The Tony Elumelu Leadership Style: Lessons in Innovation, ...
Home Uncategorized The Tony Elumelu Leadership Style: Lessons in Innovation, Long-Term Thinking, and Disruption
Uncategorized - June 8, 2023

The Tony Elumelu Leadership Style: Lessons in Innovation, Long-Term Thinking, and Disruption

The leadership style of Tony Elumelu has been instrumental in his success as the highest shareholder and Chairman of Heirs Holdings, which is the holding company for United Bank for Africa (UBA), Transcorp, Avon, Heirs Oil & Gas, Afriland Properties, among others.

As a strategic African business leader, Elumelu encourages his organisations to embrace new technologies and think outside the box. His passion for creativity and innovation is also seen in his warm reaction to Comedian Bovi’s attempt to use Artificial Intelligence to steal his identity.

In the video, Bovi tried different passwords in an attempt to transfer Elumelu’s wealth to himself. When he got the password right and begins to transfer the wealth, the AI said, “Your account is too small to receive all his wealth.” In reaction, Elumelu dropped three laughing emojis in the comedian comment section. Elumelu’s reaction says a lot about his personality and how he leads his firms. Let’s draw some lessons from his leadership style.

Be completely immersed in your projects

Elumelu who started off by selling photocopiers when he first graduated from university is one of those leaders who are totally involved in their projects. He once said, “Always immerse yourself completely. Body, mind and soul. Not one leg in and one leg out.” 

Because of this principle, Tony who just rented a new apartment in Lagos when he became the Port Harcourt UBA branch manager had to leave everything behind and move to Port Harcourt. Tony’s leadership style required that he be present on the ground if they were going to make progress at the branch. 

Being involved allows you to develop a deep understanding of the project and identify new opportunities and challenges. It also exposes you to continuous learning and facilitates collaboration with team members and stakeholders. Moreso, it helps you monitor the project’s progress, identify areas for improvement, and iterate on your ideas and solutions.

Surround yourself with competent people

The former bank chief once said, “People think Tony Elumelu is a whizz kid. They don’t know that he surrounds himself with brilliant and competent people.” Achieving success as an individual is largely dependent on who surround yourself with. 

Elumelu is celebrated today for leading one of the largest mergers in the banking sector in Sub-Saharan Africa by acquiring UBA but the secret lies beneath his ability to work with people of great minds.

Competent individuals bring a wealth of expertise and skills to the table. When their expertise complements your own, you have a team that is diverse and comprehensive. You will also gain access to multiple perspectives and insights and be able to delegate responsibilities to your team members. As a leader,  building a team of competent people can also create a talent pipeline for future leadership positions.

Connect with your team

Delivering a lecture at the Tony O. Elumelu Amphitheatre at the UBA house, Elumelu said, “As a leader, don’t be far from your people. Your people must connect with you and you must understand them very well.” He also said, “There is a need for us to have high Emotional Intelligence. This is important as we need to be cognizant of how others feel.”

Talking about his connection with his employees, the CEO of UBA Foundation, Bola Atta wrote, Tony has a very high EQ. He knows how to make the people around him work to their best capacity. He invests in them, training, exposing and giving them opportunities to become leaders.”

According to Elumelu, a successful leader must know how to manage people well. When you motivate and make them happy, they will be willing to give their best to your work.

Make required adjustments

Innovation and disruptions come with a lot of adjustment. Elumelu who had to transition from CEO of Standard Trust Bank to UBA was not clingy or angry when the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN asked him to step down due to the time he had spent in his career as a bank CEO.

Speaking on the development, Elumelu said, “Every phase in one’s life requires adjustments.” One lesson to learn from Elumelu’s leadership style is his ability to adapt to a changing environment. Making necessary adjustments will help you stay open to feedback and mitigate risks.

Know your limitations

Elumelu’s leadership style involves understanding individual limitations. Tony once counselled, “Don’t’ jettison what you are doing that helps you to succeed. Leave this room with an agenda. A resolution. And know your limitations.” 

Knowing your limitations helps you recognise your strengths and weaknesses. It further helps you focus on areas where you can make the most significant impact. Also, it allows you to engage in open and honest conversations with your team, seeking their input and expertise. 

It can also make you seek mentorship and support from individuals who have expertise in areas where you may lack experience.

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