Rene Carayol, our very own business guru challenges an African Leader


John Amaechi OBE is a respected Organisational Psychologist, best-selling New York Times author and CEO of Amaechi Performance Systems. He focuses on improving performance, solving intractable people problems and creates thriving workplaces despite the challenges and disruptions of the modern world. Prior to founding his own firm, John spent several years as a professional athlete, becoming the first Brit to play in the National Basketball Association (NBA).

In a sentence, what’s your definition of leadership?

The custodian of the culture—the arbiter of the balance between challenge and support. The leader is the person with whom the buck stops, not just for credit but also for blame.

Which historical leaders stand out for you and why? 

James Baldwin (1927-87) was an African-American novelist, essayist, playwright, poet and social critic. Not just because he was a great steward of culture, but even more for his original ideas and thoughts. He felt ignorance was the enemy. He corralled often unwilling people to re-evaluate uncomfortable truths.

Which contemporary leaders do you admire?

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, the British former wheelchair racer. She transformed herself seamlessly from a first-class athlete to a first-class politician—the most outstanding of role models.

Tell us about the mentors who have influenced your life?

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson—a successful and gentle activist with huge strength and determination.Lord Herman Ouseley—a study in forceful dignity.Steve Mycio (Chair of the NHS Hospital Trust I work with)—a study in quiet authority. He sadly passed away late last year.No-one ever reaches their full potential without a mentor. You can be great at times but without a mentor, you can never be consistently great.

What’s the more important driver for success—talent or ambition?

I have to believe neither because I didn’t feel I had either! I did have a clear plan, though, that had fingers in every facet of my life and I lived by it. For example, it was an absolute entry requirement to have only 4% body fat to make it professionally. Therefore, for a decade, I lived solely on boiled chicken, steamed broccoli and boiled brown rice. It wasn’t pleasant, but it was a vital investment and part of the plan.

Has leadership become more difficult or complex in recent times?

It has not become any more difficult—it’s always been difficult. Our challenges today are certainly more novel and nuanced. Leadership is supposed to be hard. We are the ‘giants’ who have to tackle the tough stuff. For this, we are usually handsomely compensated in either monetary terms or by status.

What advice would you give to those embarking on their leadership journey today?

Earn yourself a mentor. Demonstrate that you are worthy of them. Much like the Jedi, you’ll benefit from the lessons and learn to never turn to the dark side.

What’s your reaction to Donald Trump’s recent victory in the US elections?

I don’t believe there has ever been a less psychologically stable or less qualified President of the USA. Some of his behaviours would disqualify any employee—no matter how talented—from further employment. We could choose any one of the many inappropriate examples of his behaviour and that alone would see any employee dismissed.

There is a global issue around employment and opportunities for the younger generation—do you see any signs of any economic breakthroughs for them? What more could be done?

I see no signs of an economic breakthrough as yet. We live in a world where many insist that “our children are our future”, but then deny this by their behaviour. We consistently refer to people as ‘talent’ or ‘resources’, this is particularly damaging to millennials.



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