Leadership lessons with Sam Adeyemi

This blog post is based on a slightly edited transcript of Pastor Poju Oyemade‘s live Q&A session with Reverend Sam Adeyemi on April 7, 2020.

How are you coping with the lockdown?

This is a forced Sabbath. Unprecedented! Pastor Nike was saying to me some days ago that it looks like this is going to work well for introverts, but for extroverts, this isn’t looking good.

For the benefit of our audience, we’re going to look at three levels of leadership. The first is self-management, the second is when you are managing a group of people and the third is when you are now managing people who are managing the group of people. So you are now managing managers. I’m going to start with the first level which I call the individual contributor level.

Reverend Sam, I’m going to ask you this question: Diligence is doing little things for a long time until something big happens. In your own personal experience, what are the three most significant little things that you did for a long time that made big things to happen?

The first thing is reading the Bible. The Bible serves as my tuning fork. When the human system is tuned to God’s frequency, downloading becomes easy. Job 32:8 says, “There is a spirit in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty gives him understanding.” People take drugs and engage in certain kinds of practices because these things take them to a high level where they get inspiration. The Bible does that for me. The first thing I do when I wake up is to read the Bible. By the time I’m having a shower, I’m getting inspiration. It has worked so well for me that it’s a habit I’m not going to stop. The ideas literally create my world.

The second thing is planning, i.e. goal setting. I like to give a simple illustration. Imagine having two of the best teams in the world on a football field and you have no goal post. Nobody is going to win, there will be no joy, no celebration. You just have to define that small space where if the ball goes through, you say it’s a goal. In the same way, people kick their ball in different directions in life. But without a target, without goals, there is no fulfillment; just lots of activity. [Tweet that]

I approach goal setting in three levels. In addition to setting my goals for the year, I set goals for the week. And every day, I decide on the things that I want to achieve that day. I find it so powerful that in January 1997, I did a long-range plan for 60 years because I stumbled on something that a Harvard professor [Dr. Edward Banfield] described as the Law of Time Perspective, but it’s actually the law of vision.

The longer time you take into consideration when making your plans, the higher you rise. So the person that thinks 10 years will always rise higher than the person thinking 10 weeks or 10 months or 10 days.

– Sam Adeyemi on The Law of Time Perspective

Dr Banfield found that the most successful people in any society are those who take the longest time period into consideration when making their day-to-day decisions. The longer time you take into consideration when making your plans, the higher you rise. So the person that thinks 10 years will always rise higher than the person thinking 10 weeks or 10 months or 10 days. So I do goal setting consistently.

One other thing that I do consistently is adding value because I realise that is the essence of life. Every single day, I make sure I add value to people. And when value goes out from you, value comes back to you.

The essence of life is adding value to people. And when value goes out from you, value comes back to you. - @sam_adeyemi HT @pastorpoju Click To Tweet

In order to grow in leadership, apart from personal competencies and things such as punctuality, reliability, content, there are work values such as acceptance of company culture. There are a lot of people that don’t understand the culture of the place they’re working in. They are talented, they’re skillful but they don’t match the culture. And because of that, they don’t get promoted or they can’t rise within that organisation. So, how does one identify the culture of a place and quickly adapt to it?

That’s a very good question, a very important one at that. Talking about the basic factors that create the culture of an organisation; the first is the overall vision, the long-term goal of the organisation. That is what shapes the decisions of the executives, the operations, systems, budgeting and everything. You have to first ask yourself, “Where is this organisation going?” so that you can align everything you do every day with that. Some professionals go into an organisation and they are so consumed with their own role or with the function of their department. They don’t think about the overall objective of the organisation. So they pull the department in a different direction and create a subculture.

You must be mindful of the organisation’s vision and mission. You must also align with the core values. What are the priorities in this organisation? What are the things that are very important? What do they rate very highly? You must understand that when you have worked somewhere for a while, say 15 years, you would have subconsciously imbibed the vision and values of that organisation. So when you move to a new organisation, understand the vision of that place and how it is different from where you’re coming from. Don’t insist on doing things the way you did in your former organisation. If integrity is important to them in your new place, it has to become important to you. If excellence and punctuality are important to them, then these values must also be important to you.

In addition to the stated core values, there are values that are not stated. Check the unstated values and align with them. It’s not being stupid. Don’t think you can ignore the values by claiming to have a mind of your own. If you have a mind of your own, then you should build your own organisation and express your mind there.

– Sam Adeyemi

One of the challenges here is that in performance assessment, organisations don’t measure alignment with the values of the organisation. So people run into problems. They wonder why they are not making progress in spite of working hard. They don’t know what the problem is; they think it’s a personality whereas it is simply because they have failed to align with the values in the organisation. You must understand that in addition to the stated core values, there are values that are not stated. Check the unstated values and align with them. It’s not being stupid. Don’t think you can ignore the values by claiming to have a mind of your own. If you have a mind of your own, then you should build your own organisation and express your mind there.

One of the major failures in leadership is leaving the wrong person in a job for too long. The person was right at a time but now, the person is no longer suitable for the role, though very loyal. How do I make changes in this kind of situation without destroying the morale of the entire organisation?

To effectively make tough decisions as a leader, you must always be driven by love. If your motive is always love, you will be able to hurt people without them hating you.

– Sam Adeyemi

Every business will have to deal with this at some point. It especially applies to startup entrepreneurs. When you’re just getting started, you play multiple roles. You then start to build a small team of people who also play multiple roles. So they are very important to you. However, as you grow, you need to start bringing in professionals to handle the various roles. If you continue to handle multiple roles for too long, you become the problem of the organisation. When the professionals come, they begin to move you in the direction of standards. You have to listen to them. Learn how to manage your emotions and ego. You will make tough decisions.

Many entrepreneurs do what they do out of passion. For example, for those of us in ministry, we did not start churches to make money; rather, we wanted to see the power of God touch people’s lives. It’s the same way with entrepreneurs. They just want to change something or make some sort of contribution. And they get started based on that, until they grow to the point where they need to bring in professionals.

So, when the HR person begins to tell you, “This person is not performing”, how do you balance somebody being competent with rewarding loyalty? Several years ago, I spoke with the owner of a very large organisation where the top people had lost their drive because they had mostly achieved their dreams. So I asked the man, “Why not let them go?” He answered that “The narrative around town would be that I destroyed their lives after using them for 35 years.”

It's not easy but you need to let people go. Practise principle-centred leadership. Principles have no respect for persons. Create a policy and make decisions based on that policy. Don't show favouritism. - @sam_adeyemi HT @pastorpoju Click To Tweet

It is not easy, but you need to let people go. This is why I advise that you practise principle-centred leadership. Principles have no respect for persons. Have a policy. Make decisions based on the policy. That’s what we lack in Africa. The whole culture is not principle-centred. For example, someone gets a job in your organisation because he’s your brother. Now, you need to fire that person. The entire village will come to plead with you. If he came on merit and went through process in the first place, you would have set a foundation there. Make policies. Don’t show favouritism.

You need to come to terms with the fact that you will need to move people. In John 15, Jesus says the branch that does not bear fruit, he cuts it. I tell our staff that I like the way the King James version renders that passage: “He cutteth it.” Picture cutting with a knife or cutlass; emotional blood will flow sometimes. In addition to cutting the branches that do not bear fruit, the passage also talks about pruning the ones that bear fruit. Pruning is just a nice word for cutting. Even the one that is bearing fruit also needs to have deadwood removed so that resources can go to productive parts.

To do this effectively as a leader, you must always be driven by love. If your motive is always love, you will be able to make those tough decisions. You will be able to hurt people without them hating you.

How do you prepare your team for change or transition especially in positioning the team to absorb new talent without creating tension or bad blood?

If people are comfortable in their role, they won’t feel threatened by someone coming in, especially when the person is just adding his/her own flavour and not replacing them. However, you also need to coach the new person to manage the ego of the people on ground.

– Sam Adeyemi

First, let people know that change is normal. This is one of the characteristics of a leader that has vision. Keep painting the vision and let people know that things are going to change. Let people know that status quo is not normal with us.

As you continue to declare the vision, you will realise that people like progress but they don’t like the process. So it is good to be upfront about it. In the early days of Daystar, I found that we were beginning to get comfortable with the status quo. So I rotated all the leaders from their positions. The main reason was to get the point across — no ownership of any position here.

We did it the first time, second time, and we still do it. We have a very strong cell system with leaders at various levels. We rotate pastors over districts and satellite churches. It’s slower now because we’re big but we wanted people to know that change is normal.

People like progress but they don't like the process. So you need to prepare them upfront and let them know that change is normal. - @sam_adeyemi HT @pastorpoju Click To Tweet

Here’s one other thing I did in those early days — I bought Who Moved My Cheese? for all our leaders and went through it with them. People know they have to be adjusting. At the point where I bring in new talent, I do a rotation and also bring in the new talent. There are two dimensions to it; I emphasize too on specialisation – talents and skills. So I run tests. There is this test that measures team personality. Your personality is one thing on a normal day. When you’re in a team you have a different personality.

As members of a team, we have unique roles. Don’t compare yourself with anyone else. I encourage my pastors to be themselves and make their own unique contributions. I tell them: church members will compare you with me. Don’t let them put you under pressure. Teaching/wisdom is my number one gift. Even if you wake me up from sleep, I will make sense to people. Don’t let them measure you on that. Find your own unique gift and use it.

If people are comfortable in their role, they won’t feel threatened by someone coming in, especially when the person is just adding his/her own flavour and not replacing them. However, you also need to coach the new person to manage the ego of the people on ground. The person should learn how to show them respect over time in order to be accepted. Sometimes, if majority of the people on ground don’t accept the person you’re bringing in, you may have to take the person out.

How do you cease from being a transactional type of leader to become a transformational type of leader? As a transactional leader in a business, you are interested in driving the bottom line, and the success of the business depends on you. Transformational leadership is when you see that it’s not sustainable and you want to institutionalise systems that are dynamic such that the business is not dependent on the individual.

At the first anniversary of Daystar, God told me that I had to deal with my insecurity and enter into my rest. He said: You must not fight anyone for leaving the church, whether the person is a pastor or member. If you ever do that, it will be proof that you believe I am weak. It means that you think the person’s exit will stop the fulfilment of my plan for the church. Nobody is powerful enough to do that. Enter into your rest.

– Sam Adeyemi

The basic thing about a transformational leader is that you empower people to be able to do what you do. At any time, transformational leadership is better.

The important point is that you prioritise people over money, tasks and systems. Transactional leadership is not sustainable. People know that you’re in it for what you get. So they are also in for what they can get. When what they’re getting no longer justifies their continued stay, they will leave you without emotions.

When you build systems, it is people that will run the systems. Love people genuinely. Take interest in their personal development and empowerment. When you love people like that they will love you back. There’s a reason love is the greatest commandment.

Transactional leadership is not sustainable. Transformational leadership is better. Prioritise people over money, tasks and systems. Love people and empower them. - @sam_adeyemi HT @pastorpoju Click To Tweet

Some say loving people is a risk but the truth is, principles cannot be broken. Somebody will pay you back. And if you love genuinely, the likelihood that people will hurt you will be greatly reduced.

At the first anniversary of Daystar, God told me that I had to deal with my insecurity and enter into my rest. He said: “You must not fight anyone for leaving the church, whether the person is a pastor or member. If you ever do that, it will be proof that you believe I am weak. It means that you think the person’s exit will stop the fulfilment of my plan for the church. Nobody is powerful enough to do that. Enter into your rest.”

So I went to our pastors’ meeting and told them that anyone that wants to leave at any time is free to do so. I will appreciate one month’s notice but even if all you can give is 24 hours’ notice, I’ll take it. I’m going to pray and tell you what I received, but I will not interfere with your decision.

I learnt to take the attention off myself while I focus on people and empower them. The result was that nobody wanted to leave. It’s risky loving people. It’s risky investing in people and empowering people but I’m assuring you that it will pay off. It is God that oversees that principle. And God is not mocked, whatever a man sows is what he will reap. Even if you love people and they end up hurting you, other people will love you back. You will enjoy unusual commitment from people.

I learnt to take the attention off myself while I focus on people and empower them. The result was that nobody wanted to leave. - @sam_adeyemi HT @pastorpoju Click To Tweet

We know delegation is important to scale but we also know that people like Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos were said to be chronic micromanagers. Delegating is challenging to do well. What should you delegate and what should you focus on as a CEO? Some say delegate things you already know and are good at so that you can supervise properly and not be bamboozled while focusing on new challenges. Others say, delegate the things you don’t know well and focus on your strength. Which have you found to be a more effective approach?

I would say I delegate operations and I focus on strategy. Operations is day-to-day running, ensuring things are working. Strategy is having an overview of everything, ensuring everything integrates and ensuring everything is moving us towards the fulfilment of the overall objectives of the organisation.

So I will delegate the running around. I will focus on the thinking. I will focus on looking at the reports. I will focus on looking at the figures and the data. I will focus on looking at the trends, what is working and what is not working, what is going up, what is coming down, which I think is the work of a leader — vision and strategy.

The point is that items flow between operations and strategy. And even when you empty your plate as a leader, it quickly becomes filled up because you are always having new ideas. The managers help you to focus on efficiency but you need to be expanding and growing. And the organisation grows in your head — through thinking.

Again, it’s a process. As you bring people in, drop the routine work so that you can have time to think growth and alignment. I run several organisations. The most advanced is Daystar. I delegate operations to the COO. Then there’s Sam Adeyemi GLC where a fantastic young man drives the whole operations and executes events. He is based in our UK office and has been with us for eleven years now.

I say to our team, I will delegate everything I can delegate and focus on the things I cannot delegate. And that now comes to my values. For example, I value family. So I say to them, there is nothing I am doing here that I cannot delegate to you guys. You can preach and run the meetings. But I cannot delegate being husband to my wife and being father to my children. If there’s a conflict between something I need to do in church and a parents’ meeting in my child’s school, I will go for the parents’ meeting.

I delegate everything I can delegate and focus on the things I cannot delegate. I can delegate preaching but I cannot delegate being a husband to my wife and parent to my children. - @sam_adeyemi HT @pastorpoju Click To Tweet

This is from a medical doctor and it has to do with being in a leadership position in the midst of the COVID-19 situation. Now, here’s the question. In a crisis situation like we face now, followers display a wide range of anxiety, some based on real evidence… How do you balance truly hearing their fears and ensuring your decisions are not wholly driven by those fears? What encouraging words and practical steps do you have for business leaders to manage the psychological pressure that comes with leading people in an organisation in times of crisis so that they avoid stress, meltdowns and negative health implications.

Crisis creates opportunities. So the leader needs to exercise the power of vision, the ability to see things not only as they are but as they could be.

– Sam Adeyemi

Thank you very much. Good question, especially for the situation that we’re in now. It is uncertainty that amplifies most anxieties and fears. So when you have a crisis situation where the things that have been stable, that people have been used to are now moving, there’s anxiety and fear.

For example, we’re dealing with a pandemic, and the last time a pandemic of this proportion happened was 1918/1919. So there are very few people alive now that were alive then. But even though they were alive then, they didn’t know who they were; they were babies. So sincerely speaking, this scenario is very threatening, especially with the lockdown. What does a leader do in this situation?

When leading people through a crisis, you must be positive. Even though you don't know what to do, your followers are not expecting you to project your own fears on them. - @sam_adeyemi HT @pastorpoju Click To Tweet

The first thing you do is to validate their fears. The fears are real; don’t just discard them. Secondly, be positive. Even though you don’t know what to do, they’re not expecting you to project your own fears on them. They’re following you because they believe you have a sense of where you’re going. Make sure that you’re responding to the situation and not reacting to it.

If someone slaps you and you slap the person in return and you’re asked why you slapped the person, you might say it’s because the person slapped you first. But that’s not true. Between the slap you received and the slap you returned, you have a fraction of a second to decide what you’re going to do.

A Christian will understand what I’m saying better. Jesus says, “If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn the other also.” I realise that a lot of people don’t understand what Jesus is saying there. Jesus is saying, except the person is mad he will not slap you the second time. The person started a cycle and expected you to complete it. You broke that cycle by not retaliating. You exercised the power of choice. Exercising that power of choice is what we call responding. So I tell people: don’t react. Calm down.

Now, for them to be able to respond, they need perspective. That’s what a leader should give them — paradigm shift. Help them to see the situation differently. That was what Elisha did to his servant in 2Kings 6 when the king of Syria sent a battalion of soldiers to arrest Elisha. The servant was so afraid that he screamed, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” The old man said, “Fear not. Those that are with us are more than those that are with them.” In the same way, help your people to calm down. Let them see that the world is not coming to an end; it’s only a bend, not the end. When you negotiate the curve the road will spread out in front of you. There is life after COVID-19. With every crisis, there is an opportunity that comes with it. I tell people that when trouble hits anywhere, it is not everyone that prays for it to end; some people are profiting from it.

Provide perspective for your followers. Let them see that the world is not coming to an end; it's only a bend, not the end. There is life after COVID-19 - @sam_adeyemi HT @pastorpoju Click To Tweet

What I’m saying is that crisis creates opportunities. So the leader needs to exercise the power of vision, the ability to see things not only as they are but as they could be. Take Moses for example. When he was leading the Israelites and got to the Red Sea, with Pharaoh in hot pursuit, the fact is that he didn’t know what to do. Yet he told the Israelites, “Calm down! You will not even need to lift a finger. God will fight for you. You will see salvation.” It was after then that he cried to God and God told him, “Calm down! Tell the people to march forward and stretch your rod.” That is leadership — control, manage your own attitude. Then find perspective.

Talking about paradigm shift, Stephen R. Covey gave a powerful illustration in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, while trying to define the difference between a manager and a leader. He said if you want to clear a plot of land, the manager is the person that measures out the portion, ensures that the cutlass is very sharp — the manager seeks efficiency and ensures everything is accurate. On the other hand, the leader climbs the tallest tree, he looks around to find out if we’re even clearing the right plot.

I will tell you the tree I climbed to gain perspective. There was a pandemic 100 years ago. I decided to study what happened because the interpretations that people are giving this pandemic range from one extreme to the other. I don’t want to go into the details but there’s quarreling on social media now from 5G to 10G and other things. So I went online and decided to check how it affected Nigeria. I found a research article by a history lecturer who is now at a university in Birnin-Kebbi. Beautiful research work! I had to buy it but I was happy buying it because when I read it, it was amazing. He dug into the archives, all the records that the British colonial officers kept and so on. So I read.

The way air travel is the main thing for global transportation now and it was air travel that moved the Corona virus around, it was sea travel that spread the virus around back then in September 1918, when the influenza epidemic hit. Now, it’s air travel. I got the names of the ships that brought people into the Lagos ports, the dates they arrived, how the thing spread in Nigeria.

I will tell you the one I saw and almost screamed. They closed churches and mosques. They also shut down schools and markets. Some of us now think it is the Antichrist that is at work, he doesn’t want us to gather together to fellowship with people. We should just thank God that we have the internet now and we can be relating with people without being together. They shut churches in 1918!

So when the leader gets perspective like that, then you can calm people down and tell them there will be life after this thing. Look instead for the opportunities and I believe that will help.

As a leader, how do you handle a crucial staff member who is fiercely and openly loyal to a former head?

Sometimes you have strong opinion leaders on the team — every leader has people like that. While they’re discussing something at the meeting, some people at the meeting are looking at somebody else and trying to see the person’s reaction, if the person agrees, they agree. If the person doesn’t agree, they don’t agree. If I have that kind of person on my team, I will always discuss new ideas with the person before we get to the meeting.

– Sam Adeyemi

When you come into a new position, be very sensitive. I will recommend that you should not change anything for the first two or three months. Usually you come with your own ideas. So you’re in a hurry to change things. Just calm down first. There are people loyal to the former leader that are still around, They will make life difficult for you and disable all your plans and visions if you disrespect the former leader. So the first thing you should do is to calm down and validate the former leader. Then take time to read the people.

So if you find someone like that, win the person to your side. Leave the issues and build a personal rapport. Any leader needs to know the share of power on their team. Sometimes you have strong opinion leaders on the team — every leader has people like that. While they’re discussing something at the meeting, some people at the meeting are looking at somebody else and trying to see the person’s reaction, if the person agrees, they agree. If the person doesn’t agree, they don’t agree. If I have that kind of person on my team, I will always discuss new ideas with the person before we get to the meeting so that I get the person on my side. Manage the ego, don’t change things quickly, validate the former leader. It is when you’ve got enough buy-in in the team that you bring in your ideas.

A young pastor asked this question. When a leader loses influence over his followers due to familiarity or due to the followers finding out his weakness, what should the leader do? And how can the leader avoid people being familiar with him and at the same time, carry the people along?

That will border on the law of respect. People only follow people that they believe are ahead of them. So if people are losing respect for a leader, I would not say it’s so much about the people finding out the leader has a weakness, they know already without finding out, because there is no perfect boss anywhere. Everybody has weaknesses. It could be that they are catching up with the leader especially in terms of knowledge and skill. It could be that the leader is not inspiring them anymore. That’s where disrespect begins to come in. You need to up your growth both in terms of character and competence.

When you lose respect as a leader, it's not because followers found out your weaknesses; it's because they're catching up with you. You need to up your growth. - @sam_adeyemi HT @pastorpoju Click To Tweet

In other words, you’re still working on yourself, cultivating new habits, improving, living a disciplined life. They don’t expect you to be perfect. Where you still have your own struggles, you are open about them. You don’t pretend, you are not hypocritical; people won’t lose respect for you. Then you don’t stop reading and learning. If you come to the meeting and have something new to say each time, when you have decisions to make, your processing is superior to theirs, you demonstrate a greater measure of wisdom. You are delegating work to them and they are increasing in competence, but like Jethro said to Moses, let them deal with the small issues and bring the big ones to you. So when they hit complex issues they can still come to you and you will find a way, they won’t lose respect. It’s not because they found out your weakness that they’re losing respect. It’s because they are catching up with the leader. The leader needs to go for growth so that the leader can be inspiring.

How do you balance the need of what you share with your team in a corporate environment of the strategy and goal for the business and the practice of your faith in working towards the goal especially when the goal may seem unreal or unattainable, given the present circumstances? In other words, one million dollars is a realistic revenue target for the year. That would make sense using the past track record. But in your heart you are reaching for revenue target of 10 million dollars which will seem unrealistic to your team and make you look unserious. How can you carry them along in working towards the goal and in practising and exercising your faith?

Feed people with what they can digest per time. If you sense the capacity of your team, give them what they can handle. When you give somebody something bigger than the person can handle, rather than inspire, it will overwhelm the person and then paralyse the person. So if you have most of your team paralysed, you will achieve nothing at the end of the day. So sometimes as a leader, especially if it’s from the dimension of your faith — God said it to you — you need to be tactful and discreet. Sometimes Jesus would say to his disciples, “I have some things to tell you but you cannot handle them now. I’ll keep them till later.”

Feed people with what they can digest per time. When you give somebody something bigger than the person can handle, rather than inspire, it will overwhelm the person. - @sam_adeyemi HT @pastorpoju Click To Tweet

In the same way, give your people what they can handle per time while you are working on increasing their capacity. Once in a while, you throw those long goals. They are not for discussion, you just make people aware of them. If over time, what you say consistently comes to pass, they develop confidence in your intuition and your capacity for vision. Then they would have grown and developed capacity for that thing.

Jesus communicated at different levels. He took only three of his disciples to the Mountain of Transfiguration. He related with the twelve differently. And his communication with the crowd was on yet another level. The Bible says he did not talk to the crowd without parables i.e. stories. Stories communicate with the professor and the peasant.

I’m just saying give people what they can digest per time. Don’t rush your team. With time and the consistency in achieving goals, their capacity to take powerful visions and dreams will increase.

This is from the executive director of a bank. If you can answer this in two minutes. There’s a school of thought that says leadership is situational. How do new leaders who came into leadership due to how they handled a crisis situation step up to the next leadership phase when things return to normal?

This is like becoming a leader in wartime. There is a tendency to continue the war strategies in time of peace.. [To be continued]

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