True leaders are clearly those that leave entities better than they found them

Tuesday December 4 2018

A man stands on the front of Flipflopi, the first dhow boat made entirely of recycled plastic

A man stands on the front of Flipflopi, the first dhow boat made entirely of recycled plastic during its launch ceremony on the island of Lamu, Kenya on September 15, 2018. PHOTO | REUTERS 

By WALE AKINYEMI
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There are two people in my life whom I look up to as fathers. One of them saw an opportunity in 1974 to buy huge tracts of land for very little. This land was in the forest.

It was so far away that going there was like travelling out of town. People made fun of him that he had lost it. Why would anyone in their right senses go out and buy so much land in a place that seemed to have been forsaken by intelligent people?

There was no speculative information about the place and no developers were looking in that direction.

Today that same place has become a leafy suburb and dwelling place for the rich and famous and that father of mine is a billionaire many times over. He does not have to lift his fingers to do anything.

He is settled and his children and grand children are settled simply because of a decision that was made in 1974 which at the time looked foolish.

Rise and rise of Facebook

My other father was allocated land by the Nigerian government in 1975. He did not have to pay much. He was required to just foot administrative charges.

He, however, did not see any sense in even paying for this and so he let the opportunity pass. Today the same land fetches in the neighbourhood of one million dollars per plot.

Mark Zuckerberg saw an opportunity that in his own words did not look like a business opportunity. He just wanted to be able to connect with other people and share experiences.

It turned out to be the business opportunity that has built one of the greatest companies on Earth and which in the process made him one of the richest people. Did he have foresight or was he just plain lucky? Is foresight something that can be learnt? Is luck predictable?

Is luck as simple as it has been described as when opportunity and preparedness meet? Is there something that a business leader can do to activate luck or foresight?

I do not have an answer to any of these questions but what I do know is that there are some people who seem able to see into some unseen crystal ball.

These people are the pioneers and they set new standards. They are the ones who have a record of firsts not by benchmarking but rather being the ones who create benchmarks.

Beyond the obvious

They are the descendants of the pioneer pyramid builders in Giza. Descendants of the builders of the wonders of the ancient world and they continue to build the modern world.

A look at the most innovative people on Earth appears to suggest that they did not set out to be innovative. They just had a different way of thinking and looking at the world.

For instance, most people have what I call finality thinking. When they look at anything they see final states. In reality, however, there is nothing around you that is final.

The phone in your hand, the computer, the chair, the bed, and the car, or anything else that can be seen can be converted into another state and so finality thinkers miss out on the better picture.

We have seen old plastic bottles and gadgets repurposed. Those who repurposed them were not deceived by what appeared to be a final state.

It is this finality thinking that make people get to a place in their journey of life where they are no longer hungry.

They settle down and become managers managing status quo not realising that relevance can never be maintained by managing it.

Relevance is preserved by growing status quo. It is by an internal transformation in the mind of the leader that translates to external translation within the organisation.

So, whatever position you are in, you are not there to manage status quo even if your title reads that you are a manager. You are there to bring transformation. It is not a compliment as a leader for you to leave an organisation like you met it.

Creative hunger

The ability to leave your mark through transformation can only happen if you get rid of the finality thinking that says uninspiring things like this is how we have always done it.

When all is said and done, our leadership will be judged not by how much things remain the same between the time we joined the organisation and the time we left.

Our legacy is tied to the changes that we brought along with us and that we effect and not in how much things remained the same.

So, where does foresight come from? We may not have the answer but one thing we do know is that the best way to predict the future is to create it. But how then do we create a future that we cannot see?

Hunger creates pictures and pictures inspire questions. If we never lose our sense of curiosity and our hunger for more, I believe that we may find ourselves in the position of many that I have spoken to — great minds that have great foresight but who for some reason or the other are not able to explain themselves to others.

Wale Akinyemi is the chief transformation officer, PowerTalks

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