November 18, 2013   by

A frustrated Chama leader, came to the meeting one day, slumped into the chair and said, clearly bewildered: “I have done everything I can to make the Chama members happy – we are friendly to everyone, we have a solid investment plan, we promote teamwork where everyone contributes to the affairs of the Chama, and yet, still there is animosity and bickering. I don’t understand what drives these people to behave the way they do.”

The answer is simple. Emotions. It had to do with Chama members emotions and, in particular, one emotion: Envy. Envy is the distress people feel when others get what they want and it is universal. Envy damages relationships, disrupts groups, and undermines Chama performance. Most of all, it harms the one who feels it. When you’re obsessed with someone else’s success, your self-respect suffers, and you may neglect or even sabotage your own performance and possibly your career. Envy is difficult to manage, in part because it is hard to admit that we harbor such a socially unacceptable emotion. Our discomfort causes us to conceal and deny our feelings, and that makes
things worse. Repressed envy inevitably resurfaces, stronger than ever. Remember that emotions are a powerful dictator of behavior, and envy, the unmentionable emotion, is perhaps one of the most pervasive and powerful of all the disruptive emotions that affect Chamas. We are not used to talking about envy. Yet it is there, woven within the fabric of our Chamas and it affects members’ moods, morale and culture and, ultimately, it is one of the causes of member disengagement from the Chama.

There are many reasons for envy to manifest itself in the Chama. Coveting attributes and qualities a colleague has that another might lack is an understandable possibility in the frailty of human nature; losing a job whilst a friend in the Chama has a good job can also be a trigger for envy. Affluent Chama members dressing smartly or living in beautiful homes may also elicit envy from members in the Chama. Many of these situations are normal occurrences and cannot be avoided. They are a part of our Chama scenarios and many Chama leaders have, at one time or other, witnessed a manifestation of these situations.

But there is an overlooked trigger for envy that may very well be a major cause of much discontent and disruption in the Chama. It is the leader’s unwitting behavior towards select people in the Chama.

Let’s take an example: It is safe to say that many Chamas have an individual who has a great deal of personal power that is often not associated with any position function or high level title – it comes from what is often referred to as ‘having the leader’s ear’. All Chama members, except perhaps the hapless newcomer, sense that anything that is said within earshot of that individual will automatically be relayed to the leader – worse still is the fear that it will be relayed with personal filtering and self-serving interpretations. This naturally causes others to envy the person’s power and closeness to the leader and results in a climate of apprehension and distrust of the individual, and by extension, the leader.

Another common scenario is associated with the recruiting of new “top members”. Here is what happens: A new Chama leader just elected in an established Chama; inherits a number of long-term Chama members. In due course, the leader recruits additional members who are often perceived to be more liked by the leader because they were hand-picked by her and are viewed as more in line with the leader’s liking and style. It’s not uncommon to hear the leader himself privately refer to this as “assembling my own members”. The existing members are still well treated but there are subtle things in the leader’s behavior towards the newcomers that signal that the newcomers are viewed as more valuable to the Chama: The leader is seen spending more time with them and is generally more complimentary and supportive of anything they do or say. In meetings, for example, she will more readily support ideas and suggestions by the newcomers.

To this, one can add a note of advice to leaders regarding their personal behavior: As leaders, we are continuously being observed by our Chama members who notice our every move and micro expressions they know which members are allowed in the inner circle from which they feel excluded. Leaders should pay particular attention that they don’t innocently build these chosen few up while neglecting the others. Frequent public praise of only a select few, heightens members’ feelings of insecurity about their own performance and causes resentment which in turns affects teamwork in the Chama. A leader who becomes aware of this stress-related reaction that her behavior causes on members will be better able to manage negative emotions, such as envy, in the
Chama and create a more relaxed and happier environment for everyone. In turn, this will help avoid the loss of Chama members that accompanies envy.


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