I had just been redeployed from our Apapa Branch to Ajose Adeogun Branch in Victoria Island and I wanted to take my vacation before I settle into the new job role. I called her to discuss because she had become my new Supervisor and Line Manager. Her reaction took me aback. She wondered why someone who just resumed wanted to go on vacation. I got off the phone with my tails between my legs.
The next morning, I got to the office and as I settled down to work, I heard a knock at my door. I stood up to open and my Line Manager, Nneka Onyeali-Ikpe was right there. I was confused. What was she doing here so early? Did she come to reprimand me for asking for vacation? She smiled at me and said, ‘I want to take some tea. Give me some tea’. I ran around to make some for her and as she took her tea, she told me she was sorry for her initial reaction the day before. I was shocked. A Supervisor apologizing to a subordinate? I’d never experienced any Manager do this before in my career. I was taken in by the humanity I just saw and experienced. When she explained her reason for the initial decline, I also understood her position. But then she granted my request. That was my very first personal experience with a woman who has now become a major defining force in my career. She is real, very real. Exemplary in character with humanity as her core belief.
On another occasion, the organization we worked for just paid us our profit-sharing incentive that year. I got mine credited to my account. It was a good year for us because we met our targets. I got a call from Nneka to see her in her office. My office was just around the corner so I dashed to hers. When I sat down before her, she started the conversation by thanking me for the hard work that year. She is very effervescent with praises for her foot soldiers that she affectionately calls ‘my Generals’. I was very happy that my Supervisor recognized my efforts. I felt like Mark Twain who said, ‘I can live for two months on a good compliment’. But that was not all. Nneka opened her drawer and brought out an envelope. She handed it over to me. I asked her what was inside. She asked me to check it. It was money. A very tidy sum (sorry but I won’t tell you the amount). She gave me additional money from her own bonus. Truth be told, I prostrated like a proper Yoruba breed and thanked her. That’s another side of her that I know. She’s selfless. I can’t count the number of times she would go on vacation and buy gifts for everyone that works with her. Personalized gifts. She always takes her time to label the gifts in our names.
Let me share a final story. I can share so many as I have lots etched in my memory. My wife had a medical procedure a while ago. I was meant to take a major presentation at the same time but I was with my wife at the hospital. So I called in to inform her of the situation. She almost scolded me for even thinking about the presentation while my wife was in the hospital. She called a few times to know her condition. She even gave me some personal counsel subsequently. That’s Nneka who shows empathy. She feels your pains when you share them with her.
I can share so many stories but time is a major constraint. I’ve worked with so many supervisors but she stands out. Her work ethics is so unbelievable. She will drive you sometimes to almost a breaking point but that is because she holds herself to the same standard. She won’t ask you to do what she has not done before. She is so energetic and self-driven. Sometimes I wake up to emails sent by her at 2am. She’s reviewing some credit requests I had shared. At 2am? When does she sleep?
When I was overseeing the South West business of the Bank and we were expecting Executive visits, I was surprised often when I learnt she left Lagos at 5am. Her forte is relationship management. I’ve watched her from close quarters handle very difficult situations which left everyone happy. She is a builder of people- always interested in getting people to be better. She nurtures. I’ve seen her coach people. She encourages. I’ve seen her share very helpful tips to colleagues who need help. She inspires. She’s the type of leader who asks you to jump and you ask, ‘how high?’
Nneka can be hard also. She doesn’t suffer fools gladly but she always gives the long rope. A good leader must be a lion and a lamb. Leadership is a double-edgedsword. Merit driven, she’s not taken by any ‘eye-service’. Where you come from is irrelevant. If you deserve it, you will get it- that’s her mantra. Good performance holds the key to her heart.
Very witty, she knows how to pass across very strong messages in ways that will make everyone reel with laughter. She’s a symbol of courage who has now become a beacon of hope to many because of her doggedness and hard work. On the occasion of her birthday, I celebrate this amazing woman, Mrs. Nneka Onyeali-Ikpe for being a role model and leader per excellence. May your tribe increase.
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