You won’t have heard the name Wali Ahmad Nassiri before, he lives and works in Kabul with his wife and children who are very precious to him. Wali is a special guy…..intelligent, passionate, considerate and filled with optimism. He’s what we might call in these parts, ‘a breath of fresh air.’ Wali is a sales manager for a power generation company who have their headquarters in Kabul as well as an extensive network of offices all over Afghanistan including Helmand and Kandahar.
As the news from Afghanistan unfolded over the past days, I found myself thinking a lot about Wali and all of the other great people from Afghanistan I’ve had the privilege of working with during my career. All of them proud and passionate.
Official records show that more than 7000 people have died from Covid 19 in the past year in Afghanistan but that didn’t make it onto any news programmes or newspapers. The numbers might even seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things and in the context of a global pandemic. Long before the ravishes of Covid though, Afghanistan was getting back on its feet with many heart-warming stories of progress, new-found freedoms and restoration.
Who hasn’t been moved and disturbed by the recent pictures from Kabul International Airport as so many people stretch and strain in desperation for a way out? Proud and wonderful people now gripped by uncertainty, anxiety and fear.
When I think about our challenges in this small corner of the world, the pettiness, the stubbornness and the seeming inability (or unwillingness) to find flexibility, understanding, vision and grace, I feel a real sense of shame. We have so much to be grateful for, so much to look forward to….such great potential for the future. A far cry from the poor but proud people of Afghanistan!
I understood many years ago that having the opportunity to travel and work alongside people from different countries, climates and cultures is such a powerful opportunity to be educated, challenged and changed. Some of the qualities demonstrated by Wali and his compatriots are worthy of our consideration, especially I would suggest, in the context of leading others.
1. Humility. In all of my interactions, every hour we spent together, I was challenged by their humility. Such great willingness, openness and a genuine vulnerability. I sometimes felt a sense of guilt that I too, was still trying to work leadership out and yet they showed me such honour, respect and appreciation. I didn’t deserve it.
2. Enthusiasm. Wali was hungry for learning, he was so committed to growing as a manager of others. He wanted to be the best he could be. His enthusiasm was infectious, it made me feel that my work with him and the others was a joyful and immensely rewarding experience. I’m sure I got more than I gave.
3. Faith. Their faith was important but never imposed. They had faith in each other and in faith in me to take them further on their journey of development. Their religious and cultural journey was a world away from my own but I found them to be consistently genuine and always authentic. They were gracious and inclusive in all of their encounters with me, both professionally and socially.
4. Gratefulness. Wali and all of the others were clearly very proud of their identity and their homeland. They were among some of the more fortunate, having secured good jobs and their gratitude was tangible, now able to provide for their immediate and extended families. Grateful too that there could be a better future for their children.
5. Generosity. A generosity of spirit probably best encapsulates so much of what I’ve said already. It has always amazed me that some of the poorest people I have met around the world, are also the most generous.
This spirit of generosity permeated all of our encounters and exchanges, a commitment to always look for and find the best in other people is surely (or should be) at the core of every leader’s philosophy. Arguably those all-important results usually take care of themselves when we take care of the basics.
As I sign off, it is with genuine concern but also with hopefulness that things might be different this time around for my Afghan friends, that they too will discover that hope trumps fear and that this flame will not be extinguished in the uncertain months ahead.