• Posted in March 2009
  • Article written by James Tolulope Duggan

The African Experience

Michael Carroll and NLP in Africa

When I got the opportunity to assist Michael Carroll on a training taking place on the continent of Africa, I could barely contain my excitement. It was to take place in Nigeria, a country situated in central West Africa, also formerly known as ‘the giant of Africa’ and where I spent my childhood. For Michael this was an opportunity to develop his flexibility as a trainer even further. For me, this was an opportunity to introduce Michael to Africa, and Africa to Michael and NLP. It was a wonderful chance for both of us to see how NLP works in different cultures. The training itself had been a year coming and if not for the diligence and persistence of our facilitator in Nigeria, it might have taken much longer. Michael was going to deliver two courses for the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Labour, the first on ‘High Performance Teams’ the second on ‘High Performance Coaching’.

The African experience started with our arrival at Murtala Muhammed International Airport, a major international airport, in the state of Lagos, south West of Nigeria. After a six hour flight, our first task was to navigate Nigerian Customs and Immigration which Michael found an interesting experience.  Walking past the restaurant, bars, and other different types of shopping and entertainment places to go outside, we could immediately feel the change in temperature as we met with the tropical and slightly dusty air of Lagos. The hustle and bustle around the airport was something to be experienced and a complete contrast (but not negative) to the order that surrounds Western airports.

The drive from the airport to Victoria Island, took about an hour, and about twenty-five minutes of the ride was spent on a bridge called ‘the third mainland bridge’,  a seven mile long bridge that connects the mainland to the island of Victoria. Victoria Island is part upmarket residences and part business neighbourhood.  As we drove past the clubs, bars and restaurants we noticed that not all the lights were on and we guessed that the night life was just beginning, but also the volume of electrical requirement has now surpassed the Electricity Grids supply capability, so back up generators are requirements for most business to deal with power cuts. Lagos is an expanding city in terms of numbers of inhabitants and commercial activities.

On getting to the hotel and unpacking, it was soon dinner time. We were advised that all food was freshly cooked and nothing (not even the soup) was pre–prepared. We were advised to order our food in advance from our rooms. When I got to the restaurant, I saw that the restaurant was almost empty and Michael was already there waiting, in the meantime having a very lively discussion about football with some of the hotel staff. We also realised that a lot of Nigerians supported English football teams. After about 10mins or so, dinner was served. To my surprise Michael had ordered a traditionally Nigerian and very hot dish for his starter, immersing himself straight into the culture, and what better way to start than with the food! I watched him savour the smell of his fish pepper soup as it was placed in front of him and I hoped that it didn’t set his mouth on fire. We started our meal and Michael said ‘hmm! James this is really good’. I smiled and thought to myself ‘if he liked that, he’ll be OK’. After dinner, we joined our hostess/facilitator in the hotel garden and had a few drinks after which we called it a night.

Sunday was the day before the training for the first department of the FML, who were to be trained on high performance teams and we spent the day making the final preparations. The training started at 9:30 on Monday morning. When I got to the hall where the training was taking place, I noticed that some people looked a bit tired. I later found out that a lot, if not most of the trainees had travelled from far and wide across the country to get here on an overnight bus. They all sat in the class, pen in hand, waiting for a lecture. Little did they know the experience they were about to embark on would be nothing like a lecture. I watched as they enjoyed the exercises. It all started with Michael’s elicitation of the participants understanding of an effective team, soon came the calibration exercises after Michael’s demonstration with one of the participants. I assisted the participants as they split into groups and I noticed them marvel as they practised their new found skills. Michael was very effective at getting all the trainees involved, and by the time we started the language models for clear team communication, under Michael’s guidance, the class was beaming with enthusiasm.

I watched as the trainees morphed from tired travellers to intensely curious explorers of a new way of doing things excellently. By the end of the day the body language they transmitted was eager and curious, ready for the next and final day of that group’s training. The next day started at 9:00am, half an hour earlier than the day before. I arrived at the hall at 8:30 to check everything was in order and found the hall almost half full. To my pleasant surprise the trainees had arrived early. Some were chatting, and others were revising material and practising techniques taught to them the day before. Soon after, the training commenced and the participants continued their first experience of Michael and NLP, and Michael continued his experience of the Nigerian people. The day started with a review of the previous day. The day’s training began with goal setting, and the trainees were eager and excited. After the tea break, just before starting the part of the training on perpective shift, Michael asked if anyone would like to share their goals. A few people did, and I remember finding their goals quiet humbling. One man in particular shared his life-time goal which was to sponsor 50 orphans through higher education. We stopped for lunch and all had lunch together at the hotel restaurant. On my way to the restaurant this time, I ran into Michael who was hurrying to his room to retrieve more business cards. Apparently, one person in the class asked for his business card and all of a sudden everyone wanted one. I smiled and took it as a sign that they liked him and had probably got more than they anticipated from his style of training.

Most of the trainees had been asking for a photographer all day. So, acting on their request, our hostess’s assistant arrived with the first cameraman he could find following behind him. The cameraman was a tall, very dark skinned man, possibly in his late forties. He was carrying a brown and ancient looking camera, with a wind-up handle on the side of it. I heard one of the trainees ask ‘what is that?’ and ‘will it work?’. Michael and I looked at each other and couldn’t help laughing too. At the end of the day, we teamed up with the organisers of the course to ceremoniously give the trainees their certificates of participation. But not before the Assistant Director for the FML (Federal Ministry of Labour), who initially came to ‘observe the training’ but could not help himself but to fully participate, thanked the facilitators, who made this possible, and the trainer who had brought to them ‘a new and more practical way of performing’. The trainees wanted to say thank you to Michael too, so they showered him with compliments. The day ended on a high, and as we greeted the participants, watching them leave wondering what the next group would be like, we were looking forward to it. My father had offered to be our guide and take us sightseeing on the island and I knew Michael was looking forward to it too. It was his first opportunity to see the rest, or at least a bit of the rest of Nigeria.

The next day my father showed us some of the sights of the Island. We stopped to enjoy the view of the seafront and were approached by a trader selling handmade crafts. Michael was fascinated with the crafts particularly the ‘process’ of creating such art. My father bought us both a gift from the trader. This was just the beginning. Soon after a young man who introduced him as ‘D-Rasta’ offered us a table on the beach, which we decided was a good idea and so we accepted and drove the short distance to the beach. As we pulled over I noticed the slight concern on Michael’s face as we saw five young men, running after our car with a great deal of determination. My father explained that the young men were parking attendants competing for customers.

On the beach, we were taken to one of many tables run by various beach cafes. We ordered some drinks and were treated to a local dish of grilled pepper fish - another hot dish. Firstly, we were shown the fish before it was taken away to be roasted. As we sat having drinks, all sorts of different traders approached us with offers of whatever it was they were selling. Michael again asked a lot of questions about the carvings and jewellery on offer and how each man made the crafts. He was also interested in the sales process, as these guys were persistent. After a lot of good natured haggling, we ended up buying a variety of crafts and jewellery. Michael wanted some real African presents for his family. It does not come more genuine than buying from a craftsman who sells what he makes on a beach.

The fish arrived, and they were huge. In Nigerian tradition we ate with our hands and it was delicious. As we devoured our fish, I thought to myself, this is a truly African way to break bread. We enjoyed the beach so much that we ended up staying there for a while, watching the sun set and the moon rise, enjoying the fresh evening sea breeze and the local brew. I am not exactly sure what time it was when we left the beach, but I remember it was dark and we could see the bright lights of Victory Island from where we were. As we drove back to the hotel, I could hear the trickling of loud music from the clubs over the noise of traffic.

9.30am Thursday morning, and training commences with a new set of trainees. Just like the previous set, they too had travelled from far and wide across the country to get here. They too had arrived expecting another lecture and I looked forward to witnessing them also morph from tired travellers to curious explorers of a new way of doing things. This set were being trained on self-coaching for high performance. The day started with an eliciting of the traits of a high performer.  Like the previous set of trainees, they were highly impressed by the practicality of the exercises they practised. I found this set of trainees as interesting as the last.

The participants learned about, goals, high performance states, NLP perceptual positions and giving self and others feedback. By the end of training on Friday, especially after identifying the difference that makes the difference in high performers and experiencing what is was like seeing things from another perspective, the trainees were bursting with enthusiasm, ready to go into the world armed with their new found skills. As we ceremoniously handed the trainees their certificate of participation, I took a look at the feedback forms. As I expected, every single person, just like the previous set of trainees, had given positive reviews.

Later that evening, Michael, our hostess and I went to try out the Chinese restaurant near the hotel that Michael had spotted two days ago. It was a classy Chinese traditional styled restaurant on the upstairs and underneath it was a very nice club. The three of us had a wonderful meal. I was a bit overwhelmed by the amount of food we had been served, it was easily enough for six. Afterwards, we had some wine and called it a day. The next day was a Saturday and started quietly. It was the last Saturday of the month and it was an ‘Environmental Sanitation Saturday’. Environmental sanitation is a monthly national day of cleaning your environment, in Nigeria. Being the day of our departure, my father had offered to drop us off at the airport and on the way fit in some more sightseeing. He picked us up in the late afternoon and we headed towards my sister’s home in the town of Ilupeju, Lagos state. There we met my sister, her baby and her husband. My brother in-law wanted to show us the local public drinking house, known as ‘beer parlours’ in Lagos. It was a walk away from their home. When we got to the beer parlour ‘Jide’s Place’, the first thing I noticed was the four TV’s on the wall, showing the Everton v Manchester United game. We stayed to watch the match, had a few drinks and mingled with the locals.

At about 9.00pm we had to leave in order to catch our plane. We got to the airport, checked in our bags and headed for the duty free section. We decided to have one more meal before boarding, savouring our final part of this particular experience. We savoured it so much that we ended up running for our plane hoping to catch it in time! We were early enough for boarding and had just enough time to get settled in before take-off. We had the rest of the flight to reflect on our African experience. 

On the plane Michael, thanked me for providing him first hand an experience of African culture. He said to me, as he had said to the people on the course, it was an enormous privilege to train NLP skills to people in a different culture. He said he was also impressed with the entrepreneurial spirit and honesty of the many Nigerian street and beach traders whose only way of making an honest living is to sell various goods. He said they are walking exemplars of NLP at its best. Typical of Michael Carroll - to look for excellence in all walks of life.

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