The making of extraordinary leaders

Leaders come in two basic types; those whose memory sparks indifference or anger and those whose memory elicits joy. The former are ordinary while the latter are extraordinary. Leaders who understand their purpose and invest the whole of themselves in achieving the purpose end up as extraordinary while those who either lack the understanding of their purpose or are unwilling to put the whole of themselves in its realization become ordinary.

Extraordinary leaders usually do the following:


Serve the people

The pathway to extraordinary leadership is none other than service. To serve the people is to solve their problems.

Leaders who want to become extraordinary do not wait to be served, they serve others. They know that the core of their calling as leaders is to serve the people under their watch. Many people who find themselves in leadership positions do not understand what it means to serve the people. Some of them may even have good intentions but do not understand what is meant by serving others. Serving others mean doing for them what they cannot do for themselves. By doing for them what they cannot do for themselves, a leader adds value to his people, makes them better than they were before their coming together and helps them to accomplish their aspirations.

When a leader offers service that helps his people achieve their goals, he wins their hearts and their trust. He is elevated in the thinking of the people and they are willing to do anything for him. That is what happened to Nelson Mandela of South Africa. He served the people. He did for them what they could not do for themselves. He helped them to accomplish their goals of self rule. He did not betray their trust. As a result, the people loved, trusted and adored him. He was worshipped in life and even in death.

When a corporate leader genuinely serves the people, he turns the workforce into his ally. This positively impacts on the bottom line as the people work their hearts out to ensure that they reciprocate the good gesture of their leader.


Transformation of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen

When Cheryl Bachelder was named CEO of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen in 2007, the company was in a dire strait. Its stock price had dropped from $34 in 2002 to $13, sales and profit trends were negative, guest visits had headed south and the company was practically at war with its franchise owners. But seven years later, the trend had changed; sales had gone up by 25 per cent, profits had increased by 40 per cent, market share had moved up from 14 per cent to 21 percent, and the stock price was over $40. Even the franchisees were happy with the company.

According to Bachelder, the company experienced a turnaround when it came to the conclusion that “We needed to serve the people who have invested the most in Popeyes.” The company started going down when it failed to pay attention to its franchisees. To reverse the trend, Bachelder decided to pay attention to restaurant owners, heeding their suggestions on how to improve service delivery. When this was done, customer experience improved and became more satisfying. Consequently, the customers returned and the lot of the company changed.


Empower the people

Extraordinary leaders understand the secret of corporate success; it is putting the people before the business. That is the wise and logical thing to do because it is people that build business, not the other way round. No business can be better than the quality of the people that make it up. If the people are creative, the business will be innovative. If the people are resilient, the business will be sturdy. If the people are dynamic, the business will be vibrant. Therefore, extraordinary leaders invest seriously in the development of the workforce because they know that the people they fail to build will be unable to translate their vision for their organisation into reality. Great leaders know that training is an investment and not a cost, so they spare nothing to grow their people. They are cognizant of the fact that their business is their people. They also know that when they grow their people they grow their business.

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Inspire the people

A leader’s most important task is to inspire the workforce. There is a limit to what the CEO as an individual can accomplish. Whatever he hopes to accomplish can only be done to the extent to which his people are inspired to be part of it. With an inspired workforce, reaching the moon will be a done deal for the CEO. No leader can become extraordinary without mastering the art of inspiring his followers. Many leaders confuse motivating followers with inspiring them. According to John Maxwell, one of the leading leadership experts, while motivation is internal, inspiration in external. He says, “If your people need motivating, then you have the wrong people. Motivation is an inside job—it starts within each person and comes in an infinite variety. If you as leader have to work through the combinations to find the exact right motivation for each person on your team, you’ll never get anything done. Instead, it’s better for your people to motivate themselves and for you as their leader to inspire them.”

To inspire his employees, the leader must create a sense of purpose for the workforce by sharing the company’s core value.

According to Simon Sinek, author of the book, Start With Why, the difference between great companies and ordinary ones is that the former start with why. Sinek has developed a concept which he calls the ‘Golden Circle,’ which has three layers. The first layer is the ‘Why’, the core belief of the organization. It’s its raison d’être. The second layer is the ‘How’. This is about how the company realizes the core belief. The third is ‘What’, which is the activities engaged by the company to realize its core belief.

Sinek explains that every organization knows what they do but few understand why they do it. He adds, “if you don’t’ know why you do what you do, then how will you ever get someone to buy into it, and be loyal, or want to be a part of what it is that you do.

“The goal is not just to hire people who need a job, but people who believe what you believe. If you hire people who just need a job, they’ll work for your money. But if you hire people that believe what you believe, they’ll work for you with blood and sweat and tears.”

To become extraordinary, a leader has to effectively communicate the why to get the workforce inspired and get a buy-in from them.


Be strong on integrity

Every leader does one of two things; he either raises the organization up to his level or brings it down to his level. Whichever of these he does is a function of where he stands on the integrity scale. Anyone who leads with integrity usually improves the profile of the organization because he does what is right and encourages the organization to do what is right as well. He ensures that the organization complies with the best practices applicable in the industry. Unknown to many, this goes a long way in endearing the market to the organization. The importance of this is that for as long as the market can trust the organization to work for its interest, the company will not lack patronage and for as long as patronage is assured, the organization’s continuity is guaranteed.

What is important to all stakeholders is trust; they want to have a lasting relationship with organizations they can trust and this is a matter of integrity. Stakeholders are comfortable with organizations that are founded on integrity because they know that such organizations will always have their back. Shareholders want their businesses to be properly managed so that there will be adequate returns on their investment; the best hands want to work for ethically sound companies that they can trust to protect their career interest, the government also appreciates organizations that conduct their businesses with integrity. A company built on integrity enjoys customer preference in a competitive environment because the customers have come to associate the company with quality. The company also reaps value appreciation from financial market. No company can fully realize its potential until it starts conducting its business ethically.

The rise of Enron, the American energy company, was phenomenal. But so was its crash. Why did the organization crash? The leadership lacked integrity; the leadership encouraged cutting corners; the leadership encouraged underhand dealings.

When leaders embody integrity, they attract the right personnel, the right investment and great patronage. All of these combine to make them extraordinary.


Be result-oriented

Getting results is the essence of leadership. Leadership is about deploying resources to get results that will improve the state of the nation or organization and enhance the status of the people. The way to get result is to get the right things done. If a leader fails to get the right things done, he will fall short of getting the right results. If a leader fails to get desired results on a consistent basis, he will be ordinary because it is the results that count and will be counted at the end of the day. Leaders are appointed, empowered and provided resources to get results. Therefore, a leader who fails to get results will be regarded as a waster of resources and a squanderer of opportunities. So, no matter what else a leader does, if he fails to get the desired results, he will be ordinary. It is only those who are able to get outstanding results on a consistent basis that become extraordinary.

But getting the desired result is not a given, otherwise everyone would have it. To be result-oriented, the leader needs to find out what the most important things are to the stakeholders and work towards achieving them.


Follow the trend

One of the most important assignments of a chief executive is following the trend in his industry as well as the economy as a whole. It is success in this that will determine whether there will be a business for him to manage in future or not.

Every CEO should see the company he manages as a legacy that has to be preserved so that it could be handed over to succeeding generations. To accomplish this, he has to be conversant with the development in his industry so that his company will not be left behind by such developments.

If humans are dynamic, businesses that serve their interest must also be dynamic. Doing the same thing the same way year on year is not the way to hold customer loyalty because customer loyalty lasts for as long as customer’s needs are met.

To increase his ability to identify new trends, a leader must commit to life-long learning. No one can do new things until they have acquired new knowledge. Learning sharpens the leader’s aptitude and enables him not only to identify opportunities but be aware of new developments before they become public knowledge. This confers an advantage on the organization he leads because rather than playing catch up, the organization is at the vanguard of change.


Sony’s slip

Sony was already a global brand before it came up with its Walkman on July 1, 1979. This device, which allowed individuals to enjoy music of their choice wherever they were at whatever time they wanted, revolutionized the electronics industry globally and played a major role in pushing Sony to the fore as the leading electronics company as the product sold over 400million copies.

The Walkman was developed at the instance of Sony co-founder, Masaru Ibuka. Ibuka, a music lover, loved to go about with Sony TC-D5, so as to be able to enjoy music wherever he was. When he had to make some long flights in 1979, he requested one of Sony engineers, Norio Ohga, to develop something smaller and more portable than TC-D5 so that he could enjoy music on the flights.

Working with Sony Pressman, a portable, monaural tape recorder, Ohga was able to design a device to enable Ibuka to enjoy his choice of music on his trips. Thus was born the Walkman.

But Sony lost the momentum of MP3. Despite giving the world its first mobile stereo device, it failed to move to the next stage. Apple beat Sony to it by coming up with the iPod.


Last line

Leaders become extraordinary when they do what others are unwilling to do.



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