Key principles to consider when nurturing leaders

Saturday November 18 2023

A graphic design. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK


In the heart of Japan, nestled among the tranquil landscapes, two exceptional institutions have stood the test of time, embodying the essence of successful succession. Hoshni Ryokan and Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan, both founded in ancient times, continue to flourish in the modern world.

These timeless establishments serve as living testimonies to the significance of leadership and succession in sustaining an enduring legacy. They have become the poster kids for centuries of excellence spanning generations preserving traditions and serving as pillars of their communities.

Hoshni Ryokan, established in 718 AD, has been offering guests a glimpse into the rich tapestry of Japanese culture for over a millennium. Its unbroken lineage of proprietors, each passing on the knowledge and ethos of the establishment to the next, is a testament to the importance of successful succession.

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Similarly, Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan, founded in 705 AD, is the oldest hot spring hotel in the world. For more than 1,300 years, it has welcomed visitors seeking relaxation and rejuvenation in its therapeutic waters. The art of running this establishment has been passed down through the generations, ensuring that the core values and traditions endure.

From the Far East to the heart of Europe, another family has etched their name in history through their expertise in winemaking. The Antinori Family of Italy has been producing wine since 1385, making them one of the oldest wine-producing families in the world. Their commitment to quality and their ability to hand down their knowledge through the ages have allowed them to create a legacy that spans centuries.


In the Antinori family's case, the secret to their sustainability lies in their successful succession. Each generation has embraced the responsibility of not just continuing the family business but also elevating it to new heights. Their wines have become synonymous with excellence, a result of the careful cultivation of leadership within the family.

The essence of these enduring legacies lies in the understanding that leadership and succession are intertwined. Leadership development is the foundation upon which successful succession is built. As the saying goes, "Succession and Leadership Development... It should actually be the other way around.... We first build Leadership for succession."

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The most effective succession programmes adopt a 3L approach: Leaders leading leaders, not followers. Followers may be loyal and skilled, but it is the leaders among them who possess the potential to successfully carry the torch forward. This process must be deliberate and intentional, as it never occurs by accident.

In Africa, however, we love followers. We love people whose only job is to open the car door for us. In fact, we have bodyguards who have someone open the door for them so that they in turn can open the door for us. We have people whose only job is to carry the pastor's bible. We have people whose only job is to hold the umbrellas for the leader. Africans love followers and this is why grooming great leadership has been a challenge and that is why we dropped behind the rest of the world when it came to innovation.

So, how can we deliberately develop leaders? Here are some key principles to consider: First you need to be in some sense a bit selfish.

Think of your legacy. Things cannot testify about you when you are gone. Only people can. The greatest legacy lies in people who can trace their success back to your guidance and mentorship. Secondly there must be Security in Leadership: Allowing those around you to shine is not a sign of weakness but a mark of strength. Secure leaders empower others and create a culture of growth. Then you must avoid micromanagement as Micromanagers seldom achieve good succession.

In conclusion, the stories of Hoshni Ryokan, Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan, the Antinori Family, and the challenges and successes of leadership development in various regions remind us that successful succession is the cornerstone of sustainability.

Whether through centuries-old traditions or modern leadership principles, the message is clear: nurturing leaders and empowering them to lead others is the path to building a lasting legacy. As we learn from these timeless examples, we too can build a future that stands the test of time.