Why leaders can’t use yesterday’s logic to solve today’s problems

Thursday February 20 2020

For companies to navigate their way through current challenges, they need leaders who are able to innovate their way out of the difficulties.

For companies to navigate their way through current challenges, they need leaders who are able to innovate their way out of the difficulties. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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A lot of leaders are currently struggling with one simple challenge. They face problems that are totally different from the ones they were trained for. The result is a highly trained workforce that has no capacity for the problems they face on a day-to-day basis.

As a result, more and more companies are having to lay off many of their employees or close down altogether. The problem is not with the people. It is with the inability of leaders to innovate their way out of the challenges. There is a mindset that takes institutions forward that defies convention. Many leaders have read great books on leadership and want to execute the things that they read line for line. That season is over. I have seen leaders execute great ideas that yield disastrous results.

Lagos is a city of over 20 million people. It is a hustler’s haven and it is a city that never sleeps. The sheer size of the population makes competition a way of life. Everyone is hustling for the same naira that often appears to be in short supply. The traffic situation has defied all strategies to control it. There was even a time when Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays were designated for cars with odd number license plates, while Tuesdays and Thursdays were designated for even number license plates. It did not work.

I remember a mentor of mine who had a Rolls Royce with even number license plates. He was furious and wondered how the government could attempt to regulate him. He did what most people with means in Lagos at the time did. He bought a second Rolls Royce so now he had one for any time he needed to go out. The traffic problem continued in Lagos and the government had to abandon the idea.

Recently, the Nigerian government was faced with another calamity concerning traffic. Commercial motorcycles, which we call boda bodas in East Africa and which are called okada in Nigeria. They are a menace and contribute to the high number of people killed every year on the roads of Lagos. There are special wards for okada casualties in hospitals. The requirements for becoming an okada operator are very low and they have no formal training. There is just no regulation. People from anywhere can become okada operators the minute they get their hands on a motorbike.

The government decided to take a stand against this and banned all okada operators in certain parts of Lagos. The result is that now there are literally tens of thousands of people who had jobs a few days ago who are now jobless and vulnerable. The anticipated solution did not solve the problem. This repeats itself all over the corporate world today.


Most leaders are prepared for a logical world, one that makes sense. They are prepared for a world that follows a sequential pattern. Unfortunately, we live in a world where things do not always follow logic and as such only those trained in the art of creative thinking can become effective in solving the world’s problems.

Mumbai in India has held the title of one of the world’s noisiest cities for a very long time. Drivers hooted at traffic lights even when it was obvious that the lights were red. This had also defied all logical solutions until a creative decided to use the hooting to solve the problem. They fixed a device on the lights that measured the volume of the hooting and once it passed a certain level of decibels, it automatically went back to the beginning thereby extending the time it would take for the light to change to red.

The definition of effective leadership has changed over the years. At one point when you graduated with a good degree there was an assumption that you would be a good and effective leader. It however does not work that way. Today’s problems cannot be solved with the logical mindset that solved yesterday’s problems. The leader of today must face the problems of today with an expanded mind that is trained to make sense out of nonsense.

The biggest challenge facing today's leaders is the challenge of confronting today's problems with the mindset used to confront yesterday’s problems. When some of us started working in 1989, the boss was the most intelligent person in the room and we always looked to them for answers.

Today, the most intelligent and informed person in the room may be the young, fresh graduate. How then do you inspire and successfully lead people who are more informed and more intelligent than you?

Wale Akinyemi is the chief transformation officer, PowerTalks