Leadership in Angola

I recently had the opportunity to return to Luanda and socialize, within the training sessions that I taught at the Angola Business School, with those who are preparing to be the future leaders of Angola. I would like to share with you some aspects of the development of the management model and, in particular leadership style, which I believe to be taking place in Angolan companies and that caught my attention during my stay in Luanda.

I must say I was impressed with the energy, dynamism and willingness to learn of the trainees that I found. Fred Luthans, one of the most recognized international experts in organizational behavior, stated recently that two of the secrets of inspirational leaders were their ability to demonstrate enthusiasm and constantly present a positive outlook about the future. The students with whom I talked to showed me the passion for what they do and the positive vision they have for what the future holds. I share the view that this positive energy is one of the pillars on which businesses will sustain themselves. These young managers are aware of the challenges and obstacles that lie ahead, but always try to have a positive and proactive approach to deal with such difficulties. This optimistic (and achievable) view of the future is one of the characteristics of effective / transformational leaders, whose efforts towards the growth and development of their teams contributes greatly to the successful and smooth functioning of organizations.

Simultaneously, this optimistic approach allows them to remain focused on the tasks they have to accomplish but never lose sight of the importance of the creation and development of quality relationships between managers and subordinates, based on mutual respect, fairness and trust. Several students emphasized the central role of social relations for the proper functioning of businesses in Angola. Some of the most fruitful discussions we had revolved around the challenge that is to identify when a leader must focus on coordination of tasks in setting goals and meeting the deadlines and when he/she should be focused on the integration of team members, open communication (both the successes and the difficulties) and the recognition of the efforts carried out by employees.

In short, these managers showed great sensitivity to the need to encourage the development of positive organizations. These organizations are simultaneously focused on the customer, looking for the adjustment of products and services to their needs, and implement a model of participatory leadership where the various hierarchical levels collaborate with one another to build synergies between the organization’s goals and the objectives of individual employees.

Two Challenges For The Future

I am pleased to say that these discussions were extremely useful for myself (and hopefully also have been for our trainees) as an academic, because the stories told and the issues raised have helped me to understand the specifics of the Angolan context. As a result of these discussions I clearly identify two key challenges for Angolan managers as well as for foreigners who work or aspire to work in Angola.

The first relates to the sustainability of management strategies over time. We often succumb to the temptation of trying to simply copy management models that work in a specific context to other structurally distinct contexts. We saw this long ago when the U.S. tried to implement management models from Japan without much success. I would therefore like to emphasize the need to adjust management models to the specific historical, social, political and economic environment of where you want to put them in practice, in this case Angola (and within Angola, surely, there are differences between regions, between cities and country side, etc.). These models should not be applied without an understanding of how it will fit local realities and should be adapted, otherwise their contribution to the effectiveness and efficiency of organizations will be limited.

The second relates to the ability to effectively manage the cultural diversity of the human capital within organizations. Luanda is already a business center where people come together from all over the world and managing that diversity is certainly not easy. Different cultures interpret and act on problems differently (see for example how different cultures interpret the notion of time) and see the successes in different ways (for example, some cultures are more focused on short term while others make decisions focusing on the long run). Diversity is a vital element of the major economic centers (see the cases of London or New York) but requires careful management, at risk of turning an advantage into a disadvantage.

One way to deal with these challenges is to actively think about the strategies and discuss how (and if) they can be put into practice. The socio-economic environment is dynamic, and the mechanisms that worked yesterday may not work today and could become harmful tomorrow. Students told me several stories showing how organizations tried, often intuitively, to be aware of these dynamics and to adjust in a timely fashion, as they receive information from the environment that the modus operandi (or way of doing things) is getting out of date. These and other challenges will be posed to Angolan managers and from what I have seen, I am sure that this new generation of managers will contribute significantly to the advancement of a country whose potential is recognized worldwide.


Written by Pedro Neves, Assistant Professor of Nova School of Business and Economics and Angola Business School