Moving up to extraordinary leadership
(By Lere baale)
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.” – Steve Jobs
Many years ago, an 11-year-old boy applied through entrance examinations to Military School, Zaria, with the objective of joining the armed forces but was rejected. He tried it again at the age of 13 but got the same result. So, he decided to change to a technical school to help him gain vocational expertise quickly in order to raise money and see if he could help support his parents to pay the fees of his other siblings.
It was while seeking admission to the technical college that he met a Reverend Father who advised that it was better for him to go to a secondary school. Eventually, he secured admission into a Catholic Missionary Secondary School. His five-year experience in the school changed him and impacted his life. He was able to enjoy special academic scholarship for indigent students and was significantly inspired while being provided with close guidance and counselling by two major individuals, Reverend Sister Margaret and Reverend Father McComboy. These two destiny-helpers supported him morally and financially, not just in his secondary school but also through A-Level and till the end of his undergraduate studies at the Ahmadu Bello University Zaria.
During his undergraduate years, the huge Kashim Ibrahim Library of the Ahmadu Bello University was of tremendous help to him as he was unable to buy any textbook throughout the course of his programme. Now, if he hadn’t been rejected by the military school, or failed in other attempts, he would not have learnt how to fail forward; his priceless encounters with inspirers like Reverend Sister Margaret and Reverend Father McComboy would not have taken place, and his knowledge of leadership would certainly have remained very ordinary.
Your university is not good enough
While out of Ahmadu Bello University with his first degree, the young man pursued employment as management trainee in a number of multinational firms. During one of his encounters, he was told that he did not attend the “right university”. This fuelled his long-time ambition to pursue a postgraduate degree in a Cosmopolitan City. He eventually completed an MBA degree at age of 25 in the University of Lagos. The MBA significantly enriched his career growth and his continuous search for qualities of extraordinary leaders.
You are too young and too good for promotion
When he eventually got a job, this young man passionately applied himself to every assignment in his place of work and enjoyed rapid promotions to the board of a multinational at age 36. As he edged towards the peak of his career, many reasons were advanced why he had to be “slowed” down. The common ones he readily remembers are – “he is too lenient with workers to be a good leader”, “too young to be promoted” and “too good an asset to be allowed to leave the country for international roles”. In a nutshell, this young man experienced different kinds of humiliations and frustrations, but he pursued with vigour his desire to learn more, even from his negative experiences, about what it takes to be an extraordinary leader.
One sad day, after the loss of one of his younger brothers, he had an unpleasant encounter with a leader who was used to talking down to him and most times questioned the quality of his education, from his first degree to his MBA. It was then realised that he had had enough. With a significantly bruised ego, he came to his senses and remembered that regardless of what anyone says, everyone is naturally endowed with what it takes to be a leader; everyone needs to start from his areas of strength, doing what he is passionate about and makes him happy.
Our young man had been an avid reader and teacher, so he prioritised daily activities and created more time for reading, teaching, writing and actively leading – because he knew that leaders always begin the journey to extraordinary leadership through the route of whatever they choose to read and act on.
You, too, can become extraordinary, if you learn how to passionately read and take action by applying the knowledge from whatever you have read. To sum it all, if this young man had not been rejected, if he had not learnt to fail forward, if the quality of his degrees were not questioned, if he had not been considered too young to be promoted, the article you’re reading right now would probably never have been written.
Lesson for leaders: Never give up
The story above is not alien to many who must have passed through career paths and become better leaders today. Don’t give up. People you come across in your career or life may create a cage of limitations for you and tell you many reasons why you cannot be a good leader. Don’t worry, start somewhere, from the very centre of your strengths – your passion, ability, personality, experience – and make a definitive choice to succeed in leadership no matter what you are going through.
Choose to succeed where others have failed. That is the beginning of the journey of extraordinary leadership. You must continuously beat the standard you have achieved yesterday. It is a journey of life.
The quote from Steve Jobs mentioned at the beginning of this piece is apt indeed. What seems like the end of the road may just be a cul de sac. It feels like rejection. It feels like failure. But it isn’t. You simply ran out of road on that route. So, it’s time to back up, turn around, and look for a new route to get where you want to go.
And as long as you keep smiling and moving forward, the road to extraordinary leadership is going to be far better than you can imagine – because, eventually, through all its twists and turns, it leads to happiness. So if you’re currently struggling, hang in there. Remember, sometimes the best thing that can possibly happen to you in the long run is not getting exactly what you want right now.
In the journey of life for extraordinary leadership, many lessons have emerged from studying many extraordinary leaders. We should all try to learn from them and leave leadership legacies wherever we find ourselves!