Moving up to Extraordinary Leadership

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Prof. Lere Baale

Fired up by rejection and failures

The objective of this series is to guide the ordinary leader to do extra little things that will help move them up into extraordinary leadership level.

Let’s share an important story of how rejections and failing forward have helped to fuel a passionate desire to become an extraordinary leader. At ages 11 and 12, a young boy (we’ll call him Dammy) applied through entrance examinations twice to the Military School, Zaria, with the aim of joining the armed forces. He was rejected on both occasions. He decided to change to a technical school to help him quickly gain vocational expertise, in order to raise money and see if he could help support his parents to pay the fees of his siblings.

It was when Dammy was trying to secure admission to a technical college that he met a reverend father who advised that it was better for him to go to a secondary school.  He eventually secured admission into a Catholic missionary secondary school. His five-year experience in the school changed him and impacted his life to date. He was able to enjoy special academic scholarship for indigent students and was significantly inspired while being provided with close guidance and counseling by two major personnel, Reverend Sister Margaret and Reverend Father McComboy.

These two inspiring destiny helpers supported Dammy morally and financially, not just in his secondary school but also through A-Level and till the end of his undergraduate studies at the prestigious Ahmadu Bello University Zaria. The great and huge Kashim Ibrahim Library of the university was of tremendous help to him, as he was unable to buy any textbook throughout his undergraduate years.

If Dammy hadn’t been rejected by the military school, nor failed in other attempts, he would not have learnt how to fail forward. Besides, neither of the priceless rich encounters with the inspiring destiny shapers like Rev. Sister Margaret and Rev. Father McComboy would have taken place; and his knowledge of leadership would certainly have remained very ordinary.

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Your university is not good enough

While out of Ahmadu Bello University with his first degree, Dammy pursued employment as a management trainee in a number of multinational firms. During one of his encounters, he was reminded 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 his MBA degree at age of 25 in the University of Lagos. The MBA significantly impacted his career growth and his continuous search for the qualities of extraordinary leaders.

You are too young and too good for promotion

Dammy passionately applied himself to every assignment in his place of work and enjoyed rapid promotions, until he became a member of the board of a multinational company at 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 – “too lenient with workers to be a good leader” or “you are too young to be promoted” or “too good an asset to be allowed to leave the country for international roles”.

Despite experiencing different kinds of humiliations and frustrations, Dammy vigorously continued with 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 on him and questioning the quality of his education from his first degree to his MBA.  He 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.”

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Dammy knew he had been a passionate reader and teacher; so he prioritised his daily activities and created more time for reading, teaching, writing and actively leading, because he knew that readers always begin the journey to extraordinary leadership through the route of whatever they choose to read and act on.

You too can become extra ordinary, if you learn how to passionately read and take action by applying your knowledge on whatever you have read.  In other words, if Dammy had not been rejected; if he had not leant to fail forward; if the quality of his degrees had not been questioned; if he had not been considered too young to be promoted, the article you’re reading right now might never have been written.

Such a story as above is not alien to many who have passed through certain 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 what God has already endowed you with – your strengths, passions, abilities, personality, experience – and make a definitive choice to succeed in leadership, no matter what you are going through.

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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.

Failures along the road to extraordinary leadership

As Steve Jobs once said, “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.”

The truth is, it happens just like that. 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. Time to back up, turn around, and look for a new route to get to where you want to go. And as long as you keep smiling and moving forward, the road ahead to extraordinary leadership is going to be far better than you can imagine – because, eventually, despite 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 studying many extraordinary leaders. We should all try to learn from them and leave leadership legacies wherever we find ourselves.

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