Barry O’Reilly is excited to welcome Temi Ofong to the Unlearn Podcast. Temi is the Chief Operating Officer for Corporate and Investment Banking at Absa, South Africa’s most influential bank and one of the largest banks on the African continent. Temi describes his journey to his present role as an incredible learning curve. He shares the lessons he learned and unlearned throughout his career, in particular, the importance of putting people first to achieve success. Find out How To Achieve Collective Success with Temi Ofong.

Empathy As A Superpower

“If you’re not able to connect with the person’s journey and history and context, it’s very difficult to get the best out of them because you don’t really understand what motivates them,” Temi points out. Barry calls empathy a superpower. People who develop empathy always get the best information which informs how they behave and helps them to be successful in different environments. “Ultimately business is about people,” Temi adds. “Life is about people… The biggest thing you’ve got to unlearn or learn… is people and what motivates people, what makes them tick…” He illustrates how this principle helped him in the build-out of their corporate banking business. [Listen from 7:05]

How To Achieve Collective Success


Unlearning A Common Leadership Myth

One of the most common myths about leadership is that a good leader does it all on his or her own. However, Temi points out that his biggest breakthrough actually came as a result of his coach. Many times the attitudes and behaviors that brought you success thus far, are not the same ones that will take you further. The right coach, he argues, can lead you on a journey of unlearning which will help you enhance your performance. Barry says that getting a coach helped him accelerate exponentially.  [Listen from 11:00]

Leaders also need to unlearn:

  • How to be vulnerable;
  • How to harness EQ;
  • What motivates their people. [Listen from 14:20]

The Notion of Collective Success

A leader’s job is to create the environment for other people to succeed. “Ultimately it comes down to the notion of collective success,” Temi adds. People need to feel that they are part of the team, that their work is contributing to the success of the organization. “It’s about trying to create as many points of connection and collaboration where everybody feels that together they can achieve more,” Temi says. [Listen from 16:25]

Temi shares insights about what led to his bank’s successful multi-year transformation program:

  • It was a bank-wide effort.
  • There was a specific deadline.
  • The team was willing to use a new approach.
  • They trusted one another.
  • They revamped how they tracked success and how they dealt with failure.
  • They started with one project, then iterated.
  • They invested in training colleagues. [Listen from 20:05]

Frequent Evidence of Success

Nothing builds trust faster than seeing evidence of a new way of working, Barry says. When they see regular progress, leaders feel more confident about new methods. This kind of collaboration builds trust, momentum and rapport. “That’s where you see real transformation in organizations, where people go through an experience together and deliver something beyond their expectations,” Barry comments. [Listen from 25:40]

Looking Ahead

Temi says the next step is to take what they learned in this project and implement it throughout the bank. Now that they are emerging from this multi-year project where they were focused internally, they have to make up any ground they lost in the market and accelerate past the competition. “The pieces that I focus on are the human parts,” he says. “I see my job as being to help them think through problems but without diminishing their accountability… it’s a team sport and in that team we all play our part and I think that’s a very important perspective to have as a leader.” [Listen from 27:45]