By ALIM ABUBAKRE
Alim Abubakre, PhD, a Fellow of the UK’s Institute of Enterprise and Entrepreneurs and a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, is founder and non-executive chair of United Kingdom-based TEXEM, which has trained over 4000 executives in the UK and Africa in the last 10 years. He is an entrepreneur with an unparalleled passion for Africa, academic, and is on the advisory board of the London Business School Africa Society. He lectures at the University of Coventry, a top 15 UK university and was in 2010 selected as one of the top 100 Virgin Media emerging entrepreneurs in the UK. He accompanied London’s Lord Mayor on his entourage to Nigeria in 2015.
With one week left in the very first month of this new year, 2022, I believe that it is germane to share actionable insights to help leaders thrive, despite the disruptive and volatile operating context. These actionable strategies are informed by insights that I gleaned from helping over 4,000 executives and hundreds of organisations to optimise their impact and thrive since I founded TEXEM 12 years ago.
Talking about improving performance can be difficult, especially when there are disruptions such as those witnessed and posed by the pandemic and post pandemic situations. While it looks challenging and daunting during times of uncertainty, you’ll agree with me that there are executives out there who are performing exceptionally well despite the many challenges they are faced with. Such cases present an opportunity to learn how such leaders are sailing through the storms of the pandemic, competition, disruption and other headwinds.
As a public or private sector leader, you need to learn and adopt the right strategies, with the appropriate executing competencies, that will assist you to circumvent the innumerable hurdles of the prevailing post-lockdown volatile business situations. And to better implement this, you must pursue a holistic employee engagement and involvement strategies to stimulate an effective and efficient organisation-wide goals achievement. By the way, contrary to what many people think, leadership is not about coercion. On the contrary, sometimes transformational leadership improves corporate performance through appropriate coaching and inspiration.
Arguably, certain qualities and characteristics are common among successful leaders who continually contribute to nation-building; how such individuals respond to circumstances, including disruptive pandemics such as the COVID 19 and the strategic choices that they make, all factor into their success and effective leadership. Most importantly, how well people respond to the need for change and transition, especially in this fast-paced digitise and digitalisation age, sets them apart from their counterparts who might be struggling or performing dismally. If you are looking to be that leader that turns challenges into vitamins; here are some of the essential skill sets you need:
The ability to present information clearly and effectively is very vital for any leader who aspires to develop impactful legacies that endure. While presentation skills are required by almost every job these days, being a leader requires knowing how to pass messages effectively. It is critical for success. Seventy percent of all change initiatives fail partly due to poor communication. Thus, to successfully inspire transformation, you need to improve your private and public presentation skills across multiple platforms, knowing the right information vector to get your messages across to people at all levels of the organisation. Writing skills are also an essential part of strategic communication. Strategic leaders communicate with clarity, poise, conviction, build trust and inspire others to transform.
Financial awareness, including the ability to use various financial knowledge and skills such as budgeting, investing, and financial management, will allow you to effectively manage financial resources in your organisation. You also need these skills to communicate your organisation’s financial position and performance to all stakeholders. It will also inform the choices and actions you take and those that should be deferred.
Entrepreneurship: Taking risks
Leadership requires an entrepreneurial mindset that can turn problems into opportunities that add value and propel the organisation to success. So, leaders need to be risk-takers and experts when navigating uncertainties. And in today’s volatile environment, entrepreneurial activity is needed more than ever before. It’s necessary for solving problems, improving performance, and thriving despite the ever-growing competition.
Developing IT skills as a leader will allow you to embrace and utilise emerging technologies. All these technological capabilities can disrupt the dominant business model, from artificial intelligence to quantum computing, big data, to the internet of things, so every leader needs to be technology savvy. Hence, you also need these skills to be efficient, effective and solve technical, human and commercial issues with ease. So, it might just be necessary for you to acquire IT skills in many areas, especially in project management, cyber security, software development, data analytics, and others. To achieve these, you need to undergo some short courses on this, and it will help you improve your performance as an executive.
As a prolific leader, you should be self-motivated before you seek to motivate your team or those you lead. It becomes easy to provide strategic direction and inspire your team to achieve organisational goals when you are self-motivated. But how do you motivate yourself? Well, be open to change, learn from others, reflect on your progress, balance your emotions, be deliberate about it; the company you keep, and what you read, and always make positive affirmative statements.
Look, effective time management stimulates strategic leadership. You must, therefore, make it a habit to use time well. Every day, draw a to-do list, prioritise your tasks, be focused, manage distractions and track your time. Note that while everyone has 24 hours, some use it well, while others end up wasting their time. Top performance, growth, and other successes come when one efficiently manages time.
Action plan for change or Personal Development Plan
As a leader, you need a written account of your self-reflection and improvement, which should also double up as your action plan that you’ll use to achieve your goals. It should describe your goals regarding development, areas of improvement and performance optimisation as a leader. Most importantly, it should outline the tactics you will use to achieve top performances, whose strategies should be broken down into actionable steps, and each milestone should be given a time frame. Thus, this action plan must be SMART, i.e., Specific, Measurable, Attainable and Time-bound.
Another typical behaviour with leaders who deliver top performance despite the avalanche of contextual challenges, is that they are always ready to embrace change. Ideally, change is always part of the business or day-to-day running of activities. So, as an executive, you must have an open mind that is ready to accept change. Note that, with constantly emerging technologies, ways of thinking, and other dynamics, you cannot expect to apply the same old techniques of leadership strategies. That’s how you get beaten and left out while your competitors are growing and scaling the heights of success.
Invest in education
Commitment to continuous learning is another vital requirement for improving self, team, organisation and society. You’ll agree that leadership is a journey and not a destination. So, as a strategic leader, you must constantly expand your knowledge and inspire your organisation to embrace a culture of lifelong learning. This could be a means of developing core competencies and capabilities that could generate sustainable competitive advantage. To achieve a competitive advantage that endures, you can register for short courses with reputable providers. One such leading citadel of learning is Coventry University and London Business School. Over time, Coventry University has proven to be a leader in providing actionable learning platforms and the best programmes for executives looking to steer their organisations to the highest possible success and growth potentials. It gives you a chance to hear from, engage with and learn from some of the best faculties and leaders from world-leading universities and other seats of learning. Coventry is also renowned for having a rigorous methodology that makes learning stimulating, exciting, and impactful.
j. Emotional quotient
Many organisations tend to pay attention to the intellectual quotient and ignore the critical aspect of managing self and others’ emotions, called the emotional quotient. Every successful leader needs to develop the capability to understand, apply, and manage his/her emotions in positive ways to reduce stress, communicate effectively, empathise with others, overcome challenges and defuse conflict. As a prolific and impactful leader, you need to continually assess and develop your behaviour and capacity to be more aware of your strengths and limitations, manage yourself, be more socially conscious and build the ability to engage stakeholders successfully. Possessing an excellent emotional quotient will enhance your network and net worth; it would help you effectively manage conflict and help your organisation thrive. When you are skilled in managing relationships it could be a source of competitive advantage that is difficult for others to imitate.
Wrapping it up
Overall, the most strategic leaders are those who have a growth mindset and strive to improve themselves continually. For them, past success is not a reason to be content with everything. Instead, it’s a reason to acquire more skills, especially those that help increase their capacities, facilitate profitable growth in their organisations and have a culture of renewal. But what kind of skills are necessary? We are in a digital era; hence, digital, soft and conceptual skills are vital for survival, growth, and improved performance. Furthermore, you can get insights into customer behaviour, needs, and the best ways to connect with them with such skills.
With an unrelenting quest for learning and education, you get a chance to network both externally, share experiences with others, and, most importantly, develop your leadership skills. Influential leaders invest in their leadership, and whether you are in the public or private sector, you too need to embrace continuous learning. All organisations need leaders that keep growing. So, to grow your company, develop yourself as an executive or leader. Learn and practice the habit of constantly striving to improve performance even when you are already doing well.
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