HR People Magazine

As a student of leadership, I find myself in a perpetual classroom, always learning, in an environment enriched by the privilege of exposure to a multi generational workforce in diverse cultures and industries. Even after three decades of professional experience, I can confidently say that my passion for leadership remains unwavering. If you share this enthusiasm for leadership, I invite you to join me in this journey of exploration and growth.

Before we delve into this discussion, it is crucial to emphasize that leadership is a universal concept, transcending age groups, nationalities and hierarchies. Leadership is present at every level of organizations and even within family units. The enduring challenge has always been the art of harnessing it for the greater good. It’s the reason why, in certain instances, even a relatively junior team member can wield significant influence in a transformative journey. However, for the purpose of this article, our primary focus will be on the formal roles of leadership within organizations. Along my own journey, I’ve gathered a collection of invaluable lessons, some of which I share here, with the aim of enriching your perspective and bolstering your leadership toolkit.

Are you watching?

I vividly recall one morning several years ago in Johannesburg while driving to work. I unintentionally found myself in a little game with another driver, whom we’ll call Patrick. For some time, I followed Patrick along this stretch of the road, not realizing where he was headed. As we approached a point where two lanes expanded into three, I assumed Patrick was going in my direction, having followed him for about 2 kilometers. However, it turned out that Patrick’s destination was not the same as mine, and before I could make a conscious decision, I crossed into the lane heading in the opposite direction. Phew! I eventually found my way back on track.

This experience serves as a powerful metaphor for the dynamics of leadership and followership. There are several lessons to draw from it, but the one I want to emphasize is the importance of followership. It’s crucial to be mindful of who you choose to follow, how you follow, and what you expose yourself to. Just like what you watch on TV (e.g., Telemundo) can influence your thinking, who you choose to follow (especially online on social media) can shape your habits. This must be a deliberate decision, not a passive one like the muscle memory involved in driving.

Most of us unconsciously adopt habits from our leaders, whether they are good or bad. Consider this – have you ever worked for a leader you often complained about? Reflect on your behaviour now – you might find yourself unknowingly mirroring some of those “annoying” traits. That’s why it’s essential to be selective. Don’t let your leadership style become accidental. Observe and decide what to emulate and what to consciously avoid. Your choices as a follower are just as critical as your choices as a leader. Your vision (what you watch) could ultimately become your destination if you fail to make conscious choices.

Stories stick.

I recently attended a training session where the facilitator shared a story (to strengthen some of the principles we were being taught) that revolved around his family and a bottle of wine (the specific details of the story are not critical for our discussion here). He delved into the price, the contents, the name and various aspects of the wine. Toward the end of the training, he challenged us to retell the story, emphasizing the principles he had just imparted. To our collective surprise, we all eagerly responded, and most of our accounts focused on the “non-technical” elements of his story: his mother, his wife, and the emotions tied to the experience. We connected these aspects to the principles he had taught us. One of the pivotal points he was driving home was this: stories have remarkable staying power.

Sitting there at the back of the class, it struck me that this is precisely why Jesus often taught through parables. He possessed a profound understanding of how to convey his messages effectively. So, for those of you aspiring to lead, do not allow your rich tapestry of personal stories, both the favourable and the not-so-flattering, to go to waste. Utilize them to elevate your conversations with your audience. You can start by jotting down significant events and then invest some time in contemplation to grasp the underlying messages they carry. Trust me, you’ll instinctively know when and how to employ these narratives to make your points resonate

It Is not that deep

Working under Timothy (not his real name) was truly a delightful experience. Our working relationship, while not exactly characterized by camaraderie, was marked by his fairness, professionalism and intelligence. And that was all I needed. However, there came a point where I felt compelled to address an instance where Timothy had, in my view, displayed behaviour unbecoming of a leader. This issue had weighed on my mind, and I decided to offer Timothy some feedback. A little side note: if you’ve had the chance to work with me, you’ll know that I am big on feedback–giving and receiving. Unfortunately, Timothy’s office was an open-plan setup, and in my impatience, I didn’t think to book a meeting room. I simply had to let it out.

Sitting in front of Timothy in his open office, I launched into my concerns, expressing something along these lines: “Timothy, in the recent situation, it seemed like you didn’t exhibit strong leadership as the meeting devolved into a blame game.” I felt a sense of relief after getting this off my chest and was ready to move on. However, Timothy had other plans; he motioned for me to wait.

With a sense of anticipation, I watched as he responded with words along these lines: “Tolulope, I am a leader, and leaders reflect. I have taken time to reflect, and I must apologize.” This caught me completely off guard. I had come to confront, and I wasn’t prepared for this response. I stayed back as we continued our conversation, addressing other matters. Following this incident, Timothy went on to become a significant influence in my career, particularly during that period. He displayed no signs of seeking revenge or holding a grudge, and I, in turn, did not think any less of him for acknowledging his mistake and apologizing.

This experience led me to ponder why some leaders find it challenging to admit when they are wrong, to be vulnerable, or to say “I’m sorry.” The truth is, doing so does not diminish one’s leadership, in fact, it bolsters one’s reputation as an authentic and admirable leader.

In a rapidly evolving world increasingly reliant on AI and marked by the emergence of powerful, occasionally daunting technologies with the capacity to both greatly benefit society and pose unprecedented risks1 (paraphrased), leadership takes centre stage. leadership is likely to become a pivotal distinguishing factor. While workers have shifted jobs in pursuit of financial gain, favourable geographical locations, or enhanced social status in the recent past, in this new era, we anticipate a remarkable growing trend where workers will transition between roles, both within and outside their organizations, primarily influenced by the quality of leadership—be it exceptional or inadequate

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