Turkana County is a study in how to treat refugees

A few years ago I moderated a series of workshops for UNHCR to help them and their implementation partners strategise about the future of the Dadaab refugee camp. Their then Deputy Resident Representative Kilian Kleinschmidt (who is now active in Syria) dreamed of seeing the hand-to-mouth refugee camp dependent on mere humanitarian assistance transform into “the City of Dadaabia”, where mere recipients of humanitarian assistance would become self-reliant citizens who participated actively in their community and contributed to its wellbeing.

Sadly, it was not to be. For security and other reasons there was no appetite from the Kenyan government for contemplating a more ongoing and sustainable scenario, given the expectation (however unrealistic) that in the foreseeable future the refugees in the camp would return to their countries of origin.

Much has changed since then, both globally and in our immediate region. The UN’s Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF) recognised that there was no need for either the host community to feel they were less well treated than the refugees, or for the refugees to be so restricted in their movements or activities. The new school of thought was to support the refugees in ways that were fully integrated into the overall local development plans.

This new sense of realism accepted that the conditions in the countries from which the refugees had migrated may well continue to be such that their return would be far from imminent. Beyond this, that the consequence of the ongoing existence of a refugee camp should be beneficial to the host community.

Turning back to Kenya, let me share what I have been learning about the Kakuma camp in Turkana, home to 186,000 refugees from various countries in the region. Here, the Turkana county government has been working closely with the national government, development partners such as UNHCR, the World Bank and its IFC, GIZ and others to bring about precisely such an enlightened win-win situation. Under the visionary leadership of Governor Josphat Nanok, great strides have been made to achieve the global vision as foreseen by the UN.

Turkana’s current County Integrated Development Plan spells out how the host and refugee communities will develop together, with an appropriate allocation of resources and in collaboration with development partners, NGOs, the private sector (not least Tullow) and other stakeholders.

I recently accompanied an IFC-led mission that also comprised representation from UNHCR and GIZ to Lodwar to hear from a number of senior county officials about how they are progressing, as a result of which I was keen to share my reactions to the extraordinarily impressive culture I found. In each of our meetings we met with men and women who were open and energetic, collaborative and purposeful, eloquent and cheerful. How refreshing that was.

Clearly the Governor has gathered around him a cohesive team that under his overall leadership plans well and then fully expects to execute on those plans – delivering the desired development impact. It’s like there’s a permanent Rapid Results Initiative mindset – without the chaos or bureaucracy one finds in so many parts of government. Kudos to them.

We visited the citizen-enabling Huduma Centre and Biashara Centre in Lodwar, as the visiting team explored how to support the establishment of a one-stop shop for such services in the Kakuma refugee camp. Everywhere we went, the people involved were knowledgeable and infused with an impressive seriousness of purpose.

No wonder I had heard that Turkana has been rated the best county in how it conducts monitoring and evaluation: it’s thanks to the healthy performance culture that has been nurtured. And no wonder too that when I asked the Governor to what he attributed this perception his reply was as modest as it was aspirational: “We’re on a journey,” he told me, “and we still have a way to go.”

I for one will be following their journey closely. And from what I saw I predict they will go from strength to strength, neither becoming complacent nor being overly dismayed by the challenges that will no doubt continue to confront them. Not least, they should become a global role model for constructive coexistence between a host and a refugee community.

Drop the know-it-all attitude to become an effective leader

In my last article of 2018 I promised to write more about one of my favourite management gurus, Prof Edgar Schein of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

I described this 90-year old as the father of organisational psychology and organisational culture, and praised the way he was so ahead of his time when he published his ground-breaking 1965 book, Organisational Psychology.

I first came across his work around then, when I was an economics undergraduate in London and my father was the head of Shell International’s Worldwide Management Training Department. I remember that as he was preparing his programmes for Shell executives from around the oil company’s global operations my father paid a visit to America to inform himself on the latest management thinking, and that Prof Schein was among those he met.

I have applied Prof Schein’s insights on culture and organisational development over the years (knowingly or unknowingly most of us have), and late last year when I was visiting the bookshop of the London Business School following at the place where I earned my Master’s degree in 1974 I bought his 2013 book, Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling.

The book’s title immediately tantalised me, but I did wonder how a whole volume could be dedicated to just explaining why asking works better than telling. How could one possibly fill over a hundred pages elaborating on such a straightforward statement? Well, Prof Schein did, so valuably and in such simple language, offering us the benefit of his many decades of experience as an academic and a consultant.

By the way he hadn’t finished with the subject, as he followed up with a complementary offering, Humble Leadership: The Power of Relationships, Openness and Trust, published last year and co-authored with his son, Peter. Here again, vital clues to Schein’s message are already offered in the sub-title, provoking instant important reflection.

Prof Schein rails at leaders — and there are so many, not least in America, he says — who pose as know-it-alls, whether they actually believe they do or if it’s more because they believe others expect them to. The sad thing is that they lack the humility to admit that they do not know it all, never mind in this fast-changing, complex and interconnected world.

With such an I’m OK — You’re not OK, Parent — Child, attitude comes the assumption that those around them do not know, which is demeaning and disrespectful to them. So they feel demotivated and the leader’s relationship with them suffers, not least in terms of trust.

Next comes the undue focus by leaders on tasks, at the expense of taking time to build relationships — again, according to Prof Schein, particularly in America. Yes, that takes time, whether in the workplace or even better in a social setting. But he has seen — as I have — that this is time well spent, for it allows for the development of openness and hence effective communication among people of different functions, levels, cultures, generations and so on that would otherwise not be possible.

He also notes that when organisations look to cut budgets one of the first items to suffer is teambuilding sessions — for the same reason and with the same unfortunate consequences.

Prof Schein wants to see us draw others out, ask questions to which we do not already know the answer, build relationships based on curiosity and interest in the other person. And at several times in the book he takes us to the healthcare sector, one that too often falls short. Doctors often do a poor job not only with their patients but also with nursing staff and technicians. While being insufficiently curious about their patients they intimidate their staff, leading them to being too shy to speak up when they should. Sounds familiar?

Whatever leadership position you find yourself in, whether as a board member or in management, whether you are young or old, do reflect on how much humble inquiring you indulge in. Allow yourself to appear vulnerable; risk being thought of as less than all-knowing. And as Prof Schein concludes with his final sentence: “Take charge with Humble Inquiry.”

This is a must-read book for job hunters

Exactly ten years ago I wrote a column on careers guidance in which I described how when I joined the Rotary Club of Nairobi in 1978 the first job I was given was to take care of the careers guidance portfolio.

Like most young people making their way through their school years I had never received any serious help in deciding on what I should be doing after emerging from my education, and so it was – and still is – with just about every young Kenyan today.

There was no Google to consult on how I should approach my onerous new Rotary responsibility, but happily I came across What Colour is my Parachute? by Richard Bolles, a brilliant book that was to become my bible on the subject – and that of so many others all around the world, with over ten million copies having now been sold, in twenty-two languages.

What Colour is my Parachute? has been around since 1970 and revised every year since 1975, sometimes substantially. The transformation of the workplace environment and the arrival of the Internet have resulted in job-seekers having to adopt radically different approaches to matching what they have to offer with what employers are seeking, and this brilliant book has always kept pace with the evolving trends.

The edition I first bought was the 1978 one, and just recently the 2018 version, in which I read that Mr Bolles died last year at the age of ninety. I felt I had lost someone precious to me, and so this article serves as a tribute to him, a celebration of his life.

With Google now at my elbow, I found the New York Times obituary to Mr Bolles, in which it quotes him as writing in his book that “job-hunting is an art form, more like dating than like selling a used car. You may never understand why things sometimes work, and sometimes don’t.”

What I so appreciate about the book today, just as much as I did when I first stumbled across that much earlier edition, is that beyond being a guide to the job market it offers a powerful yet straightforward way of helping readers understand themselves — the most neglected of all aspects of the process, I have consistently found. They are helped to figure out what they really like doing and are good at, so they can then find the job that would let them do it.

The obituary informs us that it had never entered Mr Bolles’ mind that he would write a blockbuster. “I was just trying to help people be better prepared than I was when I was fired and started looking for a job,” he said in an earlier interview.

Mr Bolles explained that the title was inspired by the expression, common among people weary of their jobs, that they wanted to “bail out”. “I always thought of an airplane,” he explained, “so I playfully would respond, ‘What color is your parachute?’”

He put little hope in job postings and CVs, and instead encouraged job seekers to form personal connections through means such as the informational, or exploratory, interview – which I also strongly recommend.

He pushed readers to treat a job search like a major project, a full-time occupation. And as for job interviews, these should be seen as conversations between the two sides, to see if what one is offering the other is seeking, and to determine whether the chemistry the culture fit, is right.

The central wisdom of “Parachute” has remained constant, whether I go back to my 1970s version or consult the current one.

Yes, people conduct job searches differently, but how interviews unfold hasn’t changed at all.

“It’s still two people circling each other,” he pointed out, “trying to figure out if they like each other enough to actually spend time together in a productive relationship,” explaining “I think that has remained the same because human nature has not changed.”

So my advice to job-seekers – at any age – is invest in a copy of Mr Bolles’ masterpiece. You’ll be really glad you did. And good news: his son will be continuing to update the contents in future editions.

How to nudge citizens to do good for society

After my last article on econocracy I don’t want my review of economists to end on a negative note (several readers wrote to tell me the field is more diverse than I had indicated), so today I celebrate the winner of the 2017 Nobel Prize for Economics, Richard Thaler, co-author with Cass Sunstein of the 2008 book Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness.

The book popularised nudge theory, the idea that governments can design environments that change the way we think and make it easier to choose what is best for us and the societies in which we live. It revealed how to nurture our higher instincts and so do a better job saving for retirement, holding back on excessive consumption and in other ways serving our longer term interests.

Advised by Mr Thaler, David Cameron set up a nudge unit – his “Behavioural Insight Team” – and President Obama introduced a similar group, led by Mr Sunstein, where they brought together concepts from behavioural science, political theory and behavioural economics. Here, and at similar think tanks elsewhere (including in the World Bank and the UN), they came up with policies that use positive reinforcement and indirect suggestions as ways to influence behaviour and decision-making.

Nudging complements other ways of achieving compliance with policies, such as education, legislation and enforcement. It alters people’s behaviour in ways that are voluntary and easy. Like putting healthy foods at eye-level on supermarket shelves or near their check-out points, rather than just banning junk food.

Another impressively effective example from several countries is a nudge that has led to a huge rise in organ donations. They switched to an opt-out system from one where one had to opt in: citizens were now automatically registered for organ donation as the default option unless they chose to state otherwise.

At a lighter level there’s the etching of the image of a fly into the men’s room urinals at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, intended to improve the aim. (Males who visit the men’s facility at Sarit Centre’s Newscafé will be familiar with this target!)

Key to nudging people into actions they otherwise would not have undertaken is to make them much simpler to undertake – particularly complex ones such as applying for higher education or registering into pension funds. And beyond process simplification, easily accessible human assistance has also proved helpful.

Reducing income tax debt is one of the UK’s longest-running and most successful nudge projects. Revised reminder letters informed non-compliers that most of their neighbours had already paid, positioning them as tardy outliers.

But the letters had little impact on the few who owed the most tax, and here the message that worked best was that not paying tax would mean everyone losing out on vital public services like healthcare, roads and schools.

Another project seriously cut the high dropout rate on government-subsidised adult literacy classes, simply by sending students a personalised text message every Sunday night that read: “I hope you had a good break, and we look forward to seeing you next week. Remember to plan how you will get to your class.”

We humans are not fully rational beings, so how we behave is not always aligned with our intentions. We will often do things that are not in our self-interest, even when we know that to be the case. When situations are complex or overwhelming, or when we are under time-constraints or other pressures, we often reach decisions too hastily, too automatically, which can easily lead to sub-optimal judgements. Too few of us take time for adequate reflection that allows us to support our longer term wellbeing.

Some nudging efforts work better than others, but we learn from experience and get wiser over time. It may well be overambitious to nudge our matatu drivers into more responsible behaviour, and for those who drink and drive alcoblow is definitely the surer option.

Finally, it is not just national policymakers who can nudge others into better decision-making. Let me nudge you into having a go, in your workplaces and also in your families. Think of using the carrot as well as the stick with those around you, tickling them into more enlightened behaviour.

How economists have lost touch with reality

A few weeks ago I wrote about the need to amplify the voice of economists in our country. In my article I spoke glowingly about my own experience as an economics undergraduate, acknowledging the way my professors opened up my powers of critical analysis and connected me so fully to the economic issues of the day.

I mentioned that I was still in touch with Vicky Chick, one of my lecturers from those times, and I sent her the article. She immediately wrote back, telling me that the education from which I benefitted was “so different from the usual fare dished up to students now”, and that I was lucky to study economics when I did. I was “educated”, she stated, while today’s students are “trained, indoctrinated or brainwashed”.

She remembered how we used to sit around working things out from first principles, but nobody does that today. Students are over-reliant on multiple-response based assessment, with limited opportunity to critically or independently assess alternative approaches. She then recommended the book The Econocracy: The perils of leaving economics to the experts, written by three dissenting students, members of “Rethinking Economics” (now active in 15 countries), who were fed up with the state of economics in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. They wanted to see economist teachers and technocrats engage much more closely with the economic issues on the ground, and to communicate their proposals more simply.

My story moves to London, where I was recently. During my time there I met with now Emeritus Professor Chick for a coffee, and we returned to the subject of how the teaching of economics has degenerated – and not just in the UK. When we finished we walked across to the nearby bookshop where she bought me a copy of The Econocracy, which she signed below the message “Enjoy and share”.

So, obedient to my mwalimu, here goes. I’ll start by taking from the foreword to the book, written by the chief economist at the Bank of England, Andrew Haldane. He is unreserved in his condemnation of his fellow economists, citing their woeful inability to influence the Brexit battle that preceded – and is now succeeding – the referendum over membership of the EU. With their linguistic complexity these “experts” failed to win over the heads, never mind the hearts, of the voters. As a result, those who took part in the referendum won the day for democracy, marginalising the elite… the “econocracy”.

The book shows how the long-lasting crisis in the economy has led to a crisis in the field of economics itself – fuelled by disgruntled and hitherto compliant students who now rebelled against their obstinately disconnected professors. Faced with freezes on hiring and suffering under the burden of heavy student debt, they now found a bold anti-establishment voice – reinforced by the likes of Jeremy Corbyn in Britain and Bernie Sanders in America.

The book castigates the narrowing of economics to a mere mathematical cost-benefit analysis of alternative policies – applying a mechanical logic that delivers solutions to economic challenges such as harsh austerity programmes – while ignoring broader adverse social consequences and in particular the likely exacerbation of societal inequalities.

No wonder populist politicians assert that we have had enough of experts; no wonder that economist graduates are not fit to advise politicians on how to tackle economic challenges; and no wonder we have become divided between a minority who feel they own the language of economics and a majority who do not. I have no space to elaborate on the CORE (Curriculum Open-access Resources in Economics) economics education – founded at UCL, where I studied – but I urge those interested to look into how this initiative uplifts students of “the dismal science” to a much more positive, realistic and relevant place.

The messages of The Econocracy apply to us here in Kenya too: take a holistic view of policy-making – beyond the confines of narrow economic theory based on the unrealistic assumption of rational human behaviour, and taking account of social and moral perspectives; accept the uncertainty and unpredictability of our world so as not to rely on rigid and perhaps obsolete economic theories; and communicate technical complexities in ways that everyone can follow.

Proper way of coaching the young and anxious

I’m sure that like me you have been hearing about the increasing number of young people who feel anxious and depressed, even suicidal. And this is not just the poor and the unqualified. It includes many of the brightest and the best, the most educated and affluent.

In a BBC programme the other day there was a feature on the increasing number of suicides in Kenya, and later an interview with a life coach who talked about helping her clients to stop indulging in “negative self-talk”. Then I read an article on the BBC website about “insecure over-achievers”, and another on why young Germans are pessimistic.

What a gloomy collection.

I related all too closely to each of these items, as in the last few weeks I have been coaching several young graduates, all extremely bright and multi-talented, all with extraordinary academic as well as non-academic achievements behind them… yet all so anxious about themselves and their futures.

In addition to excelling in their studies they had experienced success in sports and the arts, they’d been chosen for leadership positions, and had contributed as volunteers in their communities.

Despite all their talents and achievements though, despite possessing the needed energy, confidence and boldness to have performed as they did, they felt deeply unsure about themselves. They spoke of lofty aspirations to make the world a better place, yet lacked a sense of where and how to proceed. “I feel quite lost,” one of these super-achievers admitted to me.

So what does a coach like me do? What, as someone who is currently training to become a coach asked me recently, is my “coaching model”? First, I ask my clients to tell me about themselves – which most find it surprisingly awkward to do. When I asked one to tell me which of her many achievements she was proudest of she fumbled, confessing she had never considered the question.

As I have observed such awkwardness over the years I have deduced that a common cause is not wishing to “brag”. Some of my clients worried they would come across as “impostors”, indeed saw themselves as such, leading them to lose their self-assuredness when talking about themselves.

So accepting this is how they feel, the next step is to have them talk about their achievements as if they were a disengaged outsider straightforwardly examining the evidence, with neither hype nor understatement – as stated in their CVs, yet embarrassing to articulate.

I press gently, knowing it will be hard for them, helping them to shed unwanted baggage accumulated over the years.

I express my admiration for them, urging them to relax and share my enthusiasm, to accept, enjoy… celebrate.

I also help them create the missing link between their achievements and the strengths that explain them with the self-esteem to which they have earned the right. It should be easy and obvious, but it is not, neither for them nor for countless other over-achievers. I adopt a light touch, teasing them with their refusal to link how wonderful they are with how they see themselves.

They begin to relax and shed their self-inflicted burdens, allowing us to explore how what they have shown they offer to the world, what they enjoy doing and are good at, can be matched with what the world is looking for. Now they are ready work on a much higher impact version of their CVs – their sales brochure, and then launch a confident sales campaign to promote a product of which they are proud.

Before I close, let me say how pleased I am that the Ministry of Education has at last decided that all universities must have offices for careers services. Forty years ago, through AIESEC and Rotaract, I began running self-exploration workshops at universities to prepare students for the workplace.

Then and now, at both secondary and tertiary levels, such support is virtually absent. No wonder therefore that so many of our most talented graduates feel confused and directionless. There is much work to be done. But it goes way beyond outlining career options. The process must start by going deep within the individual psyche.

What to do when mounting sense of frustration hits

By coincidence, last week not one but two of my coaching clients asked me to take time with them so they could do a better job of handling growing feelings of frustration.

As a result they were becoming unduly irritable and sometimes downright angry; they were more intolerant, even shouting at those who did not deserve their wrath.

As I prepared for my sessions with them I immediately thought about the need for emotional intelligence, in which those who rate highly first acknowledge their own emotions and feelings. They then manage them, and next carefully assess how those with whom they interact are feeling and hence behaving, before working at building positive relationships with them.

My clients were having to deal with an unusual number of people who were acting unreliably, disrespectfully and unethically. But despite how they felt about the unfortunate way they were being treated, their emotional intelligence challenge was to find the strength to separate their feelings from their behaviour, aware of the negative consequences of not doing so.

For those with emotional intelligence remain calm and disengaged enough to evaluate what behaviour will work most effectively in making difficult situations better, rather than to stagnate or degenerate further. They try to empathise with their awkward others despite how they are behaving, figuring out what lies behind their unhelpful posture. (Maybe how they are confronting them is disconnected from the root cause of their behaviour.)

How can a non-performer, an antagonist, be won over to deliver what is wanted, to become an ally? How can we use our negotiating skills, our powers of persuasion, a lightness of touch, to get to some adequate win-win resolution of an issue? What can we offer to make it easier for the other party to reciprocate with their own reaching out, responding positively to our requests? Imagine how a mediator would approach the situation, going back and forth till both sides feel adequately satisfied.

At times it may feel good to give vent to our frustrations, to allow ourselves to ‘lose it’, knowing that’s what the other deserves. But the immediate sense of gratification is quite likely to make the situation yet worse, and yet more difficult to recover from.

Not always, mind you, and in particular if we have been allowing ourselves to be taken for granted. Then it may be just what’s needed. Better still if we actually had not lost control but had actively decided that showing our frustration was what was needed.

Another option is to pull back and disengage, having assessed the chances of being able to move forward as slim: there’s no point wasting emotional energy for nothing, right? It’s why we are advised to choose our battles carefully.
Over the years I have been running workshops on stress management, in which I advise participants to divide their sources of stress into three categories. The first is where the possibility exists to change something that will immediately and completely remove the source of stress. The second is an intermediate position, where over time some progress may be possible. And the third is one where there’s nothing we can do to change what’s happening and so we must just live with it – while seeking to migrate to happier environments, at least for some of our time.

As a way of detaching myself from those who are frustrating me I console myself by writing about the issue – often in my journal, and if I am really upset through hammering out an angry poem. It’s very therapeutic. Certainly sharing frustrations with a family member, a friend or a colleague is helpful, and if possible combining with others to pursue a common cause.

In search of solace and inspiration many turn to prayer, and some to meditation. Exercise is helpful too, as are hobbies – anything to occupy our minds and our bodies in uplifting ways. All this we know.

The challenge is that when frustrations mount, we must not wait too long before we pray or run or write or do whatever helps us cope. So breathe deeply and smoothly, friends, and this too shall pass.

Our economists should have more influential voice

In 1967, having graduated from university with a degree in economics, I earned the right to place BSc Econ after my name. Had I gained the equivalent qualification as an architect here in Kenya I would now call myself Arch. Mike Eldon; if I would have become an accountant I would now boast of being CPA Mike Eldon; and as an engineer I would swagger in the glory of being identified as Eng. Mike Eldon. Not to mention our “learned friends” in the legal profession. Yet as a ‘mere’ economist I must humbly introduce myself as simply Mr. Mike Eldon.

Why is this? The question has fleetingly passed through my mind from time to time. But it was only when I heard from Dr. Julius Muia, the Principal Secretary in the State Department for Planning (at least, having earned a PhD, he is able to place “Dr.” before his name), that one of his goals is to uplift the status of economists in this country that I began to think about the issue more seriously.

I reliably learned that the national government has over 400 economists who functionally report to the Principal Secretary, Planning – but that no fresh ones have been recruited since 2011.

Dr. Muia informed me that the State Department for Planning recently asked the Commission for University Education to establish how many students are studying economics and related programmes in our universities, and he was amazed to be told that it was over 25,000.

So now he wants to create closer links between them and their professors, and the economists in his ministry; and he also is looking into how to form an Economists and Statisticians Association of Kenya, ‘ESAC’. (Yes, another neglected discipline, the statistical one.)

Back to my education in economics. Sure, economists are often mocked, and maybe, just maybe, for good reason. First we are told that they can never agree on how to deal with the issues in their field – hence the line that ‘if you were to lay out all the economists in the world end-to-end you would come to no conclusion’.

And then, right back from when I was a student over half a century ago, it was said that economists could never get even their diagnoses about the economy right, never mind any prescriptions, as they were “always applying yesterday’s theory” – that was by now already out of date and discredited. (Shades of the IMF’s Structural Adjustment Programme?)

Leaving the all-too-easy mockery aside I am so grateful that, lacking enthusiasm for my science A-Level subjects in high school, I went along with my father’s suggestion that I should consider studying economics at university – as he had done in the 1920s at the London School of Economics, travelling from his native Romania to do so.

My years in the mid-sixties at University College London opened up my powers of critical analysis and connected me to the big economic issues of the day, assets that I have carried with me ever since.

Little wonder therefore that I am still in touch with Vicky Chick, one of my lecturers from my time at UCL, and that a few months ago I was happy to respond to an invitation to pay tribute to Prof. Spraos, the then head of the economics department, on the occasion of his 90th birthday.

A belated benefit of my BSc Econ is that in my work with the World Bank in recent years I have been forced to resuscitate my dormant economics grounding, allowing me to speak in the language of industrial-strength experts in the domain.

In conclusion let me applaud Dr. Muia for his determination to raise the profile and status of economists and also statisticians, so that together they can develop a more influential voice in our society as they lay out the options we face, and help us reach rational sustainable solutions.

We are all potential beneficiaries of such a noble initiative, and so I am all for it.

Lessons from the character of John McCain

Like millions of others, I witnessed the uplifting memorial service to honour former war hero, senator and presidential candidate John McCain.

Mr McCain’s daughter Meghan was the first to pay tribute to him. “We gather here to mourn the passing of American greatness,” she lamented. “The real thing, not cheap rhetoric from men who will never come near the sacrifice he gave so willingly.”

And later, in the most quoted part of her address: “The America of John McCain is generous and welcoming and bold, she is resourceful and confident and secure, she meets her responsibilities, she speaks quietly because she is strong. America does not boast, because she does not need to. The America of John McCain has no need to be made great again, because America was always great.”

Former Democrat Senator Joe Lieberman was next to speak. Mr Lieberman was Republican McCain’s first choice as running mate when he stood for president in 2008, but conservative Republicans were uncomfortable with Mr Lieberman’s support for abortion, so he was not selected.

Among those listening to Mr Lieberman’s personal and at times humorous speech about his friend were the Clintons, the Bushes and the Obamas – the three couples sitting next to each other in the front row, alongside three former vice presidents, Al Gore, Dick Cheney and Joe Biden.

Ninety-nine year old Henry Kissinger followed Lieberman, speaking in his heavy German accent about McCain’s important role in reconciling America and Vietnam following the war – despite having been a prisoner in Vietnam for over five years and being tortured repeatedly.

Now it was the turn of George Bush, eloquent and statesmanlike, and then his successor in the White House, Barrack Obama. Mr Obama revealed that McCain had called him earlier in the year to invite him to speak at his memorial service. A sure sign, winked Mr Obama, of the man’s sense of mischief. “What better way to get the last laugh than to get George and me to say nice things about him to a national audience?”

Earlier, Mr Lieberman had referred to the incident during Mr McCain’s presidential campaign when a woman at a town hall meeting spoke offensively about Mr Obama and Mr McCain told her off. Mr Obama now told us he wasn’t surprised that, as Mr Lieberman had put it, by instinct and without needing to consult anyone, this man who so lacked prejudice did the right thing.

Mr Obama also shared that when he was president, from time to time he would meet with Mr McCain to talk about policies and politics. They certainly didn’t agree on everything, but they learned from each other and they laughed together. “For all our differences, and they were deep, we never doubted that we were on the same team.”

He praised Mr McCain for “always striving to be better, to do better” and, like all the others who spoke before him, Mr Obama wished Americans today could indulge in more of the bipartisan and civilised political engagement (“not small and mean and petty”) that Mr McCain so richly personified. He disparaged those who “appeared brave and tough”, but more likely spoke out of fear.

Each speaker condemned the current divisive and abrasive style of US politics, telling positive stories about the man they were honouring, about how he forgave and sought forgiveness, about how honest, fair and civilised he was. They regretted the way the broader American society had regressed, wishing it could follow the example set by Mr McCain.

But would anything that was said make a difference? Would any of America’s leaders, never mind Mr Trump, behave any differently as a result? I was not holding my breath, and I was right not to. Any more than I do after our National Prayer Breakfasts and similar occasions here, where equally uplifting sentiments are expressed by the high and mighty, only for them to revert to the default aggressive, abusive language immediately they leave the venue.

One commentator asked if some of America’s younger senators would take on Mr McCain’s mantle. And by the way, will any of our younger politicians rise above the lowest common denominator of Kenyan politics? Will our recent “Handshake” take root, overcoming the never-ending divisive campaigning? Or will our politicians and voters continue playing our same dysfunctional games?

Firms grow with systems, vision and inspiration

Some years ago I wrote enthusiastically about John Kotter’s “eight steps to change” that many, including here in Kenya, have followed as a guide to transforming their organisations.

Kotter laid these out in his 1996 book, Leading Change, and then 10 years later, together with Holger Rathberger, he published Our Iceberg Is Melting, that brought the eight steps together as a fable in the style of Who Moved My Cheese?

The iceberg that Harvard guru Kotter wrote about was in Antarctica, home for many years to a colony of penguins. Then one day, a curious bird discovered a worrying crack under the ice.

But at first no one seemed interested. Gradually though, he persuaded penguins of greater emotional intelligence and influence to help the colony overcome its resistance to change — following Kotter’s eight steps.

So its leaders were eventually persuaded that the iceberg was under such threat that if they were to survive they would have to migrate to another location.

I have recommended the book to many people and now, a decade after their penguin fable, I was delighted to see that Kotter has again collaborated with Rathbeger to produce another one, about a large meerkat clan in the Kalahari Desert.

Following years of easy growth, managed through well-defined command-and-control hierarchies and strict job descriptions, with supporting systems and rules, the meerkats were threatened first by a drought and then by deadly vulture attacks.

As things got worse the clan’s harmony disintegrated and the blame game erupted.

The “Alpha” executive team quarreled about possible solutions, and doubted whether they even needed to change their rigid systems.

Suggestions from front-line workers were met with the classic change-averse response: “That’s not how we do it here!” Hence the title of the book.

Nadia, a bright and adventurous meerkat who had been identified as an emerging leader, was so fed up that she left the clan and went in search of new ideas to help her troubled folk.

She discovered a much smaller group that operated with wonderfully participative teamwork and agility.

The meerkats here had developed innovative ways of finding food and evading the vultures, as a result of which their numbers started growing rapidly.

But the more new meerkats arrived to join them the more difficult it became to sustain the informal approach that had worked so well when they were fewer.

While the leadership style remained great, they lacked the robust management systems needed to deal with issues in a disciplined way, and so coordination became impossible and morale and motivation levels collapsed. Things fell apart.

Nadia began thinking about how to combine the best of both worlds: the benefits of the systems that handled the large, disciplined, well-managed clan, along with those of the agile, creative leadership that drove the smaller, informal one.

She returned to her original clan, where she set out to convince its traditional leaders to adopt more of the agility and innovativeness of where she had just come from.

And despite initial resistance, with the expected reasons-why-not mindset, eventually complacency and conservatism declined among enough of them, the organisational pyramid flattened, and with new energy and confidence they succeed in growing and flourishing again despite the ongoing challenges.

The moral of the story is straightforward: as organisations face uncertainty and the increasing complexity that comes with scale, both the disciplined systems of management (without the commonplace stultifying bureaucracy) and the vision and inspiration of leadership are essential.

It need not and should not be either/or: as I have always believed, any good manager must be a good leader and vice versa.

This book, this fable, has spelt it out more clearly and vividly than I have ever seen it attempted before. It concludes with a chapter suggesting how to approach having the cake and eating it, in which we are advised to follow Kotter’s original eight steps to change: create a sense of urgency; build a guiding coalition; form a strategic vision; enlist a volunteer army; remove barriers; generate quick wins; sustain acceleration; and institutionalise the change.

All this must take place without killing off the founding fast, entrepreneurial culture that needs to remain egalitarian, fluid and innovative.