Leading Ivestment Company in Africa

How to become #TOEWay Certified (Part Two): Must-read lessons from Jaji

Leadership is actually a very exciting topic. Exciting to me for a variety of reasons:

1) It is the reason a country is developed and another country is not developed.
2) It is the reason one country is successful and another country is failing.
3) It is the difference between poverty and prosperity.

Thus, every opportunity to discuss and examine leadership is a welcome opportunity to me, and to most people who want to see development and prosperity – especially those who have suffered in poverty. Leadership should excite everyone.

Do you wonder why a country can be greatly endowed and yet its people live in so much poverty? Or why a country that is not endowed enjoys prosperity, while the one that is greatly endowed lives in poverty?
The reason is leadership.

If you stretch this to the private sector, you might also wonder why two companies that set out the same time with the same license, 10 years, 20 years, 50 years down the line, one succeeds and becomes global, and the other company fails? The reason is leadership.

Leadership should excite people who want to know why, as I said before, in the case of two countries, one succeeds, and one fails despite having more resources. The same as the case of two companies which started out the same time, in the same environment, yet one succeeds and the other flounders. The writing on the wall is that leadership should be taken very seriously.

And so, when I got an invitation from the Armed Forces Command and Staff College to share my perspective on private sector leadership, I thought it was indeed another great effort by a historic institution to further advance the issues and national discourse on leadership.

Why do some leaders get it right and others fail to get it right? Is there destiny involved in the issue of leadership? Are some people destined to become good leaders and others not destined for such? Leadership to me in public sector is actually not different from leadership in the private sector, the same values cut across both realms:


1) Leaders are made and not born:

Although certain factors shape whether a leader succeeds, or what makes a great leader, these factors are not necessarily destiny-driven factors. They are man-made factors that an individual can use to succeed.

Some leaders succeed and others fail because those who succeed have a purpose. They realize that leadership without purpose or mission is a curse. To them, occupying an office on its own is not an end but a means to an end. That is the fulfilment of the purpose of that office. Those who succeed are driven by a mission. There is no happenstance in leadership. It is deliberate, people prepare for leadership.

We need purposeful leaders in Africa to give us direction. We need African companies to become much more successful than they are today. This requires leadership. We need to raise the standard of living of our people, this also requires leadership. We need to work together, be relentless and unforgiving until we get what has been lacking on our continent to set us apart.


2) Great leaders consider their legacy:

Those leaders who succeed are leaders who think about legacy, those leaders who are concerned about how history would judge them and how history will write about them. They understand that leadership opportunities don’t last forever. They understand that to succeed in business you have to lead well. They understand that you don’t suddenly become successful if you don’t plan to be successful.

Those leaders who succeed are leaders who think about legacy, those leaders who are concerned about how history would judge them and how history will write about them. They understand that leadership opportunities don’t last forever. They understand that to succeed in business you have to lead well. They understand that you don’t suddenly become successful if you don’t plan to be successful.

Leadership is not by accident. Leaders are made, and those who think legacy those who are concerned about legacy, about how history will judge them, most times turn out to become outstanding leaders.

In Africa, both private and public sector we need leaders. As a continent, we are endowed with so much we should not be where we are.


3) Quality of decisions:

Topnotch leaders make sound decisions. They understand that the difference between a successful leader and a failed leader lies in the quality and rigour of the decisions they make. They understand that great leaders put the end in view in every action they take. They know they have to make sound decisions and they also understand that sound decisions do not necessarily have to be populist. They understand they have to make tradeoffs.


4) A sense of urgency:

Good leaders know and understand that leaders who succeed are leaders who have a sense of urgency. They know that time has no patience with anyone.
I believe that leadership is the same, whether public or private sector. The difference between public sector leadership and private sector leadership at times is the fact that private sector is less forgiving and you don’t often get a second opportunity.

In the private sector, you have a critical role to play, therefore you must create a sense of urgency and play it well to succeed. If you fail, you have no second opportunity.

Good leaders create a sense of urgency and a sense of dissatisfaction with the status quo. It is when you are dissatisfied with the status quo that you are keen to bring change. When you are content and happy with everything you are not hungry for progress.


5) They are aware of the consequences of failure:

In the private sector, leadership has consequences. Private sector leaders know that you either succeed or you fail, and they know that success has a huge price.

They also know that success comes with significant rewards. They understand that because the private sector is less forgiving, once you fail, you fail hard, thus, they try not to fail. They understand that success or failure has personal consequences and impact, so the fear of failure drives and shapes private sector leadership.

They understand that the glory of success motivates and often there is a direct correlation between successful leadership and the good things that follow. In the private sector, the market punishes a bad or weak leader.


6) Define what success means to you:

Successful leaders define what success means so that when they succeed it is not by chance. They understand it, they define it. They don’t just take a role, they fully understand the role, and understand what it takes to succeed in it.

Define what success means so that when success comes you can recognize it. Great leaders know when they are succeeding, they also know when they are failing.


7) Employ the use of indicators and milestones:

Great leaders set targets for themselves. They put in place KPIs that guide what they do. They are guided by figures that make it clear when they are succeeding and when they are failing. So, there is no visit of sycophancy.

Great leaders make use of and celebrate milestones. Leadership is a journey and isn’t accomplished in one day. The right thing is to put in place milestones and timeframes because it’s a long-term game.

In our case, when we created some of these milestones and accomplished some results, it gave us more confidence because everyone now felt they could do even more. This is why we are able to achieve all that we achieved in the period we achieved them.

Outstanding leaders set milestones, and when accomplished, their people get more confident and think they can do more.


8) Successful leaders are not scared of constructive criticisms:

They are not scared of alternative viewpoints. Successful leaders embrace diversity in thought, they encourage it. They harness diversity for good purpose.

They are not scared of differences in thought, they encourage people who have divergent views to come up with new perspectives. Rather than kill those initiatives, they even try to see how they can improve those perspectives.


9) Managing diverse stakeholders:

Good leaders define leadership as the ability to manage internal and external stakeholders to deliver the goals that have been set.

They are not just internal leaders, they lead within and outside. They bring consistency to both external and internal affairs because they understand that the two factors act together to shape success.


10) They are purpose-driven:

In 1997, I assembled a group of professionals and we took over a distressed bank. At the time, we were all very young. I think I was the oldest and I was 34 years old at the time.

Great leaders set the purpose and define it, and indeed when I look at some of our leaders on the continent of Africa, I often tell myself that it could be that some leaders don’t have a personal vision and a purpose for what they want to deliver and how they want to deliver it.

We had a laser focus purpose on what we wanted to do. We had a goal: To turn around this distressed bank we had acquired. Having set our purpose, we defined what the purpose meant. One of the attributes of a great leader is that you must define the purpose and break it down so that everyone in the chain and command not only understand the purpose but buy into it.

People don’t buy into a vision they don’t understand, so you must define, break it down and mobilize everyone. Make sure everyone knows what role he or she is to play to make the goal happen, and break it down in such a way that if people are pushing in the right direction, they know they are contributing to that purpose. If they are not, they know they are taking away from that purpose. We did this and there was clarity at all levels.

The lesson here is that leaders set purpose and priorities, they break it down, provide clarity, mobilize people so everyone knows what role they play and how he or she can play a role to achieve the goal.

Through our achievements, we demonstrated that this was not a wasted generation. Our people woke up and went to work because of this generational commitment to show that this generation can make a difference, and they did make a difference.

We identified a higher purpose and sense of corporate mission. We lived by it and exemplified it and let outsiders see it in everything that we did. It became our guiding manifesto and formed our culture. We became missionaries of our purpose, it was no longer a one-man mission, a Tony mission, instead all of us had one mission.

What leaders must do is that we must our purpose to a level where it goes beyond you, and others become even more passionate about the big mission you have.


11) Putting together the right resources:

In addition to setting the goals, we knew we had to assemble resources, because if you have a purpose and you don’t execute it is a failed effort. To execute your purpose some things must happen, one is resource provision.

When we started the bank, we knew that we must assemble the right human, financial, machinery, technology resource etc. We hired the right people, we estimated what we needed regarding technology and other key areas. We went to raise money to ensure we acquired the right technology and resources.

Great leaders understand that their people cannot perform miracles if they don’t provide resources for the tasks. Great leaders know that they themselves don’t have to fight a battle but all they need is to provide and mobilise resources. We created the right conditions for success by hiring the right people and providing skilled resources required for our people to succeed.


12) People, people, people!

We also focused on the people equation. We realized that it was all about people. Everything about leadership to a large extent is about people: managing people, directing, guiding, leading. That is what it’s all about.

We realized that to win to a large extent depends on getting the right people. And so we hired right, trained them, and instilled self-confidence in our people. We made our people feel they were the best and they became the best. This is the reason why when I hear some leaders say my people are lazy, my people are corrupt, I cringe because inadvertently your people become how you describe them.

They become what you say they are. I can’t overemphasize, this matter is so important. When people criticize their people I cringe, I wonder if they know what they’re doing. You can criticise objectively in a certain way that leads to improvement, but not to talk down and kill their spirit.

Great leaders instil a great sense of confidence in their people. You make your people think they can walk on waters and indeed they will walk on waters if you make them feel so. We also created a reward system with incentives that encouraged and shaped the right attitudes in our people. This made them soar perform excellently.

Because we gave our people confidence, because we made them know they could walk on water, they performed miracles. The distressed bank we took over, within 8 -10 years, we had grown this bank to the level where the then Standard Trust Bank merged with the 3rd largest bank in Nigeria. We became a huge financial services Group, a force to be reckoned with. This was because we shared a common purpose. We defined that purpose clearly and we mobilized everyone while making them understand they were indeed catalytic to achieving the vision.

Leadership means to a large extent, the ability to mobilise and galvanise people. If your people are mobilised, they make great things happen. Having achieved our Tier 1 feat, becoming one of the top 3 banks in Nigeria – in fact at some point the biggest in terms of asset base and branch network in this country – we had to define a new set, evolve new aspirations. And so, we created the second – we said we should go beyond Nigeria to Africa.

Again, we sat together and asked ourselves what we want to do, how are we going to do it. First, we said Tier 1 intent: let’s be strong in Nigeria. Tier 2 intent was to become a pan-African bank, and Tier 3: let’s have a global footprint in key financial centres of the world today.

Today, UBA operates in 19 African countries – this is a project that commenced in 2007. We now have 1000 branches. UBA operates in London, is the only African bank operating in USA and also has presence in Paris. All this we were able to achieve because of the principles that I have shared here with you.


Conclusion: 5 take-home points

1) Leaders must realise that leadership on its own is not an end, it’s only a means to an end. The end is the purpose of which you have been designated a leader and until that is achieved you cannot relax.

2) Leadership is most successful when it is purpose-driven; when there’s a mission.

3) Leadership is impactful when there’s a high sense of urgency.

4) Leaders don’t succeed without their people. It is how you lead people to deliver results. It is about bringing consistency between the internal and external.

5) Leadership is about instilling confidence in people because as a leader you rarely hardly ever operate on your own. You work and deliver results through people and if those people are positively mobilised they will succeed, if not then you won’t succeed.

Subscribe below to learn more about Heirs Holdings, Tony Elumelu, and HH investments across Africa.