A personal story about our origin:
NDUNA – Executive Advisor to the Chief
NDUNA is an Executive Advisor and Management Consultancy. We specialize in Leadership Development for leaders and teams. In the last couple of years, we have successfully engaged ourselves in Talent Acquisition including Recruiting.
What in our name?
Our company name goes back to 1991. That’s twelve years before the company came to life. So why is that year important? The year 1991 is important because that year Søren Leth-Nissen, our founder, learned a valuable leadership lesson. Today, the leadership experience is a cornerstone of our company identity.
The dark side of leadership
To be specific, Søren learned about his powerful leadership potential. But Søren also learned about his dark side to leadership. The force of his dark side was so powerful that if not controlled, it could be damaging to his work and, eventually, his career. What you are reading right now is NDUNA’s birth story. We share our core leadership philosophy, and we explain why we call our company NDUNA – Executive Advisors to the Chief.
Our name is a leadership lesson
Our name is NDUNA – Executive Advisor to the Chief. The word NDUNA is Zambian and means Executive Advisor to the Chief. But why does a Danish company give itself an African name? A name that is hard to understand and hard to pronounce? The truth is that our name is continually reminding us of a shameful leadership lesson our founder learned in Zambia many years ago. The explanation follows below.
A losing game as an advisor
From 1991-1993, our founding father, Søren Leth-Nissen, worked for the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations in Zambia. Trained as an anthropologist, Søren worked together with the Zambian Department of Fisheries. In his formal role as a UN-advisor, Søren tried real hard to implement a low tech fish farming project. But the more he tried, the less happened. The more force he applied, the more push-bach he got.
Søren was confused. Why did the Zambians not want his help trying to save the world? Why did they not take any initiatives? Didn’t it matter to them? As a consequence of Sørens arrival to the project site in Eastern Province in Zambia, all project activities had come to a standstill. “That’s not how you save the world,” he told himself!
Micromanagement led to a confrontation
In his frustration over the standstill and apparent Zambian apathy, Søren still wanted to make himself useful. In a desperate attempt, he started micromanaging the resources of the project. And sure enough, his micromanagement sparked a response, and he returned the adverse reaction. The confrontation peaked when Søren confronted his Zambian counterparts, accusing them of unofficial and unauthorized use of UN-vehicles. The clash was at its peak when Søren, in a flash, understood why unauthorized use of vehicles happened.
Søren’s counterpart admitted that they used the cars without any authorization. The cars operated as ambulances, pending sick children with malaria attacks to and from the hospital in Chipata, located 18 kilometers away from the fish farm where all Zambian Fish Farming staff lived with their families. The use of UN-vehicles pending between the fish farm and the malaria clinic at the hospital was, in fact, not abuse, seen from a humanistic point of view. The unauthorized use of UN-cars saved people’s lives. That fact took the hot air out of Sørens arrogant leadership balloon.
A heartfelt excuse makes a difference
His lack of respect, his arrogant behavior, and his impatience became painfully apparent. When realizing how insensitive he had been when confronting his counterpart of misuse, he excused for his mistake. He could now see that he had not listened well enough to learn about the situation of the Zambian colleagues. Lack of respect prevented him from asking what was going on with the vehicles after hours.
A handshake is enough
The next day a handshake agreement was made between Søren and the Zambian counterparts. The UN-vehicles could be used as ambulances after hours as and when needed. On their side, the counterpart agreed to share in-depth knowledge about how the Zambian society works. When Søren asked for help, the Zambians shared then needed insights to implement the project.
Working with the chiefs
The next day, the project-activities started again. The verbal agreement included a proper introduction of Søren to Zambian social structures and not least to the local leaders. Getting introduced to the informal administrative hierarchy and respectfully asking the chiefs for help made a difference. Soon, the results started pouring in, and the project became a success.
Be respectful, be humble, be patient
Søren learned that he needed to show more respect towards people and power structures he could not see nor understand. He learned to be more humble when working with communities run by clever headmen and powerful chiefs. Partnering up with the headmen and local chiefs made the invisible power structures visible. Now he could see the informal hierarchies, and understand the dynamics of how they work. The hidden relations between people and groups suddenly materialized before his eyes. He could now see and feel more of the real power structures of the rural Zambian society. And suddenly, he could apply his positive leadership potential to navigate the project skillfully.
A quest: The Leadership Challenge
Søren made a choice. It was a leader’s choice, and it changed his life forever. Søren chose to leave the heavy burden of poor leadership and start searching his soul to find out who he was as a leader. He embarked on a Leadership Challenge. He wanted to know whether and how he could best apply his leadership strengths and, at the same time, control the dark sides of his leadership. As a result, Søren embarked on a long and winding leadership development journey that is still in progress.
Coming back to the beginning of this story: When NDUNA came to life in 2003, we wanted the trust of our clients. We wanted to earn their trust so they see us as Trusted Executive Advisors helping them to successfully manage their business. So far, we’ve done that for 17 years and we intend to continue being humble helpers to all ambitious executives self-aware enough to know that we all have to continue growing our leadership competence.
WINNING LIFTS EVERYONE
WE HELP YOU WIN
- We create value for our customers because it gives us a kick to win with our customers
- You’re OK, I’m OK. We see our customers as humans, not corporations, and we treat them accordingly
- Our customers are our partners. We depend on their feedback to guide our product development, our delivery, and our business
- Results are everything and we admit that we value results over process
- We enforce limits between our work and home lives to make sure our personal needs are met
Diversity and Inclusion
- Different viewpoint enriches us all. Especially when people of all backgrounds share their viewpoints. Winners value different viewpoints
- We celebrate diversity and work to minimize bias in our hiring and decision-making
- Discrimination and harassment is a no go
- In our line of work we need to speak our truths to keep the development processes going and on track. When we speak our truths, however, we try to do it with care for one another
- Bad information is shared just as fast as good news
- We make it safe for others to communicate with us at all times and we are curious about others’ perspectives
- Distrust eats souls for breakfast, so we force ourselves to trust one another to operate with the best interest of our customers and with NDUNA in mind
- Conflicts are a part of life. No development without conflicts, the anthropologists state (Søren Leth-Nissen is one of them) When faced with conflicting options, we are quick to disagree and commit. And when we get it wrong, we support one another to make things right
From the beginning of his assignment with ALCOM, Soeren has worked independently and directed his initiative towards team building among his Zambia and international colleagues. His excellent interpersonal skills, enthusiasm, and drive to succeed have been the keys to getting ALCOM pilot activities in Eastern, Central, and Luapula Provinces where they are today. At the same time, he has gradually adapted his enthusiasm to working with a large organization such as FAO. He is highly respected by his colleagues in Zambia and in ALCOM. He has taken the lead in staff development among his counterparts in Zambia as well as organizing a successful staff seminar at ALCOM. His continued work in the development field and in particular in ALCOM, would make good use of his skills and experience and be a great benefit to those he works with.