Last week, I had an intellectually stimulating discussion on my favourite topic—Africa.
The conversation reached a crescendo when someone said that the problem with Africa is that the continent has been cursed and that we need to figure out who cursed us.
In his book The Problem with Nigeria, Chinua Achebe gives an account of what happened in the immediate aftermath of the July 29, 1975 coup that ousted then military strongman General Yakubu Gowon.
When the news started to filter in about the new head of state General Murtala Mohammed, people began to change their behaviour.
Government workers arrived at their offices on time and took their work seriously, unlike the past when services were inefficient. So what made the Nigerians change?
Gen Mohammed had a reputation for excellence. It was well known that he did not tolerate mediocrity. His reputation preceded him, and elicited better performance from the citizens.
Similarly, when Steve Jobs was fired from Apple—a company he founded—it began a rapid decline. But as soon as he returned, he turned the company around and led it to become one of the greatest and most profitable companies in history.
In football, the most important person is the one that leads the team. Managers like Alex Ferguson have gone down in history as those who led their teams to victory and into the hearts of millions around the world.
No entity can develop beyond the capacity of its leaders. The glory of an office will rise or fall according to its leadership.
In 30 years of working with organisations and building leaders, I have seen that the most important predictor of success is leadership.
Even countries that can barely take care of their own citizens have companies that are thriving.
It seems paradoxical that in a nation that cannot feed or protect its people there are companies that are winning global awards for excellence and good leadership.
It therefore follows that there is nothing wrong with geographical location, or people, and no one has cursed Africa.
Before a person becomes the CEO of a top multinational, they need to have a proven track record of being a top performer.
The person needs to understand the company, and should prove to the board that indeed they will leave the organisation better than they find it. They sign contracts that tie their continuous stay in office to their performance, and everyone expects results.
However, the expectation we have for corporate heads is not extended to political leaders. We don’t allow people to lead a company just because we are of the same tribe yet we do it where our country leaders are concerned. It seems that our national leadership can be trusted into the hands of anyone regardless of their history.
People speak of a world class company in reference to a firm in a third world nation. There is something fundamentally wrong with that statement.
If that is true, what would happen if those nations are subjected to the same strong visions, solid structures and visionary leadership?
The leader is the arrowhead and the rest of the arrow follows the head. With the high population and resources of the African continent, there is no reason why we should not talk of world class companies in world class nations.
The only hindrance has been bold, audacious and visionary leadership. I dedicate the next few weeks to the leadership discussion.
Whether you are a leader in the public or the private sector, you are likely to glean something to ensure that the glory of the entity you lead will rise on your watch.
Wale Akinyemi is the chief transformation officer at Power Talks