Agaba Ronald Bills
Most of us have attended conversations about leadership where the lead speaker is talking about what we ought to do, but, sitting in a room with someone who has been there, done it and still admits to be learning is a whole different experience.
This is what it was when Leadership Square Africa hosted one of the 10 most influential and inspirational African speakers on the subjects of leadership and personal growth with keen interest on millennials and women in leadership.
At 49, Lincoln Mali is a Banker with 18 years’ experience and now head of card and new payments at Standard Bank for the whole of Africa.
Like an experienced war general at public speech, Lincoln broke the ice of the night dubbed #LincolnTalk by picking a line from the colourful CV that the day’s moderator had just recited to usher him on the stage by observing that “the real world will say I have an MBA from Harvard, but they will never tell you that I spent 6 years to accomplish this Masters.”
Murmurs from the audience became louder that he was up to the task of making this conversation personal as it can get and honest compared to cosmetic speakers who paint their lives holier than thou.
In front of a carefully chosen audience, drawn from Uganda’s top crop of UB40’s (Ugandans below 40years) of Entrepreneurs, lawyers, Doctors, Journalists, Civil society, and media gurus including ChimpReports founder Giles Muhame.
Dwelling on the subject of the urgent need to re-brand Africa, Lincoln shared cases where the image of our continent is still shaped by what people other than Africans themselves think of we are right from the black continent, the hopeless continent, then African elusive dawn, and the most recent phenomenal of “Africa is rising”
He made a case for competiveness of Africa , intra Africa trade and appreciation of the uniqueness of each and every African nation as each nation carries unique challenges as well as opportunities; all if clearly understood and harnessed would result into sustainable development.
To drive this transformation of a new narrative he placed the responsibility not on those outside the room but those present by appealing to them to raise up to the challenge that this work is urgent to wait, too sensitive to be delegated and so impactful on the next generation that that we match out of this conversation as leaders of the now, and more critically as sharpers of the future.
Without being specific with examples but obvious to the audience he cited the tragedy of our continent as having leaders who are occupying positions but not leading, coupled by over reliance on external aid which the other African, Dambisa Moyo from Zambia referred to as “Dead Aid” which is exacerbated by a leadership whose major ideology is enjoying trappings of power as a priority thereby reneging on the main business of leadership which is about improving the welfare of the people they lead.
In the wake of a recent report titled “The Tipping Point” by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation that nearly 15 million young Africans were unemployed in 2015 juxtaposed by another report by the US embassy in Uganda titled “A Report to the People of Uganda” which states that the average age of Ugandans is 14 years.
Lincoln came armed with figures about the characteristics of those few lucky African youths that are employed, announcing that they have evaded the work place.
The new breed of African workforce born between the years 1983 to 2000’s are known as millennials.
He says among other things these young employees are interesting to work with but the old supervisors must deliberately understand them.
They want to be challenged and not mothered, want to know they matter, and they are loyalty light (they won’t stay for a name/brand).
Work life balance is important to them as they juggle a lot
Millennials like diversity and for promises made to them be kept. They also want to move the corporate ladder very fast, like powerful brands and love to travel.
This point was emphasised by Uganda’s Tutu leadership fellow and media entrepreneur Rugyendo who was part of the participants on the night.
Lincoln believes that the working formula for leading mellenials is to set an example.
And a live demonstration wasn’t far from him as he pointed the audience towards the direction where the deputy managing director of National Social Security Fund Ms. Geraldine Ssali was seated with her school going daughter.
It gave him an opportunity to open about his personal story of giving special attention towards supporting more women in corporate leadership highlighting that women face unique challenges in juggling many responsibilities that a superior must deliberately humble to fully understand.
The subject of supporting more women in workplaces is so close to his heart that through a blog he reached out to most female colleagues who he had worked with or worked under him with a questioner about “How different they wished he had treated them” and the resulting answers have become a template through which most corporate leaders are drawing lessons to support women at workplaces.
When the turn for the audience came around, a participant sought to find out how he has managed to be so successful in his career while keeping balance with his family and social life amidst the demanding pressures of the Banking environment.
In a tone so calm and collected, Lincoln revealed that it would have been impossible for him to achieve a quarter of what he has achieved if it were not for the fact of surrounding himself with colleagues ( a support system) of people who are more smart, intelligent and truth telling than himself.
On his leadership mantra, Lincoln said putting people at the centre of everything is his jet fuel.
Compared to his other corporate leaders who put shareholders at the centre, he says putting his team at the centre translates into happy customers and once the customers are happy obviously the corporation will make profits whose end satisfies the shareholders.
He discouraged the superstar kind of leadership where one person wants to stand out amidst a failing team, like the biblical caution of what will it benefit a man to enjoy the whole world but in the end loose his life, Lincoln gave a demonstration for four guys who were using a manual boat, two were bosses, and the other servants, all of a sudden water started to enter the boat, the bosses looked on as the servants or lower cadres straggled to fetch out the invading water, overwhelmed the boat capsized and the question of the night was “ Do you think a shark cares on which side of the boat one sat” they were all prey.
To sum up a powerful evening of truth telling, he argued his participants to go out and demonstrate transformative leadership by practising what he called “The Ducks Method”, a duck maintains a calm demeanour with its head above the water while below the water the legs are peddling like crazy.
Similarly, a leader’s job is to maintain stability, don’t spread panic, but rather demonstrate calmness so as to inspire the rest of the team.
The Lincoln Mali leadership talk was an eye opener for anybody aspiring to lead with a powerful call to action “Leadership is about making others to be better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence”.