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“Leading Rwanda” - Column #28

Leading equitably gives everyone what they need rather than the same thing. / Photo: Christina Morillo

Kigali – As efforts to both combat the Corona pandemic and turn the Black Lives Matter movement into concrete, sustainable systemic change have spread around the world this year, there has been a lot of discussion about Inclusion and Equality.

In practical work terms, how can leaders ensure that everyone in the office or at home feels included, safe, comfortable and heard and that they feel a sense of “belonging”? And how can they make certain that everyone receives equal opportunities, treatment, recognition, benefits and rewards for a similar job well done?


These are definitely noble aims and yet they may not go far enough in this uncertain, dispersed world of work that we all now live in and that will continue to impact our lives in some form, long after a working Corona vaccine is distributed.


An important concept that is missing but gaining more attention is Equity.


For some, this is a financial term that relates to the money that owners and shareholders invest in a new start-up company and/or the continuous operation of a business. It can involve a lot of risk but it is absolutely essential for both the initial viability and then the sustainable health of a thriving going concern.

Likewise, leaders must constantly invest equitably in their most precious capital: the human one.

Equitable human capital investment (EHCI) can be implemented at a global level by making sure that the Corona vaccine is distributed first to the people who really need it most - such as healthcare and frontline workers – and then to everyone else. Rolande Pryce, the World Bank’s Country Manager for Rwanda, said on Tuesday: “The World Bank Group’s efforts will help facilitate affordable and equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines for the poorest and those most at risk.”

EHCI can be implemented at a national level, as has happened here in Rwanda in the last 25 years. “The countries that succeed will be those that are nimble and able to use their human capital to take advantage of opportunities as they arise,” says Priti Patel, the current UK home secretary.

EHCI can also be implemented at an organisational and team level. 

One example might be in the practice of Feedback. As introduced in the “Leading Rwanda” column of 20 March 2020 - - regular, informal feedback is very important for everyone’s career development.

Some organizations have adopted the “5 for 5” and “30 for 30” strategy for leaders giving this kind of feedback: A quick, five-minute check-in with each team member every five days (or normal work week) and then a longer, more strategic conversation of about 30 minutes every 30 days (or month).

The only trouble with this approach is that not everyone is the same or wants the same thing. Remember the Platinum Rule: Treat others as they want to be treated.

An entry-level graduate or a recent hire might need a lot more technical instruction and career guidance and they may thrive under a more directive approach that pushes them to meet specific targets for their new job. 

Experienced, able workers might need relatively little instruction or guidance and they may just want to be left alone to do their work, with a few words of appreciation or a nice bonus every once in a while. 

In the not-as-well-known Situational Leadership 2 model of Ken Blanchard, there are different combinations of Competence (ability, knowledge, and skills) and Commitment (confidence and motivation) that make up four “development” levels for workers:

D1 – Enthusiastic Beginner (low competence with high commitment)

D2 – Disillusioned Learner (low/middling competence with low commitment)

D3 – Capable but Cautious Performer (high competence with low/variable commitment)

D4 – Self-Reliant Achiever (high competence with high commitment)

As such, Blanchard says that leaders need to “tell” those who are unskilled, “sell” to those who are demotivated, “participate” with those who are lacking confidence and “delegate” to those who know what they are doing.

The key for any leader is knowing the strengths and weaknesses of each of their direct reports and then taking action that is appropriate for that particular person at that particular time in that particular role. For example, a key worker may have been highly engaged and effective in the office before Corona hit but has had trouble remaining focused and productive when working from home, sapping his motivation and undermining his confidence.

In this way, organisational leaders can ensure that their co-workers feel included and that they belong within a system that treats them equitably, rather than just equally.

Or in the wise words of an unknown philosopher: “Equality is giving everyone a pair of shoes. Equity is giving everyone a pair of shoes that fits”.

The views expressed in this column are entirely those of the writer who can be reached at

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