CML QUARTERLY: sUMMER 2010
In this Issue
While attending the inaugural Coaching Program, held in Oxford, England from June 15-17, I had the opportunity to work with an exceptionally dedicated group of microfinance leaders as they explored the role that coaching can play in enhancing their personal leadership and leveraging diverse approaches to empower teams. The leaders who have attended the Wharton Advanced Leadership Program and the Coaching Program have clearly demonstrated their openness to and skill in the work of leadership – they have the capacity and the passion to strengthen their organizations and empower the collective intelligence of their leadership teams.
Given all of the changes that are occurring in the microfinance industry, we used a breakthrough approach called Adaptive Leadership as the basis for our Advanced Leadership Program at Wharton and further developed these skills through the Coaching Program. Developed by Ronald Heifetz, co-director of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard, Adaptive Leadership is based on the idea that there are no ready answers to the challenges faced by leaders in today’s fast changing world. This approach recognizes that solutions reside in people not in the executive suite. It is the role of the leader to help the organization navigate change by calling on a variety of skills and empowering everyone to lead.
I want to share with you the story of Fatina Abu Okab, Deputy Executive Director of Microfund for Women (MfW) in Jordan because her story is a powerful illustration of what it means to be an adaptive leader. Fatina had a successful corporate career for over 15 years but it wasn’t meaningful to her. When a call came from a recruiter about the opportunity to lead MfW she was intrigued and energized by the opportunity to help poor women in her community become economically independent. When she finally accepted the job it was because she believed that becoming more connected to her community would also teach her children the value of empathy and open herself and her family to greater learning. Fatina embodies the strong empathy for her clients and her staff so common among the microfinance leaders that I have met.
Empathy is a key strength that can be leveraged to meet the multiple demands posed by clients and staff. However, empathic leaders often want to solve others’ problems and can easily fall into a pattern of directive or authoritative leadership. For many leaders, this is a reflection of the dominant style of leadership in their respective cultures and may seem like the most efficient route to getting results. But, it does not challenge business as usual or allow for agility and innovation in fast-changing environments. As the former competitive tennis player in me knows the person that can adapt to change will be in a better position to respond strategically rather than react defensively. Building on the natural empathy of leaders like Fatina, the Coaching Program widens their flexibility to use nondirective and coaching approaches to listen to and empower those around them. When I asked Fatina what she had learned during the Coaching Program, she replied that Center programs have given her the chance to look in the mirror, to see herself through her own eyes and the eyes of others; to learn about her personal leadership style and other styles as well.
What I most admire about the leaders that I have had the opportunity to work with since joining WWB is their willingness to be flexible, accept feedback, and learn from diverse views. Leadership is learning and needs to take place every day. Their openness to learning gives me confidence that they are like tournament-ready tennis players—ready to quickly adapt to whatever changes the future might bring.
Leadership Voices: Interview with Teresa Prada, Executive President, Fundacion Mundial de la Mujer Bucaramanga
Thinking about your role as a leader, what do you see as the next challenges for your organization?
Some of the future challenges I see for Fundación Mundial de la Mujer Bucaramanga (FMMB) are to:
- Strengthen the organizational structure in accordance with the size of our operations;
- Put in place a succession plan in the short-term;
- Dynamize our portfolio growth;
- Increase the number of clients;
- Implement new lending methodologies such as Village Banking and Solidarity Groups;
- Implement training programs for microentrepreneurs, preferably for low-income women;
- Successfully finalize the update of our technology platform; and
- Expand our offering of financial products and services.
What do you see as the Center’s role in microfinance and what would you like to see it contribute to the sector?
In my opinion the Center for Microfinance Leadership should:
- Support the growth and development of microfinance and defend the best interests of the industry;
- Coordinate, participate in and distribute sector-wide investigations on the microfinance industry;
- Organize training programs and events to upgrade the capacity of all operational levels of MFIs;
- Improve the capacity of leadership among MFIs; and
- Disseminate information within the microfinance industry.
Thinking back, is there something that you wish a mentor had told you at the beginning?
Yes, how to strike a balance between personal and professional life.
What advice do you have for other CEOs in the microfinance sector?
My advice is that they stay faithful to their mission while striving to
achieve the goal of financial sustainability. Sustainability is only
possible when there are well-defined social objectives and clear
indicators not simply financial projections and economic results.
Because we are institutions with a social mission, we have to have a
real impact on our clients.
Leading and Learning: Banco da Familia's Executive Director talks about Leadership Training
September 2008, Rita Cardoso, Executive Director of Banco da Familia
(BdF), a WWB network member in Lages, Brazil, launched BdF’s in-house
leadership training program. The program is designed to prepare BdF’s
leaders to respond more effectively to everyday challenges and help
them to embody effective qualities of leadership. The program also
offers opportunities for peer learning between managers by helping them
build networks, strengthen relationships and engage in more productive
dialogue. Ultimately, the goal is to enhance internal performance and
achieve BdF’s commercial objectives and vision.
The idea for the program came after Ms. Cardoso attended the WWB Women in Leadership Workshop. The Women in Leadership Workshop helps participants understand their personal leadership styles and design a personal action plan to develop additional leadership competencies. The workshop also stresses the importance of peer networks of support for enhancing learning and strengthening both individual and collective leadership within institutions and across the industry. After returning from the program in New York, Ms. Cardoso worked together with an external consultant to conduct a leadership needs assessment in BdF. The assessment revealed the need for performance improvement of mid-level leaders as a core institutional requirement.
Managers participate by completing readings and attending monthly sessions focused on management and human capacity development. The program is designed to shift leadership behaviors among managers, build a robust leadership bench and succession planning process as well as stimulate and demonstrate the value of women’s participation. After the program had been running for one year, Ms. Cardoso conducted an evaluation to measure outcomes. Participants reported that, after having participated in the training program they consider themselves to be more conscious and ready to act as leaders. In addition, the study revealed increased dialogue and enhanced relationships between managers. Ms. Cardoso has also seen measurable changes in her staff as a result of the program. She notes that there is less resistance to learning and change. Managers are also more likely to get involved in cross-functional issues and have greater consciousness around the importance of training the new generation of leaders.
Recently Ms. Cardoso attended WWB’s Advanced Leadership and Coaching Programs. She returned to BdF energized to reshape and amplify the leadership training program and has added a course for future leaders. In addition to her work with BdF's leaders Ms. Cardoso also works with the Chamber for Women Entrepreneurs of Lages to stimulate women’s leadership. Ms. Cardoso’s advice to other leaders considering implementing similar training programs is: the keys to success are having clear objectives and demonstrating persistance in achieving them. Bringing in outside expertise, in the form of an external consultant, and engaging in continuous learning on leadership development by attending programs and seminars, such as those offered by the Center for Microfinance Leadership, are also essential to the continued relevance and growth of the program.
For any questions regarding the Center for Microfinance Leadership’s programs, or if you are a program graduate and would like to be featured in the Leadership Voices or Leadership in Action sections of the Quarterly Newsletter, please contact Sarah Buitoni, Senior Associate, Center for Microfinance Leadership, Women’s World Banking.