Rev. Celia Apeagyei-Collins is a formidable force to reckon with in today’s world of people development. She is an award-winning leader and is recognised as one of the top ten most influential black Christian women in the UK. An excellent international speaker, her work is in ever-increasing demand globally, extending to over 45 countries. A highly sought-after executive, Rev. Celia runs a Mentoring Network for leaders and a Development Forum for Young and Emerging Leaders. She comes alongside pastoral leaders to help strengthen ministries and equip them for community transformation. In a conversation with HR Focus Africa, Rev. Celia shares some nuggets on leadership and how she recommends individuals take responsibility for their grooming as leaders in today’s fast-paced world.
HRFA: Tell us a little bit about your work and yourself.
CAC: I have a very holistic approach in my leadership and I also care about those who are underprivileged. Marginalised, and under-served in our society; I have a passion for it. To that effect, I am very much involved in providing healthcare, educational care and some degree of micro business support for some of our street peddlers. We are currently working on different projects: we send teams to villages to help provide access to clean water and sanitation, we dig boreholes for villages that do not have clean drinking water, we provide toilets for schools and we are working on an education-enhanced training for teachers.We also send teams to villages to do malaria, diabetes and high blood pressure health screenings for the aged. This year, our target is to pay National Health Insurance premiums for 20,000 people.
HRFA: What will you describe as your Character strengths and weaknesses, and how have you dealt with them?
CAC: My character strength is that I love God, I love people, and I really love to improve people’s lives. I am very compassionate and I have a strong sense of purpose, stewardship and a call to help transform society. My weakness, I would say is too much compassion as it affects good judgement sometimes. Many times, our strengths can also become our weaknesses when they are not applied well. So, I manage this weakness through accountability; I love it.
HRFA: As the vision bearer of Rehoboth Foundation, you may have encountered some consistent issues that need to be tackled when raising leaders. What are some of these issues?
CAC: I have realised that sometimes people need to be persuaded that development is necessary- nobody likes to change. Alvin Toffler said: “Illiterates of the future are not those who cannot read or write those who refuse to learn, unlearn and re-learn” and unlearning and re-relearning does not come naturally to human beings because that suggests change, which is uncomfortable because nobody likes to leave their comfort zones. Another consistent issue is the lack of contextualisation; we try to make everybody the same but everyone is not the same – without context, there is no meaning. A remedy for this is to be sensitive to where you are and to the people you lead – what is their history? How do they think?
HRFA: In what ways do you think these issues can be best addressed?
CAC: I think we have to make personal and leadership development part of the culture of every organisation, where sound leadership is not just taught but modelled and people are allowed to participate and influence what happens in their space as young leaders today, and not tomorrow when they become senior leaders. Leadership is a practical thing and one of the greatest hindrances to people becoming leaders is giving responsibility without the ability to influence outcomes through authority or to participate in the change process. The difference between power and authority is that power is the ability to decide what is wanted and then, impose that idea.
HRFA: What will you describe as the leadership problem in Ghana or Africa as a whole? CAC: There are three things I will mention: First of all, the lack of stewardship. When you steward something, you are managing resources on behalf of somebody else, you do not own it and as such you are accountable to someone and will need to be transparent. Accountability and Transparency are the two other things that are lost in this continent. Once accountability and transparency are lost, trust is lost, once trust is lost, leadership is lost.
The situation we find now is many people have huge titles, but no influence with the people because there is no trust. When this happens, leaders adopt oppressive and fraudulent means to get the influence power they need to lead. The source of all these is that we do not actively train our leaders. When we work with a conscience, we impact the fruit of our labour. When we do not, we brutalise everything. If everyone – both leaders and followers do things conscientiously, we are able to filter through values, standards, principles, and ethics. What we see now is that there is no filter and as such, there is no restraint.
You cannot be conscientious and do the right things if you do not have ethics, values, standards and principles in place. A Leader’s philosophy, the way they see life, is very important and directly affects how they lead.
HRFA: In what ways do you believe leadership can be an effective tool for causing positive change in the country?
CAC: There is something I always say: “nothing happens without leadership, nothing is influenced without leadership, nothing is created without leadership, nothing is advanced without leadership”. Everything rises and falls on leadership, as leaders can envisage and re-imagine the future enough to persuade people to do better to get into that imagined future. A leader’s philosophy on life is very important – and that philosophy and sense of responsibility must be cultivated from their formative years. It can therefore not be a side effect or by product. It must be intentionally grained in the individual’s development.
HRFA: In your experience as a transformational leader, how can one discover their purpose in leadership?
CAC: One place to start is by answering the question “what are you passionate about?”. Every transformational and true leader has a cause – meaning they are fueled, inspired or motivated by something. First of all, look at what you are passionate about, look at your strengths and how you can affect and influence change in the field you are passionate about. If all you want is money then you cannot be a leader – leaders are focused on doing good somewhere and then money comes as a byproduct. I mean, Ghana has a lot of armchair politicians, the real people who get out there and provide leadership are the ones who say “I don’t like what I see, I am going to step up and do something about it.” Sometimes, we have little change or slow progress because many in leadership positions may just be concerned with their bottom-line remittance and not about the change they can affect.
HRFA: We have heard you mention that “everyone leads someone in one way or another”. What then, will you describe as leadership?
CAC: Leadership is hard to define; it is like beauty: you will know it when you see it. Why? Because leadership is a progressive effect to a desired outcome. It is therefore the capacity to turn vision into reality. Leadership is also the dynamic process by which a person with capacity influences a specific group of people towards the fulfilment of a desired purpose. And my famous saying is that leadership begins when we start solving problems. A true leader will always come with the three things; a diagnosis, a prognosis and then a prescription. Either they will already have the three or in their diagnostics, they will engineer a process that brings forth a solution. Leaders understand that it is not just up to them, as they can only serve through others. There is no leader until there is influence.
HRFA: In your leadership network, what are the trends of exceptional leadership that you have noticed?
CAC: I think as a Reverend, I’ll say the fear of God. That way, you handle things as a steward and are accountable to God. Exceptional leadership comes from exceptional character – all other competencies can be learnt. The exceptional trends are people who have a great sense of responsibility; these people are very creative in how they serve. I have also seen people who are incarnational in their leaderships; incarnational leadership means they identify with the people they serve thus they do not have to struggle for influence because there is buy-in.
HRFA: What remedy do you have for the leadership gap we have in the Ghanaian atmosphere?
CAC: I honestly think that leadership development has to be a key strategy for developing a solution-oriented leadership, good character leadership and future-fit leadership and developing these intentionally is important. In developing intentional leadership for each sphere; whether it is social, family, media, entertainment, politics, business or commerce, we have to be intentional, understanding our history, challenges and understanding what is needed in terms of future fits and then finally, understanding globalisation in order to progress in the “VUCA WORLD” we live in. VUCA is an acronym for a world that is volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous.