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How leaders avoid falling short of expectations

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leader leadersA common parlance in the legal profession is that there is no case so good that it cannot be lost. This is definitely a variant of Murphy’s Law which states that whatever can go wrong will go wrong. This law applies to leadership because even with the best of ability and intentions, leaders still find themselves on the road that leads south.

Hardly does any leader set out to fail. Most leaders ascend their offices with great plans to effect a great change in their organization or nation. They know that occupying a leadership position is a rare opportunity to write their names in gold by stretching themselves to accomplish a lot for their organizations. But quite often that does not happen; in the course of carrying out their functions, many leaders act contrary to their avowed intention and experience a slide.

 

Bisi Omoyeni

Mr. Adebisi Omoyeni could not believe his good fortune when he was named, in 2005, by Mr Ayo Fayose, Ekiti State governor at the time, as his deputy. For Omoyeni, who was an executive director at Wema Bank Plc and had narrowly missed being appointed the bank’s Group Managing Director a year earlier, his nomination as Deputy Governor was a great compensation, knowing that if he cooperated with his principal he could even become the state governor later.

However, he soon had to exit that exalted seat. His former employers came begging to have him run the bank he had left to pair up with Mr Fayose. There were leadership issues in the bank which necessitated the recruitment of a new CEO. As the story went, those saddled with the responsibility of getting a new head for the bank believed the best man for the job was Omoyeni. So, they went to Ekiti State and implored Fayose to release his deputy for the purpose of salvaging the ailing banking institution.

Omoyeni’s trajectory at Wema reads like a page from the Book of Uncommon Accomplishments. He was recruited into the bank as a management trainee and rose rapidly through the ranks to join the C-Suite. He was promoted 12 times in 13 years, meaning he consistently exceeded expectations. A year after being made Assistant General Manager, he was promoted to the position of General Manager, skipping the level of Deputy General Manager. He was barely a year as GM when he was promoted an Executive Director. So, those who went to lure him out of Ekiti Government House had no doubt about his competence and capacity.

His return to Wema Bank in December 2005 probably saved the bank from the hammer as Omoyeni was said to have mobilized late funds with which the bank was able to meet the N25billion recapitalization deadline. But a little over two years after, in January 2008, the resounding applause that had heralded him back to the bank suddenly stopped as he was suspended by the Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC), a regulator of the banking industry, over some issues. His attempt to force his way back to office without the resolution of all issues made the then CBN governor, Professor Chukwuma Soludo, evoke his powers as contained in Sections 32 and 33 of the Banks and Other Financial Institutions Act, 1991 as amended, to relief Omoyeni of his duty as Wema Bank GMD.

That was a deep low for someone who started on a great high.

 

Posers

Why do leaders experience a 180-degree turn in their rating? Why do star performers suddenly lose their magic wand? Why do experienced and exalted executives fail to seize the moment to improve the lot of their organization? Why do leaders sometime fall short of expectations?

Leaders fall short of expectations for various reasons. Some of them are considered hereunder.

 

Loss of focus

Most leaders assume office with specific plans on what they intend to accomplish while in office. As a matter of fact, before a leader is appointed in most companies, he is asked to make a presentation on what he hopes to accomplish in office and the strategy to be deployed for that. If his presentation does not gel with the board, he is unlikely to get the appointment.

However, soon after getting into office, the leader realizes that he has other issues to contend with apart from what he had decided to devote his attention to. Oftentimes, the pressure of office forces him to abandon his original plan. Thus, instead of taking initiative on what matters most to the organization, he becomes reactive. Invariably, he loses momentum and begins to slip.

Unless the leader is disciplined enough to consistently put the accomplishment of his stated mission on the priority list, he will soon find out that he has little or no time to attend to those issues. Meanwhile, the board will assess his performance primarily by what he had promised to do.

So, probably more than anything else, it is incumbent on a leader to keep in focus the stated mission to ensure that his energies and other resources are not misdirected.

A way out of this is for the leader to be resolute about devoting his time only to those things that nobody else in the company can do and delegate every other task. By so doing, he extricates himself from being bogged down by seemingly important routine matters and concentrates only on issues that are critical to the progress of the organization.

 

Inability to respond to changing times

The business environment is dynamic. What worked hitherto may fail to work henceforth. A leader must be versed enough to realize this and proffer workable solutions. Leaders get executive pay essentially to solve problems. A leader is not expected to leave a company at the same level it was handed over to him. Great business leaders understand this; hence they stretch themselves no end to ensure that their organizations never have a better last year.

A leader who fails to proffer solutions to an organization in crisis has failed the basic test of leadership. That is what happened to Douglas Ivester, former Coca Cola CEO. He got into office hoping to use the same system employed by his predecessor in a different economic environment to solve a nagging problem. His strategy failed the first year but he did not know enough to try another strategy. When the trend continued the following year, the board had to show him the door.

A leader must not only be able to read and interpret the times accurately, he must also be able to proffer solutions to the problems that the changing times throw up. That is a core function of leaders, especially at the topmost echelon of an organization.

 

Employing situational ethics

Leaders fail when their reputation does not line up with their character. One of the key responsibilities of a leader to the rest of the crew is modeling integrity. A leader must always live by his word. A leader must never allow himself to fall into the rut of situational ethics, the suspension of the universal law on the altar of exigencies. The greatest capital of a leader is his integrity; once that is lost, not much is left. If a leader loses the trust of his followers, he has lost the followers.

Leaders find themselves adopting situational ethics when they don’t have strong convictions on some issues. Leaders who will go far always cross the bridge before they get to it. What most people do is to wait till they get to the bridge before crossing it. Anyone who operates like that will be unable to make right decisions because of attending pressure. Great leaders don’t allow themselves to be boxed into a corner, they act before it is necessary; they are always a step ahead of the situation. That gives them the opportunity of being clear-headed on issues and to take decisions based on merit and not any extraneous consideration.

 

Inability to move into the new role

Every leader has a background in an area. But by the time he is appointed the CEO, he ought to leave his old role and allegiance to it behind him. He should desist from working primarily for the interest of his erstwhile constituency and ensure that he operates as an overall CEO, not a sectional one.

This is the Waterloo of many star performers. Having excelled in a function, a leader is given high responsibility but more often than not leaving behind the former role mentally and moving into the new role becomes a challenge. A former Chief Finance Officer, who suddenly is made a CEO, continues to think and act like a CFO, forgetting that he has moved up. This will definitely affect the performance of his new function.

There must be a new thinking for a new level. There must be a different strategy for a different level. Hence the appropriateness of Marshall Goldsmith’s counsel to leaders that what got them to the current level will fail to move them to the next stage. When functions change, thinking should also change. Refusal to effect appropriate change could result in failure to meet expectations.

 

Failure to make the right move at the right time

Many a leader gets to a point that he does not want to rock the boat. He is comfortable with merely maintaining the status quo and managing to get by rather than taking a risk and losing what has been accomplished. But history has repeatedly vindicated leaders who took risks. A leader who fails to make the right move at the right time loses momentum and may never recover from that. For a leader, opting against risk-taking is a risky venture.

 

Gauging the people wrongly

A leader must learn to gauge the followers correctly otherwise what is meant for their good could be turned to the leader’s woe. Before carrying out any major policy change that will affect the followers, a leader must ensure a buy-in by the people first. Until that is done, he should not embark on any fundamental change.

As once observed by General Colin Powell, former US Secretary of State, “No good idea succeeds simply because it is a good idea. Good ideas must have champions – people willing to believe in them, push for them, fight for them, gain adherents and other champions, and press until they succeed.”

That will not happen until there is a buy-in.

 

Lack of people skills

Leaders love to sound and act tough so as not to be viewed as a weakling by those they lead. Consequently, they lose their soft power. A leader should not only be technically sound, he should also have a high level of people skill. A leader must be able to touch base with those he leads; otherwise he stands the risk of losing the followers or his seat or both.

A leader must be emotionally sound; he must be able to feel his people; he must be able to connect with them beyond official matters. He must resist the temptation to build a wall around himself. He must avoid getting a group that will be tagged ‘the leader’s gang’ or some other derogatory terms. If he does not do that, he will one day look behind and be stunned that he is all alone.

A leader who has mastered the art of people skills will tell his people to go to hell and they will look forward to the trip because they know him enough to join them on the expedition. For leaders who want to go the distance, developing people skills is sine qua non.

 

Last line

To consistently surpass expectations, resting on the oars is not an option.

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