I remember during my first week of consultation in Muyenga, that my thinking on leadership was re-programmed. It was better than reading a text book because my lessons came through the conversations we had, the observations I made and in the opportunities that were given for feedback and for reflection. I listened a lot and I learned much. My understanding of leadership and managing a business and a team were expanded; I saw and understood what leaders do to have impact, how they do it, how they behave and how they carry the team with them to the top.
The first lesson I learnt from him was that managers become leaders and get real impact when they flip leadership top-side down and down-side up or when they go into role reversal. Pretty much the servant leadership principle. These leaders create an environment and a journey that is visibly about other people and not about themselves. Whatever they do, they do for the sake of others and rather than themselves. They make personal sacrifices so that they are better for their people.
They demonstrate the utmost respect for their employees through speech, personal conduct, humility and even dress. The first time I went to the office in Muyenga, I was met with an artfully designed office, with plants and creative paintings that gave off a look of impeccable professionalism enhanced by the beauty of colourful blossoms on a magazine table. And, in these surroundings there he was, an impeccably dressed young man waiting to meet me. He rose up immediately to greet me with warmth and respect. I was captivated by everything I saw and I told him. The ambience and the personality had such a positive impact. When I told him that I was impressed, he replied, “this is for you my guests and clients who make it happen for me”. He said, “you are the reason why I am still here”.
He shared with me where and how he had learnt how to flip roles and put people and clients in first place, How to give away his power seat and keep himself in the humble seat as much as possible. As we spoke I observed that he was genuinely modest. Yet the staff who kept coming in for various reasons were very respectful towards him, almost to the point of reverence. It wasn’t fear but a camaraderie between them. I just couldn’t understand it. Clearly, he was doing well on the people side and judging from the state-of-the-art Mercedes in the parking lot his business was doing well on the finances side. And it wasn’t just him, there were several other nice cars belonging to the staff that I saw. I thought to myself, it would be great if I could be a small part of this story.
Several years ago, he was a star sales man in the company where he worked and had been nominated for an award. To receive this award, he was given the privilege to travel to the headquarters in Chicago to meet the business owners and to receive his award. Not many employees in this company had ever hoped of travelling to the US to the head office or to meet the business proprietors. It was a dream come true. When he got there, the reception was so warm and powerful, its effect remained with him to date. They president and co-president of the company rose up to meet him and throughout his visit, they were all out for him. They told him that they owe respect and a lot more to the people who make their business successful.
They taught him a key lesson on how to create a successful business. Focus on the people who work for you, and the people will focus on the company. That is how to create loyalty and trust. In the few days he spent in Chicago, he got firsthand leadership lessons that he uses to add value to others and himself.
As I worked with him, I learned that in order to be effective in flipping it, and making it about others, one has to spend time investing in developing him or herself. He invested so much in himself; he always chose the healthier eating options, he exercised daily, he read good books, he dressed well, he spoke well, he exercised spiritually and never missed an opportunity to say something positive to his employees. Self-development was his first step for great personal impact. This is how he set the pace. He was a role model, someone whom the staff admired and wanted to follow because he was consistent in his habits and was committed to mentoring his staff. He used the relationships that he nurtured to teach his staff responsibility for self, for others and for the company.
When he began to push for results, it was ok. October of every year is what he named the company’s “PUSH MONTH”. This is when they set the highest sales targets in the year and go through such rigorous physical training and sales training and push until each one reaches the targets that were set. They loved to follow him. He worked hard and he played hard. They went together as a team for early morning runs over the hills of Kampala in the wee hours of the morning. They were in top form and they were motivated. I used to join their celebrations of success when sales targets were exceeded. My phone camera is full of photos when he bought gifts for staff usually motivational books and handed them over at staff gatherings. He had such personal effectiveness which is how trust was built.
Whenever we had staff meetings, which was often, he was almost like a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, sharing his vision for the company and his belief in the people that they will get to the promised land together. His staff understood that they were of great value to him.
Because he put people first, open communication in this company was the culture. It was regular, open and honest. Monday morning meetings were particularly inspiring. The consultants shared honestly what went well, what hadn’t gone so well and what they were going to contribute in the new week. He solved people’s problems immediately in this meeting and used the opportunity to share skills, knowledge and experience. Fridays were for feedback and more skills training.
As I concluded, I was careful to add that this account seems to paint a rosy picture for this business. But truth be told, it wasn’t always rosy and sweet, it was downright open and honest. The conversations were authentic and value-filled. I witnessed many moments of real tears from the sales force and other members of the team. They were genuine tears when staff ask themselves if they are made of the stuff to succeed and meet the business targets. Sometimes they became nervous and I became a counsellor. But everything was talked about openly. It was a real team. They wanted to belong in every way but at times for certain individuals it proved too tough to hold on. Most built resilience along the way while others made the hard decision to part ways voluntarily. But it was all in good faith.
Under this leadership everybody grew and became better than when they first joined. His employee value proposition was too strong not to impact and transform lives.
Posted by Maggi @HRiCon