A conversation with Wole Adesiyan, Head, Business Transformation Programmes, Stanbic IBTC, Nigeria 

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WA:

As I reflect on leadership especially within the context of Africa, I am driven to ask you the following questions as an African leader and I hope that the answers will help me understand the burden that sometimes comes with being a young leader hoping to grow into senior leadership.

LM:

Thank you, My Leader, I look forward to this deep conversation. 

WA:

Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader? Maybe some one who has been a mentor to you? Why and how did this person specifically impact your life? 

LM:

At 18 years old I had been expelled from school, I was in and out of prison, I had not been studying for two years, and I was trying to skip the country to join the liberation movement. I was part of a group of angry young people who wanted to make South Africa ungovernable and the apartheid system unworkable. My father showed me during these difficult and trying times that, “Leadership is not a title held, but an influence felt.”. He challenged and persuaded me that I needed to change my life to truly put people first, to leave a life of service, humility, probity and selflessness and that I should treat everyone with respect and dignity regardless of their status in life, or religion, gender, color, age or language. Throughout my life, when he was alive, and now in his absence, he remains that powerful voice, my North Star and my conscience to live a life of purpose and significant, to lead from the heart and to make a positive difference in the lives of those I touch. 

WA:

Did anyone ever put you through an intentional plan for leadership development? what was the plan? 

LM:

I have featured in various leadership development plans throughout my career, but the difference is that I have personally owned my leadership journey and I’ve been quite clear about my career choices. I have left two jobs where I had great prospects because I did not think those jobs were in line with my leadership and career journey. In my own organisation, I have sometimes refused higher roles because they did not suit my core competencies or were not in line with my career and life journey. When I look back on my career, I am grateful to God for the vision and wisdom to follow my own path, to be the master of my own destiny. 

WA:

What are the most important decisions you have made as a leader? 

LM:

I have made a lot of important decisions in my life about products, channels, innovations, markets, investments, partnerships and investments. Each of these decisions were consequential for the organisation, customers, shareholders, people and sometimes regulators. The decisions, however, that I regard as the most important are decisions that relate to people. These would involve the following key decisions such: 

  • Appointments of leaders 
  • Promotions of leaders 
  • Demotions of leaders 
  • Transfers of leaders 
  • Relocations of leaders 
  • Succession management 
  • Talent management of staff and 
  • Leading and development opportunities for staff and leaders 

Over a period of 20 years, I have made these decisions, sometimes alone, sometimes in committee or in consultation with others about hundreds of people. You cannot know how much you have had in the lives of those people, be it positive or negative. All you can work on or improve is your decision-making process. 

Each one of us as leaders, as we make decisions about people have to always answer some soul-searching questions about every decision, should be: 

  • was I fair; 
  • was I objective?
  • was I transparent?
  • was I consultative?
  • was I honest?
  • was I sensitive? 
  • was I considerate?
  • was I principled?
  • did I make the decision without fear, favour or prejudice? 

If you can put hand on heart and answer all these positively, then you have passed the first hurdle on your decision-making journey about people. 

The next hurdle is more onerous, as it depends on the views of others. To really know how good my decisions have been over time, I need to ask yourself the following questions: 

  • Would all the people that have been affected by decisions on their future or career feel that they were better or worse because of my decisions? 

Or 

  • Would most of the people that have been affected by decisions on their future or career feel that they were better or worse because of my decisions? 

Over a career of over 20 years, I can only hope that the vast majority of people have been positively impacted by my decisions, if any leader finds the opposite to be true, then they need to radically review their decision-making processes on people. 

WA:

What is the one behaviour or trait that you have seen that derail leaders’ careers generally and in organisations like ours? 

LM:

I think the biggest problem for many leaders is Ego. I have watched with dismay, very good and highly talented leaders change into powerful egotistical power mongers as soon as they taste high office or power. Their new status makes them strut their stuff like peacocks as they spread terror among their followers. 

Liz Wiseman aptly describes these types of leaders in her book, “Multipliers”, “Some leaders seemed to drain intelligence and capability out of the people around them. Their focus on their own intelligence and their resolve to be the smartest person in the room had a diminishing effect on everyone else. For them to look smart, other people had to end up looking dumb. “ 

Liz Wiseman concludes, “We’ve all worked for these black holes. They create a vortex that sucks energy out of everyone and everything around them. When they walk into a room, the shared IQ drops and the length of the meeting doubles. In countless settings, these leaders were idea killers and energy destroyed. Other people’s ideas suffocated and died in their presence and the flow of intelligence came to an abrupt halt around them. Around these leaders, intelligence flowed only one way: from them to others.”

You see Wole, these leaders are driven by a huge all-consuming ego, here are some of the signs of this type of ego leaders: 

  • Their brains work faster and produce more ideas than the organisation could execute; 
  • Every week, sometimes every day or worse even on one day, they would launch a new focus of initiative, and then move all resources towards the new initiative or focus, then suddenly change towards a new one without completing the old ones or showing any results on such initiatives; 
  • They are so heavily involved in the detail, micromanages every detail and renders most people redundant as they do the thinking, conceptualization and sometimes even the execution; 
  • They are obsessed with putting their personal stamp on every initiative, product or service, this creates a huge backlog for the organisation; 
  • They compete with other business units for resources with a single-minded focus on personal glory and internal competition; 

WA:

As a strong digital and online enthusiast, can you explain the impact, that social networking has made on you personally as a leader and by extension your career? 

LM:

This is a very delicate matter, I will try and answer it as honestly as I can, whilst recognizing that people are different and their views on social media are as diverse. At the outset, let me state categorically that social media will change all our lives, regardless of our views about it. There are broadly three types of leadership attitudes towards social media: 

  • There is a strong anti-social media sentiment among the most senior leadership ranks in our corporates, especially those who are age 45 and above; 
  • There is another group of leaders who see the efficacy of social media and use  it for both personal and corporate ends; 
  • There is a younger group of leaders who see no distinction between their social media and professional life. 

I tend to be in the second group, I mainly use Facebook and I’m able to connect with colleagues from across the African continent, spread key messages to my colleagues and friends and link up with family and friends across the world. My view of social media is that I see it as an important mechanism to link people together, spread messages, extend your horizons and broaden your perspective. It’s important however to know the following things: 

  • Are you clear on why you want to be on Social media? 
  • What objectives do you want to achieve? 
  • Do you separate between your corporate and personal profiles? 
  • Does the material you share align with your image, reputation, values and profile? 
  • Are you aware of your organisation’s social media policy?  

WA:

What are a few resources you would recommend to someone looking to gain insight into becoming a better leader?

LM:

There are obviously many books on leadership, YouTube videos, Ted Talks and interviews in various magazines such as CEO publications or the Harvard Business Review etc. There are also many leaders who have touched us that we can use as our leadership barometer as we seek to improve ourselves as both human beings and as leaders. Over and above these resources, our own unsung heroes, our priests, pastors, teachers, elders in our villages, chiefs, our parents, relatives and community leaders are some of the best people to learn from, some of the lessons they instilled in us will remain our best leadership lessons. 

WA:

If you look back on your journey, what would you like to change? or what action would you advise that an aspiring leader should not take. 

LM:

There are many very successful people, who have amassed great wealth and have a lot of possession, a high status in society and more money than they can spend in their lifetime. They have spent their lives chasing power, wealth, money, status, positions, the next deal and the next great opportunity. Sometimes this has been done at great personal cost, adverse impact on their health and a devastating impact on their marriages and families. Each leader, or potential leader has to ask themselves as to whether this was worth it? 

I reached my Damascus moment 5 years ago, when I realized that my life was way out of balance in terms of my health and my relationship with my family. I realized that my family and my health were very important to me and that I did not want to lose them. I had deep conversations with my family and changed my lifestyle and how I managed the balance between my work and my family. I have largely changed my lifestyle to include more test, more exercise and a more balanced diet, at the same time, I have managed to spend more quality time with my family and I ensure I take the leave dates due to me. 

Unfortunately for some leaders, it was too late, they are now either divorced, have suffered heart attacks, have diabetes or cancer or are estranged from their children. It is possible to change, I still work very hard, I still travel extensively, but I’m more balanced in terms of diet, quality time spent at home and physical and emotional health. 

WA:

In addition to this blog and speaking engagements, what are you doing to ensure you continue to grow and develop as a leader?

LM:

I am continuously learning, improving myself and working towards being a better person and a better leader. One of the best learning methods is to elicit regular feedback from all those you lead. Such anonymous feedback is usually about what is it that you should STOP; START and CONTINUE. This invaluable and gives you amazing insight into the inner thoughts of your team, what frustrates them about you, what you should change and what you should continue doing. This for me is the single most important learning opportunity for learning and development as a leader. 

WA:

As an organization gets larger especially an institution like ours with many institutionalised technology assets, how can we truly create a disruptive change and navigate the politics around changing these assets? 

LM:

I have seen large and powerful organizations such as Xerox, Nokia, Yahoo and now GE failing to adapt to the needs of their times. No organisation is immune from such challenges, those who fail to adapt change fast enough will join those on the scrap heap regardless of how glorious their history is. Those organizations who have done well, who are succeeding through these difficult times of VUKA change have had the following characteristics: 

  • A culture that attracts and optimizes talent; 
  • A leadership culture that demands everyone’s best thinking to encourage innovation; 
  • Leaders who instil ownership and accountability; 
  • Their organizational borders are porous to enable better integration; 
  • They are obsessed with client experience; 
  • They use data to make critical decisions; 
  • They empower self-managed multidisciplinary teams in an agile environment and 
  • Use technology to resolve customer pain points. 

All organisations should reposition themselves to respond to the technology revolution that arises from the Fourth Industrial Revolution, failure to do this may result in loss of market share, the defection of key clients or worse still an obsolete business model. 

WA:

In the payments space, we continue to see the emergence of radical start-ups with potential to create a parallel industry that will challenge incumbent regulations and completely disintermediate all that we know today as Banking. As leaders in this industry how do you think we should respond to this?

LM:

The worst thing banks can do is to be arrogant, or complacent or to be dismissive of these new players as banks did in Kenya when Mpesa first came into the market. Banks can do one of or a combination of the following things: 

  • Banks can focus their innovative efforts on those aspects of their value chain at risk and aim to defeat the attack by nimble Fintechs players; or 
  • Banks can partner with the Fintechs to deliver innovative solutions in the payments and collections area – banks would bring scale, capital, clients and regulatory expertise whilst the Fintechs could bring the latest technologies, agile way of working, and nimbleness to the relationships; 
  • Banks can also bring some key Fintechs to own them with the view to drive better speed of execution away from the normal bank bureaucracy. 
  • Banks need to look long and hard to what the future holds, failure to do so may render them completely irrelevant in the payments space. 

WA:

Thank you so much My Leader, I truly appreciate the opportunity to engage deeply on these issues.

LM:

It’s my pleasure My Leader, I hope I have been able to illuminate some key points for you and others’ leadership and personal journeys. 

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