Focus on People: A Lesson from the Late Bob Collymore

As it appeared in the Daily Nation on July 9th 2019
Dr. Lucy Kiruthu

In his life and death, the late Bob Collymore former CEO of Safaricom had many lessons for us. When I met a friend on the day of his memorial, she sought to know what lesson I had learnt from the life of Bob. I was quick to point out that the lesson on dying graciously was mind-blowing. Another lesson was obvious. I had listened in and read through the tributes of his team and other associates. His focus on people was far beyond what we have witnessed in this world and especially in the Kenyan corporate scene.

Over the years, business schools have taught us many lessons on management. Top of the mind are the functions of management. We have learnt that management is about planning, organizing, staffing, directing, coordinating, controlling and leading. Many in management have paid great attention to what needs to be done. We have made plans, coordinated efforts, focused on the tasks and the processes. In addition, we have focused on results. However, many have forgotten to focus on who needs to get it done and what motivates them to do so.

It is evident that Bob intentionally choose to build a strong connection with his staff at Safaricom. In one of the written tributes, his executive assistants mentioned that he knew their children’s names. Bob must have picked up the valuable lesson on focusing on people from the school of life. I recall coming across five questions he asked his team members when he first joined Safaricom as CEO. The questions helped the team open up about their aspirations, they were key to building trust. How many new CEOs often do that? Maybe I should say that luckily Bob did not attend a business school. As someone who teaches in a business school, that would be a major contradiction. Nevertheless, I can confidently say that many in the world of business do not pay much attention on what effectively leading a team entails. It requires a focus on building long lasting relationships based on trust!

Leadership is first about people. It is about how those we lead feel about themselves, about the organization and about us. One of the struggles that most of our businesses face is that of an unhealthy culture. Leadership has the major responsibility of setting the right culture and showing the way. How many business owners and managers recognize the need to focus more on people? How can we become more people focused? Bob’s philosophy was that by focusing on people, profits follow.

Many of us in the world of business may have missed an opportunity to take a selfie with Bob. However, we should not miss out on an opportunity to learn from one of the best CEOs of our time. His business leadership lessons and especially on the need to focus on people is humbling. I believe that this lesson can help transform many organisations. I am ready to focus a little more on people, are you? Bob’s memories will certainly live on for years to come!

Dr. Lucy Kiruthu is a Management Consultant and Trainer. Connect via twitter @KiruthuLucy

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