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Leading from the side. (Part 1)



I’ve had the privilege of starting my career at a very young age and am even more fortunate to have had people help me along the way as mentors, business partners and investors. For the past 25 years, I’ve experienced being an innovative thought leader from Web 1.0 to Web 3.0, developed proprietary products, built businesses and led the charge for every single one of them. As glamorous as it sounds, these wins didn’t come easy as I went through seasons of severe burnout, depression, anxiety attacks, obesity and liver damage that almost cost me my life. These ordeals taught me humbling lessons on how we progress and chart our way forward from front runners to keeping an eye on the flock and finally discovering why leadership, not management is so important.


When we watch a football game, we often see the striker score the goal and receive the most praise when a team wins. When the team loses, the blame usually shifts to the team’s defence or the team manager’s tactics (which I’ll touch on later). Most of us want to be strikers, to lead the charge, to have the glory of celebrating in front of a packed stadium. Most of us desire to be seen and heard.


What many of us don’t see and often neglect is how a striker doesn’t score goals if the playmaker doesn’t make the right pass. If the midfield doesn’t transition the play from defence to offence… if the defence doesn’t make an effort to build from the back… if the goalkeeper is not a pillar between the posts…


Many of us may fail to see is the amount of hard work, decision-making, and sleepless nights a dedicated team manager puts into planning and strategy for the matches during a season. It's also the immense amount of research contributed by his support staff and everything else that happens in an ecosystem to see a team of 11 men storm on the pitch and claim all three points. Moreover, it is also the team manager’s responsibility to manage 11 millionaires on the football pitch, motivate them, inspire them and ensure that they deliver their best every match to appease a crowd that is less than forgiving for a bad result.


Take a breath and let it sink in.


As a former striker on the pitch and in the business world, I could only see what was in front of me, the opportunities, the open fields and all the potential that life could offer. As I got older and got sufficiently exposed to numerous opportunities, I started to realise that such a limited view could only bring an organisation so far, that seeing it without considering those behind me could sometimes be folly as we sit in our kingdom without regard of where those who chose to spend their time with us to chase a dream would accomplish.


Since then, I had chosen to become a sweeper (the last man in defence) and to lead from the back. The view was devastatingly different. Where I once used to see limitless opportunity in a tunnel, I now saw how opportunity alone wasn’t enough if the rest of the team didn’t understand what was going on, didn’t value the opportunity and created mess after mess for the others to clean up. Such situations would usually leave behind unusable land as the enterprise train rolled through the land. This was a complete failure of sustainability, and I was part of the problem. The role of the sweeper is to ensure everything from his line of sight to the midfield is in order so that the forwards can score the all-important goals. If the sweeper fails, the team usually concedes a goal and more often than not, loses the match. This was unfamiliar territory for me, from scoring to defending and coordinating people but it had to be done. The second phase of my career had gone from leading the charge to coordinating the charge but I knew somehow that becoming the sweeper was just the transition to me eventually managing the entire team on the sidelines.


Phase 2 of my career saw me taking on the roles of the sweeper and team captain for numerous teams. I eventually let go of the fact that I needed to lead every charge, or that I needed to be the one always being heard in a room and more importantly, that I would have to be the one that unites people, provide systems and structures so that they can do their job and do it well. Most importantly, it gave me the tremendous privilege of working with people who are way smarter than me, to help them unlock their potential and achieve so much more as a collective.


Lifting people's spirits when the cards are down is one of the most demanding jobs anyone has to do. It's easy to celebrate and stay motivated when things are rosy but extremely difficult to do the same when there's a lack of resources, goals to be met, unclear outcomes and overall low team morale. Sweepers and team captains have this unenviable job and some of them do it not for the applause but because they see the bigger picture that's been set by the manager on the sideline. In life, we can either choose to walk away from something or stay and make that something blossom into something bigger than ourselves. With free will comes the power to make choices.


(To be continued in part 2)

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