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Leadership lessons of a Rotarian

He was President of the Glamour Boys of Nigeria—a group of upwardly mobile young professionals who ruled the night and made waves at the old Niteshift Club in Ikeja, Lagos, where Ken-Caleb Olumese once held sway as a self-styled “Guv’nor.”

For a graduate of Industrial Mathematics who veered into sports writing, entertainment journalism and ended as public relations and marketing guru, Ehi Braimah, the founder of Neo Media & Marketing, has come a long way on the endless and tortuous journey to success. On July 6, he would be crowned as the 58th President of the Rotary Club of Lagos District 9110. I met him in his Adna Hotel in G.R.A. Ikeja where we chatted on leadership. From his life story, he offered tips to Nigerian youths on how to make it in this land brimming with opportunities.

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IF we can imbibe the values of Rotary, it will help our country a lot, even in the professions, in business and community life. To grow leaders, Rotary is a very good platform for that. But there is a lot of training and teaching going on year after year basis to build leaders.

A leader, for me, should be able to create a vision, whether in business or in community life. Two, you need to get all your stakeholders to buy into that vision. If you don’t get their buy in, it would be difficult for you to succeed. The third critical thing I look for is that when success has been achieved, you should share it. There should be shared success. And these things have worked in many organisations.

IdidmyMBAbythewayin the University of Roehampton. I graduated January this year and was in London for our graduation. Leadership, particularly in the area of management, marketing and branding is something I am interested in. I am interested in how these big organisations succeeded, how they thrive, what are those things they do that make a difference? Ordinary coffee and you think of Starbucks. People never used to drink coffee. But it turned into a global brand.

A leader is different from a ruler. A ruler is a bully. But a leader is a mentor. A leader motivates. A leader inspires. A leader does not take the glory. He shares it. A leader is God-fearing.

In business, I have looked at the man who founded Starbucks, Howard Schultz. I have looked at the man who founded the Virgin Group, Richard Branson. I have looked at the Apple story—the story of Steve Jobs. Those are leaders I admire. Then in politics, somebody we can never forget in Africa is the great Nelson Mandela. When you talk of leadership, you are applying Rotary’s Four Way Test: Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build good will and better friendship? Will be beneficial to all concerned? If you apply the Four Way Test, we can build a new generation of leaders. Maybe we should begin to groom people that will lead this country. We know what is right, we know what is wrong. Except that we just like living in denial and deceiving ourselves.

Making Nigeria a better place

I have a campaign I haven’t launched. It is called Making Nigeria A Better Place—my pet project. Why am I doing that? I do not think we have any other country to call our own. So Nigeria has to be good. We have to make Nigeria work by all means. Never mind what our politicians are doing in Abuja and in the states and local governments.

They don’t inspire anything. There is too much corruption slowing down our progress. We need things like this to change the orientation of our people. Let there be a new way of thinking. Right now, Nigerians are so disillusioned, they are disenchanted, they are depressed, because of what they see around them. It’s like there is no hope, no future for this country. And that is what is making our young men wanting to leave the country. Maybe if I was much younger, I would probably have checked out of Nigeria. But if we start a campaign like this it will begin to let people hold on to hope. A country of almost two hundred million people is an asset. With our diversity, Nigeria should not be where it is today. With our oil wealth alone in the last God-knows-how-many years, Nigeria should not be where it is today. So where are the leaders? We are in need of visionary leaders in this country. If you have that, corruption problem would go. Everybody would begin to buy into that vision. That this man would take us to where we are going. They don’t even want to know whether you are Igbo, Yoruba or Hausa.

In Rotary we don’t discriminate. My driver of 22 years is a Muslim. The woman who took care of my children in the last 16 years when we had the last baby before she retired last year is a Muslim. We leave the house for her with the children, cooking the food that we eat. So for me, where you come from doesn’t matter. That’s why this issue of state of origin should be abolished in our vocabulary.

Nigerians, whether old or young, are very enterprising, we are very creative, we are resilient people, we are very ambitious. When you talk of our youths, the youths are not really lazy. About seventy percent of Nigerians are young people. So they really have a lot to do about the remaking of this country. In business, they should look at three things essentially. One, a need to identify a niche—an area of interest where they have a natural talent or gift. They should discover it. You cannot be everything. Two, they need to go for training, and training should be continuous. And they need a mentor. You can never remove mentoring. Somebody who has travelled that route before to guide you. Three, look for platforms where you can engage with other people. You can also learn by interacting and engaging with your peers through forums like Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship programme where I have also been a mentor for some years. You should not wait till you have twenty million in the bank before you start your business, otherwise you will never start. Seed money can come from family, friends, old schoolmates. I have never really stayed at home for too long looking for a job. All the jobs I have gotten, I didn’t really “beg to apply” as we normally would say. One thing just led to another. I remember the day I entered a luxury bus from the University of Benin gate to Lagos with five naira. That was what I paid to sit on that bus. All that is now in the past. So don’t wait till you have plenty money. Just start small. There would always be days of little beginnings. Like the mustard seed, it would now grow to become a very mighty tree.

Finally, networking. You can never ignore the power of networking. Your network is your net worth. Let them belong to clubs, groups, associations, professional organisations. My networking at Niteshift club in Lagos helped me to grow. Another thing is, young people should read business books, motivational books, biographies and autobiographies. There you can get a lot of ideas, a lot of inspiration. Learn from the masters, how they did it. They should read voraciously. You can never go wrong with reading.

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Tokunbo David
Tokunbo David

Writer and editor.

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