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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.

Managing public service delivery

The roles of Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi have been defined as follows:

Assist the President and the Deputy President in the coordination and supervision of government ministries and State departments.

In liaison with the ministry responsible for Interior and National Administration, oversee the implementation of national government policies, programmes and projects.

Chair and coordinate national government legislative agenda across all ministries and State departments in consultation with and for transmission to the party or coalition leaders in Parliament, facilitate inter-ministerial coordination of cross-functional initiatives and programmes.

And coordinate and supervise the technical monitoring and evaluation of government policies, programmes and projects.

Very good. Coordinating and facilitating, supervising and overseeing. With Mr Mudavadi’s extensive and varied experience, and as someone known to be “the adult in the room”, I don’t doubt that he will add value. The question I ask is what systems will he have available to support him to play his role effectively – and this without duplicating the not dissimilar functions of the Deputy President.

Different institutions and approaches have been introduced in succeeding administrations to carry out the kinds of functions described in the Prime Cabinet Secretary’s job description. I go back to the Kibaki days when the Public Service Reform and Development Secretariat (PSRDS) brought in such goodies as Results Based Management (RBM) and the Rapid Results Initiative (RRI). I was a member of the consultants for Kenya team that supported PSRDS with these excellent initiatives, which were beginning to make a real difference when it was disbanded.

What largely remained was the Performance Contracting Unit, which had been separate, and then as now it, unfortunately, has fallen far short of delivering on its significant potential.

As I have seen in so many government entities whose performance contracts I have studied over the years — at the national and also devolved levels — the performance indicators very rarely extend to assessing the ultimate desired impact of an initiative.

Instead, the participants play safe, with easy-to-measure mere output indicators, like in this common example. Objective: “Train 40 staff on the XYZ system.” Indicator: “40 staff trained.” That’s it. No consideration of what the staff learned or how they applied it and with what consequence.

As I put it in the many workshops I facilitate on such subjects, those involved were too timid and unambitious to keep asking the “So what?” question, till that ultimate desired impact was defined and hence the extent of its achievement, could be assessed.

By the way, it’s why I’ve never been a fan of the term monitoring and evaluation or M&E as it is commonly known. For it too readily describes what happens. Yes, work is monitored, and yes, it is evaluated – both necessary, and yet unless there is a “So what?” of the monitoring and evaluation in terms of driving higher performance as a result of the M and the E, we have not reached the sufficient.

This is what RBM and RRI were all about. And through the World Bank others and I introduced PM4R – Performance Management for Results. Yes, for results.

So, Bwana Mudavadi, please review the performance contracting system, and ensure that the capacity to deliver what it should is developed and applied. Then, do not have fragmentation of the institutions supporting you and whom you will be supporting.

Take the Vision 2030 Delivery Secretariat seriously, as it drives its five-year medium-term plans and extends its horizon beyond 2030. And do not have other delivery units at the national level that overlap or compete. Also, consider the re-establishment of the National Economic and Social Council. It will help you, the DP and the President.

So much has been learned about what it takes to have high-performance teams deliver on their mandates with impact. We have seen such teams in action at both the national and county levels, and we know the critical success factors involved. In my work supporting the government over the years, I have helped leadership teams overcome non-technical obstacles to performance. Here the challenge of defining appropriate performance indicators requires even more deep thought, motivating and enabling the route to success.

Do not over-complicate the systems, Sir, and focus on the disproportionately significant. But above all nurture a focus on the aspirational future.

Taming the abuse of power

Readers of this column will have seen previous articles of mine in which I have written about Leaders Circles I have facilitated with my colleague Frank Kretzschmar. The last one was about sustainability, and the theme of our most recent one was “How we deal with power: from victim to perpetrator to victim”.

We’ve all heard that “information is power”, and as Frank and I looked up other suitable quotes before our story-telling gathering we came across some useful provocations, including “Power is always dangerous. Power attracts the worst and corrupts the best,” from doomsday merchant Edward Abbe; and, also pessimistically, William Gaddis shared that “Power doesn’t corrupt people, people corrupt power.”

More upliftingly, Lao Tzu told us that “Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power.” And Alice Walker reminded us that “the most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”

How power is wielded lies at the centre of whether things work or don’t work, we briefed our participants as we invited them to the event. Power itself is values-neutral. So at what point does it become good or bad? Where and how does abuse begin?

Who determines that power was indeed abused? How is it even possible that power does get abused? Does it happen when moral concepts are excluded from the exercising of power? When corruption is used to distort rules of the game that had been based on a broad consensus? When individual powerful people lose all sense of self-awareness and proportion?

We are seeing that too many neurotics and egocentrics are key players in the power game. And as a result, we give up on essential issues out of comfort, thoughtlessness or anticipatory obedience. They then take advantage of the resulting vacuum. Are we not to blame for this?

So how do you tame the abuse of power? As leaders, you cannot do without power. How do you empower yourself and others? And how far may or must you go in order to gain (back) power and influence?

How do the exercise of power and ethical action coexist, for there are fewer and fewer fixed reference systems? Exercising power without stepping over the boundaries of individuals is not possible. But is it possible to exercise power while remaining innocent? It is undoubtedly a question of balance.

We were interested to hear where and how those who participated in our event have succeeded in keeping power in the good area, and this we certainly did. We learned about the challenge of leading volunteers, in business and professional organisations, and in service clubs like Rotary and Lions.

And we talked about the need to “decolonise” and spread decision-making from the over-influential Global North towards the Global South, including in how research funds are allocated.

We also heard stories of power abusers – from our own traffic police to Vladimir Putin – and of being the direct victims of more powerful and unconstrained players.

One spoke about the fragility of power, as evidenced in the Arab Spring (and more recently in Sri Lanka, and with Johnson in the UK); while another worried about the constraints faced by the UN Security Council in fulfilling its mission of holding the world together.

I reflected that rather than wanting to feel powerful, my expectation was and is that I can be of influence, and above all in bringing people together – as a mediator, an integrator, a connector.

I enjoy helping others to building their capacity so I can empower them, and hence delegate to them. I see the goodness of power-sharing, which requires openness and trust.

Here I am, deep into my third age, a time of life when most of us no longer expect to wield direct power (except, perhaps, in the political arena). One way in which I hope I am being of influence is through these columns.

A few weeks ago I published by 400th one, and this one marks fifteen years since by first contribution here. My sense has always been that I largely preach to the already converted, but my hope is that my readers will emerge reinforced in their views, and so promote them more boldly. I might even convert a few here and there, and who knows, perhaps enable them to become more powerful.

In closing, I urge you to exercise your power by voting next month for men and women who will wield power responsibly. Or else you will be their victims. But hey, I’m preaching to the converted.

Leadership messages for public servants

From time to time I have been asked to speak at the Kenya School of Government’s Strategic Leadership Development Programme (SLDP), and late last year I was invited to close its 224th iteration, virtually hosted by the Mombasa campus.

The participants were informed that I was to be their “motivational speaker” but, as I did then, I always vehemently resist such a label as too often it implies being someone who merely hypes and entertains rather than provokes serious purposeful reflection.

It’s been quite a while since I have addressed such a grouping, and as always I was impressed by the calibre of the civil servants before me, for this programme online. They were from county governments and county assemblies; from commissions and State corporations; from ministries and public universities: a great diversity. On each occasion I have been with SLDP cohorts I have been greatly reassured by the calibre of whom we employ at both the national and devolved levels of government.

What brought them all together was the desire to develop their leadership prowess. So after several weeks of intensive study, what parting shots could I add? My opener was to urge them to be “MAD”, leaders who expect to “Make A Difference”. (A phrase I adopted from KEPROBA Chairman Jas Bedi.)

I encouraged them to venture beyond the far too common “output indicators” so conveniently retreated to in government – as I have written about from time to time in this column. Not least in the context of performance contracts, too many indicators are easily quantifiable but woefully inadequate measures such as “40 staff members trained”… without bothering to assess the consequences of the training in terms of how it led to better results.

I then talked about the importance of dealing with the non-technical challenges to performance, going beyond just the technical ones. By non-technical issues we mean people problems, to do with values, attitudes and behaviour. This of course takes us to leadership, and here I explained the work I have been doing with some of our county leaders to help them develop a coaching style of leadership, one that nurtures those around them and brings them together around common visions and values.

It contrasts to the “Big Man” style of leading, the know-it-all who issues instructions rather than the enabler, the encourager, the champion. The idea is to develop an environment where staff are trustworthy and therefore trusted, with leaders feeling comfortable empowering them and delegating to them. All this in support of higher performance.

Such a culture assumes collaboration within an organisation between programmes and functions, breaking down those all too common silos; and it speaks of effective communication between levels too. The consequence of this is to reduce the waste of human, financial and other resources – so prominent in government.

In my consulting work with government entities, I explained, I bring different units together to resolve misunderstandings, conflicts and other sources of tension. I do this by having them exchange offers and requests and then involve them in a give-and-take in which they negotiate to win-win outcomes. I work in similar ways to achieve vertical alignment between levels of leadership – including within parastatals and commissions, where understanding and engagement between boards and management are improved.

As several of the participants were from the academic world, I mentioned the need for them to see their students as customers. And for these customers to emerge into the workplace fit for purpose there is a vital and urgent need for faculty members to transform from being traditional lecturers and dons who talk at an audience into facilitators who interact with engaged participants.

My final point was one I often make when addressing public servants. I encouraged them to be cheerful in their workplaces, and to apply a light touch. Too many of our technocrats feel that even to smile is to trivialise the very important work they undertake, without appreciating that such grimness prevents their people from looking forward to coming to the office.

I advocate an approach of “having a good time doing good things”, as no higher authority ever told us it is only possible to do one of these at a time. Surely a healthy culture is a happy culture, whether in government or elsewhere. And it is the job of leadership to show the way.