Good evening Rotarians.
I am delighted to join you this evening for your Fellowship and to share my thoughts on the intriguing and often confusing subject of leadership.
Let me first acknowledge your organization, Rotary International, for the very important and inspirational role you play, which gives hope to many and helps reshape the future of the world. Your selflessness and personal sacrifices in serving humanity exemplifies the good in mankind and is a great asset to society. So congratulations.
As some of you may be aware, after I retired from corporate life spanning about 36 years two years ago, I decided to focus the next phase of my life in sharing my experiences and in this process continue to contribute to the growth of leadership in Kenya and across Africa through The Leadership Group, which is a company I incorporated for that purpose. The Leadership Group supports organizations through Executive Coaching, Mentoring, Leadership and Governance as well as Board Practice services. So I am honoured to be in your presence this evening.
Leadership is probably the most written and spoken about subject everywhere in the world. Today we look at Trump and Putin; we look at Zuma and Mugabe; we glance back to see Obama, and even further back at Mandela and Gandhi, Winston Churchill and even Adolf Hitler and look for lessons that can make us better leaders today and in the future. We look at Steve Jobs, Jack Welch, Bill & Melinda Gates, and many more. Here at home we look at Wangari Maathai and some of our first, second and even third liberation heroes. We also look at Corporates – Safaricom, but can also look at Uchumi, Kenya Airways and we reflect on the kind of leadership that has driven them to where they are. We do look at Governments also – Rwanda, Tanzania, Ethiopia. We think about leadership as positions of authority or responsibility and, sometimes, wrongfully so. A perspective that is gaining currency in leadership conversations today contends that leadership is an act or conduct anchored primarily on an individual’s character and not necessarily a factor of position. Leadership is about action, it is about doing, it is about execution.
Sunny Bindra has recently introduced us to Vijay Govindarajan’s ‘Three Box Solution which says we should start managing our 3 boxes:
I. The Past
-Ring fence the things your organization must cherish and retain
-Leave behind the things that were fit for the past but hold back the future
II. The Present
-Optimise the current operation to remove inefficiencies
-Harvest cashflow to serve the investments of the future
III. The Future
-Be bold in imagining a different future
-Make some bets, try stuff out, experiment
That said, I want to share two broad themes, the first which I picked up from a recent issue of the Harvard Business Review, and the second which has been the pillar of my own leadership through the years:
1. The challenging task of leading – Behaviours that set the best leaders apart
a. Deciding with speed and conviction, consistently
-Provide focus, vision and direction
b. Engaging for impact
-Your ability to think long-term is essential. Sustainability is critical to leadership
-Building Trust – Credibility, Reliability, Intimacy underpinned by Self Orientation
-Building a strong sense of collaboration and team spirit is crucial
-Effective communication across all stakeholder groups
c. Adapting proactively
-VUCA World – dealing with situations that are not in the Playbook
-The importance of diversity within an organisation.
-Alignment for value creation
d. Delivering reliably
-Humility and passion, avoiding hubris, ego
-Organisational planning skills – business management systems
*Dashboard of metrics
-Positive and encouraging, take everyone along with you in this journey of service
-Calm under pressure
-Passion, clarity, perseverance
2. The role of ethical leadership in promoting an accountable and responsible society
-Honest in words and deeds;
-Doing what is right and just
-Exercising fairness to all.
-Role models through our attitudes, character and behaviours.
-Be not afraid to be challenged
-Be accessible to your teams because you understand the existing interdependencies.
-Be not insecure - you do not have anything to hide.
-Take responsibility for your actions.
-Admit mistakes and take action to correct them and in the process achieve a higher standing in society because of your forthrightness, honesty and humility.
So what are my key take away messages?
1. The Context of leadership today and in the future is that we live in a VUCA World – Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity. This demands versatility in leadership; in how we make decisions, plan forward, manage risks, foster change and solve problems – anticipation, intervention, survival, sustainability
a. Volatility: nature and dynamics of change; Speed of change forces and change catalyst
b. Uncertainty: lack of predictability
c. Complexity: no easy solutions
d. Ambiguity: reality not always clear
2. Versatility in Leadership means constantly balancing between strategic and operational leadership on the one axis and forceful and enabling leadership on the other.
a. Strategic: positioning the organisation for the future – direction, expansion, innovation
b. Operational: focusing the organisation on short term results – execution, efficiency, order
c. Forceful: asserting personal and position power
d. Enabling: creating conditions for others to contribute – empowering, participative, encouraging
3. We do not lead alone, therefore there is need for robust stakeholder management, collaboration, breaking silos and influencing to achieve the desired outcomes and impact. Communication is key in providing clarity
4. Developing emerging leaders, grounded in strong values is key to sustainability of our organizations.
a. Inspiration – vision
5. Leaders need to focus all their effort on building organizations that understand and create effective customer journeys through use of robust analytics and behavioural science as a means of constantly reinventing themselves and staying ahead of competition
6. In doing all this leaders must create alignment at all levels – within the business, with their boards and the communities they operate in.
Let me finish with a quote from American writer, Lewis Lapham: “Leadership consists not in degrees of technique but in traits of character; it requires moral rather than athletic or intellectual effort, and it imposes on both leader and follower alike the burdens of self-restraint.”
Leadership is, indeed, a life-long lesson and a journey of consistent actions and behaviours that make a difference in the lives of others. It is a journey I encourage you to take and, am sure, posterity will give you your just reward.