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Going about CSR in the tough time of Covid-19

Last week I was invited by Prof Michael Hopkins to speak at one of his CSR Meetup events, these days inevitably online.

Prof Hopkins has been running these for over ten years, and in different countries around the world. Now they are being co-hosted by Globethics, the Geneva-based global ethics network, and my topic was “Corporations connecting with their communities – now and before Covid”.

I spoke from my experience in Kenya regarding CSR, and started by worrying that the perception of some in government, civil society, academia and elsewhere is that as far as the for-profit private sector is concerned, we are only in business for just that – profit. More so now during the Covid crisis, the assumption is that among the budget line items to be most speedily slashed would be the CSR one, and that other aspects of this “treating all stakeholders responsibly” to which CSR speaks would also fall by the wayside.

It is for such reasons that many outside of the private sector assume it has little to offer during this Covid-19 crisis and would not make suitable partners. This is a great shame as, largely coordinated by the umbrella body, the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (Kepsa), lots of its members are contributing in a highly responsible, constructive, generous and coordinated way.

I remembered the troubled times around past elections in Kenya, when Kepsa developed initiatives to support social cohesion through its Mkenya Daima programmes. “They’re just doing it for business continuity,” sneered some from civil society, claiming we were only worried about peace but indifferent to justice… which was quite untrue.

I then drew examples of impactful CSR initiatives from sectors with which I am associated. Like insurance, where the Insurance Regulatory Authority recently got the industry players together to contribute to the Emergency Response Fund for Covid. Like others, we at Occidental Insurance reallocated some of our CSR budget that had been targeting communities directly and applied it into the fund.

Social responsibility is also being seen at KCA University, which has been reaching into nearby slums, both in Nairobi and in Kisumu, to assist vulnerable youth and their parents in multiple ways.

And at water and energy company Davis & Shirtliff, alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals is a no-brainer: SDG 6 seeks universal availability of water, and SDG 7 talks about access for all to clean energy.

The company, through its spread of branches around the region, partners with the surrounding communities and continues to promote these goals in a sustainable way – in fulfilment of its purpose, “To improve people’s lives by providing water and energy solutions across Africa”.

It also partners with its suppliers, and with service organisations such as Rotary, to amplify its CSR impact. Not least in ensuring the sustainability of the water supply by going beyond the mere installation of a borehole to creating a business model with the community that will allow for its maintenance and ongoingness.

Next I spoke more about Rotary, of which I have been a member for many years, turning to an aspect of CSR which although less visible is at least as significant: volunteering. Here we are not talking about the financial inputs to CSR but about all the man and woman hours.

There are around 1,200,000 Rotarians in the world, and a recent survey revealed that in the four-week reference period, between us we volunteered 5.8 million hours, delivering services worth $850 million a year.

CSR initiatives should involve employees of the organisation, whether through in-house projects or external volunteering, including through another dimension of the latter – being active in Professional and Business Member Organisations. Aside from time spent with such bodies benefitting the profession or sector, it inevitably leads to learning and growth on the part of the volunteer, as I have found in all the volunteering to which I have been exposed.

During the discussion time the plight of small-scale farmers and MSMEs was raised, and here I gave credit to large corporates such as Bidco, Coca Cola, Diageo, BAT and others who stimulate the development of bottom-of-the pyramid producers – CSR by another name.

Now more than ever is the time for CSR community engagement, not least for large and medium firms in sectors that have not been pulverised by Covid-19, to be preserved, and with all stakeholders.

Reallocated maybe, but not demolished. The behaviour of those that do so will be remembered favourably long after the crisis has calmed.

The heritage we have built

(this was a presentation I gave on May 21, 2020 at the joint meeting of the Rotary Club of Nairobi with the Rotary Club of Kampala):

It was 1978, and I had been living in Kenya for a year when an IT customer of mine, Bob Chase, invited me to join his Rotary Club of Nairobi. That joining thoroughly integrated me into Kenya; it introduced me to volunteering; it changed my life.

Phil Grammenopoulos, who brought Datsun – now Nissan – to Kenya, was our President (at that time called Chairman, as by then Jomo Kenyatta was the only one allowed to be called President), and my first assignment was to develop careers guidance programmes, which one way or another I have been running ever since.

Also in my earliest years I led a National Business Management Game through our Rotary club. The funds raised by participating teams were offered to the winner of a post-graduate scholarship to the Mediterranean Institute of Management in Cyprus, and the panel of Phil and myself selected Kalonzo Musyoka, then a Rotaracter, as the beneficiary. He later joined our club, before becoming an MP and rising to be the Vice-President of Kenya.

At that time we were THE Rotary Club of Nairobi: a home for the elite of the city, and we were led to believe that Rotarians from other clubs felt quite intimidated by some of us. We were the first club in Sub-Sahara Africa, having been formed in March 1930. It was John Innes, a member of the Rotary Club of Leeds, who was encouraged by Paul Harris to take Rotary to East Africa, and so on Innes’s next visit to Kenya he met with then then Mayor of Nairobi, Charles Udall.

Udall gathered together a dozen prominent citizens at the New Stanley Hotel (where we were still meeting when I joined) and he emerged as the founding President of the soon to be formed Rotary Club of Nairobi. Every club in the region traces its roots to ours, including your Kampala one.

When I joined our club I was by far the youngest member, at 33. If you go to our website, you’ll see a 1974 picture of fourteen Past Presidents of our Club, eight of whom I knew well (and all of whom have now passed away). In the picture, as generally in the club when I joined, are only older white men, almost exclusively white-haired. But by 1978, there were already a few non-whites, and let me tell you a bit about them:

First Manu Chandaria, who had joined Rotary in 1963 in Mombasa, where his elder brother was already a member since the mid-1950s. Manu later moved to Nairobi and joined our club in 1969 – the only Asian alongside the late John Karmali (a pioneer of racial integration in Kenya), Yusuf Kodwavwala (about whom more later) and Omi Nagpal, who in 1965, like Manu, had joined the Rotary Club of Mombasa. Omi was then transferred to Nairobi as the Acting Director of Public Prosecution, and became a member of the Rotary Club of Nairobi in around 1968. It wasn’t till 1990 though that he took on the presidency.

Manu became our Chairman in 1982/3, and it was about then that he headhunted Kalonzo Musyoka to become the legal manager of his company, Comcraft. Meanwhile Manu had already invited Sir Ernest Vasey to become Comcraft’s chairman. Sir Ernest had been Nairobi Mayor in the 1940s, and was President of our Rotary club in 1949/50.

 Another member when I joined was Joe Wanjui, who had been in the club since 1967, the first African, and one of those who paved the way for Joe’s admittance was Sir Derek Erskine (our club’s President in 1939/40). Sir Derek served as a Member of the Kenyan Legislative Council from the 40s, on and off into the 60s. He was a staunch advocate of racial harmony in Kenya, at one time having been removed from a session of the Legislative Council due to his outspoken views demanding racial equality.

So how come Joe became our first African member? Well, at the time he was the Technical Director of East Africa Industries, part of Unilever, one of the rare Africans prominent in the private sector. Joe became our club’s first African President in 1974, at a time when it needed to be seen to be promoting racial inclusiveness.

Other than being the earliest non-whites to join our club, what do Manu, Omi and Joe have in common? They are all still regular active members of our club! Yusuf Kodwavwala, who also joined us in 1967, became our Chairman in 1981 and District Governor in l989/90. He and his wife Marie recently emigrated to the UK to be with their family, and they have wished us well for this meeting… with Yusuf adding that the Kampala Club – which he described as the “ARCH CLUB” – was where he was first introduced to ROTARY.

Let me mention a few others from the time I joined, all of whom became my friends:

  • Vic Browse, the first Jewish member, who opened the Jacaranda School for the Mentally Challenged in his year as President in 1948/9.
  • Mervyn Cowie, our President in 1950/1, who led the formation of the Nairobi Game Park.
  • Jack Block, 1961/2 President, was owner of Block Hotels, including the New Stanley.
  • Norman Jarman, President in 1968/9, was a policeman in Palestine when I was born there in 1945, and founded African Tours & Hotels, a pioneer in Kenya’s tourism industry.
  • Jerry Owuor, our 1984/5 President, I will always remember for officiating at the annual Salvation Army Children’s Home Christmas Party, dressed as Father Christmas.
  • John Savage, who led us in 1985/6 and presided over the club’s first cataract operations, performed – as they are now, 35 years later – by Dr Mukesh Joshi.

I succeeded John as Chairman in 1986, and what I am proudest of is relaunching our Rotaract Club of Nairobi Central, which until today is perhaps the liveliest in the District. I was Chairman in those the good old days, when we weren’t besieged by e-mails or texts, only having to deal with faxes. By the way, a few years later at an RI President’s Conference hosted in Nairobi, I tickled our then Vice President Michael Wamalwa into allowing us to call ourselves “President” again.

  • Hannington Awori followed me. He was introduced by Joe Wanjui, whom he succeeded as Technical Director of EAI. And Hannington’s from the prominent Awori family, a member of which is his Ugandan brother Aggrey.
  • Jonathan Campaigne, our 1995/6 President, led our Young Entrepreneurs Awards. I introduced Jonathan to our club and he was also my Best Man just before taking office.
  • Dudley Stannah’s 1991/2 year was dominated by the war over whether to allow women as members. Rotarians’ wives, known as “Rotary Annes”, many of whom were members of the spouses’ Inner Wheel Club, were as unenthusiastic as many of the male members, but eventually resistance faded and we inducted our first lady member, Evelyn Mungai soon after. (By the way her parents enjoyed strong links to Uganda, with her mother having attended Gayaza High School and her father King’s College Budo – from where Aggrey Awori also graduated.) Evelyn, whom I married in 1995, became our first lady chair in 2001, with her Rotary pin fixed by our 1993/4 President, Arun Devani, and during her year she launched the Rotary Cura Home for AIDS Orphans.
  • In all we have enjoyed leadership from six lady presidents, including our current one, Jessica Kazina. For many years now we have been known as the “Rainbow Club”, given our wonderful racial mix, and there was a time when we deliberately rotated our presidency between African, Asian and White members. Always, we have enjoyed great fellowship and high member participation in service.

Let me now mention some of our flagship projects:

  • In the late 1940s, the Jacaranda School for the Mentally Challenged, which later, with Japanese funding for which Manu was very instrumental, was complemented by the Sheltered Workshop for the Mentally Challenged.
  • This was what greatly influenced the launch of what became the annual Sunshine Rally, where several thousand mentally and physically challenged boys and girls first came together in 1980 for extraordinary enjoyable gatherings (with me in charge of organising the entertainment at that initial one). Due to the Coronavirus crisis, this was the first year since 1980 that it did not take place, although food and other essential items were distributed to the institutions that host the children.
  • As I mentioned, in 1985 Dr Mukesh Joshi worked with our club to conduct the first cataract eye operations, and I remember being at the 1986 event held in Kabarak High School, where I took photographs for the media of him at work with his scalpel. Amazingly, Mukesh, who became an Honorary member of our club, has now restored the sight of 17,000 Kenyans, supported by a team of devoted members of our club – donors including Manu Chandaria, Suli Shah and Arun Devani, and on the ground volunteers.
  • Thanks to great leadership from Darsi Lotai and the late Eric Krystall, our club has been at the centre of Rotary’s struggle to eliminate polio in this part of the world. When overseas support was waning, our Rotarians led the initiative for us to become self-reliant, including through the establishment of a Surveillance Lab that has provided testing for the entire Horn of Africa.
  • These and other Rotarians have also been central to combatting AIDS, with the late Eric Krystall’s “Puppets against AIDS” and our partnership with Rotaract for testing youth.
  • Speaking of Rotaract, and Interact, not to mention the Rotary Community Corps, our club has always been deeply committed to nurturing the next generations, very much including past Rotaractor Gideon Akwaba – who in just over a year will become our club’s president.

There have been so many other projects I could mention, thanks to so many other devoted members: distributing wheelchairs, bed sets, jikos and other basic items; accessing water; hosting health camps; mobilising literacy campaigns… – you can just imagine, in nearly a century of service, how much has been accomplished. As we speak with pride about our heritage I am pleased that enhanced attention is turning to the need to build more sustainability into our initiatives, developing community leaders to take ownership for the ongoingness of our projects.

Our club has benefitted greatly from partnerships with clubs from all over the world, and of course from the Rotary Foundation. But many too would not have seen the light of day had it not been for our Trust Fund, currently chaired by Dinesh Kapila, that was established in 1974 and whose funds have grown to Shs 60million, despite disbursing Shs2-3m each year.

When I joined Rotary there were 18 countries in D9200 – including Zambia and the Indian Ocean Islands. I remember attending District Conferences in Lusaka (where the District Governor was their Zambia’s Chief Justice, granted a sabbatical  by President Kaunda – who, handkerchief in hand, graced the event); and others in Mauritius, Madagascar and Reunion. Wherever our conference were held, the Rotarians from Reunion would always bring a big supply of cheese and wine for their Reunion evening. (Including for the one in Nairobi during Yusuf Kodwavala’s year in 1990, by the poolside at the new Stanley. I was the chairman of Yusuf’s Conference Committee, and had to deal with the hotel having forgotten to set the place up for our Indian Ocean island friends.)

Prominent at all our District Conferences was Sam Owori, who so brilliantly led the resuscitation of Rotary in Uganda following the difficult days of Idi Amin. Under his leadership Rotary Clubs sprouted far beyond Kampala, and unlike in Kenya attracted many form the public sector. We in Kenya mourned when Rotary in Uganda expanded to such an extent that you formed your own District, taking Tanzania with you.

My small contribution to the development of Rotary in Uganda was that when I was the District Rotaract Officer in the late eighties I introduced the concept of community-based Rotaract Clubs, as hitherto they had only been institutionally based.

At that time I also brought together Rotaracters from around our then vast District to hold their own conference alongside our Rotary one, and I am pleased to say that this became the new normal – until just now, when Rotaracters have integrated completely into our Rotary Conference – or were due to, till the Coronavirus hit.

It’s good to, so to speak, “be” with you at the Grand Imperial Hotel today, which I remember staying at in the immediate post-Amin days, with bullet holes in my bedroom window and only orange squash or Johnny Walker Red Label to drink.

In so many ways, we’ve come a long way since then. I am immensely impressed that building on our long heritage so many younger Rotarians have joined our club, full of energy and enthusiasm – as has been evidenced by their extraordinary efforts in the last few weeks in distributing food and other essential items to the most vulnerable in Nairobi.

In conclusion, while the Rotary Club of Nairobi is still THE oldest club around, we are no longer THE Rotary Club of Nairobi. But we’re a great multi-generational, multi-ethnic, mixed-gender bunch of characters, enjoying each other’s fellowship and engaged in all kinds of great work for our community.

Social cohesion critical in these perilous times

I’m glad I’m not President Uhuru Kenyatta, nor CSs Mutahi Kagwe and Fred Matiang’i, nor Governor Hassan Joho and others who have the awesome responsibility of communicating with the rest of us in ways that get us to behave responsibly during the Covid-19 crisis. Like leaders everywhere in the world they must act neither too quickly nor too slowly, not too harshly and not too weakly. But what is the right speed? What is the right style?

It would be much easier if our people were as disciplined and well off as those of Singapore or South Korea, Germany or New Zealand. But we are who we are, with over ten million of us packed together in urban slums and living hand to mouth; and with so many others in remote rural and arid areas where there is limited access to the media, never mind the Internet.

The leaders I have mentioned would be doing well in the countries I have listed. But how much harder it is to be effective here, where even the middle class have been finding it hard to do and not do what is being called for.

We must sympathise with the frustrations of our rationally-driven leaders, who see that all they get is pushback and resentment when they tell us to wear masks and stay home and suchlike.

Whether due to intolerably cramped living conditions and poverty, or as a result of cultural norms of community togetherness, much of what we are seeing is a struggle between the stern admonitions of our leaders and the disconnected behaviour of our citizens.

Understandably, the government’s focus has been on organising our under-prepared healthcare system to cater for the sudden onset of the pandemic, while simultaneously worrying about the shattering effects on our economy. The added dilemma is that the greater concern there is for protecting lives, the greater the negative impact on livelihoods.

What we are beginning to see though is that alongside managing these “hard” issues, increased attention must be paid to the complementary “soft” emotional and behavioural ones. So should some leaders be playing “bad cop” while others play “good cop”? Should each leader be skilled enough to combine the two roles into one, knowing when and how to switch?

It is clear that the big stick of assertively managed lockdowns must be wielded, for merely enticing us with the reward of longer term health benefits if we do what we are being told is way beyond the time horizon of most. But if that’s not working, then what?

Surely we need not rely only on top-down tough messages from smart podiums. It is up to many more of us to communicate within our communities, from the family level upwards, each of us finding our own way to make a difference.

Leaders and people of influence from all sectors – religious, private sector, NGOs, academia, trade unions, musicians and other artists, sportspeople and of course the media – must contribute to passing both the tough and the empathetic messages, complementing and reinforcing what we are hearing from the top.

There is as great a need for this kind of “soft” engagement as there is for the distribution of food, Personal Protective Equipment and other essentials to the most vulnerable. Many are already acting with great generosity, in both the hard and the soft areas, and the more the merrier.

Let me briefly draw attention to the Social Cohesion Committee that has recently been formed by the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC), within whose mandate such an initiative falls naturally.

The NCIC Social Cohesion Committee (of which I am part) is developing new ways, with musicians and others, to pass messages that more people can respond to positively. It is also organising for psychosocial support to be made available to both the most vulnerable – children and others in emotional distress – and to doctors and nurses.

By listening as much as by telling we can begin bringing Kenyans together, so that the poor do not feel this Covid-19 threat merely threatens the urban rich. And it is by complementing the angry headteacher with the empathetic counsellor that we can avoid future social strife.
So please join this movement for social cohesion. Whoever you are, at whatever level.

How poor governance causes projects to fail

I was recently involved in a discussion about an IT project that was facing challenges, where the IT expert from one of the Big Four consulting firms who was with us introduced me to a new term, “project governance.” I liked it, for it places emphasis on the leadership that guides the progress of the project, ensuring that the technical folk involved are able to guide it to a smooth launch, while overcoming the inevitable challenges and setbacks that come their way.

I smiled as I heard about the issues preventing this software system from going live, for it reminded me of all my turbulent years in the IT-vendoring business. I was filled with nostalgia as I contributed to the discussion, where those involved described what ails them and what they’re doing about it. I’ve not been active in that arena for many years, but what struck me was how familiar it all sounded.

Amazing in a way, as so much has changed in the IT world since I left it – never mind since I joined it in 1967. Yet what I saw was that, to translate from the French, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” At least the governance aspects.

So what were the issues preventing the new generation system from going live? I am certainly not going to bore or confuse you with the technical ones, but here’s what emerged at the governance level. First, the overseas-based vendor was not sending appropriate technical experts to solve them, and when matters were escalated to their head office they sent another who had to study everything from scratch.

Meanwhile at the user end they kept coming up with changes that interfered with the smooth flow of the process. The longer this went on the more complicated finding solutions became, and so the consultant proposed a comprehensive review of the project by an independent external expert.

Now here’s another example of the need for robust project governance: the digitisation of the courts. It was back in the eighties when the IT company I was leading first introduced word processing into Kenya’s judiciary, an institution that was then – as it is now – very far behind the times in using technology. And that’s putting it mildly.

It was 10 years ago that they had a go at bringing in digital courts, where lawyers and their clients could interact with judges via video link. But the facilities quickly fell into disuse, just as the attempt to have stenographers transcribe court proceedings in real time faded out, leaving the judges to continue with the manual note taking they had been used to. The Court Management Information System introduced in Dr Willy Mutunga’s time as Chief Justice is also not in use.

So with the Coronavirus crisis forcing the closing down of the physical courts, what change management will the judiciary finally put itself through to ensure that it joins the rest of us in the 21st century? What energised project governance will it introduce to make a virtue out of the necessity of the day?

How will the appropriate financial and human resources be made available to ensure that this time what everyone knows should happen does so? In the past, going way back to my awkward 1980s project, the launch of the new IT system faded out when the enthusiastic and competent person leading the initiative left the judiciary, and I understand this has happened since.

This time we must not allow that to happen. There is so much technology expertise in this Silicon Savannah of ours. Let us bring in whomever we need and provide the necessary resources so that better late than never we see this vital arm of government take advantage of what technology can offer to transform its effectiveness and its integrity.

This time we must ensure that the right kind of project governance takes these projects to the point where they become the new normal, leading us to ask why it didn’t happen much sooner. And a final thought. I’m a great fan of the Rapid Results Approach: go for 90-day quick-win objectives, and empower the team to break through all the bureaucracy. Get going, members of the judiciary, and this time make it stick.

Key leadership lessons I learnt from my father

Two days ago I reached the age of 75 — the age my father was when he passed away 35 years ago. So it provided an opportunity for me to reflect on our relationship and on how I was influenced by his example.

Bruno Eldon enjoyed a 33-year career in Shell. He joined the company in Romania, from where he and some of his Shell colleagues escaped the Nazis in 1941. He then rejoined the company in Israel (the British Mandate of Palestine at the time) and finally again in England in 1948, where over the years he rose to be the head of Shell’s management training division.

As I was growing up, at school and then at university, I was exposed to all the latest management thinking, as my father had to keep right up to date in running his workshops for Shell executives from around the world. I learnt about the newly emerging leadership styles as organisations like Shell increasingly employed skilled knowledge workers who needed to be motivated quite differently from those who came before them.

Indeed, as I have written before in these columns, it was in those 1950s and 60s that the foundations were laid for today’s best leadership practices. Since then we have been hearing incessantly from subsequent generations of management gurus, but in essence, it’s more fancy new jargon than fundamental developments.

I was fortunate in not only having my father explain all about motivation and teamwork and appraisals and other leadership matters as practised in one of the leading global corporates, but I had the privilege of meeting many of those who participated in my father’s programmes. For he would invite them to our home for Sunday lunches, where this mere teenager would act as a co-host to those senior executives.

But my weekends were spent in other ways too. For I was the family’s gardener, cutting the lawn and the hedges and pulling up the weeds while my father played the horticulturalist. My job description included washing the car, and every evening I would wash the dishes after dinner as my sister dried them. Later, my father and I would often walk our dog, and it is here that he played the role of my coach.

I attended the London School of Economics for some of my undergraduate studies, 40 years after my father came from Romania to study at LSE. During those years, while an intern in Paris with Eurofinance (the first investment company to operate at a European level), my father came to visit me and it was the first time I remember us conversing as adult to adult rather than as parent to child: a true relationship shift.

When he retired from Shell on entering his third age my father continued with his management training and also became a management consultant, running workshops all over Europe and also in Africa. This was largely with Management Centre Europe, which was associated with the American Management Association — both still prominent institutions today.

Not many years later, now living in Kenya, I became very involved with the Kenya Institute of Management, and when I turned 60 I too reinvented myself as a management consultant, spending many of my days in ways uncannily similar to how my father spent his at that time of his life.

Shortly before he died I visited my father in London for what turned out to be our last meeting. We seemed to be aware that this would be our farewell, and as we sat in his study he notionally handed over his books and papers and overhead slides on management, many of which now adorn by bookshelves at home. Bruno was a very talented painter, and our house is also filled with his wonderful works of art.

What a shame he is not around for us to compare notes on how my life has mirrored his since he passed away. There is so much value he could have continued adding to me, and I would like to think he could even have benefited from my experiences too.

To conclude, let me invite you to share important conversations with your father, before it’s too late. Learn from him, and let him also learn from you.

What it means to lead responsibly

As we enter the new decade, more and more leaders of organisations are thinking about what it means to act responsibly. For it is an increasingly significant factor in ensuring sustainability, and this expectation of acting responsibly applies to how one treats all stakeholders. Today, in my first article of 2020, I focus on what behaving responsibly with one’s staff means.

Of course some leaders have always understood why this is but enlightened self-interest, based on the assumption of reciprocity. And anyway it’s just in the nature of such people to be good to others.

Their style is most likely the consequence of how they were brought up, and how their early bosses treated them. This can work either way. Several of the managers to whom I reported when I joined a British computer multinational company on graduating from university in the 1960s left me distinctly unimpressed. It seemed to me that they understood little about how to motivate and coordinate others, leaving us to find our way by other means. As I read in an article recently, we may well learn at least as much from bad bosses we have endured about how not to lead as from good ones we seek to emulate.

On a much more positive note, at that critical time in my career I benefitted greatly from the wisdom of my father, as he was then leading Shell’s management training division, nurturing the leadership skills of Shell executives from around the world. He and his colleagues (including Charles Handy, who later became Britain’s leading management guru; and for a while Nick Muriuki, who was then Shell Kenya’s Personnel Manager) developed a sense of responsible leadership in them way ahead of their times.

But back to the present. Today’s employers are facing all kinds of challenges that could not even have been predicted when I was a young man. In those days when we joined a company our expectation was that we would stay there for many years, gradually rising up the ranks of management. Now, by contrast, our nomadic millennials assume they will bounce from opportunity to opportunity every few years – correction, every very few years – and expecting to be treated respectfully and be given serious responsibilities in support of worthy causes. (Let’s not overstate this though – baby-boomers too sought uplifting challenges.)

Then, globalisation and the advent of the Internet have led to the internationalisation of the job market in many kinds of activity, from the off-shoring of manufacturing to the online provision of services from anywhere on the planet. Now other fast-developing technologies such as robotics and artificial intelligence are replacing increasing numbers of human beings, and in particular those who lack the skills to contribute to the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

So where does this leave responsible leadership? How must leaders behave to attract and retain high-flying and mobile millennials? How can they provide jobs in communities where unemployment is high and the development of skills and attitudes needed for the jobs available – never mind those needed to become entrepreneurs – are lacking? Where to remain competitive they must introduce labour-saving technology, everywhere from banking to farming.

In our turbulent times further concerns appear. Everywhere, as people live longer, how to handle those in their “third age”? We resent them holding onto jobs beyond the age of 60, as a result of which subsequent generations are prevented from fulfilling their potential, and yet many still have much to contribute.

How do we develop a culture of diversity and inclusiveness, that not only allows different generations to work harmoniously together, but also women and men, people of different ethnicities and religions, various temperaments and preferences?

In countries like Kenya we have hundreds of thousands of long-term refugees, passive recipients of day-to-day humanitarian aid. How can they be assisted more sustainably? What is the role of government, and what can leaders beyond government contribute?

Today my space only allows me to pose the questions. But I don’t feel at all badly about that. For it offers you the opportunity to reflect for yourselves on the “so what?” of these questions, without being influenced by my responses. Please do reflect, knowing though that in my next column in a fortnight’s time I will be offering my thoughts on the subject.

Let’s be optimistic despite the flood of negative news

From time to time my colleague Frank Kretzschmar and I host what we call “Leaders Circles,” where our guests tell personal stories relating to the theme of the day. For our recent one we selected the topic “Holding on to optimism – we can set an example.”

In Kenya as elsewhere these days it’s not easy to be an optimist. There’s certainly enough about which to feel pessimistic, and going by what the media reflects, Kenya – and for that matter just about everywhere in the world – is headed in the wrong direction. Here, too many of our conversations revolve around Kenya’s zero-sum political games, our untrustworthy society’s lack of integrity, and not enough around how to take the country forward. Many feel they are but impotent observers, struggling to survive despite it all.

So portraying ourselves as optimists lead others to describe us as “naïve” and “starry-eyed”. But just joining the complainers isn’t good enough — never mind that many Kenyans, in all sectors of society and at all levels, are competently taking the country forward, quietly and without being celebrated.

Where are we in all of this? The country needs forward movement, and it is optimistic leaders who must point to more than what is broken. How can we influence others to recognise opportunities as well as challenges, highlighting the uplifting dimensions of our society?

Kenya needs our unbroken optimism. Not unjustified and ill-informed, but rational and evidence-based. What’s required — and what’s achievable — is indeed a culture of “holding on to optimism.”

My co-host Frank and I always browse for suitable quotes on our topics, and there’s no shortage of these on the subject at hand. One of our favourites came from Winston Churchill, who observed that “a pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” Another, from Mehmet Murat ildan, ran: “The young pessimist is much older than the old optimist!” And here’s a third, from the ever-quotable Oscar Wilde: “The optimist sees the donut, the pessimist sees the hole.” Do go to Google — you’ll find many more.

One by one the participants dug into their reservoir of good-news experiences, trying hard to hold back from sharing less optimistic ones.
Frank told us he has been coming to Kenya since 2004, and that he quickly became a fan, appreciating our spirit of optimism.

So that when he carries out his consultancies in Europe, he has the participants learn from Africa. Another described how he has been promoting CSR for over 25 years, from a time when others thought him mad for doing so. No longer.

One participant tries to smile through the ups and downs of life, and talked about his “instinct to survive.” Another told us that whoever one asks how business is faring they respond by complaining.

Despite that, he insisted, we must find optimism in what we do, and we must keep learning. And a third shared that even though she is not a runner she has been greatly inspired by Eliud Kipchoge.

A father among us enjoys showing his young daughter that life can be magical; and a mother tells her daughter to pay attention to the 90 percent positive and not just the 10 percent negative. She also confessed that when she was younger she thought she could change the world, while now appreciating that it is only herself she can change.

As we talked we took each other on roller coaster rides between optimism and pessimism, showing that each of us travels along an ever-shifting spectrum of moods.

But we held on to “adequate” optimism, acknowledging that while not all our experiences are so positive, those that are strengthen us.
We heard about the power of working together with like-minded leaders, so that our circle of optimistic influence can widen. And we acknowledged that just sharing our stories proved very helpful.

My expectation is to be able to “have a good time doing good things”, to keep cheerful enough even in the darkest of times such as when my son was killed in Somalia.

What about your expectation? Are you setting an example of holding on to optimism?

Leaders ought to be fair and avoid short-term wins

I’m recently back from London, where for a few days I witnessed up close the vacuum of responsible leadership in relation to the endless Brexit saga. Ironically, I was following the daily conflict and confusion while being there for an event to launch the Institute for Responsible Leadership, of which I am a founder.

How incongruous it was to be among business and government leaders, senior academics and UN officials, talking about long-term sustainability at a time when British political leaders have been manoeuvring endlessly in support of short-term party and individual interests.

Well, that’s how it was, but let me just focus on our event, and in particular on my topic at the launch; the link between responsible leadership and emotional intelligence.

I first drew attention to the contemporary tug of war between those who succumb to short-term sub-optimisation and those who find the strength to take a longer-term view – those who, as Thomas Friedman put it, have thought through their “second paragraph.”

The here-and-now short-termists in the corporate world allow themselves to be dominated by the “tyranny of the quarter” or at best the year, building their personal CVs before moving on to the next pyrrhic victory; while the political players (those on the current UK scene being prime examples) are concerned with victory in the next election, seducing voters with unrealisable populist promises.

Both groups use their undoubted emotional intelligence to further immediate selfish goals and, thanks to attributes that may well include charm and bullying, they often succeed. This though while lacking that other essential ingredient of moral uprightness, which sooner or later will be the cause of their undoing.

Such people assume a world where win-lose is inevitable, and so they’d better end up as winners rather than losers in the zero-sum adversarial game in which they are convinced they play.

In this environment of survival-of-the-fittest, of one driven by the quest for selfish instant gratification, we see emerging trade wars, ever-rising inequality, disrespect for the environment, and other ills that can only end in tears for us all.

By contrast, the role of responsible leaders is to apply their emotional intelligence to bringing people together around a longer-term view that builds sustainability. This requires consensus-builders, mediators, people who nurture high-trust give-and-take cultures that over time result in an adequacy of win-win for all the stakeholders in the organisations and societies in which they operate.

Being in London I thought it would be good to draw attention to our African concept of Ubuntu, which proclaims “I am because we are.” And I quoted that paragon of emotional intelligence, Desmond Tutu, who described Ubuntu as ‘the very quality of being human.’

I also shared that within our admittedly predominantly low-trust Kenyan society there are plenty of healthy sub-cultures, ones where responsible leaders with high emotional intelligence have brought their followers together around common visions and values to build healthy, sustainable organisations.

A great example is Safaricom, with its focus on purpose beyond profit, on doing well by doing good, and there are many others beside this ultimate role model.

Those gathered at the University of Westminster, where the launch of our Institute for Responsible Leadership took place, were more than likely already adherents to the cause. So our question to them was how can we work together to expand our collective circle of influence.

How can we develop a critical mass of responsible leaders who accept that for us to get to our promised land of sustainability we must be fair to all our stakeholders, frequently holding back from easy short-term wins that end up being self-defeating.

A key speaker at the launch was a director of UNITAR, the United Nations Institute for Training and Research, enthusiastic supporters of the initiative. He spoke in the context of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, seeing the need for collaboration among responsible leaders within and between the government and the private sector.

The next event to be organised by our Institute will be in February 2020, again in London. But our concept is determinedly global, and this certainly does not exclude Africa… or Kenya.

Influence, not power yields better output from employees

My first leadership experience came when I arrived in Kenya in 1977 to be the general manager of the local subsidiary of a multinational IT company.

Both the Kenyans who reported to me and the Brits to whom I reported expected me to be the proverbial “Big Man”, perceived as all-knowing, all-wise and all-powerful.

And when I refused to buy into such an impossible scenario, when I took time consulting with and developing the newly-promoted management team around me, I was branded by my bosses as “weak and indecisive”.

It was something I learned to live with, knowing that my style meant that the staff felt more respected, more empowered, more motivated – and hence more productive.

Dominant personalities anywhere tend to impose their will on others. Never mind if their title and corresponding authority make it possible for them to adopt a “do as I say” approach.

Yet more so in these days of flat organisational pyramids and loose networks, not to mention the nomadic tendencies of knowledge workers, it is unlikely to get a leader very far.

The challenge for such leaders is to graduate from being perpetual overloaded decision-makers and dispensers of instructions to becoming spreaders of positive influence.

OK, other than in the middle of a crisis perhaps. You need a particular kind of strength to hold back from micro-managing, and a boldness to trust others and to delegate to them.

This in turn presupposes an optimistic disposition and a positive view of human nature. It was Douglas McGregor who in 1960 introduced his Theory X and Theory Y, where Theory X supports the view that we humans are lazy and try to avoid work. Theory Y, meanwhile, postulates that working comes naturally, and also that under suitable conditions people do seek responsibility.

Each set of assumptions leads us to a different view of how we can and should lead. If we think people are intrinsically lazy then we must control them firmly for work to get done.

Theory X also imagines that most people prefer to be told what to do, and dislike taking risks or assuming responsibility. So again, we must play the “stern parent” to the “naughty child”.

Theory Y calls on us to provide inspiring visions and to focus on aligning individuals’ objectives with organisational ones.

If this is present then they will feel free to use their imagination and creativity to perform optimally. Adherents to Theory Y believe that leading through supportive influence rather than controlling authority is the path to take.

The way we lead is reflected in how we behave, and to grow our circle of influence we must be emotionally intelligent.

This means that we must, as Stephen Covey told us, “seek first to understand, then seek to be understood”, which in turn requires us to ask questions rather than feel obliged always to provide answers, and to be open listeners.

We must lead by example and build win-win relationships with those around us. We must be coaches and enablers of those we lead, appreciating that the more they grow and the more trustworthy they become, the more we free ourselves to focus on higher level strategic issues.

Such cultures, where leaders create enabling environments for learning and growth, should percolate throughout an organisation. So when we talk about leaders and leadership we don’t only mean CEOs and directors.

Indeed there are no exceptions to leading, as we should all exercise reflective self-leadership, where the coach within acts as our positive influencer.

In today’s world of rapid and uncertain change, no leader can afford to pose as “The Big Man”.

Contemporary leadership requires men and women in positions of responsibility to reassure those around them so they may cope with all the inconvenient disruptions of this 21st century while fulfilling both their own goals and those of the organisations where they work.

Leading through influence is far less efficient than exercising top-down authority. But unless one approaches leadership in this subtler style, respect and loyalty will be eroded and for sure the outcome will be unsustainable and ultimately self-defeating.

Kind of leadership needed to deal with a crisis effectively

I was in London last month at the time when snow covered the city, to work on a leadership programme with the UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR).

One of those with me carried a wonderful book that I then also bought, The Greats on Leadership by Jocelyn Davis.

In it Mr Davis offers summaries of what 24 great authors have had to say over the centuries about different elements and circumstances of leadership, and then discusses these in a contemporary context.

So for instance he builds on Machiavelli’s writing to explore change, Plato’s to examine justice, Bernard Shaw’s to promote vision… and Shakespeare’s to help leaders deal with crises.

Mr Davis turns to Shakespeare’s Henry V for inspiration on the subject, lauding the victor over the greatly superior French forces in the battle of Agincourt as a “learning leader”.

I read this chapter with particular interest as on my return from London I was a member of the faculty delivering the Transformative Leadership programme run jointly by the Aga Khan University Graduate School of Media and Communication and the Harvard Kennedy School, within which one of my sessions was on the voice of leadership in periods of crisis.

Our whole programme was based on the Adaptive Leadership approach promoted by Ronald Heifetz, the founding director of the Center for Public Leadership at the Kennedy School, about which I wrote in an earlier column.

Heifetz explains how leadership must be treated as an activity rather than a position, and in his chapter on crisis Davis quotes Heifetz at length on the subject.

The Harvard professor, acknowledges Mr Davis, writes eloquently on the “learning zone” and its importance to teams and organisations in crisis, showing how it exists between the overly cool comfort zone of complacency and the too-hot-to-handle zone of danger and panic.

In normal times we exist in the comfort zone where stress levels are low, but an emergency hurls us into the high-stress danger zone. There, effective leadership as practiced by the likes of Henry V delivers the sharp focus and fast action that overcome the tendency merely to fight, flee or freeze.

Mr Davis then explains more about how to remain in such a zone at these most difficult times. He does this by constructing a chart that shows “Unity” on the vertical axis and “Agility” on the horizontal one, where both need to be high for the learning zone to be alive and well – more so during and after times of crisis.

It’s not so hard for unity to be high in normal circumstances, when there is less urgent need for extreme agility. He calls the upper left quadrant, with high unity and low agility, the “complacency zone”, where signs of impending crisis are met with a chorus of “Around here we always… “.

He then takes us to the lower right quadrant, his “Disconnection zone”, where agility outweighs unity and everyone worries about saving their own skin – the Titanic syndrome. At least as lamentable is the lower left “Blame zone”, where both unity and agility are low and the concern is blame-avoidance.

Finally to Henry V territory, the upper right “Learning zone”, where great leadership first asks how we can resolve our problems and move forward together; then how I contributed to the difficulties and what I must do differently to avoid making the same mistakes again; and only after to examine how they, the other team members, contributed to what happened and how I can coach them to learn and be better prepared for the next crisis.

In the discussion during my session on leadership in crisis the participants — some of whom were in leadership positions in large hospitals — reviewed the recent one at Kenyatta National Hospital, where head surgery was performed on the wrong patient. And later they reflected on how they had dealt with crises that involved their own organisations.

What about you? Are you in the league of Henry V? Or would the Titanic have sunk under your command too? In this volatile and uncertain world of ours, it’s good for all of us to reflect on how effectively we will deal with our next crisis.