Six entrepreneur mindsets

I recently logged in to a webinar hosted by the London Business School, where I listened to entrepreneurship professor John Mullins talk about his new book, Break the Rules!: The Six Counter-Conventional Mindsets of Entrepreneurs That Can Help Anyone Change the World.

I got to know Prof Mullins many years ago when he was the adviser to USIU on case studies they were developing.

I worked on one of these, about an IT company whose CEO I was, and I have kept in touch with him ever since.

In 2014 I also wrote an article about an earlier book of his on entrepreneurship, Getting to Plan B, in which he revealed that we would never have heard of some of the most successful business founders if they would have stuck to their original Plan As.

For over 20 years Prof Mullins has been exploring what sets successful entrepreneurs apart from other business people and from those who fail to reach their goals.

In the webinar, he took us through what he has found – including through having been an entrepreneur himself before entering academia.

It is that successful entrepreneurs exhibit one or more of the six break-the-rules mindsets through which entrepreneurs challenge assumptions, overcome obstacles and mitigate risks.

Here they are:

1. When you’re tempted to say “No”, instead say “Yes we can”. Then figure it out.

2. It’s the customer’s problem that matters, not your solution. Problem-first, not product-first.

3. “Moving the needle” doesn’t matter much to entrepreneurs. Think narrow, not broad.

4. Entrepreneurs get things done with almost no money. Ask for the cash, and ride the float.

5. Make the future winnings yours. Beg, borrow, but don’t steal.

6. Don’t ask for permission. Beg forgiveness later.

Each of these six mindsets can be learned, he has seen, by anyone, in any business setting large or small, old or new, create thriving sustainable businesses that grow and prosper.

And during the webinar, he quoted examples from entrepreneurs we are all familiar with, who practised at least one of them.

He referred to Dell PC founder Michael Dell, who in harmony with Mindset two ensured the company made products that were trusted to solve the problems of their customers; to Nike founder Phil Knight, who aligned with Mindset three when he started, narrowly focusing on products for elite athletes; to Tesla founder Elon Musk, who followed Mindset five by obtaining deposits from customers even before the car was launched that financed their production; and to Uber founder Travis Kalanick, who in keeping with Mindset six didn’t ask for permission before challenging the modus operandi of traditional taxis.

He might also have mentioned Virgin Atlantic founder Richard Branson, who saw the need for more customer-friendly flights and despite lacking experience in the domain just went for providing what no other airline did, in the firm belief that he could and that customers would be attracted to his offering.

In his book, Prof Mullins describes strategies for overcoming the daunting obstacles that stand in every innovator’s way.

He shows how to challenge assumptions and mitigate (not avoid!) risk – often by externalising it – in order to take advantage of opportunities. And he takes us through the steps we can take to make one or more of these mindsets our own.

He ended his webinar by asking which of the mindsets are already embodied within us personally, and which others can we learn to apply to a challenge we are currently facing.

Tribute: Yusuf, fellow Rotarian who once operated on me

thumbnail of Yusuf Tribute Sunday Nation 5.2.23

Winning with Jack Welch

In my last column, I wrote about the rise and fall of Rudy Giuliani, as a result of reading his 2002 book, Leadership.

And today my subject is Jack Welch, having just read his 2001 book, Winning, about which Warren Buffett said at the time of its publication “No other management book will ever be needed.”

Welch was with GE for 40 years, climbing up the ranks until he became chairman and CEO in 1981. Under his leadership, it grew its profits massively and became globally dominant in its sectors, to the delight of its shareholders.

His style was bold and competitive, as he pushed the company to become lean and agile – less “comfortable” – laying off more than 100,000 employees within his first seven years at the top.

To achieve this, in the 1980s he launched a 360-degree review process in which every employee’s manager, peers and subordinates would grade them on aspects that included team spirit, collaboration, focus, vision and adaptability.

Employees were then ranked, separated into the top 20 percent, the stars; the bottom 10 percent, the under-performers and disrupters; and the middle 70 percent in between.

The bottom 10 percent were dealt with appropriately, and many were fired. The process, which resulted in significant unhealthy competition, became known as “rank and yank”, but other big corporates, including Amazon, Microsoft and Google, soon emulated GE.

Another aspect of the unhealthy competition that Welch generated emerged when he retired in 2001 and Jeffrey Immelt was promoted to CEO.

After decades of grooming several internal leaders for the position, the decision triggered an exodus of bitter executives.

However, despite all this – which earned him the nickname Neutron Jack – Welch greatly valued the role of HR, believing the head of that function should be the second-most important person in any organisation, and at least equal to the head of finance.

The HR people should be, as he put it, “a combination of pastors and parents”.

He was a promoter of robust evaluation systems, ones that went way beyond the all-too-common mere paper-pushing.

And he believed in motivating and retaining the people with money, recognition and training; in confronting the difficult people issues – those arising from trouble-makers and big-headed stars, with candour and action; in spending half your time evaluating and coaching the middle 70 percent; and in having as flat an organisation chart as possible, as the more layers there is the more mischief some will indulge in.

The section I found most helpful was the one on firing and laying off people, where his advice was first that nobody should be surprised when they are let go.

Employees should be informed enough about the nature of their business that they understood who might be laid off in an economic downturn or a change in the industry.

If they weren’t performing well, they should be made aware of this through regular formal and informal reviews. If they couldn’t improve, they should know they would have to move on.

You should move neither too fast nor too slow in removing them, and again you must be candid. Then, you should minimise the humiliation, and encourage those on their way out that there’s a better job out there for them, more matched to their skills and attitudes.

The task of the ones informing staff members that they have been laid off or fired is incredibly difficult, admits Welch.

They feel guilt and anxiety before, during and after. Surprisingly, he comments, he isn’t aware of any programmes that help people develop the skills needed to conduct such meetings.

He had to fire many people over the years, he writes and never got used to it.

So his legacy is a mix of ongoing admiration and second thoughts about him and his management style. In the two decades since he left GE, many of his approaches have fallen out of favour, including within GE itself.

Today, he is often criticised as a symbol of corporate greed and economic inequality, with undue emphasis on quarterly results.

The competition he generated among leaders came at a considerable human cost, and he was considered the father of the “shareholder value” emphasis, which has since been migrating to delivering broader stakeholder value.

Much food for thought about how to define responsible leadership then and now, and within this about how to build sustainability.

How will today’s corporate leaders be viewed two decades from now? How will you be?

Giuliani and leadership

Over the holidays I read a very impressive book about leadership, whose title is simply Leadership.

Published in 2002, its author was a highly successful mayor of New York. In his book, he takes us through how he approached his job, and as I read it I was not at all surprised by how well he performed.

“Honest and compelling, wise and inspirational,” the back cover extolls.

The man was New York’s mayor from 1994 to 2001, including during the 9/11 tragedy of 2001, and he led New York’s “civic cleanup”, reforming the police department’s administration and policing practices that led to crime rates falling steeply, well ahead of the national average.

After an opening chapter on 9/11, his book is divided into ones that spell out the components of leadership as mayor.

In the first, he tells about the daily morning meetings with his senior colleagues, where they built a high-performance team who aired their issues openly, made fast decisions and followed up on them to ensure implementation.

Then we learn about the importance of preparation; becoming well-informed about key issues in the city; reading and learning; organising around a purpose; being accountable; surrounding yourself with good people; under-promising and over-delivering; standing up to bullies; and dealing with people whom you trust and who share your values.

All good stuff.

Before becoming mayor, he served as the United States Associate Attorney General, and for several years thereafter he was an immensely popular figure who appeared destined for a career at the pinnacle of American business and government.

Then in 2000, he ran against Hillary Clinton for a New York US Senate seat. For his leadership after the September 11 attacks he was called “America’s mayor”; he was named Time magazine’s 2001 Person of the Year, and was awarded an honorary knighthood in 2002 by Queen Elizabeth.

In 2008 he vied for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination.

You know to whom I am referring: Rudy Giuliani. Now, two decades later, his reputation is in tatters, due to his attachment to Donald Trump and his role in the Ukraine extortion scandal that led to Trump’s impeachment.

Giuliani has appeared unstable and incoherent on cable news, spinning a web of conspiracy theories with Joe Biden at the centre.

He was one of the speakers at the rally preceding the January 6 Capitol attack where he made false claims of voter fraud and called for “trial by combat”, as a result of which his licence to practice law was suspended.

So what happened? Why did he gravitate towards someone like Trump, whose leadership style is in stark contrast to that expounded in Giuliani’s book?

What led to this role model for good leadership becoming a laughing stock and a very lonely man with a drinking problem, who has now been through three troubled marriages, has no relationship with his children and has lost all his friends?

As I looked into the explanation I found that one was similar to what led Trump to degenerate into the dysfunctional character he became.

In a column about Trump a couple of years ago, I wrote that he was the frightened child of a relentlessly critical and bullying father, and now I read that Giuliani’s father was a neighbourhood tough who did time in prison for armed robbery – a possible explanation for the chip Giuliani has carried on his shoulder throughout his career and cramped his self-worth.

A second explanation was his loss in his presidential campaign, where he squandered his image as the statesman-hero and his revenue sources faded.

And yet another came with his third wife, Judith Nathan, a woman with an extravagant taste for luxury.

She introduced him to a jet-set lifestyle and to new people around him, doing everything she could to separate his friends from him and insert hers.

Giuliani described his greatest skill as his ability to surround himself with the right people.

Losing those friends who served as critical guardrails in Giuliani’s life helps explain the situation he finds himself in today.

He developed a lifestyle in search of an income, and there was no shortage of businesses and foreign governments willing to throw money at him.

As for his relationship with Trump, in return, Giuliani wanted to be his Secretary of State, a chance to reclimb to the heights of power.

But Trump thought that Giuliani’s career in law made him a better fit for the job of Attorney General.

Giuliani’s mind was made up though: Secretary of State or nothing. Nothing it was, and now he is more remembered for his embarrassing advocacy on Trump’s behalf.

Write your autobiography

A few months ago I wrote a column about the benefits of writing a journal, including providing raw material for a possible future autobiography.

So, today, I want to follow up with an encouragement to you to get going on that autobiography – whether you have been keeping a journal or not.

And here I am not just appealing to older readers, as whatever your age it will help you with self-discovery, introspection and reflection. It can also act as therapy and self-counselling.

I have been keeping a detailed daily journal for quite a long time, conscious of these trapping memories for reference.

But I was not expecting to get going on my autobiography for several years given how busy I was… until I came down with some health issues and took a flight to London to be assessed at a hospital there.

I was confined to a stretcher throughout the flight, so I asked myself how I was going to spend all that time lying flat.

The thought occurred to me to reflect on the flow of my life, as a first go at developing the content and sequence of chapters for my autobiography.

It was, as it is called, the “initiating incident” to my writing, as since then in the hospital and now back home I have been hard at it, making excellent progress – although with a long way still to go.

I have also been an initiator for others to begin writing their stories. I’ve helped edit the autobiographies of some of my friends, and I was recently invited to contribute an introduction to the one by James Foster, written for his family.

Our life story can be more about personal, and emotional issues, to do with relationships between us and family and friends (Prince Harry!), or more about our professional life.

It all depends on what moves us and to whom we want to appeal. Is our goal to titillate with a “kiss-and-tell” series of revelations about intimate encounters, as some such stories reveal?

Not mine, and most likely not for most Business Daily readers. To amuse and entertain? To inspire and educate? Some combination thereof?

Do we see ourselves as uninhibitedly frank, and relaxed about revealing a “tell-all” account of our life? Or, at the other end of the spectrum, do we unduly need to always be uncritical and positive, not offending anyone by omitting delicate issues?

Somewhere in between, maybe. And how do we deal with negative episodes that risk us being sued for libel by the bad guys we have had to deal with? (They’re the most gripping stories!)

Next, how do we avoid appearing to be bragging? For that’s how life stories started, with the self-promotional Egyptian pharaohs of 3,000 years ago in their tombs… and how they continue today with characters like Trump.

If that’s the idea, then better have a biography written about us! While a memoir is not meant to be an extended sales brochure or CV – except for politicians as preludes to their campaigning – it’ll hopefully boost our self-esteem, with me as the hero of my story.

My suggestion is that you just start writing elements you can get going with easily and enjoyably, without inhibitions or worry at this stage about the quality of the writing.

Feel free to rant and rage; jot notes about topics; capture memories as they reveal themselves.

Initially, at least, you can be writing just for yourself, just for the grandchildren, or already for a wider audience.

And there can then be different versions for different audiences.

Ask yourself about your life’s shape. What is your story, told through a pattern of events, so you and then others get to know what your life means?

What do you believe in and why? What is your purpose in life? What were your triumphs and setbacks, crises and breakthroughs? What were your dreams fulfilled and unfulfilled; opportunities grasped and missed; moments of fun and hilarity?

Most importantly, why would anyone want to read what you have written? What will they learn from it and do differently as a result?

Who would want to publish your story and why? Who is your audience and who are you not interested in writing for?

Finally, talk to your previous generations for background before it’s too late – or you’ll regret not having done so.

What joining a book club entails

It’s only this year that I enjoyed my first experience with a book club, one that was being launched by my Rotary Club of Nairobi.

We have been meeting monthly ever since, and as it has proved to be such an enriching experience I thought it would be good to share something about it in my last column of the year.

It’s quite demanding reading a book each month (as Sunny Bindra has often challenged us to do), never mind being prepared to make useful contributions to discussions about them.

And just imagine if you are not just a participant but the moderator. More on that later.

There’s so much to organise in forming and running a book club.

First one must benefit from an enthusiastic convener who is able to attract the right number and quality of members and then keep them motivated and active – an easier task for this book club, given that the target is from within our tight Rotary community, plus our younger Rotaracters.

Then one must schedule times to meet that are adequately convenient to all, and decide whether to have the meetings be physical, virtual or hybrid.

A regular monthly time is ideal, but inevitably circumstances arise that result in changes having to be made.

Even then of course some members have last-minute other obligations that prevent them from participating.

‘Please can you record the session,’ they plead, ‘so I can catch up with it later.’ OK if it’s virtual, more difficult otherwise.

Obviously, physical meetings deliver the best conversations and the deepest interactions, but virtual ones attract higher numbers.

As for hybrid sessions, it’s much harder for those participating online to contribute and be heard.

The Key is selecting which books to read several months ahead. Here suggestions are sought from members and we then vote on our preferences.

We agreed we’d have a mix of fiction and non-fiction, of local and international authors, and members proposed titles they thought would appeal to the group.

Needless to say, there was no shortage of good suggestions.

Selecting the books is the easier part. More difficult is nudging members into acquiring the chosen ones, printed or online, and then actually reading them before the due date.

For it turns out that the kind of people who are attracted to join are unduly busy with their professional, family and other commitments.

So while filled with good intentions, experience has shown that come the day quite a number haven’t managed to get around to even opening the month’s book.

One of the important roles of the convener is to seek appropriate volunteers to moderate each session, as good moderation skills are vital for keeping the participants engaged.

The moderators must be skilled at introducing the book and its messages, without taking too much time over it.

They must then seek contributions from members, including the quieter ones who might otherwise not volunteer to speak.

And what about those who are in on the meeting but have only managed to read the odd chapter, or maybe skimmed just a few pages, perhaps none at all?

They can be brought in later, to react to what others have shared.

Time management is important, to ensure coverage of the key aspects and impact of the book, and then to draw the discussions to an elegant conclusion, with suitable closing remarks from the members.

Among the books we’ve dissected are a trio of autobiographies: Obama’s A Promised Land (I was asked to moderate this one, so I had to take extra time beyond the mere reading), Wangari Mathai’s Unbowed, and Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime.

Novels included Wanjiru Koinange’s The Havoc of Choice and Khaled Hossein’s The Kite Runner; while our non-fiction ones were Sunny Bindra’s Up & Ahead (about strategy), Michaela Wrong’s It’s Our Turn to Eat, Adam Grant’s Think Again, and Evelyn Mungai’s From Glass Ceiling to Open Skies.

Each discussion was wonderfully thought-provoking, including cross-referencing previous readings, and for Bindra’s and Grant’s, we talked about how what we had read should be applied to strengthen our Rotary Club.

Indeed our conclusions were later shared with the membership at large, leading us to be described as a think tank!

Each book, and each discussion, would provide excellent material for an article.

If you are not a member of a book club I hope that what you have read here will provoke you into considering joining one.

It will be tough to find the time, but you won’t regret it.

CSR: Do good in a sustainable way

In my last article, I wrote about the evolution of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), promising that in this one I would delve into the latest trends in CSR and how it relates to ESG (the Environmental, Social and Governance dimensions) and the SDGs (the Sustainable Development Goals).

For my guidance, I turned again to Michael Hopkins, whose core area this has been for 20 years and who has written several books on the subject, including his 2016 one, aptly named CSR & Sustainability: From the Margins to the Mainstream.  His most recent one, CSR and Sustainability – The Big Issues of the Day, was published this year, and it is from here that I lay out his model for applying what he describes as a “systems approach” to CSR.

Through such discipline, Prof Hopkins sees organisations not just viewing the CSR activity as inhabiting some corner in a department, but evolving as a high-level integrated component of the overall strategy, with active board engagement.

It must be well-managed so as to ensure profitable sustainability, he insists, and it should be pursued without compromising those profits. It is a question of how profits are generated, he clarifies, not allowing them to suffer as a result of “doing good”.

For anything to be well managed it must be well measured, as we all know.

But defining Key Performance Indicators for CSR initiatives is not a straightforward task – particularly given the requirement to have them be associated with the relevant SDGs, given their broadly defined aspirations.

It’s a challenge to assess the impact of any goal that cannot be easily measured in terms of quantifiable scale such as shillings or miles.

And this, more so, as of course must happen, if one follows the path to the ultimate desired impact. Bearing in mind, too, that having visualised that impact a new issue arises: to what extent can one attribute it to the initiative in question?

Little wonder that only a few organisations are anywhere near rigorous in laying out KPIs in the CSR domain.

The consequence, however, is that when for instance they seek capital, potential investors will not be impressed.

The “business case” must be spelt out, just as it must for any other aspect of the organisation, and of course, we’re talking about the long-term case. After all, that’s what sustainability is all about.

These days too all this must integrate with the whole ESG ecosystem.

And a good place to start is by drawing up a stakeholder map bearing in mind that the essence is to “treat all key stakeholders responsibly”. So, who are they? Which ones are key, in their influence on our organisation, and in ours on them?

Having identified them, the next stage is to invite them into dialogue, so a clear, trusting and mutually beneficial relationship is developed between them and you.

Such dialogue must involve a wide range of contributors from within – way beyond just someone with a fancy title like Chief Sustainability Officer.

The next step is formulating the CSR strategy, integrated into the overall organisational one.

This lays out the purpose, the programmes and the indicators; the budgets and the benefits; the systems and the performance management; and the reporting discipline.

A good example of the positive stakeholder impact of CSR is in the area of staff engagement, where the consequence of doing well by doing good is that people of high competence and character are attracted to join you and stay with you.

Here as elsewhere, one must define indicators that assess the impact of CSR on such talent attraction and retention.

Time must be invested in all of this, and more than on a one-off basis. But not everyone is a Safaricom or a KCB or a Diageo, so we must not be over-ambitious either.

The idea is to be uplifted by one’s efforts to make a sustainable assessable difference in this world, knowing that today organisations are being judged not merely by the extent to which they protect shareholder interests but the broader stakeholder ones, too.

A final point: Prof Hopkins is a strong advocate for CSR to be practised not just by for-profits but also NGOs and the government.

Why should they feel morally superior to commercial entities if they too do not treat all stakeholders fairly?

Evolution of philanthropy and CSR

In today’s world more and more firms from SMEs upward – never mind publicly quoted ones – have taken corporate social responsibility as a natural component in how they operate.

For some, it came more naturally than for others. For those where owners’ and directors’ values resonated with being responsible citizens, it was an easy evolution, one they felt good about.

Applying my colleague and friend Prof Michael Hopkins’ CSR definition of “treating all key stakeholders responsibly” (he and I, together with prof Mike Sacks, are co-founders of the Institute for Responsible Leadership) was not a bridge too far. Indeed, their values were such that “saying no when they should” and “treating others as they would wish to be treated themselves” is how they were probably brought up from an early age.

For others with weak consciences though, these are alien concepts that would prevent them from closing the kind of shady deals that keep them in business.

They’re quite OK with incenting beneficiaries at the purchasing end, exploiting their workers, creating a negative impact on the environment, evading tax payments and so forth.

Unfortunately, we live in a society where impunity is rampant, so corporate social irresponsibility is still widespread.

Those organisations that typically invite me to join their boards or to act as a consultant to them are overwhelmingly the ones in the first category.

It’s those who are ahead of the game, in CSR as in talent management, innovation and elsewhere, who know they can still do yet better in their quest for long-term sustainability.

It is of course such organisations with which I want to be associated, and if I am asked by the other kind to engage with them I politely decline, saying I am already too busy.

What have I and others found? (And here I am not talking about public companies.) Most if not all have been making contributions to good causes from time immemorial.

It’s what we used to call charity, typically “helping the needy in society”, and very likely with one-off donations in response to urgent requirements, whether in cash or kind and including volunteering. At the higher end, philanthropy goes deeper to address the root cause of social issues and requires a more strategic, long-term approach, with advocacy sometimes an additional component.

The original meaning of charity, “Christian love of one’s fellow,” is rooted in Late Old English, while philanthropy, or “the love of humanity,” originated in Greek. When “charity” entered the English lexicon by way of Old French’s “charité”, the meaning evolved into what we know today.

Meanwhile, the practice of modern philanthropy is often credited to titans of industry like Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie, all of whom launched their Foundations to make the world a better place.

Henry Ford explicitly wanted to reduce poverty in his country, as among the consequences would be that more people could buy his company’s cars. And here in Kenya our philanthropy role model is Manu Chandaria and his family, with their Chandaria Foundation.

Dr Chandaria was recently in America, where he was the first African to receive the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy.

In his acceptance speech he revealed that having returned from his university studies in the US, early in the life of the still small family business owned and run by his father, he suggested they set up their Chandaria Foundation to help Kenyan communities – having been inspired by the example of Ford, Rockefeller and Carnegie.

His father at first thought this to be premature, but after a few years, he acquiesced as his son Manu persuaded him that it was indeed a worthy initiative to be “givers” who are useful to society by serving the community and not just by writing a cheque.

Since then the Chandaria Foundation has blossomed into a major supporter of healthcare infrastructure, secondary and higher education, poverty relief, and the environment.

So that’s something about philanthropy. Now to conclude this article, back to CSR, and this by way of a link to my next one, where I will be delving into the latest trends in CSR and how it relates to ESG (the Environmental, Social and Governance dimensions) and the SDGs (the Sustainable Development Goals).

Life is becoming far more ambitious and complicated in these areas, and organisations from the bottom up – not merely for-profit ones – must keep up to date with what is expected of them. Back in a fortnight.

Competent or confident politician?

Some time ago I wrote an article about Trump as a man whose I’m-OK-You’re-not-OK behaviour, one that required consistent win-lose interactions with others, masked a deeply insecure soul. Yet despite these insecurities, despite this lack of self-esteem, he built up extraordinary self-confidence, and through bullying, cheating and lying he achieved all that he did.

I refer to this as I recently read a provocative article in the London Times about Britain’s immediate former Prime Minister, Liz Truss. The headline said it all: “Truss proves talent-free bluster isn’t just for men”. And the opening paragraph tells us she broke one of the last glass ceilings. Not as the first female PM in her country, for she was not, but as “the first woman to reach the highest office propelled by gargantuan self-belief alone”.

Writer Janice Turner rightly reckons the kind of self-belief she displayed has not been associated with her gender. Indeed, she tells us, feminists have been known to pray “Lord, grant me the confidence of a mediocre man”.

We’ve been reading a lot about women holding back from higher office while younger and less experienced men lobby their way through. Here though, Ms Turner observed “a shameless, narcissistic, talent-free sense of entitlement”. Wow. Lots in common with Trump for sure, and indeed with so many politicians the world over.

I have also written about the competence-confidence matrix, with the competent one who lacks confidence often suffering from the “imposter syndrome”, while the confident one who lacks competence displays a cocky arrogance. The ideal position, as espoused by my heroes such as Ed Schein and Adam Grant, are those who behave with “confident humility”.

So where is Rishi Sunak, Liz Truss’s successor, in all of this? In a much better place. We have been reading about the values with which he was brought up and which it appears he has been able to largely hold on to despite entering the cut and thrust world of win-lose politics: family, honesty, education and hard work. Not a bad quartet.

His competence, certainly in matters financial, is indisputable. And his communication skills are definitely superior to hers. Well, that’s no big deal, as rarely have I come across such a wooden performer as Liz Truss in such a high office. Boy was she in need of coaching…but who knows, maybe her excess of self-esteem over self-awareness made her uncoachable.

How about our politicians here? For sure some are more competent than others, and some are better communicators than others. Many are at their best at high-octane campaign rallies whose objectives are mere entertainment, hype and goodies-distribution, while others know how to switch between such show-business performance and more serious and substantive output.

To be a politician, confidence is everything. As each one puts themselves forward for election, they are certain they will win, however justified or unjustified their optimism. So it was with Truss, so it was with Sunak; and so it was with all our political candidates in August, including those who lost.

Our responsibility as citizens is to study the competence-confidence mix of those who seek our votes, where competence includes adherence to good values and where mere confidence is woefully insufficient.

It was good to see the Mkenya Daima campaign focusing on this requirement for not only selecting good men and women, but then holding those who succeed at the ballot to account. It is why the Mkenya Daima tag line is Nitatenda Wajibu Wangu (I will do my responsibility).

It’s so dispiriting to me to see huge numbers of voters in the developed world casting their support for the Trumps and the Trusses of this world.

It shows the weakness in the civic education provided in so many countries that allows for populist promise-makers to get away with what they clearly should not… including Boris Johnson and his Brexit ones.

We’ve been through our elections just a few months ago. Have we selected enough of the humbly competent? Stay on the ball, fellow Kenyans, as President William Ruto has challenged us to do.

Rishi Sunak promised British citizens a government of “professionalism, integrity and accountability at all levels”. And President Ruto, when he confirmed his new cabinet, also called for integrity and accountability. We must indeed “do our responsibility”.

Remember our national values

It’s quite some time since I wrote about national issues in this column, allowing the extravagant 24/7 political campaigning and the media’s relentless focus on it to sweep over me. Reflecting on it all, plus on the election itself and the days since, I realised that throughout these months I can’t remember when any of our political contenders referred explicitly to our national values.

Yes, there was much talk about national unity and public participation; inclusiveness and protection of the marginalised; ethics and integrity; transparency, accountability and good governance; sustainable development — all which I am quoting from the national values as stated in our Constitution. But as far as I am aware no one directly related such matters to these stated values.

I’ve written before about how our leaders never refer to these values, and not least because they are just a list of 20 words and phrases – including the ones featured above – buried deep in that long, formal document that is our Constitution. I have suggested hauling this list out and reducing it to a small number of short punchy phrases, as countries like Singapore and Rwanda benefit from. Their leaders live the values as role models for them, and talk about them as part of their regular leadership language.

Now that the frantic politicking has calmed down it’s good to look back over the campaigning period. Fortunately, the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) has analysed the main challenges Kenya faced in the build-up to the election, and here are its findings:

  • Lack of trust between communities, among leaders and in government institutions.
  • A sub-culture of violence, where politicians manipulate citizens into engaging in aggressive acts.
  • Divisive and selfish politics, where most leaders are more concerned about acquisition of power and wealth, their own self-interest and ambitions, than the wellbeing of the citizens.
  • Ethnic polarisation, simulated by hate speech and other forms of ethnic incitement.
  • Late, inadequate and insufficiently coordinated response to conflict.
  • Structural inequalities in the distribution of political and economic resources, historical and current.

We are rightly proud of the fact that the elections unfolded peacefully, but as we peruse these findings there is clearly much to work on as far as our values are concerned… and this in the context of our national vision, as NCIC’s report concludes: “Most leaders in Kenya seem to have abandoned the nationalist vision of equity and justice, and given primacy to the acquisition of power and wealth.”

Who should take the lead in bringing national values to the top of Kenya’s agenda, so future such NCIC reports can read differently? Realistically, it seems we can rely on only a small minority of our elected leaders to play that moral role. So how can we build a critical mass of influential individuals and institutions to take us to that much better place?

Yes, NCIC is there, and it has been doing well partnering with religious leaders, the private sector’s Mkenya Daima, civil society, youth, communities and government entities. And the CBC’s Values-Based Education is vital for nurturing future generations. Then, where are you and your organisations in all of this?

As we enter a new administration, it is a time of opportunity. Many of those who are the most influential and who should most act as role models for healthy values will remain the ones who least do so. So we must make it harder for impunity to reign.

Transparency and accountability must continue to be enhanced, with the support of technology and with the law and order entities working ever closer together to deter poor behaviour. And if only we could limit the time and cost of campaigning!

Along with being serious about penalising those displaying negative values, we must also recognise and celebrate the good guys, not least through the media. For there are plenty of Kenyans who live good values, however hard that is in our very challenging political, economic and social environment.

On October 20, we celebrated Mashujaa Day. By happy coincidence it coincided with World Values Day, an annual campaign to increase the awareness and practice of values around the world. So let’s bring our national heroes into our values-nudging campaign.

It is a major project, a long journey. One on which we must embark urgently and vigorously. Now.