Last month, I embarked on a profound journey of self-discovery and leadership transformation through the Gestalt Africa Leadership Program (GALP), a yearlong immersion in Afrocentric Gestalt Organization Development. The program spans 12 months, taking place in three different African countries, and aims to immerse participants in Gestalt organizational and leadership approaches.
As an organization development practitioner deeply committed to reimagining the future of leadership and organizations, I had grown disenchanted with westernized approaches that often prioritized individualism over collectivism and approached problem-solving through a narrow and reductionist lens. Given my work in organizations, particularly in systems, change, and diversity, equity, and inclusion, I had been yearning for a framework that acknowledges the profound interconnectedness of all things within complex systems. Moreover, I sought an approach that placed self-awareness at its core, recognizing that the inner self of the leader is crucial and inseparable from how one leads. In this quest, I discovered the beauty of Gestalt.
The inaugural session of Gestalt Africa took place in Accra, Ghana, in October. Gestalt, derived from German, means “form” or “shape.” It is a psychological approach that invites us to perceive and understand the entirety of a situation rather than analyzing isolated parts. In the context of leadership and organization development, Gestalt principles encourage leaders to embrace a holistic perspective, recognizing the intricate web of connections within systems. It underscores the importance of self-awareness as an essential element of effective leadership.
The GALP experience was a blend of presentations, immersive experiences, small group discussions, personal reflection, and moments of play, all intended to nurture self-awareness and explore our work within an African-centric context. Throughout the program, the six seasoned facilitators who guided us were deeply steeped in Gestalt principles. Their expertise and unwavering support were instrumental in leading us through various exercises and activities, enriching our learning experience and contributing to our personal and professional growth. Their guidance, coupled with the program’s dynamic and interactive approach, fostered collaboration, networking, and the exchange of ideas among group participants.
There were numerous insightful experiences throughout the week, and I anticipate sharing more about them in the coming weeks. However, one of the most poignant moments for me was a talk given by a beloved guest, Nana Dr. S. K. B. Asante, a highly respected chief, scholar, lawyer, and elder statesman. In the Twi language of Ghana, “Nana” simply means “Grace” or “Elder.” Nana shared his wisdom with us during a session entitled “African Ways of Being, Organizing, and Leading.” His very presence illuminated the core essence of the program, which is the integration of traditional African leadership principles into contemporary leadership.
Nana emphasized the importance of inclusion and consensus building, pillars of African leadership. He spoke passionately about collective action – a leader’s concern extends beyond themselves to the collective. Traditional African wisdom respects the principles of natural justice, ensuring fairness and harmony, which are paramount in African societies.
GALP’s Afrocentric focus was central. The program’s interactive and practical approach, deeply rooted in Gestalt principles, encouraged us to reflect on our individual and collective realities. It fostered collaboration, networking, and the exchange of ideas among participants from diverse backgrounds. This dynamic cross-cultural interaction enriched our learning experience, offering us a profound understanding of African leadership that transcends borders and fosters unity.
Although we did not explicitly discuss the African concept of Ubuntu during the program, I couldn’t help but see its principles manifesting in our interactions. Ubuntu, often summarized by the phrase “I am because we are,” emphasizes the interconnectedness of humanity and the importance of community and mutual support. In our journey of self-discovery and growth, we acknowledged that our vulnerabilities and emotions are not weaknesses but pathways to greater understanding and development. This shared perspective created a sense of unity and collective growth we fostered within our diverse group of participants, reinforcing the idea that our success as leaders is not solely based on our individual accomplishments but on the positive impact we have on our communities and our ability to nurture growth together as a collective.
Reflections on Global Implications of Leadership and Organization
My journey with the Gestalt Africa Leadership Program (GALP) has reinforced and validated the profound implications of leadership in a global context. While I have long been aware of the complex and dynamic nature of leadership, GALP has deepened my understanding of how it extends far beyond the confines of any single organization.
In a world marked by intricate geopolitical tensions, ongoing conflicts such as those in Israel and Ukraine, and a rapidly evolving global political landscape, the role of effective leadership cannot be underestimated. GALP has provided me with a unique opportunity to explore these dynamics, allowing me to appreciate the interconnectedness of leadership, organizations, and the broader global context.
My experience in GALP has reaffirmed that leadership today demands a holistic perspective—one that recognizes the far-reaching impact of our actions. This program has validated the notion that leadership goes beyond managing organizations; it involves influencing and shaping societies, economies, and international relations. It’s about embracing diversity, fostering inclusivity, and cultivating empathy on a global scale.
GALP’s immersion in Afrocentric Gestalt principles and the wisdom of traditional African leadership has further reinforced my belief that effective leadership contributes to positive global change. As an organization development practitioner, I see the convergence of these principles with my existing knowledge, creating a powerful framework for guiding organizations through an era where leadership’s impact knows no borders.
My Oh Shit Moment – A Journey of Self-Discovery and Healing
I remember pleading – oh God, please don’t let me have a breakdown in Ghana!
Through several group activities, I had profound moments of self-discovery, ones that led me to confront an old wound that had long lain dormant within me. This wound was deep, and it called for my attention in a way that I had not anticipated. As I engaged in the program and interacted with fellow participants, I found myself face to face with emotions that had resurfaced – the scars of old wounds unexpectedly came to the surface.
It was a moment of reckoning, a confrontation with the past, and a realization that my effectiveness as a leader and coach hinged upon my ability to investigate and, in some cases, lovingly interrogate the interiors of my heart and mind. By confronting these emotions head-on, by being vulnerable and open with myself, I began the process of addressing and attending to these old wounds.
During this process, there were moments when I found myself self-criticizing and judging my emotions and feelings. However, I learned that there is no transformational value in self-criticism or in accepting judgment and criticism from others. Instead, this experience reaffirmed the importance of self-compassion and the understanding that our vulnerabilities are not weaknesses but pathways to greater understanding and growth.
In the context of Gestalt principles, this process involved engaging with my emotions, allowing them to surface, and truly understanding their origins and their impact on my present. In a world that often teaches us to compartmentalize and suppress our feelings, Gestalt encourages us to embrace our emotions as a means of self-discovery and growth. By acknowledging and working through these emotions, I not only heal myself but also enhance my effectiveness as a leader, coach, and facilitator.
The old wound that had beckoned for my attention became a catalyst for personal growth and healing. It reminded me that vulnerability is a source of strength and that by confronting our past and embracing our authentic selves, we can become more empathetic leaders and coaches.
Gestalt principles, with their emphasis on holistic self-awareness and exploration, provided me with the tools and insights needed to navigate this journey of self-discovery and healing. What I thought was a potential breakdown became a welcomed breakthrough, illuminating a path to personal and professional growth that I had not anticipated.
The Gestalt Africa Leadership Program provided me with a profound opportunity to engage with Gestalt principles on a deeply personal level. It was a journey of self-discovery, healing, and growth that highlighted the transformative power of embracing our emotions and vulnerabilities.
As leaders and coaches, it is through our own journeys of self-awareness and self-compassion that we can better guide and support others on their paths of transformation and development.
COLLABORATIONS & ENDURING FRIENDSHIPS
Beyond the knowledge gained and skills honed, this experience gifted me with enduring friendships. Through this experience, I had the privilege of connecting with like-minded individuals who share my passion for holistic leadership and a profound appreciation for the rich tapestry of African traditions. Together, we stand on the precipice of change, equipped with the wisdom of the past and the resilience to navigate the complex challenges of our world.
As a group, we will participate in virtual sessions. We have also established small personal growth groups that will become sanctuaries for intimate discussions, self-reflection, and mutual learning. Here, we initiate positive changes in various aspects of our lives, drawing from the diverse perspectives within our community. We also established Application groups where members serve as valuable accountability partners, motivating and supporting each other as we implement and experiment with newly acquired skills and processes within our respective roles. This program offers an immersive experience, providing continuous support to each participant.
I’m eagerly looking forward to our next in-person session in Cape Town, South Africa, in March. To learn more about Gestalt Africa and their programs, please visit their website here
I look forward to sharing more with you soon!