Following requests made by various people for practical lessons on leadership, Tony Elumelu responded by sharing some nuggets from his own journey in leadership. He shared these twelve tips on leadership to teach others, especially his young followers, the secrets to how he succeeded as an entrepreneur.
“In our world today, there are many “authorities” on leadership. Some, who have not run businesses, base what they write on observation, history, research and interviews. Others, like me, speak about the core principles of leadership, that were learnt and imbibed from decades of experience in running enterprises and gaining first-hand exposure to the thorny fields of the business world,” he explained.
Here are the 12 tips for leadership by Tony Elumelu including a testimonial from Aderemi Adejobi, ex staff of former Standard Trust Bank (STB), a bank which Mr. Elumelu also led. In his comment, Aderemi attested that Mr. Tony lives every inch of what he shared as tips to his followers. Grab a pen and a notepad! :
1. Always persevere:
For my first job in banking, the application requested for only First Class and 2:1 graduates. But because I was relentless and determined to join the bank, I applied despite my 2:2, and wrote a cover letter explaining why I deserved a chance. The good news is that I got in.
We give up too early sometimes. Nothing is impossible. It is only impossible in your brain. Open your mind!
2. No sentiments in leadership:
Let the best person get what he or she deserves. A person should not lose what they are entitled to because they are close to you, the same way another should not benefit unduly because they are close to you. People must earn what they get.
Don’t be overly emotional. Overcome your natural inclination to behave in a certain way and check favouritism. Your organisation should be merit-driven; there should be no “untouchables”, be intolerant
of indiscipline, gossip and backstabbing.
3. Keep your competition on the radar:
Monitor your competition. At all times, you need to know what others are doing. While you should be mindful of any creeping sense of psychological inferiority and avoid being paranoid, do ensure that competition stays on your radar as this is the only way to prevent complacency and being satisfied with mediocrity and old glory.
4. Take the difficult path:
I’m not a shortcut person. I often take the path less taken, the seemingly more difficult path, because I understand that in the long run, this can create monumental impact. All the decisions I have made in life that have helped me were seemingly difficult decisions that ended up being rewarding in the long run. See what others don’t see, stay focused on the long run. As humans, we are used to seeing only the now. It takes the development of the mind to see beyond today.
5. Define your purpose:
In turning around several businesses, we have realised how important defining your firm’s purpose is. One of our country CEOs at UBA transformed the country’s operations for good. In sharing how he achieved this, he told a story of how each staff had the bank’s purpose as their laptop screensaver.
This was the first thing they saw in the morning upon resuming work, and the last thing they saw when leaving. The lesson is that to turn your staff into performers, they must feel committed to a higher purpose. Define your purpose, goal, orientation and focus. This sets the direction.
6. Remain accessible:
As CEO of the then Standard Trust Bank, I sat on the same floor with my executives. This helped to build a strong bond that exists till today. As a leader, do not be far from your people. People must feel that they connect with you as a leader because the truth is people give their best to those they love.
Interact with your people; attend their events, know their family, break artificial barriers because ultimately this kinship helps to achieve great results in the workplace.
7. Get the people equation right:
Here, there are two parts.
i)Hire the right people:
In all organisations I have led, I have been involved in recruitments from top to bottom. This is one responsibility I don’t easily delegate: leaders must be painstaking in choosing people who work with them. One wrong hire can ruin your organisation. Employees must be totally immersed, connected, enthusiastic and passionate. Post-hire, people management is crucial. You can’t be a successful leader if you don’t know how to manage people well, how to motivate people, how to make them happy, how to objectively assess, reward and discipline when necessary. As a rule, those around me must be at least as smart as I am. I surround myself with people I can learn from, people whose expertise complement my own skillset.
Great leaders have a strong culture, an ethos of how things are done. This code is built in their system and they propagate, show, protect it, and don’t tolerate dilution. They are not scared to eject deviants.
8. Age is nothing but a number but remain humble:
I became branch manager of a bank at a very early age of 26. However, I quickly learned that in leadership, age is not a factor. If you have a job to do, do it. Take charge and run the business. You were chosen to be a leader for a reason, get the job done! However, leadership is first amongst equals. It must go with humility. You should not lord it over others.
9. Listen to others:
It is not enough to say that you listen to others, you must practice this. As a leader, should be proactive in hearing from others, you must encourage others to speak up. It is the job of a good leader to listen to people. At meetings, call the quiet ones out to contribute. Give everyone a platform. This diversity in contribution will form an enriched and balanced decision at the end of the day. Many leaders want to be heard only. The mere fact that you’re appointed to lead means you are good. No need to impress anyone anymore.
10. The importance of marketing:
Aggressively and passionately sell yourself. Deliberately manage your brand perception. As a leader, you must set how you want the world to see you. Define your own narrative. Don’t let the world set this for you because once done, you can’t do anything about it. These days, I’d much rather over communicate than under communicate.
11. Emotional intelligence:
There is a crucial need for emotional intelligence in the workplace. This is different from diplomacy and office politics. Instead, it is being aware of how others feel and not focusing on your own emotions. It is a combination of humility, inclusiveness, empathy and maturity.
This is the art and discipline of getting things done. It makes all the difference. This is the translation of idea into action. Decisiveness is necessary for execution. Have an idea, define milestones, assess your movement from time to time to see where you measure – this is the process of execution.
The TOE that I know lives by every inch of the standard he preaches and I have tons of live
experiences to back up my assertion. Permit me to share just two:
Sometime in 1998, we were just two in the freshly reopened Idumota Branch of Standard Trust Bank - my humble self and Clement Collins (he was out on marketing on this particular day). Lo and behold, right there in the rain, on the other side of the road, I beheld a scene I will never forget in a hurry. I saw TOE get out of a sleek car with an umbrella suspended over his head and making a dash across the road to get to our bank. It seemed like a scene from the movies. Idumota back in the days was not an exactly comfy, wonderful and ‘safe’ place you would expect to see your numero uno boss all by himself making a business call. The object of his call? He wanted to personally see the file of Tino Electronics (a relatively big electronics merchant back then). Wow! A thousand and one never to be forgotten learning points for me there. I saw a Just-Do-The-Do Spirit, unpretentious humility and a Think-Far-and-Ahead orientation at play right before my very eyes! Tino later became so huge that it had to be managed right from the Head Office!
Another instance that readily comes to mind was when we received one of our heaviest cash lodgment (N60million or thereabout) at our Allen Avenue Branch of Standard Trust Bank sometime in 1997 or early 1998 (can’t be too sure now). I think Tope Fasua was the Branch Manager then and Skymit Motors Was The depositor. Practically every operations staff was mobilised for the onerous task of proof-counting the huge deposit of N10 and N20 denominations. We worked round the clock from Friday through to Sunday. Amazingly, TOE stayed right with us, sometimes personally making the trip to get us refreshments and most times leading the pack when it comes to dishing out funny cracks to ease the tension and facilitate a fun-filled environment.
Any wonder why STB became so successful among its peers and supposedly older comrades! You led by example! You inspire all to be at their very best. You suffer no fools or lazy bums! The system was merit driven! Whatever you require to deliver you get, but deliver you MUST! You recreated you in many of us! You take heavy, but well-informed and data-fleshed risks and encourage all to do same.
You are indeed whom you say you are!