• Monday, April 15, 2024
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‘By investing in education and embracing technology, Nigeria can truly become the giant of Africa’ -Richard Osibanjo

‘By investing in education and embracing technology, Nigeria can truly become the giant of Africa’ -Richard Osibanjo

With over 20 years of experience working with leaders and managers of small, medium, and large-scale organisations, RICHARD OSIBANJO (PhD) is currently the Chief of Staff and Director of Organisational Transformation at Intel Corporation, and Executive Director/Co-founder of CLG. He is also an executive coach, author and a trusted advisor to executive leaders at Fortune 500 companies. In this interview with KEMI AJUMOBI, he shares on organisational strategies, hope for a greater Nigeria, and the power of transformational leadership. Excerpts.

Who is Richard Osibanjo?

Richard Osibanjo is a leading expert on transformational leadership and senior team performance. He is an author, executive coach, and keynote speaker. His work centers on helping senior leaders energise their organisations with bold, transformational strategies that unlock human potential and new market growth. Now Chief of Staff and Director of Organisational Transformation at the Intel Corporation, and a trusted advisor to executive leaders at Fortune 500 companies.

Osibanjo was born and raised in Nigeria. A chemist by training, he received a B.Sc. in Industrial Chemistry from the University of Ibadan in Nigeria, an M.Sc. in Analytical Chemistry and Environmental Science from Loughborough University in the United Kingdom, and a Ph.D in Chemistry at the University of California, Davis.

Osibanjo started his career in analytical chemistry and became fascinated with the chemistry of people, leadership, and organisations. His journey led him halfway around the world to become a sought after thought leader in transformational and purpose-driven leadership.

Richard has a powerful message for people to lead with purpose, informed by his extraordinary career journey and over 20 years of experience working with leaders and managers of small, medium, and large-scale organisations.

Richard Osibanjo is the Executive Director and Co-founder of CLG, an educational foundation that engages, empowers, and equips emerging leaders and local professionals to discover their potential and accelerate their leadership journey.

He works with minority youth to pursue STEM careers through an innovative, project-based outreach programme. He is a member of the prestigious Marshall Goldsmith 100 group of coaches, and a John Maxwell certified coach, speaker, and trainer. He is a Forbes Columnist on Leadership Strategy, and he resides in Portland, Oregon, with his wife and two sons. He is actively involved with his church and community.

What were the different stages of growth you experienced early in life and what were the influences?

I’m thankful for how I was brought up. My dad, Prof. Oladele Osibanjo, a distinguished Environmental, Analytical Chemistry, and Waste Management Professor, came from a humble background. But he always said that education was his way out of poverty. I remember seeing him stay up until 3 am most nights, then head off to the university at 7am. He was all about books and learning.

My mum, Titilayo Osibanjo (nee Fadoju), who passed away, was an accountant. She was a woman of faith and great with people. Having both of them as parents gave me a good balance in life, and I’m forever grateful for that. My dad taught me the importance of hard work and being excellent at what you do. My mum taught me to always put God first and value relationships. I’m the youngest of three siblings, and I’m lucky to have had them take care of me. Overall, my parents’ teachings have shaped me. They’ve taught me to work hard, be kind, and keep faith at the center of everything. Their lessons continue to guide me every day.

Over 20 years of experience working with leaders and managers of small, medium, and large-scale organisations, share your findings with us.

That’s a great question. Let’s start with what both employers and employees want, no matter how big or small the company is. Employers aim to make money by increasing revenue and cutting costs, and employees want to work for leaders who appreciate their skills and help them grow. Looking at organisations from a leadership perspective, you can break it down into strategy, execution, and culture. From my observations and experience, not many leaders and companies excel in all three areas. Many times, leaders overlook the importance of company culture. As Peter Drucker said, “Strategy eats culture for breakfast.” Regardless of the company’s size, the best leaders I’ve come across are purpose-driven. They have a clear vision, are courageous, and create an atmosphere where their team can flourish. They cultivate membership rather than followership.

Who is a transformational leader?

Transformational leaders are genuine, purpose-driven, and guided by their core values. They recognise that transformation is first an internal job that manifests externally. They deliver results in the present and shape the future by inspiring their organisations and customers to embrace change enthusiastically.

Research indicates that more than 70% of transformations end in failure. The authors of ‘The Founder’s Mentality’ point out that, surprisingly, it is not a result of problems with strategy, technology, or marketing, but rather people issues. This underscores the importance of transformational leaders excelling in the technical aspects of their jobs and understanding and leading people.

An exemplary transformational leader I admire is Howard Schultz, the former CEO and Chairman of Starbucks. He famously stated that Starbucks is a people business serving coffee, not a coffee business serving people. This mindset shift is profound and demonstrates the transformative power of embracing a people-first approach

How does transformational leadership differ from other types of leadership?

In contrast to more traditional approaches, transformational leadership’s primary goal is to inspire and motivate subordinates and stakeholders to perform at a higher level. Transformational leadership focuses on inspiring followers/teams with a compelling vision and ideals, as opposed to transactional leadership, which is more concerned with exchange and negotiation. Ultimately, this style drives organisational change and progress by fostering trust, encouraging creativity, and empowering individuals to attain their greatest potential.

How can a leader develop transformational leadership skills?

A leader’s vision and personal development can limit an organisation’s growth. That’s why it’s essential for leaders to be fully committed to investing in their growth. If leaders don’t grow, it hampers the organisation’s growth too. In today’s fast-changing world, adaptability is key. Leaders must evolve with the changes to stay relevant. They shouldn’t aim to be the smartest person in the room but rather act as facilitators, not dictators.

In Nigeria, we have a strong cultural value of respecting elders, which is great. However, we must ensure this ‘respectful culture’ doesn’t overshadow the best ideas. While age brings experience and wisdom, it doesn’t always have all the answers. We should prepare and empower the younger generation for leadership roles while providing them with mentorship from those with more experience.

Having a sense of personal, national, and corporate purpose is another crucial aspect of transformational leadership. It’s vital for winning the hearts of both employees and customers. Truly great organisations go beyond just making money; they aim to enhance the lives of their employees, contribute positively to communities, and protect the environment.

How does transformational leadership contribute to organisational growth and success?

You’ve touched on a crucial point. Organisations and leaders must embrace change in today’s AI-driven world or risk falling behind those who do. Just look at how disruptors like Lyft, Uber, and others have transformed the taxi industry. Transformational leaders are essential for navigating this era of uncertainty while staying true to their core values.

For Africa, especially Nigeria, embracing AI is key to leapfrogging into the future. We’re yet to experience our industrial revolution, and AI presents an opportunity to accelerate progress. While there are concerns about job displacement, I believe it’s more about a shift in skills and opportunities. Countries like India have prioritised education and are reaping the benefits.

Education is indeed the cornerstone of progress. Access to resources, especially in the digital age is vital. However, challenges like access to computers, electricity, and affordable textbooks persist. Visionary leadership is needed to address these obstacles and unlock the potential of our people.

Despite the challenges, Nigerians excel globally in tech, sports, and the arts, highlighting our abundant human resources. We need more leaders who prioritise education and innovation. By investing in education and embracing technology, Nigeria can truly become the giant of Africa.

You partner with minority youths to pursue STEM careers through an innovative, project-based outreach programme. How do you do this?

I actively engage globally with various organisations, universities, and schools to achieve this. In the United States, there exists a disparity between minority students and the majority population in STEM fields. To address this gap, I collaborate with different organisations to foster leadership skills among executives, emerging leaders, and students, thus enabling them to turn their vision, technical ideas, and innovations into reality. Representation plays a significant role, and my background, holding BSc, MSc, and PhD degrees in Chemistry, coupled with my senior leadership position in a tech company, positions me to bridge the gap effectively.

In Africa and specifically in Nigeria, I work alongside various organisations to empower leaders with the skills necessary to shape the future and make a positive impact. I aim to cultivate a generation of purpose-driven leaders who can drive innovation and progress in their respective fields through training programmes, workshops, and mentorship initiatives. By providing guidance and support, I hope to contribute to building a more inclusive and prosperous future for Nigeria and beyond.

As a co-founder of Connect, Learn, Grow (CLG), share what the company is about with us

CLG is a cohort-based leadership programme designed to empower executives and emerging leaders locally in Portland, and globally. Over the course of 4 to 6 weeks, participants engage in an intensive leadership curriculum aimed at equipping them with essential skills, expanding their networks, and providing resources to pursue their aspirations.

My primary responsibilities within CLG revolve around facilitation and convening. I play a pivotal role in guiding participants through the programme, facilitating discussions, and orchestrating collaborative learning experiences. Additionally, I work closely with the team to ensure that the programme runs smoothly and effectively meets the needs of the participants.

One of the most rewarding aspects of CLG is witnessing the meaningful connections that emerge among participants as they learn and grow together. It’s truly inspiring to see individuals come together, support one another, and embark on transformative journeys toward realising their full potential. As a co-founder, I am committed to fostering an environment where leadership flourishes, and dreams are realised.

What are your responsibilities as Chief of Staff and Director of Organisational Transformation at Intel Corporation?

As the Chief of Staff and Director of Organisational Transformation at Intel, I work closely with my boss and various stakeholders to ensure that our organisation operates as a cohesive and effective system. Our focus is aligning our compelling strategy, execution, and culture to create world-changing technology that improves the lives of everyone on the planet.

According to my boss, Hamid, our objective for the employees is to create an inclusive workplace where people can bring their authentic selves, do their best work, and enjoy the experience. This involves ensuring that our employees understand the overarching strategy, its relevance to their roles, day-to-day activities, and its impact on our broader mission. Execution is important for us to meet our customer commitments. So, managing stakeholders, having a robust system for tracking objectives and key results, and holding individuals accountable are vital for creating a high-performing organisation. Collaboration among teams is encouraged, with an emphasis on effective communication and information flow across all levels and departments.

In addition to strategic alignment, I emphasise the importance of managing the people side of change. As an executive coach, I recognise the significance of leadership alignment and team performance. I collaborate with leadership teams to facilitate alignment, foster high performance, and mitigate issues such as office politics or personality clashes that may detract from our collective goals.

Celebrating milestones along the transformation journey is essential for maintaining morale and motivation. Cultivating a culture of ownership among employees, where they feel personally invested in our mission, is key to sustained success. By prioritising communication, collaboration, accountability, and celebration, we strive to build a dynamic and resilient organisation poised for continued growth and success.

Among various alternatives, why the choice to work at Intel?

Intel holds a deep and personal significance for me. As an international student, navigating the challenges of securing visa sponsorship after completing my studies felt like climbing a steep hill. Intel was the company that opened the door for me, providing not just sponsorship but also invaluable support for my growth and development. Also, it is a privilege to be working with one of the most advanced technology companies in the world, and with the smartest people. The icing on the cake for me is that Intel is a mission driven company. Our goal is to use our technology for good.

My journey with Intel underscores the transformative power of opportunity and support. As I continue to contribute to the organisation’s success, I remain committed to creating an inclusive and empowering environment where individuals can thrive and realise their full potential.

What does Nigeria need to do to fix the myriad of challenges we are in today? From challenges of FX, to high cost of living, fuel price hike and more, what advise do you have for Nigerians, corporates and the federal government?

I love Nigeria, and it will always be in my heart. Growing up in Nigeria and completing my bachelor’s degree here has been a journey filled with invaluable lessons and experiences. Despite the challenges, I have no regrets; the resourcefulness and resilience ingrained in the Nigerian mindset have been invaluable gifts. The Naija spirit of not giving up, regardless of the obstacles, is something I deeply cherish.

While I don’t possess a magic solution to fix Nigeria’s challenges, I firmly believe that we can learn essential lessons from successful nations to accelerate our growth. Tackling insecurity and having a stable economy is job number one. In addition to this, we need to have a clear vision for Nigeria: who are we as a people? What are our values? What can we expect from our government, and what are the responsibilities of the citizenry?

A compelling vision has the power to unite Nigeria. As the saying goes, “My people perish without a vision.” It’s imperative that we transcend political affiliations, tribal divisions, or religious differences and unite under a common vision for the nation. This vision should extend beyond election cycles, political party affiliations, short-term programmes, and initiatives and remain steadfast through changing political landscapes.

A country divided against itself cannot progress. We must strive to overcome tribalism and religious divisions that undermine our unity as Nigerians. It’s essential to foster trust and collaboration among all citizens, irrespective of their backgrounds.

As an optimist, I am hopeful for the success of President Tinubu’s administration. I urge the government to prioritise defining, describing, and delivering on the Nigerian vision. This transcendent vision would serve as a legacy for generations to come, guiding our collective efforts toward a prosperous and inclusive future.

Finally, as Nigerian citizens, we must heed the call to action. Drawing inspiration from JFK’s famous words, “Do not think about what your country can do for you, think about what you can do for your country,” we must each play our part in building a better Nigeria. No one else will come to save us; we are responsible for creating a nation that works for everyone. Let us unite under a shared vision for Nigeria and commit ourselves to collective action towards a brighter future for our beloved country.

There are several Nigerians like you doing great things. How does it make you feel knowing perhaps, it could have been better if you were all here?

I am unsure if things would have been better if the people abroad had all returned. Why? A rose plant will struggle to grow in sandy soil. The government and leaders are responsible for fostering an environment where people can grow. Without that, even people from the best universities with world-class experiences will struggle. That said, having Nigerians with international exposure and diverse experiences can be a tremendous asset in accelerating the growth and development of our country. Diversity of thought, background, and perspective enriches any nation and fosters innovation and progress.

It’s inspiring to see how other countries, like China, the Middle East, and India, prioritise sending their citizens abroad for education and then leveraging their knowledge and skills to contribute to their country’s development upon returning home. Similarly, Nigeria can benefit immensely from nurturing a globally connected and diverse talent pool. By encouraging Nigerians to pursue international education and experiences and then providing opportunities for them to apply their learning back home, we can harness their expertise and creativity to address the challenges and seize the opportunities facing our nation. The question for our international and domestic folks is, do we have enough jobs to go around in Nigeria? Do we have the infrastructure, and systems to support advanced technology for those trained abroad? Is there a feeling of safety in Nigeria?

Like many Nigerians, I have faced challenges because of my green passport. For instance, a bank randomly canceled my account several years ago due to my Nigerian passport. Fortunately, my boss at the time knew the bank manager and vouched for me, resulting in the account being reopened. Despite these obstacles, I remain loyal and firmly believe in Nigeria’s future. I believe that though weeping may endure for a night, joy will come in the morning.

What do you hope for Nigeria? What are you doing to make this a reality?

My dream for Nigeria is that one day, we will take our place in the commonwealth of nations as a prosperous country. We will become a country where, if you have a dream and are willing to work hard, anything is possible. Singapore was transformed from a third-world country to a first-world country. They are not better than us, so I believe we can do it!

I dream that we are a country where we see ourselves first as Nigerians before tribe, ethnicity, or religion. I hope we move on from our past of distrust and, under a common purpose, we can become a united Nigeria. One country, one people, and one dream that is indivisible under God!

Despite being the only one among my siblings born in Nigeria and facing several visa denials from embassies, I never felt bad about it. I firmly believed that there was a purpose for my being born in Nigeria. I trust that God doesn’t make mistakes. With this belief, wherever my purpose in life takes me, I strive to be a brand ambassador for Nigeria. I am proud of my Nigerian heritage.

I use my influence and voice to encourage investors to invest in Nigeria. As an executive coach, leadership, and organisation development expert, I invest in developing a generation of purpose-driven leaders by partnering with various organisations in Nigeria and beyond.

What is your take on “Japa”?

The perception that meritocracy doesn’t exist in Nigeria is a significant challenge. It often seems that success depends on factors like who you know, your tribe, or your religion. For those with international exposure or aspirations, it can be disheartening to see that their skills are valued more outside the country, where success is based on merit rather than connections.

Regardless of where we live, our basic human needs remain the same. We all want to feel safe, have access to essentials like clothing, shelter, and food, and not worry about basic necessities like fuel, electricity, water, and healthcare. Tragically, personal experiences, like my mother’s misdiagnosis and subsequent death due to inadequate healthcare, highlight the urgent need for improvement in our systems.

As a Nigerian, I deeply desire to invest in my home country and witness its prosperity. However, for many, the lack of an enabling environment makes settling and thriving in Nigeria challenging. It’s crucial for the government to create conditions where everyone has a fair chance at success, leading to more Nigerians returning home to contribute positively to the nation’s growth.

Accessibility and efficiency in government services, such as obtaining passports, are essential for fostering patriotism and pride in our country. It’s disheartening to have to travel long distances to acquire a Nigerian passport while everything can be done conveniently from home in other countries. Simplifying bureaucratic processes and making life easier for citizens are crucial steps in fostering patriotism and national pride.

Furthermore, recent news of British lawyers being permitted to practice law in Nigeria raises questions about reciprocity and fairness. It’s essential for Nigeria to assert itself on the global stage and ensure that our professionals are treated equally abroad. This requires a commitment to principles of equity, mutual respect, and recognition of our intellectual capacity, even as we continue to develop as a nation.

In essence, to truly embrace Nigerian pride, we must demand and work towards equality on the global stage, while striving for improvement and progress within our own borders. Our potential as a nation is limitless, and it’s time for us to realise it by championing principles of fairness, inclusivity, and respect for all.

As a trusted advisor to executive leaders at Fortune 500 companies, how have you been able to earn and retain their trust in you?

Trust is a two-way street, built on consistency and integrity. It’s about delivering on promises and becoming a person of unwavering integrity. As John Maxwell wisely puts it, “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Consistently following through on commitments and demonstrating integrity in all actions are essential for earning trust. People need to know that they can rely on you to do what you say you’ll do. Moreover, showing genuine care and empathy for others goes a long way in building trust and rapport.

In essence, trust is cultivated through a combination of reliability, honesty, and genuine concern for others’ well-being. By embodying these qualities, we can establish strong and enduring relationships built on trust and mutual respect.

To every Nigerian out there who has lost hope, what do you have to say to them?

It’s a tough question, especially since I’m not currently living in Nigeria, and I worry my comments might come off as disingenuous. But here’s the thing: if you lose hope, what’s the alternative? Grief, disappointment, and unforgiveness are even heavier burdens to carry.

I’ve faced some incredibly difficult personal circumstances, from the heartbreaking loss of my mother to the upheaval of leaving the UK because my visa wasn’t renewed. Through it all, I never lost hope. Yes, humans, governments, institutions, friends, and even family members can let us down, but I’ve learned to keep my hope and faith in God.

I believe that even in the darkest moments, God can provide ideas, clarity, and direction. Whether finding a way forward or making one, holding onto hope has always led me to brighter paths. So, no matter the challenges, I always choose hope over despair. To be clear, faith is not an excuse not to hold our leaders responsible.

Concluding words

In the words of Robert Schuller, “Tough times never last, but tough people do.” Every problem has an expiration date, and every mountain has a peak. These words resonate deeply with me, especially during challenging times.

I’m reminded of the stirring lines of our national anthem:

“Arise, O Compatriots,

Nigeria’s call obey

To serve our Fatherland

With love and strength and faith.

The labour of our heroes past

Shall never be in vain,

To serve with heart and might

One nation bound in freedom, peace, and unity.”

These words encapsulate the spirit of resilience and determination that runs through the fabric of our nation. They inspire us to rise above adversity and serve our country with unwavering love, strength, and faith. They remind us of the sacrifices made by those who came before us and urge us to carry their legacy forward with pride and dedication.

Regardless of our challenges, let us draw strength from our national anthem and remain steadfast in our commitment to building a united, peaceful, and prosperous Nigeria for all.