Great leadership inspires great work

By Nnanke Essien

A recurring theme in my reflections is the diverse styles of leadership prevalent in Africa and by extension the work environment. In the African setting, leadership is often perceived as inherently top-down and authoritative, with a historical emphasis on hierarchical structures and a centralized decision-making process. This traditional model of leadership is characterized by a strong, directive approach, where leaders are expected to wield authority and make decisions without extensive consultation. The cultural context often places a premium on respect for authority and elders, reinforcing the perception of leadership as a forceful, top-down endeavor. I’d like to emphasize here, that these are the sort of leadership environments your staff members are exposed to as well.

I’m quite certain that a common sentiment among individuals in my age group, who have ascended to leadership roles, is a belief that they do not conform to these categories. Yet, when one considers the leadership dynamics within entities like boarding houses—an environment often characterized by oppressive tendencies—one begins to discern parallels with the broader national leadership landscape. Just because one outgrows the overt use of “bullying” in a boarding school and adopts a suit-and-tie lifestyle doesn’t necessarily equate to embodying great leadership. A reconsideration of leadership principles within our African setting and work environments becomes imperative.

With the high rate of mobility, quiet quitting, disengagement, and so on in the work environment, there is a growing recognition of the need for more inclusive and participatory leadership styles that harness the diverse strengths within our communities, fostering collaboration, and adapting to the evolving dynamics of contemporary society. As Africa navigates the complexities of a globalized world, there is a discernible shift towards exploring leadership models that blend cultural traditions with modern, inclusive practices to address the multifaceted challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.

In the dynamic landscape of today’s professional world, effective leadership plays a pivotal role in organizational success. However, leadership issues can undermine a team’s potential and hinder innovation. This essay explores a case study illustrating leadership challenges and emphasizes the significance of an operating model that prioritizes values, core focus, and problem-solving approaches.

Let’s explore a case study

The case study involves an intelligent business leader who has a lot of accolades and achievements publicly but not in the firm; This leader believes and parades as the epitome of intelligence with no one else coming close, creating a toxic work environment through derogatory communication and a lack of mentorship. This leader expects the team to emulate them without providing the necessary guidance to understand thinking patterns and how to solve problems within the space. Additionally, resorting to punitive measures, like cutting back on benefits which further drives the negative work culture. In one day this employer lost ten (10 employees) who decided to preserve themselves rather than endure. From the outside, this may seem like a coup or an unfair practice. This is why leaders must understand that employees do not begin the process of resigning the day they resign. The process begins long before.

One crucial aspect of solving these scenarios in organizations is having an effective operating model or operating system; Bear in mind that whether you deliberately implement an OS/OM or not, your organization already has an operating model. So it might just make sense to create one that ensures you get results directly connected to your goals as an organization.

A successful operating model will consider the following:

  • Vision (Core focus, Values, Clients, Product, Goals,)
  • Culture
  • People
  • Operations
  • How to solve problems aka communication plan
  • Processes

This is to ensure there is a clear path and direction and management or leadership can effectively without vagueness communicate the organization’s overarching goals and priorities and ensure that every team member understands their role in achieving these objectives. In the case study, the leader’s focus on individual brilliance rather than collaborative success undermines the team’s potential.

Effective problem-solving is another key element of a robust operating model. Leaders must encourage a culture where team members are empowered to think critically and contribute innovative solutions. In contrast, the case study leader fails to nurture the team’s problem-solving skills, resulting in a stifled work environment where creativity is discouraged.

Leadership should be about inspiring and empowering others, not creating an atmosphere of fear and intimidation. The case study highlights the need for leaders to adopt a more inclusive mentoring approach, fostering an environment where team members feel valued and encouraged to share their unique perspectives.

In conclusion, the case study sheds light on the detrimental effects of poor leadership on team dynamics and organizational success. Leaders must recognize their core values, establish a clear core focus, and foster problem-solving skills within their teams. By embracing an operating model that prioritizes these elements, organizations can cultivate a positive work culture that encourages innovation, collaboration, and continuous improvement.

The next time an employee resigns in your organization, check to ensure your environment and leadership style is encouraging great work and not otherwise.

To your continued success

Nnanke Essien

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