The People Paradox in Leadership

Leadership is about People. Yet if you need people to be a leader, then you will never be effective. The same thing that is the strength and center of leadership, is the same that can be it’s weakest link. In his HBR Article Aptly titled ” You’re a Leader Now. Not Everyone is Going to Like You.” Martin G Moore, states that as leaders, conflict aversion is not an option and that one of the most difficult psychological barriers to overcome as a leader is the ability to do things that are opposite to our primordial instinct of the desire to be liked. As someone in charge, almost everything you do will have the potential to trigger a conflict or resistance in one way or another.

“Bringing out the best in each person will require you to have countless direct, honest, and empathetic conversations. Some leaders never master this.”

Leadership before Friendship

My father recently reminded me of this statement he has always used when reprimanding me or any of my four brothers ” I am your parent, not your friend”. At the basic level of parenting this is a powerful statement. This he specifically uses to distinguish and reaffirm that to him, friendship is secondary to his role as a father , a similar approach should inform our leadership. We are first leaders before friends and the latter should never be a priority over the former.

“If you learn to put yourself in your people’s shoes, your duty of care to them will outweigh your fear of giving them critical feedback”

As a leader , your primary role is to bring out the best in your teams. There is no where this is more critical than when making difficult decisions and when giving critical but constructive feedback to those in our charge. High performing teams are made of high performing individuals and everyone deserves competent leadership.

Leadership like true friendship is about having a meaningful relationship. It is about tackling those difficult conversations while appreciating that avoiding them only serves to degrade the relationship and is to the disadvantage of those in it. But as leaders, your leadership responsibility must always take a precedence, both to the individual and to the team.

Respect before Popularity

The sooner you accept that as a leader you cannot please everyone, the better you start to lead. As a young manager, I struggled with this for a long time, I wanted to ensure that everyone is happy and I am liked, I was concerned with doing that which will not make me unpopular among my team members. This was even more challenging considering my first role was leading a team that I previously worked with as peers, but also a majority of which had much expertise in their domains of technology than I had.

 If You Want to Make Everyone Happy, Don’t Be A Leader, Sell Ice Cream.

The American President Harry S. Truman had a sign on his desk that said: ” The buck stops here”. This meant that as the Leader of the nation, he had to make all tough decisions and in addition accept to bear the full responsibilities of those decisions. The way to be able to make the RIGHT decisions is therefore ability to say NO when majority wants Yes and to say YES when a majority may prefer a NO, it is the ability of the leader to do that which is right and not necessarily that which is correct.

Correctness can be a bout politics but that which is right, is about prioritizing the good of the organization and the team over individual glory and expedience.  When people understand our values, they can more often than not predict how we would respond to given situations and this also gives them an assurance of the leader being consistent in her decisions. This earns us respect among our teams and understanding that we cannot please everybody clears the path for us to do that which is right and thus earns us respect as leaders.

Knowledge will give you power, but character respect. – Bruce Lee

As always, I am just a man. We keep learning.


Ouko Joseph is a Husband, Father, Son and a Leader in the making. A passionate student of leadership. Read more here

“Daddy Look at me”​, A Lesson on Leadership from a son

Covid Accelerated Digital Transformation is a real thing. To many parents, it has come with mixed bag of goodies (as my son calls the candy jar at his grandma’s house) and not so goodies. For me, it has provided me an opportunity to work alongside my son Mich from time to time giving us a rare but most rewarding mid week opportunity to bond even more.

As an individual there are a few responsibilities that I take more seriously as that of being a father, in fact the only one that tops that is being a husband. In my daily interactions with my son, I am always keen to pass some nuggets of wisdom to him through my actions but more so, I am also keen to learn from him. In my role, I lead a team of Technology Sales experts who quite frankly know their stuff (replace with the other S word).

However, from time to time I see that myself as a team member and even them or any team for that matter even that full of people who know their stuff, and more so in the knowledge industry take a queue from Mich.

A father said to his son: Be careful where you walk. The son responded: You be careful for remember that I follow your footsteps!

As the leader, my role is not only to tell the team what we need to achieve and get out of their way so they can do it, but also to coach and mentor them as I also learn from them and they from me so they can take on tougher challenges and “do it themselves” and also look at them in admiration, cheer and reward them through recognition of their work and progress.

Daddy I want to do it myself

My son has learned so many things over the four years or so that he has been on planet earth, one of those that he is proud of is being able to ride his bike. I remember when we started, I used to hold the bike for him to get on and also as he steadily rode it down the foot path with me holding it from the back and ensuring he is steady. I remember so many times after we had done some training and the training wheels were off, Mich would always shout “Daddy, I want to do myself” signaling me that he felt confident and I should get out of his way having done my part in giving him the vision.

“Tell people what you need, NOT what to do. Then get out of their way”

Same applies to us as Leaders, more often than not we are tempted to micromanage and hang over our teams or people and a good number of them are always crying to us “I want to do it myself”. So as leaders, your role is not to do the job or work for your team at the slightest sign of trouble, it is to give them the tools – training, enablement, technology, that they need and then get out of their way so they can do it!

Daddy Look at me

After giving the team tools, it is important to look at them excel.

Every time Mich mastered or masters a trick (even with his scooter) his next yell is always “Daddy, Look at me”, this is not the look at me of correct me or find fault, it is look at me with admiration and pride, it is showing me that as a father, I have succeeded in enabling him master the next trick and that in addition to him being proud of it, he is looking for affirmation and approval and recognition of his progress.

 “Focus on progress, not perfection.

As leaders, when our teams excel, it is our duty to recognize and look at them. So the next time your team member does something awesome, do not hesitate to give that praise. Take a moment and realize that AWESOME ends with ME and remember they need you to “look at me” .

Bringing it All together

Just like a Father, who’s role is to be a coach and the number one cheerleader to his children, as a leader, you have the duty to those in your charge to coach them and get out of their way but most importantly to cheerlead them and catch them doing something good. Remember this, if you look for the good in people, you will always find it.

“When we tell people to do their jobs, we get workers. When we trust people to get the job done, we get leaders.”

As always, I am just a man. We keep learning.


Ouko Joseph is a Husband, Father, Son and a Leader in the making. A passionate student of leadership. Read more here

On Communicating and Leading with Empathy during change

I have experienced first hand how challenging leading through a change period can be. Particularly during mergers of two or more organizations that not only had different cultures but also engaged in seemingly similar industry in this case Technology, but operated in such different ways due to not only the difference in complexity of their businesses, but also the business model. 

From the difference in how success is defined in one organization, to how performance metrics are set, to how solutions are designed, how much autonomy individuals have, what is escalated , how ideas are debated , to how leadership takes and considers opinions to how much emphasis is put on learning. To trivial matters like if people serve their own tea or tea is served to them, to who has their own office and who sits in general population (gen Pop as it is called in prison lingo), all these aspects play a major role in the overall emergent culture and leadership in the new outfit. 

Over the last couple of months, I have tried and continue to think deeply on what role exactly Culture and most importantly Leadership Culture and Communication Culture plays in ensuring success during transition periods within organizations. Not only in mergers, and acquisitions but also in aspects like transforming the focus or business models within organizations. 

I am no expert in these matters, but I have purposed to learn as much as I can on this subject. In addition to starting my Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) studies in January 2022, focusing on leadership and change management particularly during this era of Digital Transformation (whatever that means to various industries and organizations is debatable), in a VUCA world is a field that I would like to sharpen my skills in both through formal learning in academia and also practical on job experience. 

The question today is what are some of the ways we can set ourselves up for success during such times? How can we shape the emergent Culture ? Particularly leadership, Communication and learning Elements of culture?

Humility and Empathy 

Humility and Empathy are two key leadership traits that I find quite critical before, during and after organizations go through a change phase. As pointed out in this article , for leaders to be able to Listen and learn, having the humility to accept our own shortcomings and blind spots as leaders play a key role. 

I have pointed out before here that in order to lead, we must be able to listen, and Learn. On the subject of listening, particularly for senior executives and leaders, this article from HBR titled Are you really Listening” points out some truly important tenets. By giving the solution for business leaders as building a “listening ecosystem” and being able to escape the noise bubble. 

Failure to do so, leaders risk having information with key facts omitted and warning signs dampened down. The result: living in the proverbial ivory tower and what I called in my article here being the naked king.

From communication to connection 

Humble and empathic communication not only results in the message being effective but also results in communication achieving connection. 

In his book Titled: Everyone communicates, few Connect, JC Maxwell who is in my view one of the greatest teachers on the subject of leadership highlights these key areas of communication that results in connection. 

“The most effective leaders know how to connect with people. It’s not about power or popularity, but about making the people around you feel heard, comfortable, and understood.”

Common Ground: Finding common ground is a time tested means to form relationships, find it as a leader, there is always something we agree on even with our greatest of rivals, this is especially important for leaders to find. 

Keep it Simple: do not bog down people by jargon and need to make things complex. Keep the communication simple and concise. The aim is to communicate not complicate. 

Appeal to and Capture people’s interests: keep your personal interest second, get your ego out of the way and speak to the authentic purpose and interests of those you are leading. Remember, people are at the center of leadership. 

Stay Authentic in all your relationships: As a leader, being authentic is a point of strength. Don’t treat everyone the same and equally, people are different with different needs and individuality, stay authentic to the relationships you have with each of them. 

Bringing it Together 

In the end, what matters is making a positive difference in the lives of those we lead. People may forget what we say or do, but they will most likely never forget how we made them feel. As leaders heavy is the crown. Purpose to be better than we were yesterday, and always remember this, progress over perfection. 

So go forth and be vulnerable, communicate and lead with humility and empathy, let us connect with those in our charge and bring out the best in them.

#Godspeed #IamJustAman


Ouko Joseph is a Father and a Leader in the making. A passionate student of leadership. Read more here

Lonely at the Top? You are hiker not a Leader

Everything rises and falls on Leadership. This is a famous quote attributed to John Maxwell, one of the most respected author on the science and art of leadership and a leader himself.

Leadership is about people, without whom, there is no leadership. People are at the centre of leadership and to be leaders we have to be passionate about people. We have to transition from me focus, to us/we focus.

“Empty the coins in your purse into your mind and your mind will fill your purse with gold”

In my leadership journey, both at a personal and at professional level, over the last couple of years, I have found these elements to be important towards ensuring I do not end up as a hiker and be lonely at the top of the mountain:

Listen, Learn and Lead

Listening, Learning (and especially Unlearning) and Leadership have one thing in common, they require humility. Humility is not about diminishing our strengths or denying them, but about being honest about and owning your weaknesses, more so as a leader.

As Adam Grant pointed out in his book “Think Again” the antidote to getting stuck on mount stupid is taking a regular dose of humility. Humility is like a sponge that is able to absorb life experiences and convert them to knowledge and wisdom. Arrogance on the contrary, is a rubber shield that simply bounces off the experiences, and not only prevents us from learning but also unlearning our own dogmas and long held beliefs.

I love this quote on change and especially speaks to unlearning from George Bernard Shaw:

“Progress is impossible without change: and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”

As Leaders, being able to provide a listening ear to the needs of those in our charge is critical not only to treating them as individuals, but also provides an opportunity for us to learn from our interactions with them and be able to lead them in the most effective way.

Managers try to treat and lead everybody in the same way, but leadership is about being able to value and reach out to each person as an individual at the point which they are at. The only way to be able to do that, I believe is by listening intentionally to them, sharing and appreciating their experiences, to learn truly who they are and what they value, before leading them.

Goals to Growth

Improving myself, is the first step to improving everything else.

Goals are great, but as a leader , making that transition from goals to a growth mindset is critical. Goals help us to do better and achieve something clearly defined, they are finite and are critical for growth. However, as a leader, making that transition from doing better to becoming better is critical and that is what growth does for us. Growth helps us become better.

Goals help us to do better, Growth helps us BECOME better. ~ J.C Maxwell

As we climb that mountain to the top, constantly prioritising the progress of the team and people over our own perfection and accolades ensures we focus on growth. Creating an environment and fostering a culture that is not goal focused but rather growth focused ensures that everyone in the team strives for growth – whom we are becoming both at individual and team level.

Your level of success will never exceed your level of personal GROWTH.

In order to grow, as leaders and those in our charge or following us, we must always have the humility to desire to become better, to embrace our failures along the journey and to purpose to be better than the person we were yesterday, not whom someone else is today. Being Consistent is the key to growth, growth is not a one time event, it is a daily movement and commitment to the person we are becoming without fearing to fail.

Bringing It All Together

There are two types of people who climb mount Everest, one is a group of individuals who have been known for years for their prowess and abilities and deep respect for the mountain – the Sherpas; the other are the hundreds of individuals who pay thousand of dollars to attempt this fete and mark it as an accomplishment.

Leaders need to adopt the Sherpa’s attitude, to them the climb is to help people fulfil their dreams and in the process, they are able to accomplish their higher purpose in life. As a leader, you ultimately have the ability to change and impact people’s lives. Purpose to be someone who people “want to” follow and not have to follow. Ask yourself, how is it to be on the other side of my leadership?

When those who work for us see us as someone worth following, they have a spring in our step, and show up each day. But when they are forced to work for a hiker, they are drained and that is how we end up alone and lonely at the top of the mountain. As a leader, my job is to take people with me to the Top.

So stop the hike and start leading. Happy Huduma Day to my Kenyan peeps!


Ouko Joseph is a Father and a Leader in the making. A passionate student of leadership. Learn more about me here