Co-authored by Roland Ofori Larbi & Joshua Nyamadi
Joshua and myself have one thing in common- we all worked for the same amazing CEO at a point in our careers. The Executive Assistant’s role was a mixed bag of challenges, excitement, accelerated development and life transforming. You were virtually the Deputy Managing Director as an Executive Assistant to the CEO. I was the first generational EA and Joshua being the third.
Recently as we were chitchatting in the office, we felt it would be great to reflect on the key things we learnt whilst working for this man. We have decided to put our thoughts on paper and share with you. Spend some time and read it, it will boost your career and life as a whole.
As told by Roland Ofori:
# Always Remain Positive
The first two years of Peter Ndegwa’s administration was saddled with a lot of challenges, ranging from tougher economic conditions versus planned, loss of key talent and fatalities. In the time where most industry players were downsizing and cutting their losses, my CEO invested more, he said to me that you cannot save your way to profit. That in the most difficult of times invest more in your human resource, don’t hold back, go all out. This paid off and turned the business into one of the most outstanding performer in the world.
When everyone was despaired and waiting for the worse to happen, Peter exuded some extraordinary confidence in his team and in the future of the business. This was so contagious and it caught with the entire staff. Job security was guaranteed and everyone gave out their all to turn the fortunes of the business around.
# Focus on Getting the Best Out of People
One of the strongest attributes of my boss was his ability to get the best in others. He makes you believe in yourself and holds a very high expectation of his reports to the extent that the least you could do is to give your 120%.
I believe that to be good, you must strive to bring the best in yourself, but to be great; you must strive to bring the best in others.
During performance reviews, he won’t waste time to dwell on your weakness, but will praise you for the least of efforts you brought to the table and show you the picture of how great you can be if you keep doing the right things.
Despite his busy schedules, he would find time to catch up with you and find out how you were doing in your personal life.
Everyone who worked for Peter had their A game on, not because he was the overall boss, but simply because he had an intangible way of getting the best out of others
# Invest in People & Give them a Chance to prove their worth.
One of the phenomenal legacies Peter has left is the tremendous investments in people. During his tenure, a lot more young talents were promoted to senior management roles and given the right support, coaching in order to succeed. Many local talents who were seen as “not ready” for their next career move and at best could only act in such roles till “a more befitting talent” takes over were all promoted under Peter. None of them turned out to be a failure in the long run.
A lot more Ghanaians had the opportunity to go for international assignments in other markets, to build their confidence and give them necessary exposure.
# Take Risks
Peter was a risk taker. He took bold decisions which could have terminated his career if it had gone the wrong way. He was a man who had the faith and appetite to take risks. He invested in a cube technology when it had not been used anywhere in the world. In effect he was prepared to part with millions of dollars to invest in a technology which might even fail. Today that technology produces one of the fastest moving brands in our business, ORIJIN. I am sure that when the powers that be are counting the bucks this investment is bringing in they will be thanking Peter for taking the risk.
Peter also spearheaded the launch of Ruut extra within a supersonic record of two months and the rest is history.
He has the record of launching the most innovations as his time as CEO of GGBL.
I must admit that not all the innovations were successful, as in the case of Armstrong, but that never reduced his appetite to innovate to meet the ever changing demands of Ghanaian consumers.
# Create the enabling Environment for people to Succeed.
One thing I learnt from my CEO was that it was more profitable creating the enabling environment for others to succeed than trying to succeed on your own as a leader. None of us is an island, we cannot execute our visions alone, we need others, and in order to get the best out of them, you have to create the enabling environment for them to succeed.
Anytime you had an appointment with Peter, there are two questions he will ask you without Fail:
- How are you feeling about the challenge you are facing? – In essence are you confident it can be resolved or you are in despair?
- What help do you require from me to resolve this issue? – he was prepared to go all out to enable you achieve the smallest of feats. In his estimations, tools of work and logistics should never be in the way of the delivery of one’s job.
He invested heavily in the state of the art communication gadgets for the sales team in order to make them more effective and connected. Latest technologies like Sales Force Automation was brought on board during his time.
#Build your own brand
Be known for something. When your name is mentioned at the workplace, what can people easily associate you with? My boss was an embodiment of sheer brilliance who asks ceaseless questions until he got a grasp of the subject matter. Anytime he walked into any meeting ,whether he was an authority in the subject matter or not, you are guaranteed one thing, that by the time he leaves the meeting he would have added significant value to the discussions on the floor.
He had built a brand of a personality who never gave up, who knew how to get the best out of people and had a great knack for attention to details. What will you be known for?
He always asked me the question” apart from your job title what else do people know you for? What will they say about you if I ask them?
Make the conscious effort to build a reputation and a brand for yourself at your workplace.
As told by Joshua Nyamadi:
# Get To the Point
During my interview for the role, I was asked a question by my prospective employer –can’t really remember what the question was. I thought to myself “Oh this is easy, I got this covered.” I then went ahead to give preface upon preamble upon context –get my drift? At a point when I was rambling away, obviously enjoying myself, the interviewer cut in “Joshua go straight to the point. You are beating about the bush”. Guess my response. You guessed wrong. Here’s the correct answer “Peter hold on, I’m coming to the point.” This left both he and the acting HRD staring at me with eyes as large as dinner plates. Well, I did land the role and as expected, this reflected in the written feedback and my new boss always teased me about that episode. I learned a valuable lesson (and this still remains my greatest development area): say what you have to say in the fewest words possible.
#Be A Masterful Jack-Of-All-Trades
I stepped into the EA role with a background in technology (Information Technology and Telecommunications) and what I’d like to term ‘Basic Marketing’. From Day 1, I had to wear the hat of a Finance Director, Commercial Director, Supply Director –you name it. Not only was I expected to be abreast on business performance but also update the GM on the workings of the various functions. Did I mention that I also prepared critical business documents including the MD’s report for the Board, Investor reports etc.? I had to become a Deputy GM overnight. I still remember my goals for that year. They were so sleepless nights-inducing that the GM made a joke that if I was able to achieve them I could move to another business as a GM. If only he knew the wealth he blessed me with! Now I reason and run my life like a business CEO (which sometimes sets my wife on edge).
# Being Ruthlessly Candid
Or as he fondly calls it, ‘Being authentic with style’. Did I mention that my boss has a good stomach for bad news. Well, then I stepped into the picture. I can remember countless times I gave him reports and he complained that they were too gloomy and depressing. Gloomy? But I was only presenting facts. He schooled me in the art of presenting information without dampening spirits or ruffling feathers unless necessary. There were also times when he called for my opinion on dire business issues and expected me to leave nothing out. In my early days, such times would get the boy child sweating profusely but I learned to develop a thick skin and kill off projects without batting an eyelid.
#Giving Feedback Upwards
As the EA, I was the official sounding board to the GM. This was one area of my job I trod about as if on eggshells. Picture this: you just left a family meeting with your dad during which he plays a key role. Immediately both of you step out he asks you to rate his performance. See where I’m going with this? Yes, that happened almost every day I spent in the role. In the initial stages I always said to myself “No way am I going to tell him today’s delivery was sub-par! Me? No way!” As a former Finance Director once said “It’s nice being on a payroll.” He taught me how to give feedback. I adapted this in my feedback sessions with him and this remains one valuable lesson for me.
# Be Tactful & Have Your Own Opinion
Following from the point on getting to the point, one area that I had to learn –and pretty fast too –was choosing my words carefully. My line manager always demanded that I attend high profile meetings with him. Not just attend, but contribute as well. “You’re not part of the furniture,” he’d tell me. This helped develop my confidence since I dined with kings and could hold arguments with them on various subjects. I did have a few faux pas, notable among them being making one of my directors the subject of a funny comment at a social event. The one in question took it in good faith but the rest of her peers were offended on her behalf. Come Monday morning and 4 different directors called me into their offices for a verbal whipping. Lesson learned: test the wind before you launch.
#Thinking Beyond My Age
My major stakeholders were the directors: older than me by far, with a wealth of experience. I could not go harassing them for information on behalf of the GM. Ok, I must confess I did a few times, just a few times! Lord knows the number of times these directors wished they could mount my head on a mantelpiece. I was constantly being a pain in my early days in the role but over time I acquired skills in the subtle art of scratching them behind the ears without them knowing. Now, even after my stint in the role, I can walk up to any director and still fall back on the amazing relationship built.
From the desk of ROL
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Joshua Nyamadi is a brilliant young fellow crazy about his passions: his beautiful wife, Manchester United, technology, soccer… He has a background in Computer Science and currently works with Diageo plc as a Consumer Planner. You can link up with Joshua Nyamadi on twitter (https://twitter.com/daquicksilver)