African Women Business Leaders – #AnEveningWith Maidie Arkutu, CEO of Unilever Ghana

A few short weeks ago a group of around 40 women, and a few good men, gathered for a dinner party. But the gathering was purposeful as it was intentional, for they gathered to share #AnEveningWith Maidie Arkutu and Lucy Quist, respectively CEOs of Unilever Ghana and Airtel Ghana.

Convened by the WCEO Academy, an initiative of Alldens Lane, the evening was a deliberate effort to gather established female business leaders for an engaging evening of #BusinessConversations with emerging female business leaders. But we wanted to ensure that it was fun and it was lively, so we added great gourmet food, expertly prepared by Chef Selassie of Midunu Ghana, and we also added fine, gentle music for the soul, generously sponsored by Inen PR.

The atmosphere was rousing. Both Maidie and Lucy were as instructive as they were inspirational even as they stirred us to grab a hold, forcefully, if need be, of what we dreamed of and sought after for our lives and our businesses. I cannot thank Lucy and Maidie enough. They were both tremendous.

This week, the Business Woman documents excerpts from Maidie’s responses to the Q&A sessions. Next week, we will document Lucy Quist’s responses.

Prepare to be energized by these two posts.

On Finding Balance between Work and Home
For Maidie finding balance is a matter of strict time management and setting boundaries. She explained that her working schedule is a strict and full 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday at the office; and after 5pm every working day her time is scheduled for her son and herself at home. She does not work at weekends, reserving this time again for family. “I made those rules for myself, “she said, “and I was very consistent with them.” In many ways, Maidie explained, with exacting and conscientious use of time (“I use my time very wisely”, she said), it is possible to do all you need to do at work in a day during the hours of 9am to 5pm – after all that must have been why 9am to 5pm was devised.

For the mothers amongst us Maidie was instructive when she explained that she made it clear to her team that before her son turned two, if she ever needed to travel, he would have to come with her. She said she put measures in place for what she was comfortable with, and she was consistent in living what she said – and then people started to respect it. The key it seems is time management, prioritizing and setting boundaries – but ensuring that you deliver as you go along.

On Fostering a Culture of Innovation in an Organization
“If you want people to think, you have to stop thinking for them,” Maidie said, going on to explain that as the CEO and business leader, your job is to ask the right questions first and foremost, because asking the right questions helps in guiding people to think in a particular way – but that does not mean that you have to think for them. You have to allow them to think. One trait that Maidie said that CEOs and business leaders must have is the capacity to be curious – ask questions, don’t assume or think you know it all, foster a culture of curiosity amongst your team. Innovation is an outcome of curiosity.

Deciding the best candidates for your team or organization
“Have a rigorous interview process,” was the forthright answer to this question. Maidie explained that apart from the skills sets you want from a candidate, it is absolutely crucial for a candidate to have values alignment with your organization or business. Your business or organizational values, and the candidate’s personal values of that candidate must be aligned. Therefore she suggests asking questions to identify the values of a candidate – otherwise they just may not fit in with your organization – no matter their academic credentials and experience. She also suggests checking out a candidate’s motivation for wanting to work for your organization.

The most important questions you face daily as a leader in your organization
Right now it’s all about 2016. What is the strategy for 2016, and how do I effectively communicate that vision and motivate my team to reach for it? For Maidie, it is important to effectively communicate the vision. Take the ideas in your head, package it and communicate it to the receipt in the way that he or she is able to understand it and value it – and that may mean explaining the vision differently to the CFO and the CMO, for example. Create the vision, communicate it and let your teams in different departments unravel it to identify what it means for them as a department and or as an individual staff member.

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