Reflections – building the team

And so, we did the cabinet retreat. I believe that it was like nothing that the cabinet had experienced hitherto. It was well organized; it was structured; and it was very productive. I did not waste anyone’s time. I preserved the President’s valuable time, making her to only intervene when it was necessary. During the presentations of the outcome, she was really engulfed in the process. In fact, because of her interest in the presentations, we left from the Baptist Seminary very late (around 9:30 or 10:00 pm). She asked the right sets of questions and made the emphasis where they were needed.

That was that. But like we always said during our team meetings, what happens the morning after? This question is particularly important because it keeps you focused.

However, to do the real work, you need the right group of people. And one thing that I noticed when I joined the team at the Ministry of Planning was that Amara had made it his business to get the best and brightest. He made efforts to go after those who could really add value to his work. He was aware that once he assembled a class A team, he would get superior results and then he would look good. But not only that! It also meant that the work would get done. The notion that whoever you put in a position will be able to do the job is a LIE and it is WRONG. You need to get right people with the right mind set to deliver on the complex tasks. Sometimes, put the politics aside and focus on the task hand. Regardless of a person’s politics, they still love their country and when given the opportunity to serve, they will do their best. I am a living testimony. I do not want to repeat that here. I know some of my good UP friends who told Amara not to hire me. But all that is in the past.

To build my team, I knew that I needed the best and brightest. This was not a difficult task because I could see what was occurring in the Ministry of Planning: Amara had brought on Sebastian Muah, Henrique Wilson and James Dorbor Jallah (DJ). Most people do not know that Sebastian is one of the smartest young men in that country. Though he may not have the melodious voice when articulating his thought process, but he is very good. And yes, I know he can be extremely aggressive in his approaches to things, but he is good.

Many people do not know but Amara made deliberate efforts in recruiting DJ to serve as Deputy Minister of Regional and Sectoral Planning. Amara didn’t know DJ before going to the Ministry of Planning but once someone told about DJ, Amara didn’t care about DJ’s politics. He hunted him and brought him on board. And at that time, DJ had been offered the position of Executive Director of the PPCC but Amara was able to appeal to DJ and convinced him to come at Planning. I am using the word ‘appealing’ intentionally because that is what a good leader does: he or she head hunt for good talents and do not rest until they get those talents. DJ and I came on board about the same time – June 2009 or thereabout.

I can also remember that Dr. Lester Tenny did come to the Ministry of Planning sometime in June or July 2009 on recommendation of the President whom he had met in South Africa. Amara informed Dr. Tenny that the practice in the Ministry is that he would be given a test and would make a presentation to the Senior Management team and then they would go from there. Gosh! Dr. Tenny got angry and started blasting in the hallway. I had just joined the team at Planning, but I know that I went through the same thing, so I wasn’t sure that Lester was angry. Anyway, Dr. Tenny had been an acquaintance from our quizzing days. He was a junior student at Cathedral and was on the team when we (T-High) beat all of them that year (1992) to carry the trophy (I had to plug this one in). This is why Lester did not join us at Planning, but we later worked together in 2010 when he became a Management Consultant at the Public Works.

With the kind of efforts that Amara made to build his team at Planning, I decided to replicate the same efforts in building my team in the basement. I knew that to do an excellent job, I needed to get the right people: talented and passionate. I remember interviewing Ellen Pratt and extending her an offer to serve as National Program Specialist, but she turned down the offer because the compensation was not sufficient to bring her down from Atlanta, Georgia. I continued the hunt and I was finally able to build a class A team in the LRDC.

I was able to bring on board some of the finest Liberians to help me achieve the task of putting the PRS back on track. I brought in H. Gleh Appleton to be my Pillar Technical Advisor for Infrastructure and Basic Services; Jerry Tamba Taylor for Economic Revitalization; Joseph Zangar Bright for Governance and Rule of Law; Shanda Cooper for Peace, Security & Reconciliation; and Theo Addey as National Program Specialist. These were some of the finest Liberians that I have ever met and I proud to have worked with them.

I did not only build a class A team, I provided them additional training and skills to enhance their job. I brought in people to train my team in Rapid Results Approach (RRA) so that they understand how to sequence the interventions so that implementation is easier (not easy).

I also made sure that I motivated the team, not with money but with my attention and encouragement. I paid attention to what they were doing and offered my suggestions and directions where and when necessary. Usually, employees want to know that the boss is paying attention to what they are doing. Money is important but people want to be valued, appreciated, noticed, and respected. These are important motivating factors in any workplace. When you do those things, people will always want to work for you. They will always go beyond the call of the duty and deliver more than you can imagine.

Another aspect of the team in the Ministry of Planning was that Amara allowed each of us, his direct report, to run our shops without micromanaging. He supported our creativity and initiatives and provided the needed feedback and support.  

My philosophy is that when you are a leader or you want to be a good leader, always recruit people who are smarter than you. The smart, accomplished leaders are those who hire people smarter than they are. They tend to preside over a productive, efficient, and happy workforce.


I am a Liberian professional with passion for pro poor economic development and grassroot political organizing. I have read public policy, corporate finance and accounting at various levels. I have worked in government, private sector and non-profit sector.

3 thoughts on “Reflections – building the team”

  1. “The notion that whoever you put in a position will be able to do the job is a LIE and it is WRONG. You need to get right people with the right mind set to deliver on the complex tasks”. James F. Kollie PhD

    The most interesting part almost ever reader will take a deep breath of reflection at. In finding an excellent team to provide solutions to complex global issues, your point expressed is guide to ever change maker it is an excerpt to keep very close in mind.


  2. These are what I take from this piece:
    do not be afraid to hire smarter people and
    never allow your status to stand in the way of your humility.
    Thanks again sir.


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