When a leader goes down

Since the rape scandal involving Pastor Biodun Fatoyinbo of the Commonwealth of Zion Assembly (COZA) came to the fore, he has become everyone’s whipping boy. He is the butt of every joke, the villain on everyone’s lips and the crook that must be battered by all. Nobody remembers any good thing he had done, nobody is talking about the widows he had helped, nobody remembers the orphans he saw through school, everyone conveniently forgets about the dejected he gave a new lease of life. The focus is on his alleged misdemeanor; the narrative is about his failing. No one, save his wife, gives Fatoyinbo the benefit of the doubt.

When a leader goes down, he is filled with fear because the society withdraws all forms of support from him and swoops on him like vultures to finish him off. He is pushed further down, trampled upon and spat on. When a leader goes down, the world hits him hard and he most certainly loses out. For a fallen leader, a second chance is a rare privilege.

The society is not unjustified for its hard stance on fallen leaders because leaders, by their calling, are models. Leaders are so called because they exemplify the societal aspirations. Leaders are idolized because they are deemed to be above and beyond the challenges that assail mere mortals. Leaders are expected to be the standards by which others live. So, when they betray the trust of the people by succumbing to temptations like ordinary Homo sapiens, the society goes to the extreme in the expression of its disappointment.

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As bad as that is, probably the worst thing is that a leader does not just go down; he takes others along with him. The institution he represents is impaired, the people who associate with him are injured, the family is distorted, and his legacy is destroyed. For a fallen leader, it is an unending pain and agony. So, it is in the best interest of a leader to stay the course and flee from every destructive attraction.

Leadership is a high calling, it is not for those who wish to feather their nests, it is for those who are desirous of improving the lot of others. It is for those who are willing to spend and be spent; it is for those who have little or no need for personal comfort.

 

The undoing of Commerce Bank

Commerce Bank Limited (CBL), which came into existence in January 1989, boasted of some of the best banking professionals in the country on its staff list. The pioneer chief executive, Femi Adekanye, served as president of the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria (CIBN) from 1991 to 1993. He later became president of the West African Bankers Association. One of the executive directors, who later became the managing director, Ralph Osayameh, was also a past president of CIBN.

The bank started very well and was one of the highly rated financial institutions with a very strong board. However, in 1994, there was a consolidation of the offices of the chief executive and that of the board chairman. Thus, Adekanye became Chairman/Chief Executive Officer. This caused disunity among the board members with three of them resigning. Although the exit of the directors affected the image of the bank which led to a run on it, the bank managed to trudge on.

However, later in 1994, the Nigeria Export-Import Bank (NEXIM) advanced Ile-Oluji Cocoa Processing Company Limited (ICPCL) a N200 million loan as working capital for the purchase of raw cocoa for processing and export. ICPCL also had another facility of $3.094 million from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). The facilities were guaranteed by Commerce Bank.

While Commerce Bank disbursed the naira equivalent of $2.886 million to ICPCL, the company stopped repatriating its export proceeds to service the NEXIM facility through the bank as a result of a disagreement. But when the NEXIM facility fell due, CBN debited the bank’s current account with N200 million. The bank could not absorb it. Unfortunately, this happened at a time when the bank had no money to cover its bids at the Autonomous Foreign Exchange Market (AFEM), thus compounding its woes. CBL was eventually suspended from the AFEM. This further dented the bank’s image and caused another run on it.

The bank’s attempt to recover its money through the appointment of a Receiver/Manager for ICPCL did not work as the company challenged the appointment.

To cover its track, Commerce Bank concealed the key indicators of its situation. The management created a secret account known as “Commercial Enterprises” where unauthorized and non-performing loans were warehoused. It thus understated its credit reports to the CBN and NDIC. But when the true position came into the open, the bank’s credit portfolio was found to be in excess of N2.506 billion. The regulators also found out that the bank was involved in round-tripping, buying foreign currency from the CBN and selling above the recommended price. It was also discovered that the management was involved in a lot of insider abuse by granting loans to institutions and individuals without observing due diligence. With the run on the bank and its liquidity problem, it crashed.

Adekanye and Osayameh were later drafted before the Failed Banks Tribunal and were found guilty of mismanagement of depositors’ funds.

Adekanye was done in by hubris, greed and integrity deficiency. He saw the bank as his project and ran it as his show. That is why he opted for the collapse of the offices of the chairman and CEO. He eventually went down but he did not go alone, he took his bank with him. His crash also caused the destruction of a number of businesses and the truncation of many people’s careers.

 

How leaders can avoid going down

Thought leaders often operate on slippery grounds, falling is avoidable.

Be conscious of the possibility of falling and take precaution

Many leaders fall because they never believed it could happen to them. Murphy’s Law states that whatever can go wrong will go wrong. If a leader can fall so can others. The best way to prevent a fall is to be conscious of its possibility and put measures in place to guard against its occurrence. Those who are so full of themselves to the extent of believing that they are beyond certain temptation are usually the first to go down in times of crisis.

 

Be as transparent as possible

Those who are transparent and hold themselves accountable to others are not likely to engage in activities that will bring opprobrium to them and disaster to their associates and organizations. Leaders are not so much destroyed by what they do in the public sphere as by what they do behind closed doors. Transparency and accountability are critical to staying on course in the face of temptations and trials.

 

Let your character growth rate out-space your success growth rate

Leaders often run into problems when their success rises at a rate far above their character growth rate. What keeps a leader strong is his character. What stabilizes a leader is his character. What keeps a leader focused is his character. Without character, leaders will yield to temptation, give in to distractions and shipwreck their leadership. So, leaders need to pay special attention to their character growth rate. Success is sustainable when character either grows faster than success or grows at the same rate as success. When the growth rate of a leader’s success is faster than the character growth rate, the burden would be more than the leader’s capacity and he begins to do things that would make mincemeat of his success. If anyone is ego-driven, it is because his character growth rate is behind his success growth rate. If anyone sees public office as an opportunity for self-enrichment it is because the character growth rate trails behind the success growth rate. If any leader is deficient in integrity, it is a manifestation of the fact that the character deposit in him is far below the success growth rate.

To keep focus and keep their organisations safe, leaders have to invest in their character development.

 

Continuous self-assessment

Leaders have to keep assessing themselves to see if they are keeping true to the promise they made to themselves and their organizations. When Commerce Bank was setting out, it promised to offer high level professional services to its customers as one of its goals.  But it reneged on this when its leaders embarked on round tripping and insider abuse. Had the leadership of the bank checked itself at that time, the bank could have escaped the disaster that later befell it. Oftentimes, leaders are under excessive pressure to perform, unless they exercise a high level of restraint they may end up soiling their fingers with dirty deals. The key to staving off such things is to engage in continuous self assessment.

Control the urge to win all the trophies

If a leader is determined to win all the trophies, he will end up getting into untoward things which may eventually lead to his destruction.

The 37th president of the United States of America, Richard Nixon, had an early rise. At age 33, he was elected into the House of Representatives. By the time he was 37 years, he was a senator. He became the Vice President at the age of 40, becoming the second youngest person to occupy the office. In 1960, he narrowly lost the Republican Party nomination to John F. Kennedy but in 1968, he ran for the presidency and won. Nixon did very well as president. His administration ended American involvement in the Vietnam War, established diplomatic relations with China, transferred power to the states and improved the economy. He did so well that he won re-election in 1972 in one of the largest landslide election victories in American history, winning by over 60 per cent of the popular vote.

But before the election Nixon had given approval for his aides to break into the Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate Complex in Washington in what is now known as the Watergate Scandal. The aides also tapped the telephone of the party to listen to discussions by party executives. This was eventually found out. It cost him his political goodwill and when faced with definite impeachment by the House of Representatives and removal by the Senate, he resigned his office, being the first and only president of the USA to do so.

In retrospect, Nixon did not need to have the Democrats’ office burgled, nor their telephone bugged to beat them in 1972. He was quite a popular candidate but because he was intolerant and desperate to win all the trophies, he ran himself into trouble with those who elected him a couple of months earlier and had to step down ingloriously. But Nixon was not the only casualty of his misdeed, when Nixon went down, he took his party along with him because the Watergate scandal affected the performance of the Republican Party in the 1976 election as Democrats’ Jimmy Carter defeated the Republican candidate, President Gerald Ford. When leaders go down, so many destinies are destroyed.

 

Last line

The best thing a leader can do for himself is to ward off everything and everyone that may try to steer him off his course.

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