Fostering the right environment ensures a firm’s strategy works

Thursday November 19 2020

Hungarian chess teacher and educational psychologist Laszlo Polgar believed no one had a mental advantage by reason of birth, that geniuses were made and not born. PHOTO | FILE | NMG


Today let's talk about polar bears. Assume you live in Lagos or Mombasa and you want a polar bear as a pet. You have all the cash, technology and expert polar bear handlers to bring it in. Then, when your polar bear arrives, you throw a party to celebrate it and a short while later, your precious polar bear dies.

It’s not rocket science. It died because of the wrong climatic environment. The polar bear (strategy) needs the right environment (culture) to thrive. Many organisations have resources and skilled manpower, but lack the right culture hence the failure of strategy.

Can your existing culture carry the weight of your strategy? Can your pre-Covid culture handle a Covid and post-Covid demand? We have conducted numerous culture audits to help organisations identify the prevailing culture. They get shocked at the results: They understand why the strategy faced challenges. Want an audit? Let’s talk.

Expanding the thought further, consider Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. He started composing at the age of five. Leopold Mozart, Wolfgang’s father, was a music composer and an experienced violin teacher. He was an accomplished violinist and orchestra instructor who published a violin textbook, which achieved success. He exposed his son to rigorous training at what many would have considered too early an age. So, for Wolfgang to start composing at the age of five was not a coincidence or miracle.

From classical music, let’s move to chess. Laszlo Polgar is a Hungarian chess teacher and educational psychologist. He believed that no one had a mental advantage by reason of birth and that geniuses were made and not born. He also believed that specialised training was more important than natural talent.

He decided to use his daughter as the object of the experiment. He was going to take an ordinary girl and turn her into a genius, making her the best chess player in the world. The only exposure he gave her when growing up was chess and mathematics.


The result? His daughter Susan is an Olympic and World chess champion, a chess teacher, coach, writer and promoter and head of the Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence. At the age of 15, she became the top-ranked woman player in the world, and remained ranked in the top three for the next 23 years. She was also the first woman in history to break the gender barrier by qualifying for the 1986 "Men's" World Championship. Her two sisters, also achieved remarkable success as chess players. Her sister Judit is regarded as the greatest female chess player of all time.  In golf, think of Tiger Woods. He started playing golf as a child under the tutelage of his father. In tennis we have the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena.

The trend repeats itself over and over. Think of the number of families where there is a long lineage of lawyers or doctors, businessmen, politicians or preachers and in some cases, even thieves.

Remember our polar bear? The impact of the environment over performance can’t be waved off as trivial. Leaders are great because they are able to create the environment that will deliver the performance and the results that they want. Great leaders are masters at creating a performance culture in the organisation.

Wale Akinyemi is the chief transformation officer at PowerTalks and convenor of the Street University ( [email protected]