You asked, I answered: A conversation between Tony Elumelu and group of business leaders on leadership.
Leadership is about how we lead people to deliver results. Leadership is about bringing consistency between the internal and the external. Leadership is about instilling confidence in your people, because as a leader, you hardly ever operate on your own. Great leaders deliver through people.
Leadership is more successful when it is purpose-driven, when it is accompanied by vision. Leadership is impactful when there is a high sense of urgency. We need purposeful leaders in Africa to lead us, we need African countries to become much more successful than we are today. This requires visionary leadership.
To raise the standard of living of our people in Africa, we need accountable and purposeful leadership!
Leadership is not by accident, leaders are made and those who think legacy, those who are concerned about how history will judge them, most times turn out to be outstanding leaders. In Africa, both private and public sectors, we need such leaders. As a continent, we are endowed with so much, the truth is that we should not be where we are.
I would say that people make all the difference. In my opinion, strategy is less than 10% of what leads to success. What leads to success is execution, and execution does not occur if you do not have the right people. But even if you have the right people and you are not able to mobilise them, you will not get the best out of them.
I would also say amongst many other things, the most critical success factor is the people equation – getting the right people, incentivising them, creating a feeling of friendship, making people stand up to go to work for a generational purpose, and making them feel valued and important.
At times, what people want is not so much; they just want recognition, respect and a leader who points them in the right direction. To inspire confidence in your people, you must create, as much as possible, a merit driven organisation and environment. What I always say to leaders seeking advice is: focus on the people equation, they make the most difference. There are a lot of other factors, but this is most important.
First thing is do they exist? Yes! Some people might call them laggards, and yet others may label them as people who do not conform with the attitude and culture you desire as an organisation. I personally call them leprous fingers – and you must exorcise as soon as possible! If you let it linger, it spreads and it affects the other fingers.But before you exorcise, explore how you can treat that leprous finger. How do you do so? You do so by counselling, retraining, mediating, and correction. However, if the person persists, please don’t hesitate in ejecting deviants. In the private sector, if you fail to make the right judgement, the market place will discipline you thoroughly for harbouring nonconformists in your organisation.
First is this: give everyone the benefit of doubt. I think most people want to conform, want to possess the value of being disciplined. This is where training and development comes in, it makes a lot of difference in the company environment. People make some honest mistakes because they have not been trained properly.
Another issue is clarity of purpose. People need to fully understand the vision. Sometimes, people make mistakes out of ignorance. You correct them but as I say to leaders, you must be fair but firm. An organisation where you are fair but firmness is lacking, you won’t make much progress. If you are firm but not fair, you won’t get it right.
So, discipline for me starts from people understanding the rules, the "dos and the don’ts". Training people and incentivising them to behave appropriately and when some deviate, you must deal with that situation because a lot of others are watching. You must correct these mistakes for the good of the organisation. You do it not because it is what you would like to do, but because it is what you must do to succeed as a Group.
I think if you prioritise your people’s interests, they will prioritize your vison. If you put your people first, they will put your mission and purpose first. Personally, I have made some sacrifices. But when you enjoy what you do, it is not a chore, it’s something you are personally happy to do.
The same way, if your people connect with your mission and they are passionate about what they are doing, they are prepared to undergo a few inconveniences here and there. You work and deliver results through people, and if those people are positively mobilized you will succeed, if they are not positively mobilized, you will not succeed.
Tony O. Elumelu is an entrepreneur and a philanthropist. The chairman of Heirs Holdings, United Bank for Africa Plc and Transcorp Nigeria Plc. In his early career, he made a name for himself by turning the nearly bankrupt Standard Trust Bank into a top-five player in Nigeria. In 2005 he led the largest merger in the banking sector in sub-Saharan Africa, acquiring United Bank for Africa (UBA). In five years, he transformed it from a single-country bank to a pan-African institution with over 7 million customers in 19 African countries. Click here to find out more about him.