Leadership Life Hacks from 4 of Zambia’s Top CEOs
CEO Night, Zambia Q2 2017
In the second quarter of every year, we run a series of ‘CEO Nights’ where we ask the current CEOs/Chairs of the top 100 companies in each country to spend time with the community of 'next-in-line CEOs' that make up The Africa List to unpack what the jump from C-suite to CEO really looks like, and how best to prepare for it. We only run 'CEO Night' once a year so to make the interactions with the CEOs in attendance as structured and useful as possible, this year we also put some of our guest CEO/Chairs in the hot seat and groups of members took turns grilling them on their 'CEO Life Hacks' in productivity, leadership and management strategies and their personal journey.
It's not often that you get to ask business leaders you admire about their worst career decisions, their morning rituals, or even more directly - "why should anyone be led by you?". Many thanks to Charles Mudiwa, CEO of Stanbic Zambia, Jason Kazilimani, Senior Partner and CEO KPMG, Andrew Kapula, MD CEC Liquid, and Mark O'Donnell, Chairman, Union Gold, for taking part in our Zambia event and being so open and informative in their answers.
These are some of our favourite answers:
What's the hardest part of your job?
Jason: “I thought it would be keeping clients happy, or making sure there is enough money in the bank for salaries, but the hardest part is managing the people. Attracting the right ones, motivating them, retaining the good ones, and making sure they are being developed so that they stay for the long term.”
Mark: “When you start a business you think I need a building, I need machines, I need money, but what you really need are the best people, so it makes sense to spend a good part of your day thinking about your people. Are they happy? Are they meeting their objectives? Are they passionate about what they are achieving in the company?”
Do you get good people or do you make them?
Mark: “You get good people. When we recruit we don’t look for people with the most education, we look for the people with the most passion. The ones with the most passion really want to achieve something with their lives and all you have to do is equip them with the skills they need to do it which is the relatively easy bit. You have to ask yourself are these the kind of people that really want to get up in the morning, come to work, and achieve something? It’s hard to find those people but when you do, you can equip them with the skills.”
What happens when someone in your team fails?
Mark: “I actually like it when someone fails because it means that they’ve made a decision. So many people go through the day without ever committing themselves or the company to anything, so even if it’s the wrong decision it’s not necessarily bad. We can sit down and talk about it, understand why it was wrong and we can do something about it. It’s better than making no decisions at all.”
Other than your title, why should anyone be led you?
Andrew: "You want people to be led by you not because you are the CEO, but because they see you as a good example that they want to follow.”
What is one behaviour that you’ve seen derail most leaders’ careers?
Andrew: “Thinking that you are the mighty one. A good leader knows that the power lies in the people who you lead. If you think that because you’re the leader you know it all, you will fail. The good ideas and brilliant ideas come from the people that you lead. You don’t even need to be the smartest guy in the room to be the leader, you just have to know how to unlock the potential in your team.”
Charles: “Complacency. Once you reach a certain level in a company and you’ve achieved a certain lifestyle, it’s very easy for complacency to creep in. I think you should never be satisfied with what you have, always keep on walking.”
How do you encourage new ideas?
Mark: “I don’t like titles in my company. I think hierarchy is stifling and I like everyone to be able to talk. I encourage everyone to come to me with ideas, as long as they know that my next two questions are ‘why’ and ‘how’?”
How do you network?
Charles: “Relationships are more important than anything else we have, they transcend our ambitions and careers. We can chase jobs, titles, and money but what ultimately matters are the relationships that you build. Your objective shouldn’t be what you can get out of them, but instead ‘what difference can we make together to the community, and how can I become better by learning from you’.”
Jason: “I’m actually very introverted - I’m usually the quietest guy in the room. But I force myself out to events like these, because outside of your friends and family you need a useful network of business acquaintances. If you’ve read John C Maxwell’s book ‘Talent is Never Enough’, he talks about the things that affect your talent, and relationships are one of those things. Your network is not neutral. Hanging out with the wrong people actually diminishes your talent, but spending time with the right people enhances your talent.”
Jason: "I tell myself that if anyone is going to listen to me, or buy our services, and even pay a premium for them, we have to make sure we’re doing our best to be better than our competitors. We put a lot of focus on training and quality. The alternative is disastrous - if they stop trusting your quality they’ll go elsewhere.”
What are your learning rituals?
Charles: “I’m always reading 3 books at a time. One is always about my current work, one about things happening in the world, and the other about technical things that I’m interested in such as construction. My first qualification after school was construction before going into economics, so at any given point in time, I’m building something somewhere.”
How do you structure your downtime?
Charles: "Balance is a struggle for everyone but as an executive you never really have a perfect wheel of balance. So I have to be intentional about scheduling time into my calendar to spend with my family, with rotary and other things that are important to me. I even diarise time for myself and send myself calendar requests which always makes my PA laugh."
How do you judge your success?
Charles: "I actually don’t like the word success because it implies you’ve accumulated things and money. I prefer the word significance which is more about legacy and what difference you’ve made to your community and society."
Find out more about the Zambia community of The Africa List on their country page here.