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Uchi Uchibeke
Uchi Uchibeke

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Never ignore these 5 important leadership lessons from the last decade

One does not automatically become a good leader because good leaders learn from mistakes. The best leaders learn from the mistake of others, not theirs. Hence, this article.
A leader ensures that their wristwatch and that of their people are in sync so that everyone can arrive alive at the same time. In high school, I was the Head Boy. As the Head Boy (Senior Prefect) in a Federal Science and Technical College, I led a team of over 20 School prefects, including the Sports Prefect, Labour Prefect, Health Prefect, Hostel Prefects and many more. In my school, when I was there, Prefects were senior students with considerable power who effectively run the school outside the classroom and are authorized to enforce discipline. What this means is that prefects are empowered to assign tasks, maintain order, dish out punishments, and many more.

As the Head Boy, working with the Head Girl, I was not only responsible for executing the responsibilities of a Prefect. I was also responsible for ensuring that other Prefects are enforcing those disciplines in a way that is fair to students, aligns with the school regulations and keep all students focused and motivated to carry out their school work. With this responsibility, I, as the Head Boy and other Prefects, are still expected to maintain high grades.
The Head Boy experience, my role as Founder and CEO of Lush Plans and Founder of NaijaHacks, has taught me some lessons about leadership, and balance in leadership which I will like to share here. Please, note that the following leadership lessons are based on my personal experience and might not work for everyone.

Prioritize and Delegate

Trying to do everything yourself will cause burn out and failure because you will be focusing on implementation instead of working on the big picture. At the just-concluded NaijaHacks, I stayed up helping to rearrange the hall until 3 am on the morning of the event. Doing this essential yet straightforward task made more critical things to suffer. For example, we did not run through the judging plan before the event, so we had to stop the judging and push a fix to the judging app. Also, the event started late because both myself and Blessing (Co-chair) were up late working on small details instead of focusing on big-picture stuff like the full program run-through, our speeches and briefing the host and judges. We should have delegated to #TeamNaijaHacks. The lesson is that as a leader, you should empower those you lead to do their jobs effectively, so you do not have to worry about the small details.

Hire for a role

One big mistake we made when forming the NaijaHacks team, #TeamNaijaHacks, was to hire a group of highly talented individuals first before fitting them into teams and roles. To recruit members of the team, we put out a general application to past NaijaHacks participants to apply to join us in planning future NaijaHacks events. Although we asked what areas applicants had experience in, we did not create separate roles or applications. The process resulted in a lot of time wasted in team matching, team reorganization, and others. We even hired many people who were not great fits for the roles, and we lost around 25% of the team after six months. The experience was a wake-up call for us, and we want to do better, going forward. In the future, we will first create teams and functions, establish expectations for those teams/roles, plan and implement leadership and reporting structure for the teams then put out a separate application for each team and position. Although we are not hiring for a job either is the role fulltime or compensated, we will follow the HR practices of companies that we admire.

Divide and conquer

Break tasks into small self-contained parts and empower a person or team to focus on completing the task, end-to-end. If possible, a person or team's responsibility should not depend on another team's work. Shopify does a fantastic job with this. During my time at Shopify, leadership empowered teams to complete their work and make an impact without too much direct supervision or obstruction by other teams. See Tobi's Twitter thread on this.

Set clear expectations and deadlines

After three months of working with Team NaijaHacks, we noticed that the momentum has slowed down, the team slack was quiet, and Blessing and I were doing all the grind ourselves. We needed the team to perform because the success of NaijaHacks 2019 depended on them, so we decided to take action. We were initially going to look at prior performance and keep only team members that have done well in the past, but we realized that maybe the issue was from our end as leaders. We were the problem. Not the team.
So, to improve morale and get shit done, we sent a survey to everyone to get them to recommit. Those who did not recommit were let go. Next, we sent another anonymous survey to the new team to understand each team member's goals - what they wanted to get out of the work they put in as part of Team NaijaHacks, what obstacles they were facing and what each of them wanted us to do differently. Surprisingly, most of them needed more precise direction, expectations, and deadlines. As leaders, we failed them. We were not setting clear expectations or deadlines, hence the poor performance. Once we started setting clear expectations or deadlines, the team's performance improved tremendously.

Preach and teach

Make sure your people understand the "why." What is the "why"? Why does your company or organization exist? Why are they doing what they are doing? How does the work they do fit into the big picture? At NaijaHacks, in my head, I knew why we started and why we exist. I knew that we wanted to help participants create companies and place those not looking to start companies in good jobs. But we did not document or share this anywhere so it was unclear what they were, especially to the team who had to hear multiple versions of the same thing. It was thus challenging for them to relate the work that they do to the big picture. This needed to change so we took action!
What we did was create a document that summarizes what NaijaHacks stood for (vision and mission), what we have accomplished, our goals for that given year, the words and phrases we wanted to be known for, and even our color scheme for the year. We then had meetings to stress this, and shared with the team, all Partners (Media, Startup, Diversity, and other partners) and companies (Videographers, Red carpet, and others) we hired to work on our projects.

For Team NaijaHacks, when we wanted to reiterate what we stood for, instead of just sending chat messages, we sent voice recordings for messages that needed to go out before our next scheduled meetings. Meetings also included reminders about the long term goals.

In conclusion, to be an effective leader, in my opinion, a leader needs to:

  • Prioritize and Delegate
  • Divide and conquer
  • Hire for a role
  • Set clear expectations and deadlines
  • Preach and teach

Let me know what you think.

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