Leadership Made in Africa with Modupe TAYLOR-PEARCE: The five C’s of a great employee – Chemistry


Last week, I shared thoughts on the 5 C’s for a great employee (Competence, Character, Culture, Calling, and Chemistry). Over the next five weeks, I will be expanding on each one of the C’s, not only on what they mean, but on strategies for assessing whether the employee you are about to hire possesses this facet for your organization. In this article we will explore the importance of chemistry.


Words can mean different things to different people. I recall in the late 1980s when I was attending school in Kenya. My parents were excited about the fact that I was attending a school that was teaching computers and programming (an expensive novelty in those days) and they were happily paying a huge chunk of their missionary salaries for my tuition in the private school.

The problem was that I hated the school. I did not get along with many of the students there, who were mainly Kenyans of Indian descent and either spoke with an Indian accent (which I could not understand) or a British accent (which I understood even less). The British accent came from the fact that a majority of the teachers in the school were British (which was probably why the school was so expensive).

In computer class, our teacher was a grisly old man –I thought he was 70 years old at the time, but it turns out he was just 50 – who was a chain-smoker and was only interested in teaching students who were interested in learning computers, and this did not include me. Luckily (or unluckily) for me, I made friends with an American boy (Richard) who was a wizard in computers. Because there were not enough computers for each student to have one to herself/himself, we shared computers, two students to a computer.

I was happy, during class to keep Richard entertained with a constant stream of jokes while he did the classwork on the computer for the two of us. Indeed, we had great chemistry because he loved my sense of humor and I enjoyed his acerbic wit which usually targeted our teacher for his garish choice of clothing, unkempt hair, and bad breath.

In the end, though, Mr. Smith (an alias I am using for him to protect his good name) got the last laugh. In my report card he commented, even though my grade was a “B+”, that “Modupe has formed a symbiotic partnership with Richard; he provides verbal entertainment while Richard does the class work. I wonder if he plans to learn programming via osmosis.”

I was forced to defend myself that evening at home as my parents demanded to know why I was not paying attention in computer class. I made the point to them that I must be paying attention because I earned a B+. My father calmly asked me, “What language do you use to program in class?” I was confused by the question because as a result of not paying attention, I had no idea that we were using a programming language called BASIC. Not wanting to look or sound stupid, I blurted out the first “good” answer that came to mind: “Daddy, we program in ENGLISH.” Needless to say, I had just proven Mr. Smith’s case to my father. My chemistry with Richard was rewarded by the withholding of privileges for me until I adopted a better learning posture in class!

Chemistry is an emotional and psychological interaction between people. When bringing on new people onto your team, it is important to assess whether you have chemistry with them and whether or not they have chemistry with their future teammates.

One of my colleagues (I’ll call her “Regina”) tells me that prior to working in our organization, she worked in another company for a supervisor that she simply did not like and could not stand. She was not sure what caused the negative emotional reaction to him, but she did not enjoy how he made her feel. I asked her whether he made any sexual advances toward her and she informed me that he did not.

Yet, during the time she worked with him, she would find herself looking forward to Fridays with eager anticipation and by Sunday evening, she would start to feel physically sick as she stressed over the prospect of returning to work in the company of this supervisor. Her productivity suffered as a result and eventually, when she decided to take a break from work, her supervisor was only too happy to grant Regina her freedom.

If an employee does not get along with or is not liked by her/his boss, it spells doom for the employee. If an employee does not get along with or is not liked by her/his colleagues, it negatively impacts the company’s performance as the team will not perform well together, the employee will not perform optimally, and the colleagues will also perform sub-optimally as they seek ways to avoid dealing with the employee.

Companies and organizations are replete with issues like this; recently one such issue was played out in front of the entire world as Cristiano Ronaldo the world-famous footballing legend, developed chemistry issues with his teammates at Manchester United Football Club and later on at the Portuguese National Football team in 2022 before and during the World Cup, a tournament that ended with Ronaldo being benched by his coaches in favor of other players and eventually being released by Manchester United Football Club.

Human beings are creatures of emotion. We all want to be liked and prefer to be around people that make us feel good about ourselves. According to Maya Angelou, “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” When we feel loved, appreciated, valued, liked, we perform better.

When we feel disrespected, ignored, put down, disliked, ostracized, belittled or rejected, we lose our motivation to perform. While it is true that one can generate short-term bursts of productivity from others by putting them under stress and getting them to feel fear or terrorized, this emotion does not last long and does not produce lasting productivity.

So it is important, when bringing on new employees, to assess whether they have chemistry with their supervisor and with their teammates, and with their future subordinates. The new employee’s ability to develop chemistry with others will influence the employee’s productivity and the productivity of the people around him.

So, how does an African leader hire people with the right chemistry for the team?

Dear African leader – do not just involve your team in the hiring process; empower your team to be a part of the hiring decision. Let the prospective employee interact with his/her prospective peers and prospective subordinates prior to making the hiring decision. Too many leaders make the mistake of conducting an interview and having the HR manager conduct an interview and then making the hiring decision.

This is a sub-optimal process for the organization and will generate sub-optimal decisions and results. For best results of getting employees with the right chemistry, make the hiring process and decision-making involve the people who will have to work with the new hire. At BCA Leadership, before we bring on board a BCA Coach the coach has to go through an assessment process to determine her/his competence in coaching.

However, we do not stop there; the coach goes through the process of speaking with three other coaches who are likely to interact with her/him during the coach’s tenure at BCA. This process helps to ensure that as CEO, I am not bringing on someone to BCA Leadership with blinders on. Recently, a world-class bi-lingual coach who joined BCA Leadership commented that the process of coming on board with BCA is “thorough and impressive”. It is one of the reasons why our turnover of coaches is so small; we have learned from experience that when it comes to bringing the right people aboard your organization, there is wisdom in the counsel of many.

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