As a reform effort in Ethiopia shows, shifts in who wields control and how things work can create power struggles and apprehension. Still, the consequences are often limited if leaders model trust.
On December 3, 2019, an interesting event happened during a hotel ballroom in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Forty top national leaders from every major political tendency, region, and therefore the ethnic and nonsecular group stood on the stage — ahead of national and international dignitaries and media, and broadcasting lives to a good wider audience — and held hands and skim a declaration of the actions they might take, together, to enhance the country’s future. The instant was extraordinary because the leaders explicitly demonstrated a capacity and willingness to figure together that was in sharp contrast to the violent fragmentation that had persisted within the country after years of political unrest.
They had spent the previous two hours presenting the conclusions of Destiny Ethiopia, the work that they had been doing together for seven months to work out what was possible for Ethiopia by developing four scenarios of the longer term. The event had been scrupulously choreographed to demonstrate the leaders’ unity and mutual respect. The welcome was given in five languages and English — not only in Amharic, the national working language but also in the second-largest ethnos’ maternal language. Two politicians from opposing parties presented each scenario, and therefore the presenters were chosen by lot ahead of the audience. The 40 team members spoke briefly about what the project had meant for them, with a bell signalling when their time was up, no matter their rank.
The leaders on the Destiny Ethiopia Insight project are working to deal with in their country isn’t that different from what a corporation confronts during a change. After an extended history of authoritarian governments, Ethiopia is attempting historic national reforms. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has upended the political landscape by releasing political detainees, allowing exiled dissidents and insurgents to return home, and appointing former prisoners of conscience to positions in institutions like the electoral board. For these dramatic moves and for creating peace with neighbouring Eritrea, he was awarded the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize.
But all of those changes in how things work and who controls what create risks also as opportunities, especially against a backdrop of deep ethnic, religious, and regional tensions. An equivalent is true, although during a less dramatic context when trying to the change the workplace. For Ethiopians to rework their country democratically and sustainably — instead of forcibly and temporarily — they’re going to build trust with each other. So must business leaders within their teams, if they shall transform their companies. And leaders must model that trust-building process.
For Ethiopians to rework their country, they’re going to got to build trust with each other. So must business leaders within their teams, if they shall transform their companies.
The Destiny Ethiopia team started by building trust among themselves. After their second workshop, one team member, a top opposition politician, was standing on the agricultural hotel’s front steps where they had been meeting. Within the weeks before the event, during an upsurge of deadly political violence, members of his party had been rounded up by the govt. He had been frightened about coming to the workshop and had asked the meeting organizer to rearrange for him to travel, disguised, during a convoy guarded by commandoes. Thereon Judgment Day of the second workshop, the organizer asked the politician if he needed an equivalent arrangement made for his trip back to the capital. The politician gestured toward his government counterpart, who was standing nearby. “No,” the politician said, “I’ll ride back with him.”
This politician made this dramatic shift due to meeting with, observing, and talking together with his opponents during the plenary sessions, the tiny working party activities, and occasional breaks and meals. Such a process for building trust isn’t complicated, but it’s crucial.
The public event within the Addis Ababa hotel six months later made an impression on the country because it made visible the trust that the team had built among themselves and, by doing so, gave other citizens hope that they might do an equivalent and achieve transforming their nation. a standard theme within the testimonials at the launch was, “I thought that it might be impossible for us to figure together, but I discovered that it’s possible.”
Since then, team members have appeared together in many television, radio, and conference interviews and panels — they even competed together on a giveaway. The entire country has been ready to see that there’s a radically different way of engaging with complex challenges than what they’re wont to. They’ve seen their leaders be thoughtful, respectful, relaxed, and open with people they afflict. Within the midst of dangerous and unpredictable turmoil, Destiny Ethiopia has become a living example of a hopeful future. And there’s tentative evidence that the people of Ethiopia are following their leaders’ examples. Newspaper reports indicate that political violence has decreased significantly in recent months.
Lack of trust creates fear, defensiveness, and rigidity. Against this, trust enables openness, fluidity, and a willingness to require risks. All transformations, whether of nations, communities, or companies, require such living samples of trust.