Are you looking for a life coach? The list is endless. Are you in search of a role model? Not a few abound. Are you caught in the web of life’s vicissitudes? You are not alone. Can you be a leader of men? He says yes as he sits across the table, unassuming with a broad smile that belies his willingness to give a helping hand. Dressed to the nines without being ostentatious, he gesticulates as he talks. He’s a handsome man from an ugly past – as a child he was made to witness the marital mess in his family. He detests his past while he passionately loves the present and devotes his life to the future. He yearns for a glorious present and future for others too. He’s not just a run of the mill leadership speaker, David Olatunji excels where others have failed. He doesn’t just talk the talk, he walks the talk. Olatunji bares his mind to Adedayo Adejobi on his tough, uninspiring childhood, and how to escape the doldrums of low life
How will you describe your childhood?
(It was) tough and uninspiring. I grew up not knowing why I appeared on the planet earth. I never had anyone talk to me on purpose (of life). I never had any inkling of where I came from; why I came from where I came from. Life was boring being more of a routine: wake, prostrate for your parents, bathe, eat, go to school, come back; eat again, sleep, and wake up again. I considered myself an accident living just by the day; not understanding (the) purpose (of life). Growing under parents who with the benefit of hindsight were perhaps more confused than I was did not help matters. So, early in life there was no proper direction other than go to school and play with other kids and sleep. I grew up in an average family struggling all along, deprived of the good things of life. Just imagine the kind of mind I grew up with: vain, distorted, fearful, selfish, warped and damaged in all its ramifications, always wondering why some people had everything going for them while nothing was going for me. This mindset was to be serious battleground for me later in life.
How would you describe your parents, and what lasting lessons did you learn from them?
My parents never really came together and enjoyed their marriage as one. There was always an issue to grouch about; as much as they tried to hide them, I still got to know. Only one lesson stood out with my dad: he loved education and he took time to be my personal teacher and when it was time to go to secondary school, I was always on top of my common entrance examinations. He was tough, being a soldier. So I must do my homework. The great lesson from them really is more of how not to make my marriage fail. For instance, my parents were separated when I was 13 years old and now I see the tremendous damage that had on me and others. So I am smart enough, by choice, using the power of my will, coupled with God’s wisdom and grace, to keep my own marriage even though it is not immune from the challenges of the environment and intervention of the flesh and self. There are so many opportunities to separate or break up but my wife and I just refuse to take any. We have resolved to stick to it for life.
Do you see yourself in your children or vice versa?
I constantly see myself in all of my children both male and female. At times these include even our manner of speech. As a family, one of our values is not to speak negatively. One thing I make sure I do is to say and do things I know they will proud of at all times. For all of them, I am their first leader and model. My daughters will relate with their husbands in future based on what they see in me. To them I represent men.
Why did you choose a career in training and teaching?
I grew up with a huge dislike for mediocrity which is a direct by-product of ignorance. So very early in life I developed an uncanny thirst for knowledge, which spurred me on to read several books on why some people excel in life, and why some don’t despite having equal opportunities. I grew up knowing so much that I began to freely share the information I gathered with friends, colleagues and associates who were hungry for knowledge. The need to see people rise above average; above common, ordinary results in their performance and shun the comfort zone of life led me into teaching and training. By putting few principles into constant practice every man has an equal chance of success.
I am convinced that if any one desires success in any field or in any aspect of life, the minimum requirement is constant education. Problems or what we know as challenges of life remain until adequate knowledge is received about them. Everything remains the same until the force of knowledge is applied to it. I chose the part of leadership because from the beginning, man was designed to be a leader, to rule over all other creatures of God. The leadership potential has to be groomed, developed and cultivated through constant education and practice of knowledge; it cannot just bloom by itself. And we can see the dearth of leadership globally. No institution or corporate body can rise higher than its leadership. No nation can outgrow its leadership. So my joy and fulfilment is derived from coaching, counselling and mentoring young upcoming leaders. Most of this I do without collecting fees. I knew I was wanted to mentor people on leadership since I was 32 years old, as I was already a General Manager managing hundreds of employees. I was running a foremost printing firm in Nigeria, and by 34, I was managing the number one imaging company in the country. My major contribution then as a leader was to train and educate the minds of my colleagues. They saw and accepted me naturally and I was able to influence them because of the trust they had in me. In the process I helped many unlearn many wrong traits and habits, replaced with new ones.
How does one become a better leader?
Becoming a better leader starts from developing healthy thinking patterns and stable emotions, and this is hard work. Leadership is more of thinking than title. By deliberate actions, a leader must develop a sound and fertile mindset through reading and self-development. As we grew up we all have stored inside our memories or the subconscious mind, information that may need to be unfrozen and replaced with new information through constant, continual learning. No one assumes leadership position and makes anything out of it, who will not learn daily. It is Alfin Tofler who says that the illiterate of the 21st century will not be the man who cannot read or write but the one who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn. In addition to being better, a leader must develop self-awareness by knowing who he is. He must also allow people to know him. The more a leader knows himself through self-awareness, self-disclosure and feedback from people around him, the better he becomes.
What have been the high and low points on the job?
The low point is the fact that not very many people place high value on learning. Many after leaving the university desist from any further learning. So I have to battle with so many people at the unconscious incompetence zone of the learning life cycle. And of course the high point are the lives that change after each training intervention and encounter, and the results coming from them. I am fulfilled and accomplished. This is because I am doing what I know I love and what I consider is my purpose on earth.
Away from the trainer everyone knows you to be, who is David Olatunji?
Outside training in the secular world, I am also a servant of God. I pastor a church and serve in His vineyard as His co-labourer. I am a husband of one; and a father of four children who are all doing well.
What project would you say was a turning point in your career?
This happened when I set up Skillsfuture, a tutorial centre for the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators of UK students to get chartered. I did that for some time till the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators of Nigeria became autonomous and I had to give that of UK up to avoid conflict of interest. This marked the paradigm shift because I was not just a teacher but I became a counsellor and a mentor to many. Many refer to me as their mentors more than a teacher
What key lessons has marriage taught you?
My marriage has taught me that there is a mysterious force that gets things done in a marriage where there is unity, agreement and harmony. With the right spouse, and you also being the right one, there is no mountain you cannot surmount together. It makes me remember the thinking of the wisest king Solomon that two actually are better than one. When one is low, the other lifts him up. God has blessed me with a great asset, of a wife. Marriage has taught me that God does not want us to live for ourselves alone. We have to be responsible for some people and it starts with our partner. Marriage can be exciting and enjoyable, if you both choose to make it so. Marriage is not about looking or longing or even praying for the right person, but its more about being the right person yourself, and everything will set in place.
So what kind of a husband and father are you?
Sincerely, I believe the right answers should come from my wife and children. But I believe through rough and good times I have graduated into a very responsible, warm, accommodating, and friendly husband and father. I have become a good role model. My wife is my friend as well as my children and they are very satisfied with my leadership by example.
You have a simple sense of style and fashion. Are you always like this?
I was not always like this. I used to be a lover of “power dressing” I loved to look extremely good and attractive until I became aware that it is a wrong leadership trait. Self-consciousness may eventually create immorality and integrity problems. Now I pay huge attention to what forms inside me than how I look outside. However, this also does not mean I appear loose, unkempt and tattered. Style and fashion is no longer part of my values. People don’t remember what you wore yesterday but forever they will remember how their lives changed meeting you.
What is the most luxury item you have ever purchased?
A car and a laptop.
How do you unwind?
Reading my Bible and listening to messages from great men of God. I isolate myself a lot; at times in the bush all by myself, thinking and imagining things I want to leave as a legacy when I am done in this planet earth. I also love walking a lot. I could walk five kilometres a day.
What inspires you?
When I am invited to share knowledge, whether money is involved or not. I am on top of myself when I am preparing a talk. It’s exciting. It flows naturally from within me. I love impacting lives; I love seeing lives transformed through knowledge impartation.
Why do you want to build a university?
As an educator and a reader of hundreds of literature on leadership, I believe one key resource needed to turn Africa around is committed leadership. I have come to one conclusion: if the leadership thinking in Africa changes, the continent will have a quick transformation. It’s a paradox that Africa is the wealthiest continent in terms of resources, yet it’s a continent that houses the poorest and the most ignorant people on earth. It is in Africa you still see people living below $1 per day. I admit also that the smartest people are also found on the continent but most of them are wrongly channelling their talents and skills. Our educational system is not preparing the youths for the continents’ challenges. It’s a system that daily builds in younger generation, survival of the fittest, winners take all, win-lose relationship, I-me-myself-only concept, cheat-steal-dog-eat-dog attitude, what-is-in-it-for-me attitude, and competition-at-all -cost spirit, among others. When I was in the university I was wrongly prepared for life. I believe that the reality of life after university education is more than what the students are exposed to and I sincerely want to bridge this gap. Leadership has been taught highlighting performance, charisma, skills, hard work and achievements while we often overlook character and attitude. I have seen that induction of new employees in our companies focus only on meeting targets while nothing is done on how the staff can manage his negative internal dialogues constantly pulling him apart or how to manage rejection from stakeholders he will be dealing with.
At times, scanty mention is made about interpersonal relationship while neglecting intra-personal relationship which is the very first beginning of personality management. My vision of a university is one that will focus on character building and life skills. My vision is to run a university not just for academic certificates but one that will prepare students for the exact life they will be thrown into after university education. My focus is to train the mind of future leaders, create new thinking patterns, and make them service and assignment-focussed rather than being self and inward-focused. I intend to brew leaders that will put the needs of others above theirs. Africa is where it is because of the past collective thoughts of our leaders, if we must change and we should; a new thinking pattern is required from future leaders.
Again, I wonder why our universities score low marks on vocational training. There are thousands of students who should not be reading banking and finance or history. Some are by gifts and personal endowments, tailors or carpenters or plumbers. Yet their minds need to be exposed to some form of formal education. We are training everyone to focus on being an employee of oil companies and banks and not to be entrepreneurs after leaving school. I want to be able to address this also. It’s going to be a system with a difference; something people initially will find difficult to accept. But it is going to be the way out.
Who will you say has had a huge influence on you?
Alhaji Sulaimo Adebola Adegunwa; he is the owner and Founder of the then Fototek Industries Limited. Now I believe the Chairman of Rights Foods, makers of Biggi and Rights sausage, and also former Chairman of Sterling bank. I cut my teeth under him as a young leader. He was the first mentor I learned from face to face, day by day, for about 16 years, first as a middle level staff, and later as a senior staff. This man is discipline personified; he is an epitome of hard work and very focussed. You can’t easily convince him against the way he has seen things to be right; yet very humble enough to always ask for other people’s inputs and opinions before taking decisions.
From all I have seen and read about leaders, he stands out in so many ways. He is a Muslim, who would never mix religion with business. He has excessive hatred for pleasure; never once did I see him in any club. All his recreation was in his house. Many wanted to pull him into all sorts of recreational games but he refused. He was courageous and bold. He rarely took decisions based on emotions but rather on facts, even among his children. He was a strategic and creative thinker. If the man went to bed with any problem, we were sure he would emerge in the morning with a solution. He had his own weaknesses too, being human. And I learned from those too.
What are your strengths and weaknesses?
Ability to talk without getting tired is one of my strengths. I could talk for a day nonstop. I am a communicator and very expressive. I could easily get my thoughts across to you; ability to research for information and an impressive library and ability to speed-read. I can read a book of 250-300 pages a day especially in the airplane, and see more than the author.
What about your weaknesses?
Some of my weaknesses include: wanting to please everybody every time. This major weakness that could derail a leader and it actually derailed me before in my journey as a leader. I tend to be too much people-oriented. What William Marsten in his study of DISC concept of personalities refers to as ‘influence’ and ‘steady’. At times, it includes not wanting to say no when that is the answer that I should say. I don’t like to ruffle feathers. I also leave people to their folly when perhaps I should have developed courage to confront and help them.
What would you say is your biggest regret in life?
I had slowed my life down at a time through wrong choices, especially through indiscipline.
As an entrepreneur and an employer of labour, when faced with two equally qualified candidates, how do you determine who to hire?
The one with the right attitude; skills can be inculcated because it’s outside an individual, but attitude can only be grown, cultivated and nourished because it is within. I place heavy emphasis on attitudes.
What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess?
Discipline plus focus. A leader who is not disciplined in his appetites: sex, food, sleep, words and thoughts is a liability to any nation and country or any institution.
What is the biggest challenge facing Nigerian leaders today?
Our leaders are surrounded with too much comfort and pleasure. Tough decisions cannot be taken in comfort. No one can do much creative things when his attention is captured by mundane things that have no everlasting value. And no country moves ahead where leaders don’t engage in creative thinking daily. The thinking of past leaders have brought the country to where it is now; if things must and should change new thinking patterns are now required from the present leaders.
What is one mistake leaders make often?
(It is) being surrounded by sycophants. They have a mindset of wanting to hear pleasant news only and news that will massage their ego. These people are many in the corridors of power. Ego tripping, hero worship, pride, complacency, timidity, people-pleasing, inability to assert authority, fear of what people will say, praise of men, immorality and excessive pleasure and broken focus have derailed leaders more often than not.
What advice would you give someone going into a leadership position for the first time?
That leadership is not title, position, age, connection but service: ability to add value to lives will stand out any leader any day. I will tell him to be ready to make a difference through service and not to be served.
What world leader or global figure will you love to meet, and what question will you like to ask him?
The ruler of Dubai and the question I would like to ask him is about what inspires him to do what he is doing for his people? What is making Dubai to work tall among comity of nations as it has recorded about ‘seven bests’? In 2014, about 75 million people visited Dubai Mall. What are his secrets that make things work in a desert? And how will these achievements be sustained?