Heroes are more than just great men and women


Over the years I have made an interesting observation on what differentiates a successful business person from one who is not successful. A successful business person has a clear understanding of what their business is, while the not-so-successful one does not. In fact, a successful business person will usually be able to point out exactly when their fortunes changed and it more often than not will be at that specific moment when they developed a detailed business-plan; a written down description of what their business is about; why; what its value distinction is; where it is going; and how it will get there.

Lack of a business plan means that a business person wakes up every day and goes about their business tackling whatever emerges in the present. On the other hand having a business plan ensures that the business person wakes up every day with an idea of what to do today so as to build up from yesterday’s work, and connect to the work planned for tomorrow; all cumulatively to take them to a pre-planned destination in a specific number of years to come. A business plan ensures that everything connects to everything else (directly or indirectly); that mistakes made are nothing more than experiences to learn from; while successes are only but a stepping stone (not a destination) towards where one is going. Business plans help one understand why their businesses exist.

The other interesting observation I have made is that not as many people understand that this concept of having a plan applies beyond business; to the entire all-round life of a person. I have noted that amongst my friends (and acquaintances) a key reason for the quality of life each leads is the lack, or presence, of a plan. Those who live high quality lives, whether in the private sector as professionals; or as distinguished public sector leaders; or successful media, entertainment or art personalities; or, and especially, politicians, all have a life-plan of sorts. Those who do not live high quality lives, seem to live one day at a time; each independent from the other.

A life-plan is usually a written down description of what a person stands for; their value system; where they are going; and how they will get there. A life-plan defines what the person needs to do, to be what and where they need to be; when they need to do it; and how. A life plan judges the impact of that life not based on the actions of a few years, but on the entire life time; because it looks at the life-plan from the end, backwards. A life-plan is like an architectural plan; allowing one to look at their life as a finished product, then work from where they are, forwards, to make it a reality.

The development and implementation of a life-plan distinguishes great men and women, from the statistics of their day. Great men and women live lives that in retrospect seem to have been planned to the last detail; days where, as if by luck, each event seems to lead to the next greater one; each idea to the next bigger one; each relationship to another of greater influence. Great men and women live such that each day seems to connect to the next. It is impossible to live like this without a life-plan; a plan that sees life as one big picture.

However there is a major difference between great men and women, and heroes. Great men and women stand out in their lifetimes. Heroes stand out across many lifetimes; they transcend history. The reason for this is that great people plans about themselves while heroes plans about their society. This means that heroes are those great men and women who lived a life that seems to have been organized to achieve something beyond themselves; lives was meant to mean something even after they were gone. This ability to transcend one’s lifetime and be part of history, is what makes one a ‘Hero’.

As we celebrate ‘Mashujaa Day’ on Monday; a day Kenya has set aside to remember our heroes; men and women who were not only great in their time, but whose very greatness stands out across the ages. Heroes are great men and women whose lives seem, in hindsight, to have been lived so that history would call them ‘shujaa’. Heroes are personalities distinct from the statistics of their time. However the irony of life is that no one starts out to be a hero. Heroes are just those people who ended up not just living lives according to a plan, but living their lives according to a plan that was greater than themselves.

This is the challenge to my peers; especially those who are already great men and women today. When Kenya turns 100, and our children and grandchildren are sharing narratives of how Kenya got there, will you feature as a statistic, or a hero?

(The writer is a Director in Change Associates; a Political Communications Consultancy)

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