Ian Clarke: 'Do Things You're Not Very Good At' and other #CEOLifeHacks

Settling for mediocrity is like settling for death. I want every day to count.

CEO Night, Uganda Q2 2017

In the second quarter of every year, we run a series of ‘CEO Nights’ where the current CEOs/Chairs of the top 100 companies in each country 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 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.

Dr Ian Clarke was one of our guest senior leaders for the evening and is the owner of Uganda's Clarke Group and the Founder and Chairman of International Medical Group - a family business that started with just one small mission hospital in 1990 into a network of primary care clinics, a 100 bed hospital, International Hospital, and IAA Healthcare, a health management organization. The group has since evolved to include a construction business, a health sciences university, agribusiness, hospitality and primary education. Dr Clarke's #CEOLifeHacks cover how his leadership style has changed in the transition from CEO to Chairman, why he's afraid of mediocrity, and how he keeps his ego in check despite his accolades. 

What's the hardest part of your job?

The hardest part about leading my company is when a catastrophe happens and you’re the one in charge, you have to take that responsibility. The circumstances are out of your control but the buck still stops with you. 

Who are you without your accolades?

I regularly do things that I'm not very good at, which always keeps my ego in check. I’m trying to learn to play golf and I’m the worst player in the world which reminds me how pathetic I can be. That’s who I am sometimes, sometimes I’m in self doubt.

How do you prioritise your day for peak performance?

Sometimes I make a task list but sometimes I take it as it comes. Now that I'm Chair of the company instead of CEO, I have the flexibility to not spend my days in drudgery but doing what needs to happen to get the task done. Sometimes I take a step back and think, what do I really want to do, and then spend the day doing that. 

What do you think it’s like to work for you?

Quite difficult sometimes but I like working with young people. I have my own office but I usually end up sitting in the middle with everyone else because it sparks ideas. I like being able to bounce ideas off my team in real time, and then people can also get at me whenever they like. I like it that people feel free to tell me what’s going on, and they can say “I’m not happy, I don’t like my salary etc.”

What would you like to change about your leadership style?

I’m too old to change too much stuff but I can still modify some things. My son, who is now the CEO of Clarke Group, would like me to be more careful. I’m a full on entrepreneur, I really go for stuff which is great but I also need someone to provide some checks and balances.

How do you push yourself beyond mediocrity?

Settling for mediocrity is like settling for death, so I want every day to count. My number of days on this earth is getting progressively smaller, so my time feels more precious than ever. I want the time I have left to matter so I set myself daily, weekly and yearly goals. 

What books do you most regularly gift to others?

'A Road Less Traveled' by Scott Peck- it was written about twenty years ago but I re-read it again recently and the chapters on discipline are still very relevant. 

'Thank You for Being Late' by Thomas Friedman 

'Sapiens' by Yuval Noah Harari - for an overview of who we are, where we’ve come from and what makes us unique as human beings. And its sequel 'Homo Deus' which is about the future of humans. Sitting here in Uganda, it's easy get a bit insular but it's important to stay in touch with global issues and with people around the world that are moving things forward and creating the future. 

Find out more about Dr Clarke here, and more about the Uganda group of The Africa List here.