By: Femi Oyetunji, Continental Reinsurance
To be a leader is a privilege that cannot be taken lightly because of its complexity.
Every individual is a complex being and so leading just one person requires great skills. Now, imagine leading two people then picture the complexity of managing one hundred people. To make it more interesting, imagine the one hundred people spread over six locations in our great continent, Africa. That has been my privilege over the last ten years at Continental Reinsurance.
I love the first sentence of the book, Anna Karenin, by the great Russian writer, Tolstoy – ‘All happy families are alike, but an unhappy family is unhappy after its own fashion’. A leader must have a vision, must be transparent, consistent, and be able to patiently communicate his vision until it becomes a collective vision. The most important ingredient for attaining collective vision is trust. When people trust you, they are willing to follow you even though the vision is not clear to them until they get that eureka moment and your vision becomes their vision.
I walked into Continental Re ten years ago when it was going through some difficult times. I didn’t focus on the issues at hand; what I saw was a multinational company with a good foundation. Imagine the scene ten years ago with me calling a staff meeting two weeks into my tenure and telling colleagues, “we are going to be the premier pan-African reinsurance company.” There were forty of us, mainly in Lagos, with small staff compliments at our then branches in Douala and Nairobi. I am proud to say that today we are a well-respected pan-African brand with a validated reputation index of 79 against a global benchmark of 73.
Did I have all the answers ten years ago? Of course not! And I still do not have all the answers. A leader must be honest with himself that he is not all-knowing, so must work with others and draw from their strengths in pursuit of his vision. The good book says ‘As a man thinketh so is he’; I chose to think pan-African from my first day at Continental Re and I have been fortunate to have convinced my colleagues to think similarly.
A leader must be available and more importantly, approachable. I have an open-door policy, and I extend the same courtesy to everyone in the company, irrespective of level or location. Some of my best days have been when a junior colleague enters my office or stops me in the corridor to chat for ten/fifteen minutes. Those are the moments of greatest impact in knowing each other and building trust and relationships. Crises will happen from time to time, requiring a leader to make difficult decisions; your success in those times is heavily dependent on the trust and the relationships you have built.
This year has been unprecedented with the whole world grounded for months. Still, no one knows how things will pan out from this pandemic. Amidst the pandemic, I have seen humanity rise to such an unbelievable level, with people supporting each other in selfless manners. I am a believer that that good will ultimately triumph over evil – that is what keeps me going when things are dark. I strive to remain standing, and when it’s darkest, I know the dawn is near. I also know that the darker it is, the more glorious the dawn.
As a leader, you must keep faith with your long-term strategy, thereby refrain from knee-jerk reactions to current challenges.