SQUARING THEIR ROOTS: LEADERSHIP PERCEPTIONS AND PRACTICES OF SOME U.S.-TRAINED AFRICAN PROFESSIONALS IN THE PUBLIC SECTOR
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This qualitative study looks at the leadership perceptions and practices of career professionals in the public sector across three countries of sub-Saharan Africa (Ethiopia, Ghana and Madagascar). All participants were alumni of the Humphrey Fellowship program, a year-long mid-career fellowship in the United States for professional development and leadership. The study sought to understand the participants' perceptions of leadership and how they apply it in their professional practice. The research questions were How do U.S.-trained Africans perceive the relevance of their U.S. leadership training in their home-country practice? To what extent can they incorporate U.S. leadership approaches into their leadership practice there?
The literature review includes the history and current state of leadership research and theory, the field of intercultural communications and recent scholarship and program evaluations on leadership and leadership training across cultures. Noteworthy are the lack of recent scholarship on public sector leadership in Africa and the transference of western-developed models in most international training.
Data collection consisted of in-depth interviews with 16 primary research participants who were mid- to upper-level career professionals in their respective countries' public service. Additional related data were gathered from participants' fellowship documents; data gathered from primary participants were reviewed with focus groups including primary and secondary participants.
Data analysis followed a grounded theory method, allowing themes to emerge directly from the data collected. Findings were compared across participants within and across research sites considering professional sector, gender, cultural and educational background and political/economic contexts.
The substantive grounded theories emerging from the study identified as the central theme the importance of "operating space" as an environment around individual capacity to exercise leadership practices, and its interaction with issues of culture. Results reflected the importance of the macro-context and levels of democratization within which participants operate on the micro-context of their own professional leadership practice.
The study recommends that future research on leadership in Africa pay more attention to the importance of macro-context and culture in developing leadership capacity in such individuals, and recommends specific approaches for enhancing leadership training for individuals from such backgrounds, including peer mentoring, case study and experiential exercises.