Her Story Meets…Hannah Acquah

Transitioning out of what has been a turbulent year for many leaders, has presented a much-needed period of realignment by discovering the person within the leader. CEO of TKC Africa Hannah Acquah recently joined me to discuss her journey as a leader, dealing with perfectionism and her time of growth over the last year.

As part of our new series ‘Women in Leadership: Her Story Meets…’ I had the pleasure of speaking with Hannah Acquah the CEO of TKC Africa a business and investment consultancy based in Ghana. As we discussed her leadership journey one of the key themes that kept coming up throughout the course of our conversation was the need for perfection, to appear perfect and bring your “A game” as Hannah would say. As we entered a pandemic Hannah found herself coming face to face with her beliefs around perfection as an individual and leader. Hannah soon came to the realisation that she wasn’t going to be able to use the practices and techniques she was used to in order to lead in this strange time and would have to embrace the uncertainty in order to come out stronger as a leader.

Hannah shared that when she was growing up in Austria her parents instilled in her the belief that it was important for her to be “excellent” and give “200%” “why? “Because we’re black, ” Hannah noted. For many of us these same sentiments ring true, at least I can say the same for myself as a fellow black woman. In order to be considered for the best schools and jobs it wasn’t enough to be amongst the brightest, you needed to excel in everything, speak eloquently, dress well and be seen by those with the greatest influence, much of which Hannah echoed with her own experiences. Even though for Hannah she went to an international school made up of over 84 different nationalities it was the realisation that even though school might be a “safe Haven” as everyone was from different backgrounds, it does not negate what you’ll experience in the wider society. The ideology of perfectionism is something that continues to plague women and black/ other minority women in particular. In 2019 the number of women in senior roles, although it grew to 29% the highest number ever recorded, it remained stagnant in 2020 and proves we have a long way to go in achieving some form of equilibrium. To add to this, black women have the lowest probabilities of being top earners. Even though we’re seeing a greater need for the skill sets and leadership capabilities of women, reports still show that we’re suffering greatly with gender and racial inequalities. It gives you a sense of why for women the need to be perfect never disappears because of the hurdles we experience to achieve success. Hannah’s own experiences mirror that of many of ours.[/vc_column_text][mk_blockquote style=”line-style” font_family=”Playfair+Display” font_type=”google”]At some point in trying to live up to this idea of perfection we find ourselves at a standstill unable to rely on the practices and routines we’ve always used to deal with challenging moments as a leader.[/mk_blockquote][vc_column_text css=”.vc_custom_1627311369039{margin-bottom: 0px !important;}”]At some point in trying to live up to this idea of perfection we find ourselves at a standstill unable to rely on the practices and routines we’ve always used to deal with challenging moments as a leader. Hannah was used to being busy travelling across the African continent and working with international clients, but this stopped in a flash as international travel came to a halt. “Nothing was happening here in Ghana” Hannah notes. Fear began to set in as her international clients started cancelling their consulting engagements one by one resulting in her feeling anxious about the impact these unprecedented times were going to have on her business. Living by an ideology of perfection doesn’t take into account the unknown or the extent to which things can go wrong and for Hannah, she found herself “allowing the fear to take a hold of me” as she wondered how she would continue to earn income. Yet it is in the period of the unknown that Hannah was actually able to discover her passion for music and singing. When we’re in the hustle and bustle of daily life it doesn’t give us the time to sit down, collect our thoughts and picture life outside of the corporate, entrepreneurial, highflyer bubble we’re so used to living in. We hear leaders talk about being busy and we almost champion that as effective leadership but having times of self-discovery is a key component to leading effectively. It allows us to have a broader perspective, see beyond the work we do, discover other interests, potential career paths and develop into more holistic leaders. Hannah recognised through her self-discovery finding the love of music that she may even want to record her songs and mentioned that she’s “learning how to work with people to put a song together”. Stepping away from the busyness of life can spark new interest in us. For Hannah as she mentions being busy “was helping me show that I am perfect”. When we live with the mindset of perfection it doesn’t lend itself to discovering and trying new things because our actions are more driven by routine but when that’s taken away from us it allows us to explore and discover a deeper sense of self as it did for Hannah.

Continuing our discussion, we delved deeper into other things that had come to light for Hannah as her focus shifted away from her business in the interim. Hannah was able to make a rediscovery of her love for education and training. Although Hannah loves learning she hadn’t taken part in any form of training since 2016 but this last year reignited Hannah’s passion and as a result she found herself with an opportunity to join Harvard Business School online and UNECA African Women’s Investors training. Through these amazing opportunities Hannah found that she was able to “refresh my mind” as she prepares to put herself “back out there”. The power of rediscovery allows us to go back to the roots of our passions. When we’re moving at the speed of lightning, we tend to neglect the parts of ourselves that prove key in helping us maintain balance as leaders. As Hannah shares her experience of learning again, I could hear the excitement in her voice as to how much she’s been able to take away from these experiences and all the amazing people she’s had the privilege of connecting with worldwide. “I am coming back into the business world with this even bigger network”.

My conversation with Hannah taught me a number of things about how perfection can misguide us as leaders. For Hannah it was a reckoning that being perfect was not going to be able to see her through the challenges she would experience with her business. Embracing the unknown would prove to be a blessing in disguise as she both discovered and rediscovered her passions which fill her optimism and newfound opportunities. To grow as a leader, we have to be willing to embrace the unknown and welcome change. The quest for perfection is a never-ending obstacle course that nobody ever finishes. Like Hannah, take the time to pause, discover and reset because in doing it can open up a whole word of opportunities. 

Author profile
Salome Asabre

Salome is a business consultant working with businesses to strengthen their client relations, workforce management and their product/service strategy positioning within the market.

Leave a comment