Insecure brand founders poison their own successful creations

Wednesday November 27 2019


In business leadership, the glowing keyhole is a straight path to success by choosing the right strategic path cutting through a confused maze of tangled roads. FOTOSEARCH 

By The EastAfrican

As I continue this conversation around timeless brands and succession planning today, I want to explore another reason why a lot of African companies are largely not generational.

This is because of the insecurity of the founders.

It is actually ironic but these same visionary high personality strong willed and opinionated founders can be some of the most insecure people alive.

The result of this is that the business is built around them and their personalities. The danger of this is that when the founder is sick, the company is sick.

When the founder lacks creativity, the company loses creativity. When the founder is not around, it will show in the company and finally when the founder dies, the company dies.

The insecurity of leadership goes beyond cases where we deal with founders. It also happens in many organisations which I call the mediocrity sandwich.


Yes-Man syndrome

Just like a sandwich or a burger is defined by what is in the middle and not the bread, a mediocrity sandwich in an organisation is where you have brilliant people at the top, brilliant people at the bottom but mediocre thinkers in the middle.

I have seen this trait in too many organisations across the continent even in some of the very big organisations.

Many reasons have been brought forward for this trend but one of the most common has been the fact that leadership at the top are never very comfortable with people directly under them who can become threats to them. There is a level of suppression that exists in some organisations that are designed to keep the level two officers at bay.

They are not empowered to make strategic decisions and as such will never really fully understand how certain things are done.

The result is that they cannot replace their bosses in the event that boss is no more there. The ultimate aim of leadership is to train and raise your replacement. It does take a level of confidence and security to be able to do this.


As a leader if you are defined by your position and if your identity comes from the office or title that you hold then you are not in a good place. The result of this is that you will do everything to hold on to that office including silencing and keeping all potential successors at bay.

This trait has been perfected by political office holders for ages and now it has also found its way into corporate leadership.

Sadly, the same people that criticised people like the late Robert Mugabe do the same thing every day in their offices. This behaviour sets in because people want to preserve their positions.

Someone asked a former Nigerian president about youth empowerment and the fact that the youth had been left with nothing more than promises. His response was...“Who will fight for us?”

I could not believe it. Keeping people down was actually a deliberate measure to meet the needs of the led.

Many are so insecure that they do not believe anyone can do it as well as them. I once had this notion and as a result I was doing much more that I should have been doing.

The truth is that the people that I have trained and raised know much more today at their level that what I knew when I was at that level. Besides they can bring a very fresh flavour to the operations.

Managing succession

Many founders are scared to empower people who will outshine them. In the corporate setting it is not too different. After all Robert Greene in the book, 48 Laws of Power says that Law Number One says that we should never outshine the master.

We, however, need to remember that the highest point of leadership is succession.

In reality, if you are going to last and if your legacy is going to be great, you must raise people who will outshine you. You need to have people who are deliberately being groomed to outshine you. Few things give you the clarity of mind like seeing a dream you birthed being grown by competent hands.


What if they mess things up? First, if you have trained them well enough they should not and even if they do, your hands will be clean. One way that helps to prepare people for succession is that before you give them power out rightly, you need to loan them power. Build them on a task-by-task basis before you fully give them power.

This process must look at their conduct under pressure, their relationships with other people and their ability to inspire.

It is not enough to just get a person who can deliver the job. They are more likely to destroy things if they are not able to connect effectively with people.

Great performers with bad attitudes are a threat to any organisation.

Wale Akinyemi is the chief transformation officer, PowerTalks