A time to dream again

by Michael Ikpoki | January 18th, 2021

After a rather dramatic transition process, the world is poised to witness the swearing-in of Joseph Biden and Kamala Harris as President and Vice-President of the United States of America on 20th January 2020. The key thrust of the Biden/Harris campaign was “restoring the soul of America” hinged on the reality that while America is a land of infinite possibilities, she seems to be losing her meaning and essence. The Biden/Harris team are clear on what needs to be done – defeat coronavirus, create a more inclusive role for the middle class in the American economy, restore unity in the deeply divided country, frontally deal with systemic racism, address the reality of climate change and rebuild America’s credibility across the world.

On 6th January 2021, the world watched in shock and horror as insurrectionists, egged on by Donald Trump, attempted to forcibly stop the US Congress from confirming Joe Biden as President. Joe Biden’s message to restore the soul of America begins to resonate even more after this spectacle. This message comes from a place of deep introspection, sincerity, conviction and courage to deal with the real issues at its root rather than dancing on the surface. This is bold leadership that is unafraid to say what it sees no matter how unpalatable and how challenging it may be. It is an uplifting Nationalistic message to galvanize the country to be her best self again. It takes a real leader to dream and galvanize real change. We are reminded that there is always a place and a time to DREAM again!!

In every leadership journey, there is a risk that we default into sameness in our actions, avoiding the real issues or at best, taking incremental steps, when there is a crying need for fundamental change. Fear of asking the difficult but necessary questions. Fear of addressing the fundamental issues which if addressed, would unlock significant value and create a whole new world of possibilities. Let us be honest to ask ourselves, what are the truths confronting us in our respective leadership experiences that we should be addressing.

At an African country level, leaders must be bold and honest enough to assess their realities against the country’s potentials instead of reveling in untruths, false glorification or hiding behind theoretical economic measures when in reality, our economies are operating far below our true potentials. China grappled with the deep questions and pursued an economic agenda that has lifted millions out of poverty. Singapore wrestled with such questions too. Some call the transformation that has happened in these countries economic miracles. Miracles are divine interventions that happen beyond human capacity, comprehension or understanding. What has happened in countries like China and Singapore are not necessarily miracles. They are the logical predictable outcomes arising from pragmatic policies driven by informed patriotic leaders with the right positions of responsibility. These leaders did not dissipate energy on the mundane, they dreamt, they galvanized their people, they acted. Africa’s landmass is bigger than all of Europe, China and the United States. We are blessed with significant arable land, minerals, oil, natural gas and above all, a youthful and entrepreneurial population. As the world’s largest economy starts dreaming again, so should we in Africa.

At an organizational level, the same questions resonate about the potentials of the company vis-a-viz it’s present reality. Dreaming a new reality stretching on the boundaries of possibilities can only come from sincere and passionate leadership minds. Great companies are birthed on great dreams - a dream to put a computer in every home (Microsoft), a dream to change the way we communicate, enjoy music and learn (Apple), a dream to create a cool way of connecting with each other (Facebook), a new way to educate our children (U-lesson), a new convenient way to send money (Safaricom) etc. Innovation by companies can transform economies for the better. Innovation solves real problems, unlocks significant value, creates new opportunities for people. Innovation is dogged, it forges ahead in spite of all challenges, it is the stubborn result of dreams.

One of the tragedies of the modern corporate life is sometimes the chaos, the frenetic pace, the noise, the routines without optimal productive outcomes. The system can be a plethora of activity for the present devoid of thinking and creating a new exciting future. The youthful organizations are so much more liberating, full of verve and life, much more open to new ideas, tolerant of honest mistakes which enables a real growth environment. Never let your company grow old. Never be a company that revels only in its past. Whatever unmet expectations or disappointments we may have in our governments, it is still the role of the private sector to be the value creator in the economy.

As a business leader, if all you dream about is the next financial quarterly results based on the present business model, you are operating sub-optimally and not taking full advantage of the opportunity to sustainably grow your business and meaningfully contribute to the economy. African economies will only thrive when we all challenge ourselves to dream about what possibilities we can achieve and start doing something concrete about them instead of expecting miracles. This challenges us all at an individual level to be more purposeful in operating at our most optimum capacity.

Only time will tell whether Mr. Biden can galvanize a whole nation to rediscovering itself and achieving its full potentials. It is not going to be easy for Mr. Biden. It is not easy for any real leader. It takes courage to lead. It all starts with dreaming.

As 2021 begins, let us be bold to dream again.