A little respect

Komla Dumormsafiri’s regular business columnist, Komla Dumor, ponders whether you can be both successful and likeable

At several stages in my career I have interviewed prominent CEOs and heads of state. Interviewing can be a rather clinical process. You probe, you question, you challenge, and hopefully something interesting emerges. However, you rarely get to know a person through a single interview. It’s the unguarded moments just before sitting down that can be much more revealing. I recall the time when a head of state admitted to me that he kept me waiting beyond our scheduled time because his favourite Premier League team was engaged in its match of the season. I appreciated his honesty. Fortunately for him we happen to support the same team.
Then there was the African billionaire who profusely thanked the cameraman after we finished the interview. At some point he even offered to drive my crew to our next destination. He was so polite and charming that afterwards one of the waiters in the hotel where we had the interview asked if he really was the billionaire he had heard so much about.
On my return flight I had a rigorous debate with my colleagues about whether it was possible to be successful and likeable at the same time. Often times in business it seems ruthlessness and success go hand in hand.
One of the things that you will find about doing business in Africa (and indeed anywhere in the world) is that you are only as good as your relationships. Yes, an MBA is great and the next killer idea is essential – but in Africa, relationships are key.
The importance of building relationships cannot be underestimated. You may have a brilliant idea waiting to come to fruition but you will need to talk to someone – you may need some help. Some of these relationships are established in high school, college, churches, mosques and so on. Perhaps the most important relationships are the ones you build with your colleagues and your staff.
One of my favourite musicians, the late South African star Lucky Dube, sang: “Be good to the people on your way up because you will meet them on your way down!”
Introspection is not the easiest thing, but it is a worthwhile exercise whether you are a CEO, a senior manager or just on your way up. What do your colleagues think of your management style? Does it matter to you? It should. That is not to say you must be a slave to popular opinion. Any leader is bound to upset people along the way. One of the hallmarks of the great business leader is taking tough and unpopular decisions.
However, being nice to people does not mean being a pushover or being hesitant when it is time to take tough decisions. It doesn’t mean reining in a competitive character to make your business succeed. It DOES mean treating your workers and colleagues with respect.
Just a bit of humble advice from a journalist who might interview you one day and is likely to ask your friends, colleagues and staff a few questions about you first.