Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Ghana changing with character

In this interview Dr Mario Denton talked to Rev Sam Oppong regarding character-based
leadership challenges and sustainable implementation of character-based training in
Ghana, as well as about his recent experience in taking character-based training to the
next level in Ghana.

Denton: According to our records, Rev Sam, you have done Character First training in
Ghana for the third time. I am very keen to hear why you think the Character First
programme is needed in Ghana. Is this training really necessary and relevant and can it
be the solution to the problems of the times in which
we are living?

Oppong: Ghana is a very blessed country as we do have almost everything; for example, we
do have lots of natural resources, we have gold, the country is rich in cacao and has started producing oil, and it has lots of human resources. We have well-educated leadership and Ghana is made up of 68% Christians, but the problem is that we are seriously lacking in character. We are living in a society in which people love themselves, are lovers of money, boasters,proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers,
without self-control, despisers of good (2 Timothy 3:2). We see the signals of a society that is barren of virtue. I believe character-based training programmes can make a difference, because character is what makes a person want to be better and do better. When people are trained to value honour and integrity, they find the motivation to live that way for the rest of their
lives, wherever they are.

This is the kind of inspiration that changes people and in turn communities. The issues are similar and the root causes have not been addressed. Rules and regulations alone won’t solve the challenges. Good character transcends age, position, financial status, race, religion, education, gender and personality.

Denton: What do you often see in business, churches and schools and what are the main
reasons for those issues?

Oppong: Business is in a survival mode and in order to survive they believe that they have to
do it in a way that even allows corruption. The following symptoms are very evident if you look
at business today:
 How much can I make?
 Money becomes their master
 Personal success and to benefit yourself
 Short-term gain
 Make a profit, whatever it takest
 It is centred around the person, his success and happiness, and to benefit him- or
 The sources of significance have become power, work and riches
 Success is all about achievement and no longer about faithfulness
 The focus is on temporal rewards and no longer on eternal rewards
 Goals are needed to benefit yourself and not to fulfil the will of God.
We have to start doing it differently and doing it the character way.
On the schools and education side I do see the same patterns and a lack of leaders who have
to set an example.

On the church front there are lots of problems. Often we don’t see the spiritual leadership
needed in the church today. So yes, most of us are Christians, but the questions must be
whether we are really Christ-like. That is the challenge for us in Ghana today.
Politics is becoming dirty and is often related to corruption. For that reason people don’t want to
get into politics and we need to change that mentality
To summarise, we need more people of character right now and we need to change the above
perceptions. Get to the root cause of these challenges, as any meaningful leadership
development has to include character-based principles

Denton: Can you give me a general definition of character since you mention it so often,
and also describe the outcome of this character-based training programme?

Character First Training session in Accra

Oppong: As explained, I have been trained three times so far, so let me take out my manual
and answer your question. Character is the qualities built into an individual’s life that determine
his or her response, regardless of circumstances and it springs from the heart. The true test of
character is always our response to pressure. Wrong actions and attitudes damage
relationships. Good character transcends age, position, financial status, race, religion,
education, gender, and personality. Building character makes a person not only a better
employee, but also a better spouse, neighbour, parent and citizen.
Denton: Now tell me now more about the CF learning methodology and why you like it.
Oppong: The most successful way is for all staff to take one character quality per month and
discuss it so that everyone in the organisation speaks the same language. This helps in
developing the moral compass of behaviour. Using monthly CHARACTER FIRST! Bulletins
provides focus, allowing a person to concentrate on discovering and understanding the nature,
importance, and benefit of one specific character quality and to practise responding to many
different situations with good character.
Character First in Kumasi

Denton: But Rev Sam, some of these programmes and initiatives are not new and is this
not a foreign programme that will come and go again?

Oppong: One thing I have learnt over the years is that a program like this will work when we as
Ghanaians take ownership thereof; that we contextualise it for our culture; and those who train
us listen to our needs and help us to implement it. Listening to us in Ghana is crucial, and
commanding or telling us to take it or leave it won’t work for us. That is why I have attended
these sessions three times and am so convinced that we are doing it the right way. We are now
full strategic partners and character champions and are working together with the founders of
these programmes. They have helped us to own it and reproduce the material, and have left all
their examples with us for implementation. Even those we can adjust to fit the price and what is
affordable for our people in Ghana. So, when I see that sprit of listening to each other, I am
indeed excited.

Character First Training session in Takoradi

Denton: Is this just a passing trend or is it sustainable?
Oppong It is definitely sustainable. We need more examples of solid character-based
principles. Just read the following statements by Nelson Mandela and you will see what I mean.

On anger: “Anger is a temporary feeling – you soon forget it, particularly if you are involved in
positive activities and attitudes. It is not easy to remain bitter if one is busy with constructive
things.” On determination: “As long as you have an iron will you can turn misfortune into
advantage.” On health: “The wounds that cannot be seen are more painful than those that can
be treated by a doctor.” On leadership: “It is important to surround yourself with strong and
independent personalities, who will tell you when you are getting old.” On tolerance: “You
should be tolerant to those who have views that are different to yours, because you will win by
the correctness of the position that you take.”

Denton: How would you like to expand the vision of Character First training in Ghana?
Oppong: I believe we should take the Character First series into all the influence spheres, for
example education. With regard to education we could provide training and curricula that will
challenge students to demonstrate respectful and honourable qualities in school and at home.
We also want to equip cities and national leaders with resources, training and a forum to
promote the implementation of character-building programmes and initiatives among their
people. Executive Director Kusi Boachie Yiadom is helping me do that.

Executive Director Kusi Boachie Yiadom

Denton: Who will support you with the implementation and what are your immediate
Oppong: We have decided to focus in the short term on getting business, faith-based
organisations and school teachers to be trained.

Denton: So you would like to be accountable for faith-based organisations and
families? How can families achieve true success by applying these principles?
Oppong: Lasting solutions to family struggles come as family members develop character
qualities such as obedience, sensitivity and forgiveness. By emphasising, requiring, and
recognising positive character qualities, you can help your children reach their full potential.

Character First! provides a unique approach to personal growth with training and practical
resources based on 49 specific character qualities. The Character First! Family Seminar is
designed to help you and your family work together to achieve true success.

Denton: How will this training strengthen family relationships?
Oppong: This exciting training will give you practical insights into how character relates to
family relationships, child developments, praise, correction, and other aspects of your life.
The Family Seminar uses live presentation, dynamic visuals and a short video drama to
show how you can make character a priority in your home. Have you ever wondered why
some families get along peacefully and find true contentment, while others are ravaged by
anger, bitterness, and division? Common experience indicates money, education and
opportunities do not solve these challenges. Come to the Family Seminar and discover the
difference character can make in your life and your family.

Denton: Take me through what you will do in the one-day training and what the
outcome will be.
Oppong: The one-day training will include the following:
Why build Character in the family: Learn and discuss why building character is important for your
How to build character: Discover the secrets to building a culture of character in your family.
Building Character with praise: Learn how to emphasise character in your family.
How to make an appeal: Work through the differences of opinion by making an effective appeal.
Character-based correction: Get to the heart of problems instead of dealing with surface issues.
How to teach a character quality: Familiarise yourself with tools and resources for studying
Get started
The outcomes will be to build strong family relationships, develop respect and harmony,
praise children effectively, resolve relationship tensions, identify and minimise challenging
behavioural problems, and improve parental unity.

Denton: How can people and organisations in Ghana get involved and implement
Character First?
Oppong: They can register to receive the Character First newsletter, get trained as a
Character First champion in various spheres like government, police, business and education
and faith-based organisations, implement Character First interventions in their business and
community, and order monthly Character First bulletins and resources.

Denton: What will the rest of the team do, for example Kusi Boachie and the two
Oppong: We have identified various influential spheres and each one of us will focus on rolling
Character First out in our areas of expertise.

Denton: Any final thoughts or a message for the people of Ghana? And how can people
get involved?
Oppong: Let me close with what you have said a couple of times: “Be a student of God’s
character first for the rest of your life because it matters, it works, it lasts, it counts and it
leads to genuine and real transformation. It will help you to make the rest of your life
truly the best part of your life. Don’t fit in, rather stand out and make a significant impact
by not only finishing strongly, but also finishing with your calling”.
Yes, we need support and prayers to take Character First deeper in to all our influential
spheres in Ghana.

Denton: Rev Sam, a great friend of mine, John Burnett of Character First, Oklahoma,
said the following to me: “Character is not only the stimulus, but also the source and
sustainer of life − that is the character of Christ”.” You are a blessing. Go and make the

Mario Denton MBA, PhD and Industrial Psychologist, holds a doctorate in Organisational
Behaviour and Business administration. He uses his strong academic and corporate
background and his uniquely effective coaching skills to help organisations tap into their
potential to make a difference in the workplace. You can contact him at

Sam Oppong holds a Post-graduate Diploma in Missiology and worked with Ghana Evangelism
Committee for 17 years (1975 – 1992). He was also a member of the team that conducted the
first-ever national church survey in Ghana. He is the Director of African Leadership Ghana and
Leadership Ministries International Ghana. You can contact him by email at
or by phone on 233-208118209.

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