Leadership ability

Make it part of your personal brand

East African media does a good job of highlighting the achievements of our current business



leaders. There are contests for SME’s; there’s recognition for ladies who lead; there are entrepreneurial rankings. Fifteen years ago you could count the Lions of Business on the fingers of one hand. They were the men who had succeeded in difficult times. Under authoritarian regimes, in command economies. They moved along the corridors of power. The more corporate among them received directorships and chairmanships, and were held up as modern marvels by western multinationals – when in fact they were nothing of the kind. The more entrepreneurial ran their business empires without pomp, without offices and titles, on their mobile phones.

Ten years ago the corporate world began to produce the next stage of leadership. Men, and now women, who had worked in the region, more widely in Africa, and overseas. They had assumed the mantle of corporate behaviour. They appeared compliant and transparent. They had executive ability and tertiary education – MBA’s and beyond.

Today we see the next generation of business leaders emerging. With high hopes of making it to the top. The question is; have they benefitted from any skills transfer from the leaders who went before?

On the assumption that such blessings have been scarcer than we all would like, I wanted to highlight some aspects of leadership behaviour for the benefit of the next generation. The interesting thing is that these behaviours are proven and timeless. But potential leaders often don’t get the chance to practice them before they are promoted to glory.

Experts suggest that there are five levels of leadership. The first level is Positional Leadership. This is where we all begin, with a title and job description that positions us to influence others. As a junior executive, people follow you because they have to. Or, as they say in the military, out of curiosity! People follow you with the least amount of energy and effort. If you have the makings of a leader, you can make the position work for you. You can put your staff needs before your own; become a team maker and problems solver; lead by example and not shirk.

If you do, you may become a Permission Leader. At this level you build productive relationships. You learn how to influence people by listening to them, observing them and learning what makes them tick. You try to stay above petty quarrels because you cannot influence a person you antagonize. You continue to serve the organization better and more diligently than the people around you. In return people give you permission to lead.

Success at this level opens the door to being a Productivity Leader.At this level you become more effective because you produce results by example. And, because “people do what people see”, you begin to attract colleagues who want to share in results and recognition. So you teach them how to be productive and effective. Leaders gain momentum at this level by helping to solve 80% of the problems faced by their team.

If this becomes second nature to you, you are ready to become a Developmental Leader. You realise that people are the most appreciable asset in your organisation; and that future success depends on growing them. You begin to understand three things about developing people:

  • The better person you bring in the door, the higher the chance you can do with well with them.
  • Strive to put people in their right position. Successful people position themselves well while successful leaders position others well.
  • Equip others well. Do the task yourself, then do the task with them, then tell them to do it while you are there, then let them do it on their own.

Some people reading this column will achieve the fifth level, which we call Respected Leadership. This is no easy plateau, but a lifelong journey of continuous learning. Here people follow you because of who you are, what you have done and the qualities you posses. American leadership coach John Maxwell (why not YouTube him?) has a good way of summarising this effect:

“We attract who we are, not who we want. Who you are as a leader, is who you attract onto your team”.


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