Leadership Is About Courage To Trust, Guide, Set purpose And Instill Systems/Processes.

In 2012, after a stint on a project in Uganda, I was moved back to a project in South Africa that was certified by the client as ‘failing’ on the way to total failure. This project was a first for me compared to my strength and background in Core Telecoms/IT. It was the first time I had to work with people who were not all qualified Engineers. I had to manage people from diverse backgrounds and qualifications.

My implementation manager was a very big and well built Afrikaner man. The first time he was introduced to me, he laughed out so loudly. Like, how can this be my boss. I was not perturbed. I knew why I was called to lead that team and he was going to find out soon enough.

I could have told the company that a Fibre project was not in line with my experience and interest. But I saw it as a learning opportunity and went for it. And it changed a lot of assumptions I made in the past. Not to leave out the fact that it was a great opportunity to understand another side of the Telecoms business.

My first meeting with the client left an indelible mark on my mind. He looked me in the eyes and asked: “Ayo, who did you offend at Ericsson that decided to destroy your sterling career by allocating you to this project?”. He went on to tell me that the team was useless and a great project manager is not what it would take to fix it, but a total overhauling of the whole team was needed.

Luckily for me, I had just come back from a MBA study block at the University of Stellenbosch Business School and one of my leadership module takeaway was about building effective and efficient teams. I realized that most times, leadership is the problem and not the team members.

My first action was to set up individual meetings with the team members. Interestingly, they all had good things to say about their individual skills and commitments and very bad things to say about other teams. We had 4 streams – Planners, RoW, Site Supervision and Quality Assurance. Each stream had a team lead. And each team blamed the other team. It took me a few days to pin point the problem. Lack of purpose, systems and processes.

And so I set up a 2-day workshop with the entire team. I decided I was not going to draft a working document for the team. The team would have to do that together. I started by explaining how their actions led to the retrenchment exercise that was ongoing at that time in the company. I broke down how late invoicing leads to crashes in share prices and how that leads to job losses. They had never thought about the implications of delays and bad quality on their own livelihood to that extent.

One of the mistakes “educated” bosses make is to think those kind of information are only meant for middle management and above. It is a big problem. You need to be able to explain things like future value of money to everyone in your organization.

We mapped the processes together. Adapted systems to be used and at the end, we had a simple 7-pager document that clearly showed who was responsible for what and how the work flows from team to team. Each team member then printed and signed the document to confirm they understood the processes.

In less than one month, the client started seeing the difference. And at the end of the project, he called me into his office and asked what I did to turn things around. My implementation manager and other team members also came around quickly once they saw my interventions. I worked with them very well and with mutual respect.

Most of the problems in small and big companies, even in countries are tied to leadership. I see it everyday. People don’t necessarily know what their roles are. Citizens also have a warped idea of how countries work. Employees behave anyhow because they are not totally invested. They are not totally invested because they don’t necessarily know the implications of their actions.

As leaders, we must come down to the level of everyone we are leading. We need to hear from them, make them to commit. Don’t push things down their throats. Make them to commit on their own. Your job is to lead them. Guide the process mapping but use their brains. And you’d realize that people are not dumb like you have always believed.

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