Leadership: What I know for sure

September 8, 2008
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, NAIROBI, September 7 – It is 8pm on a Thursday evening and I am just leaving my office in the Central Business District.

As we weave through traffic on the busy Uhuru Highway, I am listening to ‘Old School’ on my favorite Radio Station (98.4 Capital Fm).  Like our listeners, who often humble us with amazing testimonies of what our music does for them, tonight I\’m tempted to sing out loud.

It has been a long day full of high-powered board meetings with my mind constantly on overdrive.  But now, I find that the station is playing a cool blend of music that soothes my spirit, yet makes me want to dance.

I am also grateful that I have a driver because my patience seems to be wearing thinner everyday with Nairobi\’s traffic getting more and more congested. But that’s a story for another day.

My mind wanders to our listeners and my need to make a deeper connection. Capital is my baby and the listeners, an extended family.

And even though I make my own contributions on ‘the fuse’, I wonder what more I can offer to the millions of Capital fans who have been with us through thick and thin.

I realise that I have a wealth of experience that may be of use to the college graduate who seeks guidance as to what to do with their life; the entrepreneurs who are taking the same well-trodden path to success, fame and fortune; the moms and sisters who need to know that they matter in our lives; anybody who’s open to learning and sharing with me.  So, I will endeavour to share with you life lessons that I have amassed over time with the hope that they will make a difference in your life.

For today, I would like to share with you two things I know for sure about leadership:

1. Leadership is not a popularity contest.

If you want to lead people to the Corporate Garden of Eden, then you must be prepared to make unpopular decisions that go against the grain.

It is when you challenge your employees to rise above their zones of comfort and/or complacency, when you demand accountability and transparency from your business partners that you will no doubt run into resistance and conflict (yours and theirs).

You may experience conflict between your desire to be liked and the need to take a rational business decision.

Do not be afraid to fire an employee or cut off links with a business partner if he/she is not meeting your expectations.  At the end of the day, your popularity is not what will propel the business to new heights rather your ability to make concrete decisions.

But these expectations must also be very clear to the other party.  (For more on this topic, read “The Five Temptations of a Ceo” by Patrick Lencioni.)

2.  Leaders must be constantly willing and open to change.

As the saying goes, the only thing that is constant in life is change. This statement may seem cliché, but I am completely convinced of the wisdom therein. It seems like just the other day that Kenya was a one-party state.

Now we have a Prime Minister. I applaud our leaders for their willingness to embrace an idea whose time had come, otherwise our country might have descended into anarchy.

I have learned that leaders must be open to; new ideas coming from a myriad of sources including the reception at the front office; embracing what may seem like a fad, and even desiring to be the source of change (I laud Obama for daring to dream that we can all be the change we desire). This is what differentiates leaders from the pack.

I urge you to take these two lessons and gather the courage to take action.

I know that they will help you as much as they have helped me and I hope to hear from you on your leadership journey.

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