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Challenges to change in dynamic business world

Since writing my last article on how to influence change, I have had the privilege of listening to Costas Markides, a professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at the London Business School and author of several outstanding books on the subject — including his latest one, Organising for the New Normal.

He was a delight to be with online at the Davis & Shirtliff management conference in which I was participating, making his points in such a lively and humorous way. Don’t take my word for it though, listen to him on this podcast, ‘Resilience mindset and the new normal’ on YouTube. You won’t regret it.

Costas — which I am sure is how he’d like me to refer to him — is, like me, an economist by education, and again like me he migrated into strategy. As with anyone who works in this field these days he reflected deeply on how the strategy must incorporate innovativeness, agility and resilience, and concluded that so much of what differentiates those who succeed relates to influencing people’s behaviours. He, therefore, focuses on social psychology as a key ingredient in his mix.

Why do people behave as they do, he asks, and what is it about the organisations within which they work that makes them do so? For sure leaders cannot simply tell their people to be, say, resilient and innovative. You won’t be surprised to learn that Costas is a great storyteller, and one he loves to quote is from the Harvard Medical School, which carried out a study on patients being released from hospital following major heart surgery.

Each of them was told that on returning home they needed to stop leading dangerously unhealthy lives — no more smoking or drinking alcohol, healthy eating and plenty of exercises. All very logical and rational.

The group was followed for two years, and it was found that whereas all heeded their doctors’ advice in the first month after surgery, 90 percent of them reverted to their bad behaviours within six months of their operations.

In Change or Die, the book about this case by Alan Deutschman, the author describes what differentiated the 10 percent of outliers who held on to what was good for them, Costas relates. It was how the doctors went beyond instilling fear in their patients by identifying the consequences of bad behaviour to also talking about positive futures that would result from good behaviour — like envisaging playing with their grandchildren or walking their daughter down the aisle. So to encourage people we must make the need for the change positive, personal and emotional.

Another factor that influences how we behave is our environment, and Costas talks engagingly about how leaders must create one that supports the desired behaviours. So if you want your people to be proactive, question what’s happening, collaborate across silos, experiment and assume responsibility, you must generate an appropriate culture based on supportive values, devise measures and incentives that reward such behaviours, develop structures and processes aligned to what you are seeking and hire people who are likely to be responsive to your aspirations.

This doesn’t mean people in the field can do whatever they want.

There must be parameters that define their limits, beyond which they must consult with their bosses — like if what they are considering lies outside the defined strategy.

Above all, Costas tells us that we must “treat people as people”, not as “human resources” or robots. They must feel special, working to support an uplifting purpose with which they engage.

For Costas, the new normal involves frequent and unpredictable sources of disruption, with inadequate time in which to respond. He tells us we must see these disruptions as not just threats but opportunities too. But this requires going beyond simply asserting that.

Leaders must lift their people psychologically, emotionally, reaching both their heads and their hearts, so they can visualise the fulfilment of the opportunity. Then they will commit to fighting with you.

Let me conclude by mentioning that an extra reason why I so enjoyed interacting with Costas was that nearly 50 years ago I spent a year at the London Business School as a student in their Sloan Masters programme. It was a great experience for me, building both my competence and my confidence. His session reminded me of those uplifting days, taking me back to the stimulation that so characterised the place and showing me it to be as vibrant now as it was then.

How to manage change during transition period

I have written about change quite often in this column, and a few weeks ago I referred briefly to my own change anxiety in the context of my stay in hospital while dealing with Covid.

There, during my two-month incarceration, I was moved several times: from this ward to that ward, and then first to one room and later another prior to my eventual release. Each transition provoked its own anxieties, however ill-founded some were.

I was reminded of my transition stress as I came across the book Managing Transitions – Making the Most of Change by William Bridges, a prominent consultant who pointed out that much of what gets us agitated is not the actual difference between the old and the new situations but the disruptive transition from one to the other.

Each time I dreaded the prospects of being wheelchaired to my new abode, someone trailing behind me with the oxygen cylinder to which I was hooked up, and someone packing my belongings and then unpacking them in an unfamiliar setting – on one occasion at high speed and late in the evening.

All this required great mental and emotional strength on my part to keep adequately calm and optimistic about both the journey and the destination.

One transition led me to a distinctly less conducive environment, justifying my prior concern; while the upgrade to my first private room delivered significant advantages, as did the freedom from isolation – allowing me to receive visitors. But even this did not take away from the discomforts of transition.

My exit from the confines of the hospital to a care home and then finally back to my own home exposed me to yet more transition experiences, yet more reasons to be anxious about moves from one environment to the next, where at each stage the availability of carers would be diminished.

The good news is that all this made me a transition expert in just three months!

Bridges describes the sequence of progressing from the first stage of “ending” the previous setting, when we feel a sense of loss, accompanied by first denial, then anger and frustration, as we come to terms with the need to let go of the familiar; to the “neutral” stage, where negative feelings diminish; to the “new beginning”, with its mix of gains and fresh challenges.

It’s good to seek support when facing change, advises Bridges, and indeed from my experience I saw that support should be offered pro-actively and pre-emptively – having understood where and why people are anxious. How was it for this hospital nomad?

Sometimes I was reassured and comforted by the doctors and nurses, but on one occasion I actually felt like an Internally Displaced Person. Important too is to be straightforward with ourselves about where the new situation will indeed leave us less well off, helping us to accept the inevitable gracefully, as it’s as good as it gets.

Managing expectations is the name of this game.

The neutral zone is the most challenging, I read, because we can’t go back to the old state and we haven’t yet mastered the new one. Other messages from Bridges are that it is easier to let go of the past if we take lessons from what is ending and what we must let go of.

And that if possible we should try and take some familiar aspects into and beyond the transition.

More so in this volatile day and age we are constantly challenged to transition beyond our comfort zones: a new boss or structure or job; a new phone or laptop, or a new version of an operating system or App or ERP, and so many other changes… not to mention Covid, which has multiplied the ways in which we have had to adapt – to remote working, to not shaking hands and in many other ways.

Some of us find it all so hard to handle, while others manufacture the strength to expand their comfort zones as they travel through their transitions and into their new scenarios.

If those new scenarios leave us worse off, make us feel like an IDP, then we must find yet more strengths – beyond those required for the journey through transition – so we can plan for our best possible future with an invigorated sense of purpose.

What the new Kepsa leadership promises

Towards the end of last month I logged in to Kenya Private Sector Association (Kepsa’s) 17th annual general meeting, and what an impressive event it was.

CEO Carole Kariuki Karuga reeled off the highlights of the year’s activities and achievements, and as we heard them all listed together we could hardly believe that such a wide array of issues had been handled or that such a significant positive influence had been brought to bear on the wellbeing of not just the private sector but of Kenyans generally.

It’s not surprising that we learned lots that we had not been aware of, as so much of what Kepsa does happens quietly behind the scenes. As I wrote in one of these columns a few years ago, much of Kepsa’s work can only be effective if it is done behind closed doors and in small groups or one-on-one . So many are unaware of what it is doing (which all too often leads quite a few to assume that it isn’t doing very much), and it’s not always appropriate to shout about it.

As one of the founding directors of Kepsa back in 2003 I am proud of how successive leadership teams, at both the board and the secretariat levels, have continued expanding Kepsa’s circle of influence. No wonder it is the envy of private sector umbrella organisations around Africa and beyond.

The other element of the AGM I wish to highlight was the report by Lee Karuri of Kepsa’s Nominations Committee recommendations for the incoming board. For a number of cycles now this committee (composed of some of the organisation’s past leaders – including me) studies the upcoming board needs and selects a balanced array of men and women from different sectors and professions; some new, some renewed. Our proposals are then put to the members at the AGM for ratification.

This managed democracy has worked extremely well – avoiding the kind of over-the-top campaigning and politicking seen in other institutions and ensuring the best mix of directors and the smoothest transitions.

To take over from chair Nik Nesbitt and Vice Chair Rita Kavashe (both of whom have performed outstandingly) we had put forward the names of Flora Mutahi as Chair and Jas Bedi as Vice Chair, having earlier ensured that if proposed they would be prepared to serve. Happily they were.

In Flora Mutahi’s acceptance speech she looked forward to Kepsa engaging more with small businesses, which I remember her trying so hard to promote when she chaired the Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM). It’s quite a challenge, I know, as leaders of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises are so operationally committed that it’s difficult for them to make the time to either contribute to or benefit from such members’ organisations. But like KAM, Kepsa has been working hard at finding viable ways of engaging them. (Some wrongly accuse Kepsa and KAM of only being interested in big business.)

She also looked forward to unlocking the potential within counties and regional economic blocs, and here synergy with the Chamber of Commerce and its county branches will be key.

Many Kepsa members would like its leadership to be more aggressive and outspoken in confronting government over issues such as corruption and bureaucracy; high taxation; and other impediments to doing business. But as I wrote in another article nearly a decade ago, we saw that a confrontational style rarely succeeds. Rather, constructive engagement, however less glamorous, is far more effective.

“Above all,” I wrote, “we found that you can’t beat sitting together in the same room, tackling common opportunities and problems. This is what builds trust and respect; this is what builds relationships. And as we got to know each other personally, our respective labels of ‘public sector’ and ‘private sector’ faded from our identities. We became just Kenyans, seeking a better Kenya.”

I noted then that “many businesspeople were so consumed with outrage over some government abuse that they found us far too polite, too compliant, and that we were just wasting our time. But I believe that in the long run the give-and-take, win-win approach of Kepsa and its members has paid off handsomely.” I am convinced that this is as true today as it was then.

A look at how interviews for CJ post unfolded

Four years ago I wrote a column here about interview panels, and I was reminded about it as I watched some of the grillings by the Judicial Service Commission panel of the candidates for the Chief Justice position, and then later some of the sessions for the Supreme Court judge ones.

As Macharia Gaitho wrote in his column immediately following the CJ interviews, the ten-part series provided the kind of drama we expect from reality TV shows. My article today, however, is not as a theatre critic. It is to review how the panel handled the candidates.

The interviewing commissioners were clearly a very knowledgeable, well-researched and generally well-prepared group of professionals. Their task with the CJ candidates – ten interviews of around six hours each on successive working days – was a daunting one. I was very impressed by how they managed to fill the six hours, but I’m not sure quite so much time was actually needed.

Being almost exceptionlessly from a legal background it was not surprising that the panelists’ approach was often remarkably pushy. Well, lawyers are used to being adversarial to the point of intimidation. And no doubt the candidates, all from that same learned profession, were as accustomed to the kind of jousting that unfolded.

As I witnessed the cross-examinations I also thought about how PhD candidates “defend” their theses before probing professors – the assumption being that the dons’ main job is to expose flaws and weaknesses in their paper. Indeed I remember one of the Chief Justice candidates referring to their “defence” in one of their responses.

I wondered to what extent the panelists had agreed beforehand who would be the “good cops” and who would play the “bad cops”, as we definitely saw a spectrum from grim and skeptical to more friendly and appreciative.

To me the most fascinating aspect of these reality TV shows was the body language of the commissioners. Some were more laid back and smiley; some inscrutable; and one often downright hostile (apparent despite wearing a mask – just from the eyes).

They will have planned the flow of the interviews and who would handle which aspect, aligned to their areas of expertise; and they will have discussed the role of the chairperson – the only one in the room without a legal background. She played her part calmly and appropriately, opening and closing each interview; asking about leadership issues; and mainly directing the traffic from commissioner to commissioner.

For sure they will have drawn up a ratings matrix, allocating marks to each candidate after their interview. (I remember the article I wrote in 2011 commenting on the advertisement for the Chief Justice position that appeared then. Amazingly the requirements did not include expertise in leadership and strategy.)

Some of the panelists probed more deeply in following up on answers to their questions than others. Indeed with a few of the interviewees I got the feeling they felt there was no point trying, as they’d given up on hearing anything relevant or impressive.

As I read over my earlier column on panel interviews I thought it would be good to reproduce this paragraph, about how panelists observe candidates. It comes from my experience in such a role, and I imagine the eagle-eyed commissioners were assessing the same issues.

“How good are the candidates at listening? And how directly do they respond to the questions put? If they’re asked an inconvenient one, do they switch to answering one they would have preferred to have been asked, one that would have allowed them to remain within their comfort zone? Are their answers too short, safe and superficial? Too long, rambling and repetitive – as though buying time in the hope they’ll still come up with that killer point? Or do they engage in a lively, interesting and meaningful dialogue? Does the interview manage to transform into an interesting conversation among equals, as opposed to remaining a duel between the grillers and the grilled?”

Many of those reading this column will have been members of interview panels, and so you will relate to my analysis. Hopefully it will lead you to reflect further on how to perform in such a role in future. And for those yet to indulge in such fora, be aware of quite how much expertise and preparation are required.

Who rises to the top of pyramid?

For the first 12 years of my career I worked for a British IT multinational, in both field offices and in the head office, and it was in the late 70s, for the last two of these, that I came to Kenya to manage its local subsidiary here. So from different perspectives I was able to study the company’s organisational culture, who was likely to get and not get promoted…and why.

I was able to see how it was so often the crafty individuals manoeuvred their way up the corporate ladder, driven by politics and personal interest. Indeed their prime energy was devoted to such jostling, undermining competitors and cosying up to their seniors. Let me just say that when I finished my contract with this corporate I vowed I would never work for a large multinational organisation again, unwilling to engage in the unhealthy win-lose manoeuvring required to climb the greasy pole to its upper levels.

Since then, as a local business partner to a variety of multinationals, in both management and in board positions, and also as a consultant, I have seen the same patterns. This independently of whether the head office was in America or the UK, France or The Netherlands, South Africa or Egypt. The same is often true of multilateral development partners like the World Bank and the UN, bilateral ones, and international NGOs. And let’s not even talk about government administrations, never mind the disruptions that follow elections.

The pattern is consistent. In all such organisations, every few years the whistle blows and the next round of musical chairs is activated. New faces seek new structures that typically simply introduce a different mix of advantages and disadvantages. Too often the underlying motivation is for the new incumbent to show what great change champions they are — while being disturbingly indifferent to the chaos and confusion in the build up to their “brilliant” new set up and to its subsequent chaotic implementation. (See Boris Johnson!)

The actual purpose, I have seen, is to boost their short-term CV, showing what bold innovators they are…while ignoring the waste of energy and compromised productivity as staff must deal with the insecurities that have been activated within them during the transition. No wonder many will assume — however justified or otherwise — that they will end up as demotivated losers.

It is also worth mentioning the challenges that exist with voluntary organisations like business member and professional associations, and also ones like Rotary (where Yusuf Dawood in a recent Surgeons Diary article complained about dysfunctionalities at its highest levels). More so where volunteers are involved, the tendency I have witnessed is for those with high ego needs to find their way to prominence — and it is why I have never been shy to point out the particular requirement for low-ego humble leadership among such entities.

But let us not over-generalise. There are of course many exceptions to these dog-eat-dog cultures. Ones where their leaders hold on to the uplifting vision and values of the organisation and strive to help others do so, recognising and empowering those who perform in the interests of all.

My clear lesson over the years is to hold back from joining organisations where self-absorbed characters play with their selfish short-term agendas. I will only associate myself with a culture where I can feel at home with my ethical values, working with like-minded men and women for the greater and longer-term common good.

There are many good leaders around who seek nothing more than to be able to fulfill their potential by building responsible sustainable organisations around them.

The challenge is to create that coalition of the willing where such people strengthen and support one another, share best practice among themselves, and form role models for the rest of society.

Let us keep away from witnessing the “Peter Principle”, where people are “promoted to their level of incompetence”, and as a result “fail upwards”. We are better than that, and not least in Kenya, where over the years it has been my privilege to mingle with so many world class responsible characters, great leaders who would and often do thrive anywhere in the world. Not least in Rotary.

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.

Obama the “Adult”

In my last article I analysed Donald Trump’s ego state, describing him as a deeply insecure man who was formed by his unhappy childhood where he was bullied by his domineering father and neglected by his absent mother. Trump’s “I’m OK, You’re not OK” behaviour, I wrote, masks his “I’m not OK, You’re OK” interior; while his “controlling parent” style of leadership, always seeking to win at the expense of others, is actually that of a spoilt child.

This was in the context of Eric Berne’s and Thomas Harris’s Transactional Analysis frameworks, and now, as Trump’s successor has just been inaugurated, I wish to carry out a similar dive into the ego state of his predecessor, Barrack Obama. What a dramatic contrast! We’ve enjoyed many opportunities to observe and admire President Obama in action, and my respect for him has been greatly reinforced as I read his wonderful 706-page autobiography A Promised Land over the holidays.

In it Obama reveals himself as having the healthiest of ego states. At the family level he is a nurturing parent to his children, while from when they were young he has respected and reinforced the “adult” in them as he replied to their questions and listened to their views. He is also at ease playing with them as child-to-child. As for his relationship with his wife Michelle it is clearly one of adult-adult rather than parent-child. Between them all a sense of “I’m OK, You’re OK” prevails, leading to win-win all round – true role models for a happy family life.

What about Obama as the leader of America, the most powerful man in the world? What struck me repeatedly in the book was how solution-oriented this extraordinary man is, always working to develop a better America and a better world. But without being unrealistically Utopian, without allowing the best to be the enemy of the good. As he learned more about domestic and international politics, he accepted that he was dealing largely with politicians for whom life is all about manoeuvring through zero-sum games rather than win-win ones.

He writes with utmost self-awareness, honesty and humility (not least when sharing his feelings that he was not really worthy of receiving the Nobel Peace Prize), but his straightforward and balanced assessments of his life in the White House speak very much of an “I’m OK” self-esteem, coupled with a “You’re OK” mindset towards those around him in the White House. At all times he is “the adult in the room”, and yet refreshingly “the child within” is alive, as he jokes and plays basketball with his staff and – not least when most needed – lightens the atmosphere.

The epitome of emotional intelligence, he knows when to separate how he feels from how he behaves when dealing with those who have behaved irresponsibly and whom he would like to hammer but appreciates it won’t help resolve an issue or protect a challenging relationship. But when needed he does reveal his “stern parent”… also knowing how to help a subsequent healing.

Obama remains overwhelmingly calm – certainly externally and usually internally – always looking for ways to move a situation forward. Whatever decisions he makes, whatever the outcome, he fully appreciates that he will inevitably receive damning criticism from all and sundry, however ill-informed or ill-motivated. He will be accused of having done too much or too little, too soon or too late, but he takes it all in his stride, accepting that never mind not being able to please all the people all the time, as President of the United States you can hardly ever please anyone.

But he does his best, knowing that nothing will work out fully as intended, that there will always be unintended consequences, and hoping that the long term positive outcomes will somehow eventually speak for themselves.

By contrast to Trump, whose father played such a crucial role in his dysfunctional development, Obama had no relationship with his father. It was his anthropologist mother and her mother who were the dominant figures in forming the Barrack we know. He was exposed to multiple countries, cultures and religions from an early age and they nurtured the healthiest of values and aspirations in the boy.

I cannot end this article without imploring you to read Obama’s autobiography. It will inspire and uplift you, leaving you filled with admiration for how he coped with the scale, complexity and variety of challenges that a US president must handle 24/7. No wonder Trump failed as miserably as he did. And no wonder Obama’s legacy lives on.

Mike Eldon is chairman of management consultancy The DEPOT, and co-founder of the Institute for Responsible Leadership. [email protected]

 www.mike-eldon.com

Analysing impact of spoilt child in Trump

As I have written in several previous articles in this column – the most recent of which was my opening one for 2012 – in much of what I do I refer to the pioneering Transactional Analysis work of Eric Berne, which he laid out in his 1964 book, Games People Play. I am also inspired by Thomas Harris, whose 1967 book I’m OK-You’re OK built on Berne’s thinking.

Berne analysed social interactions – or “transactions” as he described them – to determine our “ego state”, and he built on this to help us understand how we behave and hence to do so more positively. The three ego states he identified are “parent”, “child” and “adult”, noting that how these are manifested in each of us is largely a function of our early childhood experiences.

We all display aspects of these three states. Some are positive – like the nurturing or caring “parent” in us, or the spontaneous, fun-loving “child”; and some are negative – like the controlling or neglectful “parent”, or the irresponsible “child”. And then there is the ‘adult” within – the sober, rational, mature part of us.

As I wrote in an earlier column, Transactional Analysis also divides us humans into four categories, relating to how, generally, we feel about ourselves and about others. The first is “I’m not OK, You’re OK”. This is how we are born, utterly dependent on our mothers. And it is in this mindset where a vast majority of the world’s population exists until they die. The second state is “I’m OK, You’re not OK”, and you can guess the other two: “I’m not OK, You’re not OK”; and finally “I’m OK, You’re OK”.

Aligned with each of these options comes an expectation regarding winning and losing. So for instance the insecure “I’m not OK, You’re OK” character foresees a life of “lose-win”, while the confident, optimistic “I’m OK, You’re OK” one assumes they can indulge in give-and-take negotiating that leads to “win-win”.

Now let me come to why I am returning to these frameworks for my opening column of 2021. It’s because of how I have been observing the behaviour of Donald Trump, which I have been doing ever since, out of sheer curiosity, I attended one of his campaign rallies back in 2016.

To the casual observer Trump displays an extreme “I’m OK, You’re not OK” ego state, always expecting to win, no matter how, while enjoying seeing others lose at his expense. And he is the stern, controlling “parent”, while all around him are dependent “children” – either compliant or terrible. Yes?

Well yes and no. However much he behaves as “I’m OK, You’re not OK”, it is merely a cover for how he feels and who he really is.

So how does he feel, and who is he? Sad to say, the outgoing POTUS is a desperately insecure soul, as was so vividly confirmed by his niece Mary Trump in her book about him, Too Much and Never Enough. Deep down he’s an “I’m not OK, You’re OK” character, now acting the spoilt child rather than the parent; the villain complaining he is the victim.

Trump’s niece, a psychologist by profession, explains her uncle’s development by telling us about his controlling father – who, she wrote, had no real human feeling and treated his children with contempt; while Trump’s mother was largely absent from his life. His deep-seated insecurities created in him “a black hole of need that constantly requires the light of compliments that disappears as soon as he’s soaked it in,” Mary Trump explains.

Like me, I suppose that you too have come across such characters – maybe another politician, maybe a boss or a relative. Needless to say the more extreme the case the less chance there is that they can be helped to reach a better balance within themselves and with others. But for those with more moderate such tendencies I have found that once the three frameworks are laid out for them an “aha moment” arises, enabling them to transform their previous self-defeating behaviour, treating it as the unwanted baggage it is and enabling them to enter a new and more fulfilled existence.

Before I close, let me wish you an “adult”, “I’m OK, You’re OK”, “win-win” new year – and preview that in my next column I will be gazing at Trump’s predecessor through my Transactional Analysis lens.

Professionalising family businesses

Four years ago I wrote a column on the intergenerational challenges facing family businesses, admiring the way those who overcame such challenges did so while noting how too often the founder was reluctant to empower subsequent generations.

I want to return to that topic today, thanks to the opportunity I have benefited from over the last few months to meet with a good number of owners of medium-sized family businesses. In some cases the founding father was still very much in control, as his sons (occasionally these days his daughters, too) have been getting to grips with leadership; in others, the elder had withdrawn somewhat, just coming to the office for short periods of time; and in older-established businesses third and fourth generation family members have now risen to prominent positions.

What patterns have I observed? First, irrespective of the age of the company or its leadership, the top person is inevitably ultra-operational, what one might call “transactional”. To the extent that in some of my meetings the phone kept ringing so the boss could progress some immediate transaction, make some micro-decision.

Here, they had just found it too hard to develop a trusted and empowered senior management team to whom to delegate, and the inevitable consequence was that little mindspace was available to allow them to indulge in higher level strategic thinking.

All these micromanaging owner-director-managers were leading successful entities, ones that had survived many ups and downs, including splits from other family members. Their businesses were utterly dependent on their personal talent and experience, their energy and charisma, their motivation to show up to keep the revenues flowing in and to manage costs.

Some are fortunate in having members of subsequent generations who are both fit to contribute to sustaining the business into the future and willing to. But for others succession planning remains an unresolved question.

So busy are they with day-to day issues that it’s just too hard, indeed too inconvenient, to think about the consequences of something adverse happening to them: ill-health, for instance. Some had a notional board, often only including an elder or a spouse – most of whom would not be engaged in the business, while for others it was “me and my brother” or me and my son(s)”.

“Board meetings” might take place around the dining room table at home, or driving together to and from the office, and while a few were considering appointing independent directors none of those I met had done so.

The 2015 Companies Act specifies that four board meetings a year must be held by all registered companies, but most of our SME leaders just aren’t in the habit of complying with this requirement. Their focus, their discipline, is so much more on the day-to-day, and one of the consequences is that formal longer-term strategic plans or mechanisms for managing their implementation rarely exist.

Having said that though, these entrepreneurs are all bold innovators, courageous and optimistic risk-takers, forever on the lookout for new opportunities. They are to be admired, as they operate in this difficult environment.

OTHER VOICES

Some are hiring higher level professional managers, and bringing in consultants and advisers to help them rise. But my perception is that those who would most benefit from fresh and external inputs are the ones least likely to seek such interventions.

It is those who are most exposed to contemporary trends and hence are already ahead of the game who are open to listening to other voices. It is such people too who consider options such as public listing, joint ventures and external investors.

They are the ones with appropriate systems and controls, and robust risk and compliance management procedures.

In Kenya we are so fortunate to have such widespread entrepreneurial energy and talent. What we look forward to seeing is more of our SMEs professionalising in ways that can see them grow to larger scale, employ more people, focus on markets beyond the domestic, and be sustainable for future generations to inherit.

Toastmasters and the art of effective speech delivery

I was recently invited to be the guest speaker at a Toastmasters event, and perhaps not surprisingly it was on the subject of public speaking. For those not familiar with Toastmasters Clubs — of which there are 16,800 in 142 countries around the world, with around 250,000 members — they develop them as communicators and leaders, and in doing so build their confidence.

Their meetings flow through structured agendas, comprising both prepared and impromptu speeches, with evaluations and feedback along the way.

The Tabletopics Master launched the proceedings by throwing a series of questions for members to answer through making brief unprepared speeches. The first question was “With whom would you like to trade lives for a day?” and the chosen one performed brilliantly, telling us why he’d swap with Lewis Hamilton. (I would have gone for Roger Federer.)

Later, as I opened my presentation I stated that as it was for Bernard Shaw, my inspiration came from the blank piece of paper before me — plus the deadline of this evening. I looked back over my history of public speaking, from my first ever performance during my Barmitzvah confirmation — whose opening line, I recall, was “I was born on the slopes of Mt Carmel”.

It was on entering the computer industry as a graduate trainee with ICL in 1967 that I was taught how to make business presentations. Here I was introduced to producing slides for overhead projectors, where my father too was an expert and from whom I also learned much. My maiden assignment? To generate interest in our spreadsheet software, PROSPER — Profit Rating, Simulation and Evaluation of Risk.

In 1972 I joined ICL’s Senior Executive Programme, where I ran IT strategy workshops, and this is where I learned to be a facilitator rather than a lecturer, posing questions to the “participants” rather than awaiting questions from an “audience”.

I arrived in Kenya in 1977 to take on my first real leadership position, as general manager of ICL’s Kenya subsidiary, and this gave me many chances to speak in public. I joined Rotary soon after, and here too opportunities for public speaking abounded. Many more arose, in other leadership roles.

I next talked about my time with the joint leadership programme between the Aga Khan University Graduate School of Media and Communications and the Harvard Kennedy School, where I ran sessions on “The Voice of Leadership” — communicating about strategy, sharing visions and values, stimulating innovation, and managing conflicts and crises.

For this I assembled a case study from contributions at a President’s Round Table with Kenya Private Sector Alliance at the State House, highlighting those who performed well and those who did not, and listing the common do’s and don’ts.

I sensed that many of the weak ones had little idea that they were indeed so. Here I quoted Shaw again, saying “the single biggest problem in communications is the illusion that it has taken place”, which led me to recommend good preparation — including rehearsing, with others critiquing and coaching; and seeking as many opportunities as possible to speak in public.

Malcolm Gladwell told us we must invest 10,000 hours before considering ourselves an expert in any field. It’s why I advise aspiring leaders to join organisations like Toastmasters and Rotary, and also professional and business organisations, so they can accelerate the accumulation of such hours.

My desire for the Toastmaster members was that they should look forward to their speaking engagements with excitement rather than anxiety. And yet with sufficient anxiety, to prevent complacency and hence under-preparing. I advocated incorporating storytelling — like I included at the beginning of my talk — and recommended communicating with a light touch, away from the heavy formality that’s all too common here in Kenya.

When delivering a speech, we must not only engage with our script, but also with our audience. Except that in today’s virtual events reading the audience is much harder, never mind if their videos are switched off. So at least we must maintain eye contact with the camera — something that is all too uncommon.

How do you know if you have performed well, made an impact? By seeking feedback. To be asked to return and speak again is a good sign of having left a positive impression, and also to be invited by others who have heard you elsewhere or heard about your speaking.

I concluded by supposing that while some of the listeners had joined Toastmasters so as to go “from good to great”, others would have been among those who would rather be in the coffin than delivering the eulogy. Either way, I said, they should feel good that they were learning by doing, getting better at getting better.