CHIKA BABAFEMI IS the founder and managing
director of Unlimitedideas.com, a
public relations and events management
company in Lagos, Nigeria. Because his
average commuting time during peak
traffic periods is three hours, Babafemi
leaves home by 5 a.m. and doesn't return
until ll p.m. He works hard and expects
his employees to be as committed as he
is. While he would love to spend more time with his family, he does not believe
in work-life balance. He believes that as
long as workers are financially comfortable,
their lives must be in balance.
Babafemi was recently a student in
my class on leadership that is part of the
Owner Managers Program (OMP) at
Lagos Business School. Owner-managers
of small to medium -sized enterprises
take the class to learn how to successfully lead their businesses in Nigeria's
volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous—VUCA—environment.
Doing business in Nigeria is not a tea
party. The country is ranked 146th out
of the 190 nations included in the World
Bank's list for Ease of Doing Business.
In addition, the country is just recovering
from a recession it entered in 2015.
According to its National Bureau of
Statistics, nearly 8 million Nigerians lost
their jobs between January 2016 and
September 2017; between the second and
third quarters of 2017, unemployment
rose from 16.2 percent to 18.8 percent.
But Nigerian business leaders face
many other challenges. Ethical standards
are low, and CEOs often are induced to
give bribes in order to get work or stay
in business. Changing demographics
are reshaping the workforce—infact, a
January 2016 report from advertising
firm GetUpInc predicts that millennials
will constitute 75 percent of the Nigerian
workforce in 2020. And a sharp decline
in the quality of university education,
particularly in public schools, means that
many new graduates are ill-prepared to
take on even entry-level jobs.
At Lagos Business School, we are
attempting to tackle all these issues
as we prepare the next generation of
business leaders. For instance, we are
addressing the education deficit by
introducing a monthlong brush-up
program for young MBA students before
But some of the other challenges are
more daunting. How do we convince
Chika Babafemi that he should lose that
government contract rather than give a
bribe to secure it? How do we show him
that his millennia! workers do not see the
wisdom of three-hour traffic commutes,
so he needs to implement technology that
will enable flexible work hours and telecommuting
options? Can we convince
him that he can change his management
style and still get the job done?
Teaching leadership in 21st-century
Africa calls for a practical approach, so
at LBS we take these three specific steps:
We instill values. The LBS MBA and
executive programs focus on inculcating
moral mindsets in our students by making
ethics the bedrock of teaching. No
program is run at LBS without including
ethical content or multiple ethics sessions,
and a typical MBA class has about
22 ethics sessions. We also provide
students with mentors. Not only do all
MBA students have individual faculty
advisors, all the MBA students-including
EMBA students-are put into study
groups that are directed by members
of the faculty or the school's executive
staff. Advisors are expected to meet with
each of their proteges at least seven
times within the 18-month period of
the MBA program. Each meeting has an
agenda, and its outcome is documented
and signed off on by both parties.
We explore generational differences.
In my ongoing research, I have learned
that more than half of older managers
do not understand what motivates the
millennials who make up a growing
part of their workforce. Millennials are
seeking work-life balance, a work culture
that fits their values, and ongoing
professional development. They need
an environment that allows them to
express themselves, learn from their
mistakes, and pursue their own ideas.
Baby boomers and Generation X managers
care less about work-life balance
and professional development, but they
are interested in the right work cultureand
managers need to accommodate all
three demographics in their workplaces.
These lessons are particularly valuable
for our EMBA participants.
We help students see that emotional intelligence distinguishes the leaders from the bosses.
We emphasize emotional Intelligence.
We help students see that emotional
intelligence (EQ) distinguishes
the leaders from the bosses. It inspires
genuine followership, and not merely
what Nigerians call "eye service," or
grandstanding. Leaders gain trust by
displaying genuine and authentic care for
the people they lead, especially in tough
times. Those who hug and care for their
people are the leaders who will win.
The typical Nigerian CEO often has difficulty embracing these concepts, so
we use a variety of approaches to bring
them alive in the classroom:
Exercises. To cover the topic of
emotional intelligence, for instance,
we begin by taking executive students
through exercises that help them
identify how well they have mastered
the four skills of EQ—self-awareness,
self-management, relationship management,
and social awareness. We
also lead them through an exercise that
demonstrates how their communication
styles might cause people to view
them differently than they would like.
The results often are both startling and
humbling for the participants, so this
exercise disarms their resistance to
developing new leadership styles.
Case studies. This method of
teaching helps douse the anxieties of
participants learning new concepts. In
groups of eight or ten, students discuss
live or fictional cases of how leaders met
particular challenges or shaped sustainable
futures for their organizations. Not
only does the case study method make
the learning more practical, it allows
students to bounce their ideas off each
other in smaller groups before they
enter the more intimidating classroom
setting. We always emphasize that students
should come with open minds so
they can learn from others. We also use
local cases as often as we can to make
the learning more relevant and real.
Strategy simulation games.
These games, which have become popular
among executive students at LBS,
provide real excitement for participants
as they solve leadership and team building
challenges. One of our favorite
experiential management teaching
tools is the Lego Game, which focuses
on teamwork, decision making,
effective communication, and
Executive visits. There
is always a buzz of excitement
in the class when the protagonists of case studies are invited
in to speak, or when a chief executive
shares his leadership story with students.
In one instance, the students and
I spent about 45 minutes discussing the
case of a leading Nigerian real estate
company, Jide Taiwo and Partners. Unbeknownst
to the students, the founder
and chairman had been anonymously
listening to the opinions and advice
of the students who were debating his
plans for expansion and leadership
transition. When I invited him to come
forward and speak, the students gave
him a loud cheer-and when he finished,
they responded with a standing ovation.
Another very compelling visitor was
a successful Nigerian entrepreneur who
shared his story about navigating the
ethical challenges of doing business in
our country. He described how he resisted
the corrupt government officials
who had wanted financial inducements
to approve his business license and how
that resistance delayed the approval of
his license for years, forcing him to rely
on blue-collar jobs to survive the wait.
His story was almost too good to be real.
What he didn't know was that one of the
people listening in the classroom had
been an employee of that government
ministry during the time his story took
place. Her validation of his situation
provided a powerful ethical lesson
for the students.
Through speakers, cases, games, and
classroom exercises, we find that we can
bring our students to an understanding
of the importance of ethics, work-life
balance, and authentic leadership.
When the class begins, they might say,
"None of this is possible in Nigeria." But
by the end of class, they have become advocates
of ethical, balanced leadership.
Henry Onukwuba is a senior
fellow and full-time faculty
member in human resource
management and organizational
behavior at Pan-Atlantic
University's Lagos Business
School in Nigeria.
This article originally appeared in BizEd's March/April 2019 issue. Please send questions, comments, or letters to the editor to [email protected].
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