organizational conflict and change. organizations, whatever the scale, communication gets garbled because sometimes the message is so complex that it prone to misinterpretations, she says. the end of the day, it necessary that everybody across the organization know what that vision is. In Rwanda, everyone she met knew about Vision 2020. businesspeople to survivors, ordinary people, they all recognized what Vision 2020 was and what was stipulated in it. only did people in Rwanda understand the vision, they were given the power to carry it out, she notes. Rwanda, it was clear that leadership and independent problem solving were encouraged at every level, she says. was not a question of simply following the leader, but becoming a leader in one own department, region or sector to move things forward. is a difference between the leader and leadership, people in Rwanda told her. Leadership is not restricted to one particular leader; it is about giving leaders at all levels the power to make decisions. concept of leadership is about inculcating that spirit of critical analysis and decision making at all levels of the organization, she states. you talk about having a strong leadership, it means the sustainability of the organization is not dependent on one person at the helm you have an entire organization that can stand by itself. agrees that Kagame administration seemed to have leaders throughout. have this feeling that there are layers and layers of very smart and visionary leaders throughout the government and the country. leadership and team building impressed Fox, who works as CEO of Parietal Systems, a defense contractor in the Boston area, when not working on his Wharton MBA. Prime MinisterTony Blair and Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, Fox notes. not just his vision. The vision is at some level very much a team vision, Fox says. not saying, get with me or get off the boat. He involving his entire team in refining the vision and developing a plan. left Rwanda convinced that the populace was genuinely united by a shared vision of stability, self reliance, prosperity and growth. The general feeling is not me look back as much as me look forward, Fox says, adding that he was before he visited to Rwanda, expecting that the message was just government propaganda. The visit erased those doubts. people had no reason to lie, he says. I came away with was that these people really buy into this as well. The vision can really survive Kagame.