The major task of a leader is the deployment of available resources to get result that will improve the lot of everyone. Leaders are like thermostat, because they determine what happens to everyone in the sphere of their influence; they are a compass which provides direction to others; an engine which gives life to their organizations; the railway track which ensures that the train gets to its destination; and the anchor which stabilizes their organizations. So, the assertion by John Maxwell that everything rises and falls on leadership is very apt.
Why leaders must succeed
The success of a leader impacts positively on others. When a leader runs his organization very well, then the organization performs brilliantly, becomes profitable and everyone gains. When a company does well, the employees are paid well, the suppliers make good business, the contractors are happy, those offering ancillary services are well compensated, the shareholders get good dividends and the government gets tax revenue.
But these are just the first line of beneficiaries. When workers are well remunerated, they are able to finance their children’s education, support their aged parents, save some money in the bank and contribute to the development of their communities, among other things. When suppliers make good business, their own employees, family members as well as their communities feel the impact. When contractors are promptly paid, they pay their employees and suppliers and are able to take care of their families. If shareholders get returns on their investments, they are able to take care of their needs as well as those of their dependants. They are also encouraged to invest more and as a result create more employment opportunities in the society. When the government is paid taxes, it is able to provide essential needs such as security, infrastructure as well as an enabling environment for people and businesses to thrive.
So, when a leader succeeds, it has a positive multiplier effect on the society.
But the reverse is the case when a leader fails. The failure of a leader has extensive consequences on the society.
If a leader runs down his organization, employees are disengaged, shareholders lose their investments, contractors and suppliers are owed and government misses its tax revenue target.
Again, that is just the surface. Deeper down, the stability in many homes is challenged because the breadwinner is unable to discharge his duties, children’s education suffers, and aged parents are neglected. Shareholders are discouraged from further investments and that may affect new job opportunities. Contractors and suppliers may be unable to pay their employees which will affect their homes and other dependants. Government is unable to get its taxes and that has an adverse impact on the resources available to provide security and invest in infrastructure.
When political leaders fail, the people suffer as well. When a state governor is unable to pay workers their wages or fails to build infrastructure or is unable to equip hospitals or fails to put in place an effective education system or takes patently wrong decisions, the action has a reverberating effect that goes far beyond the government house or the state capital into every nook and cranny of the state and the action may permanently alter the destinies of millions.
The rise and fall of Fumman Agric Products
Fumman Agricultural Products Industries, Ibadan, started on a very good note. After the acquisition of the former Lafia Canning Factory in 1994, the company, which commenced operations in 1996 with just a two-line plant, grew the plant into a multi-line facility, producing a range of fruit juices, nectar, drinks and water. The company produced wholesome fruit juices that were the toast of many, not just in Nigeria but across the West African sub-region. The company brought innovation to play when it pioneered the industrial processing of passion fruit and guava.
To control the quality of its major input, Fumman Agricultural Products established an expansive farm in Orile Osupa, Ajaawa in Oyo State. This ensured all year round supply of fruits for its production. At that point, Fumman was ready to take over the juice production industry. To increase its financial fitness, the company went into private placement in 2010 and sold some of its shares to select investors.
But the tide turned when the company took a loan of N2billion from a bank to buoy the business. This marked the beginning of the company’s slide, according to many of its employees, due to its failure to deploy the loan for its intended purpose. This resulted in the company’s inability to meet its financial obligations to the bank after the expiration of the 15-month moratorium. With the insistence of the bank that Fumman Agricultural Products should service its debts, salaries became irregular, payments to contractors and suppliers were delayed and it became obvious that the once highly rated and celebrated company was heading south. When it became apparent to the bank that the company lacked the capacity to pay back the debt, the process of a takeover was commenced. This and was concluded on November 23, 2015 when the company was put under lock and key with the appointment of a receiver by the bank.
The tragedy is not that a promising company went under, as bad as that could be; it is the life-changing effect on the workforce. Before Fumman Agricultural Products eventually bit the dust, it owed its employees salaries of between six and eight months. After the takeover, the outstanding salaries were not paid; up till the moment, the entitlement of those employees have not been paid and now many of the ex-staff (some of them university graduates) have resorted to taking up menial jobs, including riding commercial motorcycles, to keep body and soul together. The world of many of the former employees is completely shattered. The erstwhile peace in their homes disrupted, the education of their children jeopardized and their future look anything but promising.
When leaders fail, they subject others to untold hardship.
What leaders must do to avoid failure
Both success and failure are consequences of actions and inactions. Consequently, both success and failure are predictable; either is a function of the quality of the decisions taken by the leader. Here are some factors that can steer a leader off the course of failure.
Develop proper perspective about leadership
Many leaders go off course when they begin to imagine that the leadership position they occupy is about them. A leadership position is a platform to serve others by helping them to achieve their goals and making their lives more meaningful; it is not an opportunity for the occupant to feather his nest. A state governor does not occupy his position to increase his wealth or exhibit his powers, it is to help those under his leadership live a meaningful life by putting in place policies and programmes that will enable them actualize their legitimate aspirations. A managing director is not appointed to make money at the expense of the system; the essence of his appointment is to run a profitable organization that will be able to deliver values to all the stakeholders; investors, employees, customers, government and the society at large.
When a leader sees his position as a means to improving his lot, he will do less for his people. But when a leader comes into the understanding that his position is a vehicle to help others achieve their dreams, he will work towards making the organization better and failure will be very far from him.
Leaders are like water-bearing pipes. A pipe that bears water can never be thirsty but a pipe does not bear water to quench its thirst, it is while performing its function of supplying others that its needs get met. So, a leader who takes seriously his functions cannot be deprived of the benefits of his service.
Ability to stay focused
One of the primary causes of leadership failure is distraction. When a leader is distracted, he loses focus and once focus is lost, failure becomes inevitable.
A leader has his job cut out for him. He is to determine, with his team members, what should be done, get the best hands possible to get the job done, and provide an enabling environment for them to do the work through incentives and encouragement. If those guys get the job done, the leader gets the result. But in spite of being conversant with this, leaders oftentimes fail to follow the process because they are focused on other things. A leader must know what is important and spare no effort to get what is important done. He must cut off everything that serves as a hindrance to getting the most important job done.
Political office holders in Nigeria don’t generally perform well in office because they are distracted from their primary assignment by politics. A leader who is elected for a four-year term starts scheming for another term right from his first day in office. So, while doing that, governance suffers because rather than stopping politics after election, politics plays a major role in all his actions and decisions. Therefore, he is unable to focus on what he has been elected to do; his concentration is on what he has to do to retain his seat. So, he fails to actualize the real essence of his being in office.
Give time to reflection
A leader is so called because he is ahead of others, not just physically but in his thoughts. A leader must be reflective, rather than reflexive.
Part of the calling of a leader is to proffer solutions to problems. To effectively solve problems, a leader must first elevate his thinking. As observed by Albert Einstein, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” The fact is that every problem is a product of a thought process just as every progress is a product of a thought process. The thinking that produced a problem cannot provide the solution. To bounce out of the quandary a leader may find himself, he will need a thinking that is different from the one that led him into it.
A leader must deliberately create time for reflection. He must project into the future and see the opportunities that are not obvious. He must travel to the future in his mind and perceive problems that have not become real and proffer solutions to them. He must also spend quality time thinking about how he can improve the lot of his people. If a leader is given to engaging himself in thinking about how to identify opportunities, solve problems and help his people, he is unlikely to fail in his calling.
Don’t submit to gravitational pull
A leader is an endangered species. He is barraged round the clock by all sorts of demands that have the capacity to compromise his principles and undermine his leadership. If he is a political leader, his kith, kin and clan will prod him to tilt governance and projects in their favour. If he is in the corporate world, his colleagues, collaborators and comrades expect him to tinker with the process for them to have undue edge. Nearly everyone who is close to a leader attempts to manipulate him to advance their cause. But the onus is on him to ensure that he does not compromise his values. He has to protect his integrity by moving against gravitational pull.
Force of gravity ensures that nothing stays up permanently because the law of gravity says whatever goes up must eventually come down. Gravitational pull does affect leadership as well. It is not every leader that is able to maintain the same standard with which they started. More often than not, leaders dump the attributes and attitudes that made them acceptable at the outset of their leadership, thus forcing them to head south. But those who do not succumb to the force of gravity record success on a consistent basis.