Leadership is a mindset, not a title. People often ask me, TOE how do I learn leadership? Should I go on a course? Buy a book? Get a mentor? Are leaders born, or can you become a leader?
Just as I say about business success, leadership has many components – luck, and being in the right place at the right time. But I also believe that those talents and those disciplines that you bring, creating a vision and the resilience and focus that delivers that vision, can also forge your leadership.
At the start of my career, I was fortunate to work with Chief Ebitimi Banigo, who was the Chairman and CEO of AllStates Trust Bank. My leadership philosophy was built working with him. It started with Chief Banigo taking the time to read my application letter and giving me a chance to prove myself at Allstate Trust Bank in 1988. When my colleagues tell me today, “TOE you respond too fast to our emails”, I laugh because I learned from the master himself – Chief Banigo. When I sent memos to him, he would respond within twenty-four hours; therefore, why should I not respond even faster in this age of technology?
My leadership philosophy was built working with Chief Banigo. I observed and emulated him, internalizing his core leadership principles, which I practice to this very day.
Leaders must demand excellence: Only by going the extra mile and pushing ourselves, will we truly develop and stand out. Hard work and excellence made my bosses Toyin Akin-Johnson and Ebitimi Banigo notice, and subsequently, believe in me. At twenty-seven, I went from being a trainee to being a boss, when I was appointed a branch manager – the youngest bank branch manager at that time. All the things I learned earlier came into play, and I continued learning.
Good leaders find in people, what people did not know they possess – Leaders recognize the talent in their team and then push to unlock the talent. When I work, I work to achieve my goals, but I also work to unlock my team’s skills. I know everyone I work with has huge potential – for me my success is also about the success of others, growing and nurturing their talent, which is the foundation of our growth at Heirs Holdings Group. This focus on talent, teams, and personal transformation, is why I am so insistent on creating institutions, cultures, and pathways, where human capital can thrive. It is why I am an investor in businesses, but also entrepreneurs across Africa.
Leaders must walk their talk – A leader must be consistent. People want to trust a leader that they believe has integrity. Leadership is not just about telling people what to do, it’s also about setting an example. A good leader must lead by example and practice what they preach, this demonstrates integrity, it builds trust and respect.
Leaders must impart knowledge: I benefitted from the mentorship of Chief Banigo at Allstates Trust Bank. He helped me to develop my strategic thinking, and my frames of reference and to channel my ideas into concrete actions, so that when the moment of opportunity arrived, at the age of thirty-four, I had the self-belief to gather a small group together to take over and revive a failing bank – take that enormous step, that is still shaping an industry and a continent today.
A true leader remains committed to a higher purpose that most others do not yet see.
Tony O. Elumelu (TOE) is the Chairman of United Bank for Africa and is the founder of the Tony Elumelu Foundation.
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