How African leaders can become successful

Several years ago, I was doing a corporate program on risk taking for a major company in Nigeria. The news did fly out as a bird that merger talks were under way and this was generating “downsizing” rumors amongst the employees. The company needed me to facilitate an in-depthtraining for them on how to change the culture of their organization from—maintenance thinking to risk taking and innovation.It was a defining moment in the life of that company!

It behooves me to quickly and nippily say to you that until you transit from maintenance thinking to risk taking and innovation, it shall be impossible for you to become success in life, career, business and leadership. Those who do have maintenance thinking don’t make waves on earth. And remember, on the condition that you do not make waves, you hall get drowned in the water of life.

Prior to the corporate training I was talking about while opening today’s piece, the CEO and general manager, aware of downsizing rumors amongst employees, as an effect of the merger talks that were under way, had discussed with me the importance of changing his organization’s culture from one of “ maintenance thinking” to one of risk taking and innovation. This was non-negotiable if they wanted to stay afloat in the river of business.

“With the industry fast changing and becoming more competitive every day, we will not survive unless we think more like entrepreneurs,” the CEO said. “It is essential that everyone understands and acts on that. We want, no, we need, risk takers in this organization. Even if the risks do not work out, at least we will know these are the kinds of people that we need if this organization is to succeed. Those are just putting in time and going through the motions are holding us back. We have got to weed them out.” If you are a maintenance thinking employee in this century, you shall be weeded out.

Over the years, I have met with many people who do have maintenance thinking. They are always afraid of taking risks. As an effect of this kind of thinking, no one knows that they are existing in their communities, companies and nations. To lead the pack in this day and time in any field of life, you shall need to kick out of your life—maintenance thinking. Also, to trade with your gifts and talents, you cannot afford to have maintenance thinking. You shall need to embrace risk taking culture and innovation.

Like many other large companies experiencing radical changes, the company I am talking about had many employees still clinging to the “do not make waves” philosophy. They viewed risk taking as a threat. One middle manager said to me, “Take risks? Are you crazy? I am not taking any chances. They will be cutting like crazy after this merger. You do one thing wrong and you lose your head. I am keeping my head down so no one notices me.”

But those who kept a low profile became invisible—unknown and easy to cut. Indeed, nobody did notice the guy who kept his head down. That was his problem and hiding with his chin on his chest, he was laid off. He did not understand that taking risks is not only a success strategy, but a survival strategy as well.

To succeed and survive on earth today, you shall need to start taking well prepared risks. Stop keeping your head down. Stop being afraid of failure. Raise your head up above water and care less about what people would say. Either you do nothing or something, people will talk about you. Why don’t you stand-out and do something meaningful with your life and let those who are having maintenance mindset continue to talk about you? Do you know why people talk about you? It is because you are leading a productive life. Nobody talks about a nonentity.

Please understand that there is an enormous amount of negative “loading” around the term risk. I often ask people for synonyms and they suggest: “dangerous,” “scary,” “failure,” “foolish.” It is no wonder that C.J. Silas, chairman and CEO of Phillips Petroleum, recently gave a speech to the Forum Club of Houston asking, “Where have all the risk takers gone?”

In Nigeria and Africa as a whole, where have all the risk takers gone? Where are those who shall look at the giants of their day and take themon? Where are the risk takers, likeDavid of this world, who shall boldly step out of the crowd and stand out to be counted when others are afraid, refusing to stick their neck out of water? And if you do not stick your neck out of the water of life, you shall get drowned.

Most successful people I have met in business and leadership are risk takers. They take risks and make unconventional moves, but they do not do stupid things. They do their homework before acting. In fact, the most successful risk takers are usually precise, sober, and realistic people. The truth is, risk takers live—or die—by three cardinal rules: Rule 1: Prepare. Rule 2: Prepare. Rule 3: Prepare!

On the inside of your place of work today, do people know that you are existing? Are you keeping your head down, drowning or you are making waves as an employee? Are you a risk taker or maintenance thinking employee? For the umpteenth time, you cannot afford to have maintenance mindset. If you do, the little you do have shall be given to those whom have more than you—who are risk takers and innovators. Do you want to have more than you are having now, then you shall need to embrace risk taking as a young man would embrace his new wedded wife.

Lastly, you cannot lead successfully in this day and time with maintenance thinking. This is not the mindset of the 21st century leaders. The 21st century leaders are risk takers and are given over to innovation consistently. They either birth new things or look at things that have being created and do them differently. This is what helps them to make waves in their varied fields of life. My advice to you today is to do away with maintenance thinking and start embracing risk taking mindset. See you where great leaders are found!