By Nicholas Allo
Every day, founders will tackle one challenge after another whilst striving to achieve success. From reviewing your stakeholder interactions and engagements, with family, friends, co-workers, clients, creditors, debtors and potential investors, to scrutinising every single transaction debiting from your already perceived lean account, with the hope of soon perfecting that revenue-generating product or service. Ultimately, replacing and outpacing your expenses, for the venture you have dedicated all your funds and energy towards. Not forgetting to mention, you are sacrificing your every day for.
However, the greater challenge is in my opinion that of developing and near perfecting the art of diplomacy within your interaction bubbles, of human social-bonds and networks, expectations, emotions and those diverse characters, for which you are a founder or co-founder of. Suggesting one should have and practice emotional intelligence is understating the obvious. Assuming it will or might be easy, juggling the demands of human interaction and decision making, within a start-up, I think is one thing many founders will be guilty of, at some point. But learning valuable lessons from such situations, especially where it had proven unpalatable and then developing resilience, perseverance as well as tons of patience, in addition to now being knowledgeable, tends to be one of the most valuable opportunities from running a start-up.
I haven’t, however, chosen to write this piece with the view of offering a ‘fluff piece’ – writing with the hope of recognition. It had remained a draft for near 2 years, until I picked it back up again, today. Unnecessary detail but I still share. I am writing this because I’ve finally had the opportunity of putting to practice and assessing what has proven for me, credible but to others seemed unorthodox, an approach for successfully balancing, within an organisation, relationships, loyalty and leadership. It’s an experience I’d like to share, in case it may offer someone, either a eureka moment, a moment for reflection or the opportunity to assert, ‘so, I am not alone’.
Relationships – This is perhaps one of the most complex balancing acts required when building a start-up or running an organisation. This is because the network of human interactions you require, establish and must maintain or drop-off, will supersede the confines of your entity. Family, associates, friends, co-workers this list continues. But with every relationship, the impact it offers and the closer it brings you to, of a likely chance for success or failure, given your state of mind, is really made possible by these network of interactions and engagements. So, relationships are key! Many tales are shared and I heard of some, from an interview video of one of the Paystack founders, where the talk on the importance of relationships was raised. As Africans, we place a premium on relationships. However, sometimes, we need to also recognise toxic relations and do our best to avoid them. We must, and I cannot reiterate this enough, however, never let the bad experiences from a relationship gone bad change who we are. We should always wish to see the best in people.
Loyalty – This part of our interaction and engagement, with people within our network, requires 2 key attitudes in my opinion. First, have no sacred cows; whatever directives you give applies to all, inclusive of you. And secondly, before wishing or attempting to be a mentor and/ or a friend, show yourself willing to serve. I suspect this may be where the dissent to my views may come from and I will respect them all. However, this view and approach worked for me. Despite being challenged nearly all the time, by one of the most brilliant operational minds, in-person of our COO, one thing he consistently admitted he could not demystify nor unpack, in any logical sense of it, is the unwavering loyalty of our team. We have had our challenges and even I had been at the receiving end of a telling off many times. But we stuck through it all, the good and the bad. Plus, we made ourselves subject to these 2 simple rules – no sacred cows and be willing to serve. In my opinion, it’s simply playing within the context of ‘do as I do, not as I say’.
Leadership – This is one area I have come to learn that many people have it in them to be great leaders. Life and situations would love to grant them opportunities but it’s just people, like you and I that have stood in the way. Several conversations had with my team and one seeming recurring phrase is, ‘I had never had this sort of opportunity before’. For me, it saddens me to hear such. My rationale, we want great candidates to fill the roles we have in our organisations. We want to build great organisational cultures and at the same time, grow organically. However, if you don’t allow an individual to grow and be within reach when they need guidance, how do you build a succession structure? I have enjoyed speaking with and mentoring my team members and also, enjoyed the banter where I have been teased about my teaching methods. However, jokes apart, our report remains that we have a 100% success rate when it comes to building a product-driven and service focused team. My lesson learnt here has been that leadership is not at a distance. It is one-to-one. Again, I suspect some may not agree with me here and again, I choose to respect their dissent. But if I reflect on military stories and motivational speeches offered or read, the highly revered military commanding officers were those willing to embed within their teams. The lived and breathed teamwork. So, to epitomise leadership, be willing to drive and encourage collaboration and most of all, develop a one-on-one interest in your team, both the strong and the weak. This is vital for providing inspiring leadership.
The year 2020 taught me a lot. It also forced me to explore several personal biases I may have had, with the view of not seeing them as attacks on my person but as opportunities for growth. I believe I have grown and learnt a lot, from my team. The balancing act needed has never been simple but it has been rewarding. Having the right amount of leadership skills has never been an easy to decipher requirement. Neither has it been simple to inspire loyalty in the midst of a challenging situation. Whilst the relationships that have arisen from the midst of these challenges, I will cherish deeply. My lesson here is no one person knows it all. We all are pilgrims on a journey. Where and when we learn to make the best of where our journeys intersect, by developing the right balancing act of leadership, loyalty and relationship, we go from being work colleagues to being partners in growth. So, to all my partners in growth, partnered with me – Akin, Chimezie, Anietie, Seni, Mohammed, Donald, Mebhor, Esther and Victor, other team members I have not mentioned and to all our advisory board team members, Thank You. You made the balancing act this year, worth it. See you in 2021!