She Leads Africa

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Minding your own business is very important as a leader or CEO. Leaders of any kind have three fundamental responsibilities – crafting a vision, building followers, and championing execution. Whether you are a celebrated musician, entertainer, actor, politician or business person, you become a leader the day your vision starts to gain a following and people start paying real attention to what it is that you are doing.

This is where the responsibility of leadership actually begins – in continuing to gain the wilful interest and attention of followers (clients, business partners, staff) through the art of your work and business. Even as you champion execution in original and remarkable ways.

Minding your own business

That process is what I call minding your own business. Minding your own business here means paying deep attention to the way that you operate, direct and lead your business. All this so that the end game can be a masterpiece. Fanciful? Not so.

The most successful businesses are led by CEOs who are usually atypical in the way that they think and do. That is what gains them recognition, that is why the world begins to pay attention.

These CEOs think deeply about their business service and or product. They think laterally about the potential outputs and products of their work. And they do different through their thought leadership.

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Many years ago I was in a two-day strategic planning workshop in Nairobi, Kenya. There we had been tasked to imagine a new future, to see who our clients would be in 5, 10 and 15 years time. We were tasked to think about how we would engage with those clients in subtle yet strong ways.

We also had to complete the same exercise for our staff. What competencies, skills or disciplinary expertise would we want and need in our future staff? What would it mean for the operations and administration of our firm today?

The implications for today were important because we want to create a future, not to arrive at a future that we had not made ourselves.

Creating your future

I remember being completely mind-boggled by the exercise. The projected requirements some members of our team were coming up with seemed improbable and fantastic. Yet they were inspiring.

From renewable and clean energy consultants, to sustainable agriculture experts, to corporate responsibility consultants. These may seem obvious now, but 15 years ago it was not.

Back then consulting involved business process re-engineering, financial management, human resource management and the likes. No one was really thinking of consulting in these ‘new age’ disciplines.

But therein lies the responsibility of minding your own business. The amazing thing was that even though the process started slowly, some ten minutes into the exercise a new electrifying energy filled the room.

As one person dared to imagine, we all started to imagine. Even as we imagined what the business might look like in years to come, we all got excited about the part that we individually would play in that new future.

I think that was what really stirred the energy. Suddenly everyone’s work and contribution became meaningful. Our leader had started the process of championing execution.

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Imagine and create new possibilities

Eight years ago in Lagos, Nigeria, my team sat in consultation to the then Governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Raji Fashola, advising him and his commissioners on their respective medium term sector strategies.

We imagined a Lagos where priority was placed on adherence to the rule of law and on a culture of proactive service delivery. We imagined a Lagos exemplified by physical, artistic and cultural attractions with international appeal. A clean environment of aesthetic beauty and serenity. A Lagos where there is security of life and of property.

Where was this Lagos? It was in the mind of our future.

Effective business leaders set aside time to imagine and examine new possibilities, even though they may not immediately know the ‘how to’. It is the process of imagining and being committed to new possibilities that is actually the most critical part of being strategic as a leader. We don’t reject an idea just because we are not sure of ‘the how’.

The best of business leaders are risk takers, doers, and the makers of things. It is time to start minding your business.

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