MEMBER | IEEE POWER AFRICA STEERING COMMITTEE

WHAT DO YOU THINK MAKES YOUR TEAM SUCCESSFUL?

My team’s success is testament to the members’ shared passion for improving electrification in Africa. I make sure to keep the human aspect of what we do in the forefront of our meetings, especially when we are faced with very difficult and challenging tasks. Because more than half of the team sits or works outside Africa, there is an added layer of difficulty that becomes almost unbearable in the latter half of execution. I apply this same concept of humanising work to every class I teach and every team I lead, including my global energy management teams.

HOW DO YOU INCLUDE INNOVATION INTO YOUR STRATEGY AND FUTURE OUTLOOKS?

My inspiration for innovation usually comes from outside our industry. I encourage my team to think about and state what attracts them to their favourite products and services, be it in entertainment, phone apps, games or gadgets. Then, I ask how we can apply similar features to our work. This strategy is helping attract young people to the sector. In Ghana, a young computer engineering student told me that he was excited about the energy and power market but didn’t see a fit with his career choice. I informed him about the importance of coding to the new face of the power and energy industries: that the industry will fail without working on customer experience through data analytics and visualisation. The backend of this is of course coding. He was excited to hear that. In this example, speaking the student’s language helped attract him to power and energy.

HOW WOULD YOU ADVISE OTHERS TO DO THE SAME?

I would suggest that they encourage their team members to brainstorm ’outside the box’ and that they add non-technical members to their teams. There is much that we can learn from other industries, including the public relations and marketing industries, to apply towards our power, energy and water space.

WHAT ARE YOUR TEAM’S GREATEST BLIND SPOTS?

We are not intimately knowledgeable about the vested interests of African leaders that potentially stifle growth and improvement in the power and energy industry. My team and I have started to create informal partnerships with representatives of leaders in certain regions of the world to learn what they are looking for and educate them on how their needs can be met without creating bottlenecks for improvement in the industry.

HOW WOULD YOU SHIFT THAT LEARNING TO ADVICE FOR OTHERS IN THIS INDUSTRY?

Firstly, they would have to acknowledge and recognise their blind spots as a team; secondly, they would need to perform a gap analysis to understand how far they are from their goal; thirdly, they would need to partition the gaps as action items and close them by assigning team members to the tasks. I would end by saying that initiating a method to track improvement is essential. It helps a team know if/when it has met its goals by the agreed-upon timeline.

HOW DO YOU SELECT WHO TO PARTNER WITH?

I ask myself and my team two key questions: will a listed potential partner add value to us and do the partner’s goals align with our goals? The team comes up with names of people and organisations from our personal and professional networks that could potentially work with us. Then, we go through the list and cross out those that do not meet the two requirements. In the end, we engage the organisations that get shortlisted in conversations, share our goals, accomplishments and future plans. Those who feel we told a good story choose us. Others politely decline. But in the end, we are confident that the partners who said “Yes” are our perfect match.

WHICH OF YOUR LEADERSHIP SKILLS WAS THE MOST DIFFICULT TO DEVELOP?

Learning how to let go of team members that are not adding enough value. Because I believe strongly in developing people: suggesting leadership classes for them to take, being patient with their growth, seeing their potential, etc., it was hard for me to decide on when to let people go. I always thought they would surely improve ‘soon’. However, I had two situations where people I had brought in to lead teams with my supervision did not stop making derogatory statements to other team members even after receiving feedback. I had to choose between releasing both or completely discouraging my team of over 50 people. I chose the team and asked the two to play more of a supportive role than a leading role on the teams.

WHAT’S THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSON YOU’VE LEARNED IN YOUR CAREER?

I have learned over the years to embrace challenges and the unfamiliar. Everyone has an impression of you when they first meet you. Your age, gender or ethnicity may affect what projects you are called on. I am grateful that I have had champions and sponsors who have spoken up for my talent and skillset, and have nominated me to take on difficult projects others passed me up on. I performed well on these projects despite occasional nerves but stayed resourceful. I built relationships with subject matter experts that helped me navigate the toughest projects. The lesson I share with those I mentor is to not be quick to say no.

WHAT’S THE BIGGEST RISK YOU’VE EVER TAKEN?

Starting a business in Africa. It is incredibly difficult to find partners you can trust and that you can work well with. I was in the process of starting a business with partners in Africa, where the effort I put in was not well-balanced with theirs. I held on for a while but decided to put my lesson on “letting go” to good use. I eventually cut ties as amicably as I could, for the benefit of my future customers.

WHAT IS YOUR ‘SECRET SAUCE’ FOR FOCUSING ON THE GOAL AMONGST THE NOISE?

Taking time to reflect is the most amazing way of staying focused. I am all about the long-term. It took me some time to learn to stay calm when there is a lot going on around me. I learned the importance of continuously assessing – I would rather lose time early on a project implementing tools to track and monitor performance than move too quickly and blindly in the beginning but lose in the end. By executing those tracking tools, I always make up for lost time in the end.

WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE IN THAT OTHERS DON’T?

Speaking hard truths when people ask me for feedback. I have found that the best personal and professional relationships I have built were based on truth and not fluff. If I thought someone did a good job on a presentation, for instance, I told them. If I thought they did not do well, I gave my honest opinion on their potential areas of improvement. Negative feedback is often hard to swallow but in general those who have received it have felt it helped them grow. I have gotten hard truths multiple times in life and have grown as a result. I like to give the same to people. Most people seem to believe more in flattery than in hard truths.

WHAT TREND IN THE GLOBAL ENERGY SPACE DO YOU SEE BECOMING INTRINSIC TO THE OVERALL POWER NETWORK?

I see dashboards, data visualisation, and smart grid solutions fast becoming intrinsic to the overall power network. The industry is gathering and sharing as much information as they can with customers – customer-centricity is the focus. People want to make their own decisions: how much energy they want to consume in their residences, where they can cut down on energy spending, etc. Even in an industry as old and complex as ours, the stakeholders are beginning to embrace customer-centricity as an enabling tool to modernising the market.

WHAT INDUSTRY CHALLENGE KEEPS YOU AWAKE AT NIGHT?

Nigeria has been struggling with power shortages for a long time and has been dependent on diesel generators. Power engineering experts need to work with marketing experts in designing a plan that makes clean energy and renewable energy supply mainstream in the regions that will benefit most from it. We can do better.