Edison, Churchill, Jobs were great for nurturing genius; how do you compare?

Friday October 12 2018


Progress demands that we motivate others so that we do not stunt growth and limit their possibilities. FOTOSEARCH 

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I remember one day a few years ago when I was watching television with my daughter. Suddenly my phone rang. This was a classic case of wrong timing. I did not want to miss what I was watching and even though my daughter told me to pick up the phone, I was going to do no such thing.

Then she gave me an alternative. She said I could pause what I was watching and then come back to continue after I was done with the call.
The look I gave her said I was not in the mood for jokes.

She said that alternatively, I could just go and take care of the phone call and then rewind to where I was when I got back. I told her this was not possible because I was watching television and not a DVD.

It was my daughter’s turn to give me a surprised look but said: “Yes, daddy you can do that.”

We had a little argument about it because I was as convinced that it could not happen as she was that it was possible to do on TV what one could with a DVD.

Do not forget that we are in my house with a television I bought with my money and a decoder that I bought with my money and a subscription I pay for with my money. And yet this teenager is trying to tell me what to do?

Anyway, I am a parent and being the bigger person, I did as she proposed and when I was done with the phone call, to my amazement and shock, she picked up the remote control and rewound the show to where I was before I went to pick up the phone.

She then gave me a tutorial on how the modern TV worked. Of course she did this with a smirk.

Now, that story is repeated every day in our workplaces. One of the biggest challenges facing today’s leadership is the challenge of having to lead people who are more intelligent than we are.

Build a legacy

Veiled beneath this challenge is a great opportunity — one that legendary Apple founder, Steve Jobs must have seen. He said that we should not hire brilliant people to tell them what to do. Instead, we should hire them so they can tell us what to do.

That makes a lot of sense. If we hire geniuses to tell them what to do, then we are limiting them to our own thinking, to our own ideas and to our own way of doing things.

In essence, we will not allow their presence to make a difference if all we expect from them is to conform to our own way of thinking.

Unfortunately this is the way a lot of our brightest minds are being trained to conform. It is a cancer emanating from the top. If we embrace a culture that says the boss is always right, then we will have stunted our growth and limited our possibilities.

One of the greatest inventors that ever lived was Thomas Edison to whom the world owes its debt of gratitude for a wide variety of inventions. In fact, in his 84 years of existence, Edison acquired a record number of 2,332 patents worldwide for his inventions.

Some 1,093 of Edison’s patents were in the United States, but others were approved in countries around the globe. He is responsible for giving the world electric power generation.

He is also responsible for inventing the first movie camera, the phonograph, the electric light bulb, and the first sound recorder among other inventions.

It is, however, said that Mr Edison’s greatest genius was his ability to see and discover the genius in others. People flocked to him from all over the world to get an opportunity to work with him because they knew that if indeed you had some form of genius hidden somewhere in you, Edison would be sure to find it and bring it out. What a legacy.

Discoverer or killer?

So, as a leader are you a genius discoverer or a genius killer? Are you an enhancer and catalyst who creates the right environment for the genius in others to thrive or are you the boss who is always right and who kills the enthusiasm and genius in others?

The key to your longevity and relevance is in your ability to create the environment where geniuses can thrive.

The late British prime minister Winston Churchill is quoted saying that his success as a British premier and as a leader could be attributed to the fact that he surrounded himself with people who were more intelligent than him.

Of course we know that this means that he allowed their genius to find expression.

The greatest leaders are not the ones who are always right. They are the ones who know when they are wrong and when their subordinates are right and who have the humility to acknowledge this reality.

Dr Wale Akinyemi is chief transformation officer, PowerTalks; e-mail: [email protected]