To all the readers of this column, this is wishing you a happy New Year. In this World Cup year, may you finally score that elusive wonder goal of your dreams. May this year be your George Weah and your (George) Best year!
I am listening to Never Too Late, a 2017 song by Amy Macdonald, an inspirational song to start the New Year. Yes, it’s never too late to rule the world. Don’t give up. George Weah never gave up. Muhammadu Buhari never gave up. Abraham Lincoln never gave up. They all suffered defeats so many times before they became President. As Amy Macdonald sings: “Ain’t no use in sitting around. Waiting for the world to change. Never too late to stand your ground. Do what it takes to make them proud…The book has not been written. The page is blank, the scene is set. Let’s start at the beginning.”
Now, back to Ambode! I was writing about my encounter with Governor Ambode, the Sun MAN OF THE YEAR. As I drove down to interview the Lagos State governor, my mind flashed back to the night before, remembering some of the lofty things he said about leadership when he hosted some senior journalists to a dinner at the Lagos House, Ikeja. He served himself a small portion of rice suggesting he was not a big eater. But there were plenty vegetables. He insisted we must eat early because doctors warn against eating late. As we chatted over dinner, he described being a governor as a lonely job. And staying in the Government House to him is like being caged in one big prison where “I don’t have neighbours but factories surrounding me everywhere I look.”
He chose to stay on the Lagos mainland instead of the island where his predecessors had stayed because he wanted to be close to the masses. Compared to the island, he sees an infrastructural deficit gap on the mainland which makes it imperative for him to be where the masses are, so that he would keep his eyes on the ball, keep his ears on the ground and remain focused in working to redress the imbalance.
As a Hubert Humphrey scholar, he had undergone a non-degree leadership training programme in an American university which has been useful. “Part of the things I have benefitted from this programme is the way I have tried to touch the life of the next person I come across,” he says.
As an author and student of leadership, I listen carefully to leaders I come across, try to explore their leadership styles, philosophies and mindsets. From our interaction, I could decipher Ambode’s thoughts on leading. Call it “Leadership, The Ambode Way.” For a start, Ambode sees leadership as unique. He believes every leader has his own uniqueness, his own DNA, therefore a leader cannot be judged using another leader’s template.
“I don’t compare leaders,” he told me. “I see a man like Aliko Dangote as a leader having his own different DNA. And we should respect him for that DNA. Every leader has his DNA. There is no template for leadership to warrant comparing one leader to another. We need to study each leader for who they are…You can’t expect me to behave like another leader. It’s too late to change me.”
When he looks into the mirror, Ambode sees the picture of an introvert, a leader who is not the talking type, who would rather let his work speak for him. And behind everything he does, there is a strategy. Take the case of the annual concerts such as the One Lagos Fiesta. The strategy behind it, according to Ambode, is to bring down crime in Lagos. Research has shown that crime rate drops drastically during such shows. Criminals too enjoy shows. A notorious kidnapper was even arrested at one such show, the governor reveals.
To Ambode, leadership must have a human face. He cites the case of many whose shops and property were bulldozed to give way for development and had to be compensated even though they didn’t have ownership papers. A leader must overlook certain things, particularly in a politically sensitive county like Nigeria, he has learnt. You can write a whole book on Ambode and leadership—how he became a permanent secretary in his ’30s and retired early as Auditor-General, coming into governance with a deep knowledge of how the system works.
On arriving at his office that morning, I met him sitting behind an immaculate clean desk, uncluttered. As a rule, he doesn’t leave any file for the next day. Hence his desk is always neat. From what I read about great leaders, they tidy their desk because “a cluttered desk is a cluttered mind.” Research has shown that leaders with cleaner desk are more organized, more efficient and more focused. Your office desk can reveal your personality.
As I waited for him to join me for the interview, I surveyed his bookshelf on the wall. Among his reading list is Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki and Sharon Lechter. The governor would later tell me it’s one of his favourite books because “it teaches lessons on financial literacy, financial independence and wealth creation through investments.” He has also read books by Donald Trump sharing his real estate and business knowledge experiences.
At a personal level, I was so thrilled and excited when I spotted our latest book “50 World Editors” in the governor’s office. Wow! I really felt on top of the world. It’s one book that took me and my late colleague Dimgba Igwe around the world, interviewing editors and media icons on the craft of journalism. I got encouraging words from the governor who said I had found a good niche writing biographies. According to him, “Autobiographies, biographies and memoirs of great leaders are very important and also key to growing more people in that same direction. I will encourage anyone who is successful, whether in business or in any vocation to put down such failures and successes so that others can learn from their mistakes and their successes. It is not when they are gone to the great beyond that we should start thinking about writing their biographies. Books on entrepreneurs like Aliko Dangote and Mike Adenuga are necessary so that we can produce more of them by the way people now read about the lessons that they have come to teach us on how to stay strong and stay viable.”