Co-Authored by GeneralLeadership Co-Founder & Senior Curator: Brigadier General John E. Michel and Daniel Myatt
After seven years of active duty military service as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) officer, Dan recently made the very difficult decision to separate from the military to pursue a new mission: to end extreme poverty in war-torn eastern Congo.
While serving on assignment in Korea, Dan met a Congolese man named David Masomo. Both David and Dan were participating in an international student program at a local Korean university (Hankyong University) – 20 students from 20 developing nations were being sponsored by the Korean government to get a Master’s degree in Agriculture and Rural Development. David and Dan hit it off right away. They started talking a lot about past experiences and shared a passion for development theory. It was during their initial conversations that Dan discovered David was from eastern Congo, born into poverty, and right into the middle of Congo’s 20-year war that killed 5.5 million people. He was even abducted as a teenager by a rebel group, and was forced into becoming a child soldier.
The more these two men talked, the more they realized their thoughts on international development were completely aligned. Although from two very different backgrounds, both believed the best solutions could be found with local leaders…not from outsiders. Both believed that truly sustainable change must grow and mature from within rather than be externally mandated and applied. And, perhaps most importantly, both shared the timeless belief that affirming the dignity and value of the population through capacity-building and empowerment was the country’s only real hope for creating sustainable, positive, life-altering change.
Shortly after their initial meeting, they co-founded a social enterprise called Mavuno (Swahili for Harvest). Many who first hear about this unlikely partnership think it sounds crazy or even irrational. To Dan, however, it was a leap of faith grounded in a lifelong passion for serving others. And, as it turns out, it was also a calculated decision to execute a plan that has the power to transform communities for a lifetime.
Tune in TONIGHT to SiriusXM Ch125 at 9pm Eastern (6pm Pacific) to hear Brig Gen Michel and Dan Myatt talk about this exciting project on the #GeneralLeadership Hour!
In telling this story, Dan and I hope that you can glean some practical leadership insight that can be applied in any context. You see, Dan’s story of setting off into unchartered territory for the purpose of creating conditions for others to flourish and thrive reflects everything I too believe is the essence of effective leadership. That is, the leaders we want to follow are those who are approachable, relatable, and aspirational. They are positive, others-centered doers who strive to build things, grow things, and move things steadily forward by intentionally investing the best of themselves in their team, tribe, community, or family. As my friend and mentor Doug Conant eloquently points out in his book, Touchpoints, successful leaders “…shape the future by doing something better or bolder or more exciting. Unlike many who only dream of creating a better future, leaders are the dreamers who get things done, and the way they do it is by (positively) influencing others.”
Today, Dan and David believe that the Congo, a failed nation state and war-torn region, can actually thrive. In fact, they are convinced they have a powerful solution that can contextually adapt to failed nation states and complex environments around the world. However, none of this would have been possible unless both men said yes to the opportunity to join ranks to attempt something transformative 16 months ago. All of which brings us to six leadership takeaways you should consider as you reflect on your own leadership journey:
- Be Open to Creating Coalitions of the Unlikely: Dan and David’s friendship and partnership is one of the most unlikely alliances I have encountered – a former child soldier from Congo and a U.S. military officer meeting in South Korea of all places – it is also a testimony of the power to form unlikely coalitions by those who share the same commitment and beliefs. Their willingness to transform their shared conceptual notions into an actionable strategy and then, a formal partnership, speaks to the power of collaboration. The most effective leaders remain open to joining ranks with others who have very different skills, background experiences, and maybe even, opinions. They are open-minded, willing and humble enough to create unlikely coalitions for the purpose of adding tangible value to their surroundings. They appreciate the real power to move things forward is to remain available to creating compelling coalitions.
- Don’t see problems, see opportunities – Most see eastern Congo as a hopeless, devastated place…instead, look at it and see the immense organic potential, the amazingly warm and loving people, and their abundant talent. Envision a nation of vibrant and flourishing communities that generates dynamic development from within. Leaders have the capacity to look through problems to see the inherent potential and opportunity in a given situation. Leaders have the ability to re-frame things in the positive and to inspire others to follow suit. Be a problem solver, find the positives, and look through the lens of opportunity.
- Have a bias for action – When the opportunity arose to address pressing needs in the Congo, Dan and David didn’t just think about it, they did something. This is a common phrase in the military community, and rightfully so. When others stand idly by, you need to be the kind of person that takes action. If there’s a car wreck, do as my father did…be the person that gets out to help. If there’s a chance to address a gap that will add value to your company, don’t just think about it…take initiative and do it! If you’re in the military and you find yourself in a gunfight…you better be in the fight! This instinct separates the game-changers from the benchwarmers.
- Create a proactive culture – If you’re on a 3-man EOD team, your most junior team member better have a say, as his input might keep you alive. If you’re a leader, it is not enough for you alone to maintain a bias for action. You must infuse the capacity to take such action throughout your entire organization. If people are not taking initiative or rectifying problems as they arise, it’s probably because you did not foster a culture where that is possible…flatten things out so your “lowest” level is not low at all, but is valued. Empower complex decision-making to happen at every level and watch innovation soar.
- Be persistent – Each of us has likely failed more times than we can count. There are many days when we are tempted to throw in the towel. With Mavuno, Dan and David encountered countless times when it would have been much easier to give up. But they persisted, for their cause was good. We must be persistent. When you fail, fail forward. When you fall short, learn from it and keep going. Realize that some of those hard times are opportunities for growth, and know that you will only see that growth if you are persistent.
- It’s all about people – People must always come first. Regardless of where you lead, be it as an EOD officer, police officer, Non-Commissioned Officer, or school teacher, placing the care of those entrusted to you first is the essence of leadership. As I wrote about in my latest book, The Art of Positive Leadership, successful leaders never forget it’s about people, not things. In the case of Mavuno, Dan and David cared more about the people they serve than themselves, and even more than the organization itself – they strive to never lose sight that the reason they exist is to love people. Period. The most effective leaders refuse to be self-oriented. Rather they are committed to being others-centered. To be others-centered is to be sold out to knowing your people – their names and their families’ names, their likes and dislikes, their strengths and their shortcomings. It’s about placing their growth and development ahead of your own need for self-promotion or self-protection. It’s about taking care of other people before yourself, even if it comes at personal cost – you must value those in your charge more than your own well-being. Leaders that learn how to do this will instill trust and breed productivity at unmatched levels. They will also prove themselves to be leaders worth following, each and every day.
Mavuno is still a brand new startup organization with a big vision. The organization is committed to ending a long-term regional conflict through proactive, people-powered and leader enabled grassroots development initiatives. If you want to be a part of what is happening in the Congo, please go to http://www.mavunocongo.org.
We hope you will join us on our mission.