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Leadership Skills | Unlocking Your Potential

Last updated: 13 May 2024 09:00 Posted in: AIA

Bolu Fagborun, CEO of Fagborun Limited, explains how with true leadership, you can unlock your own potential and help others to make the best of their abilities.

It’s important for us all to be able to discuss leadership and the unlimited talent that exists in business today. As leaders, we have a responsibility to unleash this potential and create the environment in which people can flourish.

I myself have a background both in professional rugby and in business. As well as being the co-founder of a courier company, I’m the Managing Director of the professional coaching company Fagborun Limited. I believe that all these elements of my working life so far have given me a unique perspective on how to identify talent and make the most of the potential in our organisations.

Building talent

When it comes to talent, I believe that the most gifted and talented individuals exist within all organisations. These people will typically represent the top 20% in their field. And they have a choice to make.

The individuals with the highest potential can all too easily coast through work using their gifts and talent. Colleagues and managers who don’t have the ability to recognise their potential can be too easily fooled into thinking that they are already working at their full capacity.

But if they choose, these people can continue to build upon their talents. They can help their organisations to grow, and they can inspire everyone who works with them. They are likely to have worked incredibly hard to get to this point in their career, and may have sacrificed a lot to reach their current position in the business. But the most talented workers can keep climbing and striving to build their skills and their careers.

There is a special selection of people who can work tirelessly to make the most they can of their talents and gifts. They can put in that additional degree of effort to build on this and to reach the very top in their field.

From my sporting experiences, it was always amazing how the very best rugby players continue to train hard, put in the extra effort and look at the best way to keep ahead of the game. In business, the commitment to a continued development to growth and excellence can bring the same long‑term rewards.

My personal experience

I am a former professional rugby league player with Huddersfield Giants, Sheffield Eagles, Batley Bulldogs and Rochdale hornets. I played internationally for Nigeria and even managed the Nigeria national team to success in the Middle East-Africa Rugby League Championship in 2022.

I’m also a provider of bespoke transformational executive coaching and consultancy, specialising in leadership both for emerging talent and executives in high growth and highly skilled industries like tech, digital and consultancies. It’s an honour and a privilege to be able to spend time inside organisations, supporting them in the development of their greatest resources.

Through my experience in professional sports, I believe the natural abilities of most elite athletes share their natural abilities with the top 20% of their field. But it is when the most gifted put in the extra 1% of effort that they reach the arena of professional excellence.

The people in businesses who share the successes of Michael Jordan in their own industry are those who have committed to not stopping at the top 20%, but rather who are going as close to the very top as they can. They are the people who will push the boundaries of what is possible for themselves and their industry.

The support of businesses

There is always a danger that people with these talents and skills can find that their potential is crushed by the day-to-day reality of business.

But if an organisation can set up a system to recognise their talents, and to retain, train and galvanise these exceptional people, they can achieve results far beyond what is predicted, and beat any industry norms. They can become ‘trailblazers’ and can set the pace for everyone else to follow. They can become leaders in your business.

It doesn’t all come down to holding a senior management position, though. They can also lead by example and raise the standards of everyone around them – both consciously and subconsciously.

These are the people and organisations that I like to challenge, and when it comes to developing talent this is effectively my core audience. I believe that these people are spread across all demographics, gender and social classes. It’s so important that we challenge our beliefs as we try to capture the unlimited potential in our workforce. Just in terms of pure practicality, you don’t want to put stabilisers or full stops on these sorts of people.

Overcoming obstacles

I worked in personal development as an internal business coach at a company for a number of years. Whilst completing a Level 5 certificate in coaching and mentoring at the Institute of Leadership and Management, I had to do in-depth sessions across a wide range of staff and analysis. That was when it really struck me that people I’d worked with for years had so much untapped potential.

Whilst completing my studies, I learned that most people are facing the same obstacles, regardless of their race, age, demographics and sex. However, there are external factors that make a huge difference in determining whether these people will try to reach the top of their profession. Why do some people have an inclination to climb in their careers, whilst others are seemingly content to run their race on the flat?

Great people are formed under immense stress. The reality is that within our most under-represented groups in organisations, you will find people who have faced a combination of obstacles and uphill battles that would have deterred many others. But these same conditions have created resilient and focused individuals who have worked so hard to be where they are.

When I help to develop teams in an organisation, I ask myself: do they have people whose very presence is a motivational tool to believe that anything is possible?

The lessons of diversity in sport

The ability to attract, retain and develop diverse talent is so beneficial to the outcomes of an organisation.

I learned this lesson early on. Standing at 5ft 6 and weighing around 74 kilos, I was nearly a foot smaller and 30 kilos lighter than some of my teammates in the professional rugby league. I may have represented the underdog, but I enjoyed taking on the challenges which were meant for the toughest and strongest players.

When I was a non-exec at Bradford Bulls, a professional rugby league team, I was one of a handful of black executives in rugby league. It was hard to ignore the lack of diversity and the impact that has made to the growth of this great game. I would have to say critically that the lack of diversity in terms of senior coaches and executives over the last generation is a fundamental issue which means that the decisions made at the top don’t best represent the changing customer base, participants and society.

But I can give some good examples of the positive impact that has been made by encouraging diversity in sport. I joined a really talented board as a trustee of a sports association. I belonged to an ethnic minority, grew up in a council estate and was an immigrant – and that all meant that my opinions on community-based provisions were completely different to the others on the board.

I understand that a community raises families, and believe that a sports club should do everything it can to support the most vulnerable. We started to provide eight weeks of holiday camps every year for children, including meals. It was shocking to me that while 350 males were playing regular sports, only three females were doing so. We now have two female only teams, a rounders team and a female only fitness group.

Transferring these lessons to business

In the private sector, I worked for an organisation where the HR offering needed to be developed. Everyone in the business received the same training and went to the same courses, regardless of their own skill sets.

I come from a professional athletic background, where each person needs a tailored development plan. Building on that experience, I stood up for personalised training to nurture the individual responsibilities of people to develop their natural talent. Training needed to be based upon the core talent of the individuals and their roles, responsibilities and development of the organisation.

This was ground-breaking for the organisation and resulted in a culture shift towards a more people focused development plan driven by the individual.

The race to diversity

I think that it is so important for us to be exposed to the best in class coming from minorities.

Nobody bats an eyelid watching a high percentage of black runners competing in the 100 metres at the Olympics. That’s a world where we are comfortable seeing minorities thrive. This also means that those trusted to create the next generation of athletes will be influenced by what they perceive is working.

Can the same be said of our exposure to minorities in top business sectors? Are we routinely using ethnic minority or female CEOs heading up businesses from the FTSE 100? And what does that lack of visibility do to the mindset of those around as they foster the most talented people within organisations to be the future leaders?

My idealistic picture of diversity is that people of colour working in the top business positions should be just as normal as seeing athletes of colour prosper. They should be able to achieve their potential with no fanfare attached.


Author Biography

Bolu Fagborun specialises in executive coaching and consultancy, working with emerging executive talent within organisations who are focused on growth and scaling. He is a qualified ILM L5 coach and mentor, and a former professional rugby player.

"It’s important for us all to be able to discuss leadership and the unlimited talent that exists in business today. As leaders, we have a responsibility to unleash this potential and create the environment in which people can flourish."

Bolu Fagborun, CEO of Fagborun Limited