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Transformation requires trust


Photograph On December 3, 2019, a remarkable event took place in a hotel ballroom in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Forty top national leaders from every major political tendency, region, and ethnic and religious group stood on the stage — in front of national and international dignitaries and media, and broadcasting live to an even wider audience — and held hands and read a declaration of the actions they would take, together, to improve the country’s future. The moment was extraordinary because the leaders explicitly demonstrated a capacity and willingness to work together that was in sharp contrast to the violent fragmentation that had persisted in the country after years of political unrest.

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They had spent the previous two hours presenting the conclusions of Destiny Ethiopia, the work they had been doing together for seven months to figure out what was possible for Ethiopia What the leaders on the Destiny Ethiopia project are working to address in their country is not that different from what a company confronts during a transformation. After a long history of authoritarian governments, Ethiopia is attempting historic national reforms. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has upended the political landscape But all of these changes in how things work and who controls what create risks as well as opportunities, especially against a backdrop of deep ethnic, religious, and regional tensions. The same is true, although in a less dramatic context, when trying to create change in the workplace. For Ethiopians to transform their country democratically and sustainably — rather than forcibly and temporarily — they will need to build trust with one another. So must business leaders within their teams, if they intend to transform their companies. And leaders must model that trust-building process.

For Ethiopians to transform their country, they will need to build trust with one another. So must business leaders within their teams, if they intend to transform their companies.

The Destiny Ethiopia team started This politician made this dramatic shift as a result of meeting with, observing, and talking with his opponents during the plenary sessions, the small working group activities, and coffee breaks and meals. Such a process for building trust is not complicated but it is crucial.

The public event in the Addis Ababa hotel six months later made an impact on the country because it made visible the trust that the team had built among themselves and, Since then, members of the team have appeared together in many television, radio, and conference interviews and panels — they even competed together on a game show. The whole country has been able to see that there is a radically different way of engaging with complex challenges than what they’re used to. They’ve seen their leaders be thoughtful, respectful, relaxed, and open with people they disagree with. In the midst of dangerous and unpredictable turmoil, Destiny Ethiopia has become a living example of a hopeful future. And there’s tentative evidence that the people of Ethiopia are following their leaders’ examples. Newspaper reports indicate that political violence has decreased significantly in recent months.

Lack of trust creates fear, defensiveness, and rigidity. By contrast, trust enables openness, fluidity, and a willingness to take risks. All transformations, whether of countries, communities, or companies, require such living examples of trust.


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