A number of the readers of this column have sent me notes requesting that I share with them tips I picked from the successful people I have interviewed. They want tips they can apply to their careers, businesses and life, generally. In this first part, I’ve decided to pull out one key nugget shared by each of the persons I have had the privilege of interviewing in diverse areas. Please enjoy:
Pharmacist, business owner and politician
No guarantee that your best plan cannot fail
“NO GUARANTEE THAT YOUR BEST PLAN CANNOT FAIL”
In setting up my business I made it very clear that I wasn’t going to run a family business. I was going to run a business that would outlive me and that meant that I needed to put in place a solid structure and have some measure of a succession plan. I was fortunate to have very good hands working with me. In putting a succession plan in place, I relied on brilliant people who were in their young marriages at the time. The two I was relying on to take over left. The balancing of work and spouses by them affected my business at a time I had already gone into another calling, i.e. politics. This left a big gap that slowed down the growth of the business.
I also took up agencies and distributorships for well-established multinationals. I exposed my company financially only to realise that they didn’t ever really stick to their commitments. Their sole purpose was to get profit for themselves by all means. My consolation was that I was able to dissuade many younger colleagues from going down the same path. Better to build your own brand from scratch than build somebody else’s that has no commitment to you.
The lesson: there is no guarantee that your best plans cannot fail.
Scholar, political activist and boardroom guru
“KNOW YOUR BOSS’ KEY RESULT AREAS( KRA)
There is something that came up frequently in my teaching at the Lagos Business School: I tell the students, especially young managers, that one of the easiest things you can do is managing your boss. Many people don’t realise this, they think managing the boss is massaging his ego, but it is not so. You have to know your boss’ Key Result Areas (KRA) – that is what he is being evaluated on by his own bosses. If what you are doing advances his key results, even if he is the devil, he will not hurt you. Without actually knowing this in theory, that is what my career has always been about. It has never been about me, it is about how can I advance the purpose, the course of this thing which usually is something that advances the course and cause of the boss.
When I went to work for Volkswagen, the company had a lot of trouble, a terrible image in the public, there were labour problems and all sorts. I chose instead to look at the big issues; where the company was going. At that time, I was not consciously looking at advancing my boss’ KRA, but that was exactly what I was doing. Of course, I was rewarded for my efforts as I became the first Nigerian to manage the company. Besides as Paul Collier’s UNIDO-supported study of China”s dramatic rise in manufacturing shows China triumphed going the way I had suggested Nigeria go when he interviewed me at VWN in 1987. You do not get on that side of history if you think only of your immediate interest.
So, it was very important to focus on what is very important to the survival of the organisation, not on yourself, what you are trying to get or to show your boss that you know too much. Secondly, you have to imbibe the virtue of humility. The truth of the matter is that so many people are so focused on themselves that people can’t see them. They see their projection and many times that takes away from really feeling the person and their humanity is lost.
Investment banker and educationalist
“GO WITH YOUR INSTINCTS”
There is so much noise around that you sometimes will begin to question if your instincts are telling you the right thing. Therefore, as a person, you have to follow your instincts. You must be very clear as to what you want to do. I will tell you why I chose that as number one. When I was in St. Gregory’s College for my secondary school, I was very good at Maths and sciences and the assumption will always be you either become a doctor or an engineer, it is taken. Once you are good at literature and the arts, it is assumed you are going to become a lawyer or an accountant. I didn’t like biology so becoming a doctor was out of it for me. And everybody will naturally guide you, if you are good at chemistry and physics, they tell you to go and become an engineer. I filled JAMB form, I was barely 15 then and I wrote first choice: engineering, second choice: accountancy. My parents looked at me and say you must be a confused man, how do you combine the two? I got the second-highest mark for engineering in that year’s JAMB. I was taken at the University of Ilorin straight. My parent said you are still too young, you are even confused, go and do A-Levels. The following year, I came back and filled JAMB form, I now turned it around, first choice: accountancy; second choice: engineering. My father said I can see you are still confused, go and continue your A-Levels. I was eventually taken to do electronics engineering in the UK. But immediately I entered the four walls of the university, I knew I made a mistake.
I graduated, but I sold all my books on the day of my graduation. I did not follow my instincts, but a university education is good, I can’t say it was wasted, but I have wasted time. I started all over again.
After graduation, I came back to Nigeria, joined Deloitte and started doing accountancy. Go and check, I am an ICAN multiple prize winner, that is because I was doing what was on my mind. I excelled.
Economic policy expert, former minister of education in Nigeria and political activist
“ LET YOUR CAREER BE PURPOSE DRIVEN”
My father wanted me to be a chartered accountant and I trained to become one. After my Masters, I worked for Deloitte Touch & Akintola Williams, where I trained as a chartered accountant. I was a child that was precociously interested in good governance, prompted primarily by my enabling father and my experience with the (Nigerian) Civil War and military governance. As a child, Dad and I would always discuss public affairs at every opportunity and I became very conscious of social and political issues beyond my age. The war had a deep effect on my family following the loss of relatives and possessions. It left many families including mine scotched but my father raised us to never allow anything to enslave our souls. As he explained how poor governance was a reason for misery when we returned to Lagos after the war, my little self would promise him that “I would do something about poor governance when I grow up.” It turned out that I would do something later to put me in a position where I could address good governance, transparency, accountability and anti-corruption. God did it! I became one of the co-founders of Transparency International (TI), a global non-government organisation dedicated to preventing and tackling corruption. I had wanted to start a PhD in International Law but I came under the influence of a teacher, Baroness Shirley Williams, at Harvard University, United States, who persuaded me to study Public Policy because she believed that was what our continent (Africa) needed. She was right. An incredibly brilliant mind, my very much older friend Baroness Williams, who only last year retired from the House of Lords is one of Britain’s foremost politicians who had also been a Minister of Education under Prime Minister James Callaghan in 1976. She was absolutely right. Public Policy completely changed my professional life and that is what I am today. So, it was my father and Shirley Williams who influenced my choice of career
Pastor and retired public servant
*HE WHO KEEPS HIS MOUTH SHUT WILL LIVE”
It is often said, the fish that closes its mouth escapes the hook. That is the truth. When I was in the Army, I was sent to Kaduna on a short posting to man the One Brigade workshop. There, I shared a flat then with Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, one of the leaders of the 1966 coup. There was this particular day a Brigadier summoned me to his office and spoke derogatorily against the Igbos and the GOC then, General Aguiyi Ironsi. I felt bad about that and I related it to Nzeogwu who tried to calm me down promising that he would deal with the Brigadier and his likes very soon. I didn’t know how he was going to do that being just a Major. But shortly after I returned to Lagos, there was a coup and without knowing those who were behind it, I said to myself, Nzeogwu has done this. But I didn’t say it out, if I had, I would have been arrested as part of the coup plotters and probably killed, because soon after it was announced that the leader of the coup was Nzeogwu. I would have been arrested and accused of having knowledge of the coup plan. But thank God I didn’t say anything to the hearing of anyone. That taught me a lesson, if you want to keep your life, you have to keep your mouth shut. When you open your mouth too wide, you are heading for destruction. That is why I don’t talk anyhow and I advise people to watch their tongues .
Personal development expert and Neuro Linguistic Programming Practitioner
*BEGIN WITH THE PURPOSE”
Most people don’t realise that they live their life in autopilot mode. It is important to start with the picture in your mind. Imagine the picture of the result you want to achieve. Once you can see the picture and take mindful actions, there is a higher possibility of you turning that picture into reality. That picture keeps you focused on the results. Results, not efforts, matter. I do this on a daily basis. I learnt that sometime back when I started learnin…