What to do when your leadership training materials are scattered all over a dusty road in the middle of Uganda?
I am sitting in the shade, on a school playing field, on a hot and sunny February day in Gulu, North Uganda, with a group of leaders from the Blood Transfusion Service and Red Cross. The blood collection session is being set up, donor chairs arranged, supplies checked. Hundreds of students make their way over to the session, curious to find out what is going on. Three hours later, with 35 units of blood collected from the students, the donor collection team pack up and return to base. This was one of the field visits we undertook as part of “Leadership for Performance”, a four day leadership development programme we were delivering in Uganda.
Training in the developing world was a first for me – defining, developing and delivering a leadership development programme for the leaders of Uganda's Blood Transfusion Services. My second time in Uganda, so I had some understanding of their VUCA challenges but nothing truly prepares you for training in such a different environment and culture and here I was doing it for real! Working with Des Prichard, a good friend and former colleague, our trip to Uganda was funded as part of a USD 2.5 million DFID project to increase blood supplies in the post-conflict, underserved, north of Uganda. We were there to help Ugandan health colleagues make more blood available to treat children with acute malaria induced anaemia and mothers with complications in childbirth, saving thousands of lives. The project is being jointly implemented by the Uganda Blood Transfusion Services, the Uganda Red Cross Society and Pepal, a small UK based NGO which creates and supports partnerships in the health sector with a particular focus on leadership – www.pepal.org.
We arrived at Gulu, our home for the duration of the programme, after a six hour drive from Kampala. Nine of us travelled in a 4x4 vehicle – it was hot, dusty, and very bumpy but the scenery and sights, including crossing the Nile, were wonderful. Our luggage, including all training materials carried over from the UK, were strapped to the roof. Not for long – we hit an unseen pothole and it all went flying through the air, cases bursting open, clothes and training materials scattered far and wide! Fortunately no-one was hurt. A crowd of willing volunteers quickly appeared to help gather it all up, stuffing it into clinical waste bags we had in the vehicle, and we were on our way again.
At the Gulu Blood Centre we were delighted to see an additional six participants – we had planned for 18 – all waiting in the training room in anticipation. Apologising for the torn and rather dirty programme handbooks and materials, we were up and running. We knew we couldn’t plan to use PowerPoint as electricity can be intermittent, but had hoped for a flip-chart and stand. Not to be!
With just four delivery days we were ambitious - the aim was to increase awareness of the importance of leadership in performance management, developing leadership skills through observation, coaching, development planning and action learning, leading to practical actions that each leader can take to improve team performance and increase blood collection.
All the learning outcomes were met which were:
1. Describe the characteristics of effective leadership within a blood collection context
2. Construct a leadership model for UBTS that defines values and behaviours
3. Use coaching and feedback skills to improve performance when working with individuals and teams
4. Identify individual and collective learning goals and plan development actions
5. Apply the practice of action learning to problem solve issues leading to improvements in performance
6. Evaluate personal learning through the practice of reflection
Since our February visit the results on the ground have been impressive with blood collection levels in Northern Uganda in March 2014 expected to be 20 to 30% above those of March 2013. Many lives will have been saved. We have received overwhelmingly positive feedback from all the participants, captured in the attached document and Isaac’s quote below:
“I believe I am a better leader after the four day training.” Dr. Atiku Isaac Opika, Principal Medical Officer, In-charge, Arua Regional Blood Bank in North West Uganda
Working with the Ugandans was such a privilege and a truly worthwhile experience. We will return later this year to continue to work with the Executive Team and their Managers. Ideas and suggestions on leadership tools and techniques will be very welcome!