“I am grateful that we are able to celebrate the seasons that God gives us in our lives. I have come to the stage where I believe it is no longer about me so I have stopped doing interviews that talk about me and what I have done or accomplished. I hope that my story and the mistakes I made serve as a point de depart for others to do better. It is said that one’s story may inspire another and so I hope that what I share about my experiences will encourage anybody and I mean anybody to do more than I have in their time. I hope this especially for the younger ones who have so much at their disposal. This is your time to be more creative, more daring, and to make sure that you do not leave the world the way you met it. I charge you all to find your purpose and implement it.”
Dr. Mrs. Ellen M. Hagan
Founder & CE L’AINE Services
Co-Founder, Legacy Girls’ College
Ahead of her 60th birthday celebration, we joined Mrs. Hagan to celebrate over forty years of practicing HR, impacting lives and businesses, and excelling in Corporate Ghana. During our conversation, Mrs. Hagan dropped a few pointers on making impact that outlasts us and the concept of leadership. HR Focus Africa sat with Dr. Mrs Ellen Hagan, and this is the conversation that ensued:
HRFA: How will you describe the career path you chose? EH: To be honest, I didn’t choose this career path. I can say that it is the career that found me – I just stumbled into it. But upon hindsight, I think it was something that had been prepared in advance for me to do, as it was said in the book of Ephesians 2:10: “…we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do…” Human resource, being a Human Resource Practitioner has given me the opportunity to influence and impact and point people to their purpose in life.
HRF: If you could describe your entrepreneurship journey in one word, what would it be? Why would you choose this word?
EH: “Rollercoaster”. Whether as a verb or a noun, rollercoaster is an apt description of my entire entrepreneurship journey. At theme parks, the rollercoaster is a train-like machine that takes you through a series of shakes, turns, sudden twists and turns. It is quite troubling and exciting at the same time, provided you are able to end the trip in one piece. I believe that describes quite aptly how my journey has been: one with a lot of fast changes, dramatic and scary situations, but all tied together, they make it quite exciting and fulfilling.
HRF: What sort of leader would you say you are?
EH: [laughs] It may be better if we asked someone else this question, don’t you think so? Well, when you are asked to say emphatically what you have been trying to do all your life, getting the right words may not come easily. Every leader has a follower. As such, being called a leader means there are some people – that is an honour in itself. It is therefore a privilege to lead. I believe in situational leadership, which says: ‘there is no best way of leading’. The sort of people you lead, their willingness and adaptability will determine how you should lead and influence them. Leadership is very task oriented – you will want to be effective by ensuring that the methodology you are using to motivate and encourage them works. The tricky part is: every situation or change determines what methodology works. For example, if fire were to breakout in an office, the team leads will not call a meeting to decide whether to jump out of a window or walk outside in a queue. Someone will bark instructions and others follow, in order to keep everyone safe – that will be the time to do autocratic leadership and not laissez-faire. Then there are other times when a leader has to be laissez-faire, easy going, and find out people’s views. Situational leadership is what I have been trying to do because I believe it is one way to be effective in any leadership role.
HRF: What will you say has been the most rewarding thing in your professional life?
EH: That will be difficult to say but I will try and answer that in a story. I once went with my colleagues to pitch for a very important project. Upon our arrival, we greeted the team we were pitching to, and one all-important looking man, who happened to be the decision maker, shook all my colleagues’ hands but refused to shake mine. When I asked why, he explained that he will rather give me a hug. It was strange for me, as I had not met him before. His reason was: through my influence and the team at L’AINE, we had given him his first job that transformed his life. Even further, he brought his nephew as well, and he also got a job that took him beyond the borders of Ghana and became the hen that laid the golden egg in the family. The man was in tears as he told us this story and it was a humbling and yet very fulfilling moment in my life. And of course, we won the pitch!
HRF: Was there ever a time you felt lost or disheartened about your vision? What situation was that and what did you do to get past that feeling?
EH: If I were to give you an honest answer, it happens all the time. There are low times and there are high times. Something as simple as feeling overwhelmed, can get you down. Generally, swimming against the current makes the job a bit tougher. It is very easy to do what everybody else is doing, especially when it is a shortcut. As a consultancy however, we depend on professionalism to get things done, and believe in practicing corporate governance. When opportunities pass you by because you refuse to compromise, it is discouraging. It is even worse when people within your organisation do that. We once caught a staff member being fraudulent – considering the first of our core values is integrity, that was a big blow. Having to de-hire someone we had groomed, developed and trained, it was like destroying myself. Fortunately, we have had more highs than lows and we give God the glory.
HRF: Over the past 40 years, you must have gone through various seasons. Can you share a few of these seasons with us?
EH: As someone who sees the glass as half full rather than half empty, I remember the positives more than the negatives. One of my favourite sayings is: “when the season changes, the assignment also changes”. At L’AINE, we try to re-invent
“This is how legacy is made. To live a life that will outlive you”
ourselves by jumping onto new sigmoid curves, to remain relevant; but with what Is happening globally, strategy needs to change almost daily. Through the years, I have seen us provide thought-leadership in more rewarding ways than I can mention. I believe from starting as a recruitment company and gradually becoming an HR organisation, arguably the leading HR Company in Ghana, speaks volumes.
One interesting season was when we made the audacious decision to change the story of the Girl Child by developing a new breed of women leaders by starting Legacy Girls’ College. Our legacy is in the girls that are passing through the portal, the halls and the lanes of Legacy Girls’ College, Akuse. I remember when we welcomed people to come and see the school and entrust us with their daughters, I promptly burst into tears when I mounted the podium to deliver the welcome address. You can imagine how embarrassed I was but everybody understood because seeing the dream being made manifest after such a long and hard road was emotional.
HRF: What will you say your legacy has been?
EH: You know our mission in L’AINE, is to transform the life of every business and individual we come across with HR solutions. The thousands of people who have gotten employment through our efforts may have been pointed to their purpose. I believe it is something that we should be proud of. The work we do can be considered as a ministry except that we receive our reward here on earth.
HFA: How does it make you feel, knowing that you have positively impacted the lives and careers of over 30,000 people?
EH: In the Bible when Abraham was told to go and sacrifice his son and he set off to obey, I always wonder how he felt when he heard God’s voice asking him to stop. What I feel may be akin to what Abraham must have felt; wonder, relief, the French would say: soulagement. I am grateful for all that could have gone wrong but did not, and all the things that went right. We thank God for how far he has brought us.
HRF: In your point of view, what is the most important value of leadership?
EH: I will not be able to point out one thing. It is only leaders who will create other leaders. How you lead and inspire others permeates in your organisation and comes out as the culture. For this reason, it is clear that as a leader, you have to think about how you are leading, how consistent you are, how inspiring you are, and how effective you are.
HRF: Wow. Sixty years, with over forty years of HR practice! What is next for Dr. Mrs. Hagan?
EH: Well, once there is life, there is always hope. I do not know what the future holds, but I look forward to what God will do.
I would like to end with a word of encouragement, taking a cue from one of Steve Harvey’s speeches. There is a difference in being successful and being great. Success is for one’s benefit, a personal achievement but greatness? Greatness is when a person impacts communities and changes lives.
Dare to be great, and do not settle for success alone. Live in such a way that your great grandchild will know your name and be proud of who you were and what you did. That is what LEGACY is made of; to live a life that will outlive you.