Leading with presence — 2


COVID-19 has changed the world and the way we do things. The changes it has brought upon humanity will be our new norm for some time to come. It is as if it was what the world needed to remind us that the only constant thing about life is change. Social distancing means we make less physical contacts. The lockdowns make us appreciate the value of family and social contacts we were beginning to take for granted! New business realities mean that organizations are likely to get leaner in human capacity through a drastic reduction in the workforce because of dwindling fortunes and new economic realities arising from pre-COVID operations. The world is in a quandary. It appears, in the words of Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel, only the paranoid will survive.

This underscores the need for exemplary leadership that can bridge the chasm between the reality of the involuntary impersonal toga that we have all had to assume and the need to effectively connect within and outside the organization. Paranoia may cut it for everyone else but for a leader who wants to effectively navigate these season and lead post-COVID, P.R.E.S.E.N.C.E is what is required.

Present tense leadership must be PURPOSEFUL. The vision of the leader is the anchor of his relationship with his followers. Visionary leaders don’t succeed solely because of the strength of the vision but because of their ability to infect people with their passion for a destination. Consequently, the leader who desires present tense relevance must have the uncanny capacity to attract and retain the right kind of people and harness their talents and energies to achieve an overarching vision.

To achieve this, the present leader must be RELATIONAL. More than anything in these times, people yearn for true bonding with others beyond what gadgets can make happen. Beyond the resumption of economic activities, this is one key reason why people are eager for governments worldwide to lift lockdown restrictions. The surge of people on the streets when there is a relaxation of movement restrictions convinces me beyond any reasonable doubt that humanity was made for connections. Any leader who can sustain connections beyond the impersonal Zoom, Skype or other online meetings around business will continue to enjoy loyal followership.

Present tense leadership’s relationship with followers is largely hinged on EMPATHY. It’s about walking in the shoes of the follower to know where and how it hurts. Such leaders don’t sacrifice their followers for convenience and never throw them under the bus when they need support the most. Even when he has to fire people, the present tense leader does it with a heart that makes the employee in question know that he is not a victim of some soulless executive convenience.

Those who lead with presence care less about servile subservience from followers. Rather, they are focused on making themselves significant in the lives of their followers through quality service. Yes, you read that right. More often than not, we have been used to the school of thought that the leader is one that everyone else serves. This is largely a carry-over from our feudal “Kabiyesi” (no one dares question his authority) culture and the secondary school system where a student in a higher class literally ran the life of another student in a junior class, even if they are age-mates or the latter is older. I had this orientation as I made progress in my career trajectory.

Until 1999. I was privileged to attend the Haggai Institute of Advanced Leadership Development (now Haggai International) in Maui, Hawaii in the United States. I was in a set of about 60 participants from about 25 countries. On arrival, each one of us was picked at the airport by an elderly person who took us to the Mid-Pacific Centre which was to be our abode for the month-long duration of the program. Men and women, dressed very simply, carried our stuff to our rooms, changed our beddings like they were employees of a standard international hotel and catered to our every need. I was humbled when I later discovered that these were volunteers who were CEOs or who retired at the top echelons of their careers and who had come to offer their services at no cost to the institute. The institute only gave them one meal a day. The rest they paid for! Many of them had actually sponsored participants to the tune of $10,000/participant! After I had been invited to become an International Faculty in the Institute, I once met a former CEO (a former CEO of General Electric in a session where I was facilitating. He came as a volunteer! My experience in the Institute changed my perspective about leadership forever!

To lead with presence means to EMPOWER followers. Leaders must be deliberate about replicating themselves in thought and function. This is only possible when followers are empowered through capacity building, a learning culture and the capacity for execution at the leader’s instance. The people we don’t build can destroy the structures we are trying to build. People must be prioritized above machines and processes. In a business outfit, the first customers are those who function within the organization; the staff!

Beyond empowerment for function, the leader establishes presence through NURTURE. People follow a leader because they see in him a picture of who and what they desire to become. This is why great leaders take time to mentor through teaching, role-modeling and deliberate delegation that makes the follower take on assignments way above his league, while the leader stands by cheering him on and nudging him towards greater possibilities. Great leaders nurture by demystifying leadership to their followers through a simplified, guided participation process.

In the words of my friend, Victor Oladokun, the first business of today’s marketplace is COMMUNICATION. Great leaders are great communicators, not by oratory skills but by their ability to fire people up with a vision and make them run with it. They communicate with the market through a strong value proposition. The basic goal of effective communication, either verbal or non-verbal, is to connect people with something, an idea, a service, a person, an institution, etc. Without that, the best of visions is DOA (Dead On Arrival)!

On a final note, the leader shows his presence by constant EVALUATION. Feedback is the breakfast of champions. Establishments make progress when they can constantly evaluate themselves by benchmarks dictated by their overall vision. True leaders institute a feedback mechanism that makes it possible for them to know which aspects of the corporate journey need attention if the desired outcomes are not to be compromised or jeopardized. Even if all that evaluation tells him is that the organization is healthy and steadily making progress, it is of premium value to the leader. Evaluation and honest feedback give followers the opportunity to have a say in the organization’s destiny while enhancing the feeling of individual self-worth and value to the organization. Feedback facilitates collective decisions.

To lead with presence is to lead with the heart, not the head!

Are you present?

Remember, the sky is not your limit, God is!



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