I will start with a few quotes. John F. Kennedy said: “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” Also, Sheryl Sandberg said: “Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.” Furthermore, John C. Maxwell said: “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way.” I began with these quotes because I have come to the realization that there is a difference between being a leader and merely occupying a leadership position — many think bearing leadership titles, occupying big exquisite offices and giving directives is leadership. Though this is a widely held view, it is important to state that is a flawed view.
I consider myself qualified to couch my thoughts as an open letter (rather than do what a million others will do, talk in hush tones behind closed doors): first, I have been privileged to work in four firms that cut across four industries and I have had the opportunity of working closely with those at the management board. Succinctly, I have sat on two management boards. Second, leadership falls within the scope of my area of specialization, Industrial-Organizational Psychology. In addition to these, I have a sense of duty to offer my contribution towards the strengthening of organizations in Nigeria. It is my considered opinion that the right audience for this piece are those responsible for making final and highly influential decisions in organizations.
In my private conversations on organizational leadership, I always say this:‘the quality of leadership of an organization determines the direction the organization is headed and how far it will make it as an entity.’ In my observations of some organizations, I have come to the realization that some company leaders confuse technical skills with leadership skills hence they rely heavily on the former while merely occupying their leadership positions (i.e. they rarely lead). The CEOs of two organizations (I sat on the boards) had the technical skills but lacked leadership skills. Technical skills does not compensate for leadership skills. At CEO level, it becomes less of technical skills and more of strategic leadership, emotional intelligence, accountability etc. You come to the table, every time, with a healthy dose of these attributes and more. Like I mentioned in one of my opinion editorials in BusinessDay titled Executive Leadership: Beyond lengthy experience and executive presence: “competence on a job or different jobs does not necessarily imply leadership skills. Also radiating an aura of gravitas does not mean capacity for effective leadership. It is significant to stress that leadership qualities need to be acquired – this requires some level of training, mentoring and coaching. You prepare before ascending leadership positions and you continue honing your skills when you take the helm.” At this point, I will share a few experiences.
I recall vividly how the head of a management board told me that there was no need for policies and procedures in the company. All attempts to convince this MD/CEO fell flat because the primary concern was about making profit but this MD/CEO failed to understand that to achieve that there was need for expansion of business operations and to guarantee sustainability there was need to give structure to the business. In the course of trying to approve policies, meetings were rescheduled no less than four (4) times within a quarter owing to other members of the board not doing their bit in reviewing those policies as advised and there were no sanctions rather their conducts were excused. The CEO failed to understand that promoting a culture of excellence and responsibility was a leadership duty and this entailed among other things disapproving of actions that were not professional. This experience was somewhat similar to the experience I had in another organization that I was part of the management board.
During my first management meeting with the other board, I presented findings from the research I conducted to gauge employees’ expectations of the organization. It was dismissed with a wave of the hand by the MD/CEO while insisting that the employees had no reason to express expectations as revealed by the survey because they were content. I found this quite worrisome for two reasons: First, the position of the MD/CEO in a typical organizational structure, most times, makes it difficult to truly feel the pulses of employees. Second, you do not dismiss data with sentiments rather you use superior data and superior data in this circumstance was lacking. In the aforementioned opinion editorial, I stated succinctly that “a listening ear and an open mind are indispensable to effective leadership.” I have heard that with some CEOs multiple perspectives from others are not tolerated — I think that is fine insofar as the CEO is infallible and omniscient. Seasoned CEOs understand that they can learn from everyone in their companies (even janitors and chauffeurs) hence the reason they invest heavily in talents and development of those talents. They understand the need to foster a sense of purpose and belonging in their organizations by harmonizing the views of multiple stakeholders. They never dismiss counsel rather they cherish it because they are always mindful of their human limitations.
Never forget that a true and strong organization entails deep and meaningful engagements across board that are aimed at achieving set objectives. I know you are savvy in setting and insisting on achievement of objectives but never fail to ensure that employees are also meaningfully engaged and derive satisfaction while working to achieve those set objectives. See beyond the numbers…remember that behind those financial figures are humans. It is incumbent on you to show leadership in promoting engagement across board. There is more to say but I have said a lot and run out of writing space. Remember that leading a company is a sacred trust – the fate of your company, to a large extent, lies with you. Lead always. Always lead.
Adigwe is a certified Human Resource Management (HRM) professional and an Industrial-Organizational Psychologist. More details can be found on his website: www.adigwejude.com