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Leading by Example: Tony Elumelu’s Leadership Principles



Tony Elumelu


People often ask me, TOE how do I learn leadership. Should I go on a course? Buy a book? Get a mentor? Are leaders born, or can you become a leader?

Just as I say about business success, leadership has many components – luck, being in the right place at the right time. But I also believe that those talents and those disciplines that you bring, creating a vision and the resilience and focus that delivers that vision, can also forge your own personal leadership.

I was fortunate to work with Chief Ebitimi Banigo, at the start of my career. My leadership philosophy was built working with him. It started with Chief Banigo taking the time to read my application letter and giving me a chance to prove myself at Allstates Trust Bank in 1988. When my colleagues tell me today, “TOE you respond too fast to our emails”, I laugh because I learnt from the master himself – Chief Banigo. When I sent memos to him, he would respond within twenty-four hours; therefore, why should I not respond even faster in this age of technology?

These are some of the leadership values I learnt from my time with Chief Banigo, and I practise them all today.

Leaders must demand excellence: Only by going the extra mile and pushing ourselves, will we truly develop and standout. Hard work and excellence made my bosses Toyin Akin-Johnson and Ebitimi Banigo notice, and subsequently, believe in me. At twenty-seven, I went from being a trainee to being a boss, when I was appointed a branch manager – the youngest bank branch manager at that time. All the things I learned earlier came into play, and I continued learning.

Good leaders find in people, what people did not know they possess – Leaders recognise the talent in their team and then push to unlock the talent. When I work, I work to achieve my goals, but I also work to unlock my teams’ skills. I know everyone I work with has huge potential – for me my success is also about the success of others, growing and nurturing their talent, that is the foundation of our growth at Heirs Holdings Group. This focus on talent, teams, personal transformation, is why I am so insistent on creating institutions, cultures, and pathways, where human capital can thrive. It is why I am an investor in businesses, but also entrepreneurs across Africa.

Leaders must walk their talk – A leader must be consistent. People want to trust a leader that they believe has integrity. Leadership is not just about telling people what to do, it’s also about setting an example. A good leader must lead by example and practice what they preach, this demonstrates integrity, it builds trust and respect.

Leaders must impart knowledge: I benefitted from the mentorship of Chief Banigo at Allstates Trust Bank. He helped me to develop my strategic thinking, my frames of reference and to channel my ideas into concrete actions, so that when the moment of opportunity arrived, at the age of thirty-four, I had the self-belief to gather a small group together to take over and revive a failing bank – take that enormous step, that is still shaping an industry and a continent today.

Today, when I am faced with an impossible situation, I ask myself, ‘What Would Chief Banigo Do?’. I worked with Chief Banigo from 1988 – 1995, till this day, he is the one I turn to, when I need advice.

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