The 2 greatest secrets to success & leadership according to Kenny Imafidon

Kenny is a One Young World Ambassador from the UK. He is the co-founder and Director at ClearView Research. 

1. Gratitude

In Western society we are great at complaining. But it’s usually about First World problems like: ‘my phone has broken’ or ‘I’ve got a bad connection to the Internet’ or ‘The train is a few minutes delayed.’

Right now one of my problems is that I need a new phone with a better camera. That’s not a bad problem to have. Maybe we should remind ourselves that there are four billion people who don’t have access to the Internet at all.

The lack of gratitude is holding back a lot of young leaders from realising their potential. And it’s often a result of social media envy. You were happy with what you had until you went on Instagram and saw people who had this car or that dress. Comparison is the biggest thief of joy. Don’t live with the false assumption that happiness comes from things that other people have - it comes from within.

Every six to eight weeks I go with the One Young World Counsellor Lord Hastings to visit inmates at Swaleside prison in Kent, England. We spend time in fellowship with the men there, discussing all sorts of themes about life. The men inside Swaleside are around my age and some are old enough to be my father. Most are there with long-term sentences such as 30 years. We always remind them that despite their current situation they are not failures and remind them of things they should be grateful for. We remind them to never lose hope and that ‘where there is life there is hope.’, This was one line which my stepdad always used to say to me when I was being held in Feltham prison near London, on trial for a case that would have seen me spending 30 years in prison.

Living in a place of gratitude is important for everyone.  We encourage the men in Swaleside to make the most of the situation they are in and use their time to study, read books and expand their mind.  

You can’t be in environments like Swaleside prison, witness all we experience and then suddenly return to a complaining culture. You can’t spend time in a homeless hostel and then go back to complaining about your lack of material things. If more people spent regular time with people who were in a less fortunate positions than them, they would quickly become more grateful. I always say that the position you are in now is one someone else is praying for. That’s something that young leaders and entrepreneurs should always remember.

I’m not trying to downplay anyone’s problems because they are real to them. But, if you want to do the comparison game, instead of comparing yourself with other people on Instagram, compare yourself to all of those people living in crazy conditions of hardship. This way you can truly count your blessings.

2. Failure

This week I’m in Mexico, speaking at the JA Worldwide Global Youth Forum, a prestigious international platform. My work as a young leader and entrepreneur has taken me to more than 20 countries in the past couple of years. But my theme in Mexico won’t be talking about success but failure.

Because you have to fail your way to success and it’s through failure that I have learned some great lessons.

My path to becoming a leader wasn’t easy. Growing up in a socially deprived community in South London, I experienced poverty, racism and a lack of opportunities. But today I run a millennial insight business, ClearView Research, which I co-founded three years ago. We have a team of six.

In-between my journey as an entrepreneur I have had my failings, and I have learned from them.

When you create a for-profit start up without any business experience and are using the hard-earned funds from your own pocket as well as your co-founders’, that’s a big responsibility. My mistakes have financial consequences, not just for me, but for my team and stakeholders.

The periods when ClearView Research has had its greatest difficulties have been the moments when I have best understood the value and importance of having the right people around you. People with the right character who share your vision and purpose. I have also understood the importance of having a strong company culture that people believe in and I know personally how much of an asset this can be, particularly in the toughest of times. Trust me, it is only when you have worked around the wrong people or worked in teams that are not effective that you fully appreciate having the best team players on hand.

Kenny (left) is the former Director at Bite The Ballot. Copyright Francis Augusto Photography.

And I have also learned of the value of making my own mistakes, owning them and learning from them. I know that the decisions that I have made which got us into the tightest of positions are things that I will never do again.

It’s really important to embrace a working culture that allows people to fail so they can bring forward new ideas without fearing of being accused of stupidity or of wasting time if their idea does not work out. Real innovation only happens in an environment where failure is celebrated.

Growing up, we face this stigma around failing and of being a ‘failure’. All failure actually proves is that you are trying. There’s a quote I love to live by: ‘The master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried.’ And when you look at many great innovative businesses, it was only through failing that they saw a great opportunity for redirection.

Some of the most successful entrepreneurs have had several businesses that went wrong before they got it right in the end.

Often when we hear from leaders and entrepreneurs, we just want to hear about their triumphs. But leaders need to discuss their failures too. Because that’s important, it’s real and great life lessons can be learned from them.