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

Two Questions, One answer – Part 1

I recently took up a Sales Leadership role within the organization I work for, and if there is something that keeps me scratching my head ever since, it is the question “ How do I bring out the best in my team?“. As someone who previously managed and lead a Technical Team, I have come to appreciate how different leading a team focused more (not entirely) on individual contribution (as is the case in most sales teams world wide) is from leading technical teams who naturally would be required to prioritize collaboration over individual brilliance, among themselves, and are even incentivized through a shared target – financial or otherwise.

To help me answer this easy but not so simple question, I constantly ask and engage myself in reflections as to what my leadership style is, what it should become or it is becoming and at what pace, in order to not only set my team up for success, but also by extension succeed in my sales leadership role.

“ If you do not know how to ask the right question , you discover nothing.” ~ W. Edwards Deming

To answer and get some direction, these two questions have stood out in my head over the last few weeks and days. What is my Leadership Style? Is Direction more important than speed?

What is Your Leadership Style?

Although there are many ways of grouping or classifying Leadership Styles or Philosophies, for our sake , we will take the four styles identified by Mark Murph, founder of Leadership IQ The research identifies four types of leadership styles: Pragmatist, Idealist, Steward and Diplomat.

Like fashion, individuals have their own styles of leadership, on the one hand, there is that one default style that is prevalent and safe and most leaders would like to be associated with. On the other hand, there are numerous subtle variations or modifications that can be done and completely change the look one person goes for, from that of the other.

So what are the styles?

  • Pragmatists: These are the REDs of the Leadership personality trait (if you are familiar with Clarity 4D personality colors). Not directly mapped, but their style is characterized by being driven, competitive, and they value hitting their goals above all else.
  • Idealists: These are the ORANGEs of the Leadership 4 by 4 matrix. Idealists according to Leadership IQ are those who are high achievers who believe in everyone in the team also being able to achieve the same. Working for them provides a rather democratic experience with minimal structure and process. These are fun times leaders.
  • Stewards: These are the BLUEs. They’re dependable, loyal and helpful, and they provide a stabilizing and calming force for their employees. Stewards offer great opportunity for team success and not individual glory platforms.
  • Diplomat: These are the GREENs of Leadership. They value interpersonal harmony. Diplomats take great pride in resolving conflicts amicably or avoiding conflict all together within the teams.

As a Technical team leader, I leaned more on Diplomacy especially during my first months in the role. Having come from Outside and also having worked with a great number of those in my team before as one of them, I intentionally sought to give the respect due to those senior and more knowledgeable in our technical domain than I was as well us avoiding to come out as a boss. I needed their total support and to win their confidence that I may not have the technical expertise, but I had something to offer to the team. During times of technical crisis, I often found myself retreating to stewardship and in a number of occasions especially during recruitment of new members, I embraced my idealistic and pragmatic styles.

In the Sales role, I am increasingly finding that pragmatism can be of great importance just like diplomacy was in my previous role. However, increasingly I do find it important to be idealistic thus giving and stating the goal clearly, but remaining open minded as to how to achieve it especially during the sales process.

So what is your Leadership Style? What have you had to unlearn and relearn?

Next Week Part 2, we answer, Is Direction more important than Speed?


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

Ego, The disease of ME

In my earlier years in my career I rarely backed down of an argument. Naturally, I love a good argument, I love defending my ideas and thoughts. As I wrote in my Behind The Resume` journal entry, I would have made a good lawyer, or so I was told. I vividly remember my days in debate club in high school (Not Alliance Definitely, I would title this article – I went to Alliance if I did), my days in the MBA Class at The Strathmore Business School (here we go) and earlier in my career. I truly relished any chance for a good discourse.

“True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” – Rick Warren

As a young man, there was nothing more gratifying to me than being “seen to be” smart and eloquent. To date, I still struggle with letting go in arguments. Although I have made great progress, I still believe there is more ground to be covered. But in the battle of egos, the loser always wins.

In the battle of Egos, The looser Wins

In our daily interactions, we encounter so many opportunities, to either feed our ego and walk away feeling we have won or embrace humility and therefore learn by acquiring knowledge. Especially in the corporate world and more so in the space I play in – Technology /Engineering, time and time again we go into discussions of design and architecture which sometime quickly deteriorate into ego wars as opposed to sessions to discuss and come out with optimal ideas, in so doing and when the noise is out, more often than not, most positions are held strong not because of their substance but because of either the volumes in which their owners proposed them, the gender or title of those who proposed them or simply those who had the biggest egos.

These differences in opinions fueled by “the disease of me” aka egos, can generally deteriorate into toxic levels within teams if not handled in mature and egoless manner. As a general observation, I have always seen that whenever we tend to have little knowledge or appreciation of what we do not know in an area, our egos tends to take the front seat. This is not only detrimental to our ability to learn , but it also damages the relationships we have with those we interact with and particularly that are more knowledgeable in the areas in consideration.

“Ego=1/Knowledge ” More the knowledge lesser the ego, lesser the knowledge more the ego.” ~ Albert Einstein

As those in Leadership roles, it is particularly important that we keep our egos in check. For the good of not only ourselves, but also that of those we lead. Our position of privilege as leaders or managers, makes us particularly more prone to want to have our way which can eventually lead to what I referred to here as “Unhealthy Silence or Malicious Obedience”.

In the end, keeping healthy relationships is not about avoiding conflict or fights, it is more so about ensuring that at the end of that interaction, each party involved comes out as a better person than they went in. Each interaction is an opportunity to appreciate that which we do not know and gain knowledge. The only way to do that is to realize that as Ego increases or rises, knowledge decreases at an even greater rate.

In the war of ego, the loser always wins

Plus, Minus, Equal Formula

In order to put our Egos in check, I find the advise from one of the greatest fighters Frank Shamrock quite apt. Three key individuals or groups of individuals can keep us in check – Plus, Minus and Equal. In his book, “Ego is the enemy” Ryan Holiday gives three key areas or stages upon which our egos can show up. During Aspiration, When we Succeed, and finally when Failing.

“For each fighter to be great, they need to have someone better to learn from, someone lesser they can teach and someone equal they can challenge themselves against.” – Frank Shamrock

  • The Equal: This is someone who constantly challenges your abilities. The Equal is who we need during your Aspiration stage. To me, as an armature writer, I am constantly reading articles written by friends or LinkedIn connections, I am constantly benchmarking with some of my peers even in terms of career progression and in a positive way striving to learn from them. I must however point out that the greatest equal or benchmark is to compare yourself to who you were yesterday, and not to whom someone else is today. It is a paradox of sorts, but when done with the right intentions, an equal can ensure that we set our aspirations high enough, and see whom we could be, when we select the right equal, then we push each other to greater heights.
  • The Plus: This is those better, and more successful than us. Everyday reflection and appreciation of how small we are in the grand scheme of things and appreciating that there is always someone better than us at whatever stage we are in, is a great way to silence and quiet our Ego during the Success phase. Maintaining confident humility is important in this stage as well as in these interactions. Confident humility ensures that as a leader I am able to know how little I know and also how much I am capable of learning.
  • The Minus: This is where the greatest growth comes in my view. The minus forces me to spend more time to find ways of improving. This is when I am failing or when I have failed. When we fail, we have a choice to make, learn from it or be crushed by it. In the war against unhealthy ego, our ability to first admit our failures and then learn from them and eventually teach them can prove valuable. Constantly evaluating that which we did wrong and appreciating those lessons keeps us grounded. Through teaching, and mentoring others , It also makes sure that we truly appreciate the lessons from that encounter or process.

In Summary, ego is the enemy, as our ego increases, our knowledge decreases and mostly at a much faster rate. In the war of ego, the loser always wins, so find those three people or groups, the Equals, the Plus and the Minus and work tirelessly everyday at maintaining an attitude of confident humility.

Lord, Let me be smart enough to know how dumb I am, and give me the courage to carry on anyway.

Yours truly,

The Imperfect Leader.

Listening to the Silence

Silence in organizations can be a leaders greatest nightmare.

If you grew up in a traditional African household then you must be acutely aware of the paradox in these questions, during a disciplining session with your parents: “I am talking to you and you are quiet?” and then when you happen to respond back “I am talking to you and you are talking back at me?” 😊

Knowing when to respond and when not to respond most importantly, or when the appropriate response is silence can be a tricky affair, yet in organizations just like in the traditional African homes, silence can communicate much more than words can, especially in situations of heightened tension.

Although listening skills are critical for success in leadership, the value of listening to the silence can sometimes be underestimated by those in management and leadership positions a like. The sounds of silence can be a great source of information, and feedback, and just like Tim McClure I do believe “The biggest concern for any organization should be when their most passionate people become quiet”.

“The biggest concern for any organization should be when their most passionate people become quiet”. -Tim McClure

Passion is contagious, energy, be it negative or positive is also contagious. Passionate people in organizations and teams are highly motivated, they express their ideas, they are outspoken about key issues in the team, and the organization at large, they influence, both by actions and words, they are status quo challengers, they drive the organization’s culture. They may not hold formal titles, but they are influencers of culture, they are at the core of action and bring a long (or take aware), many people and get them involved. They essentially drive culture and the success of the organization no matter their formal positions.

What can make them go silent and how can Leaders create and build a culture that taps into their energy?

Command and Control Culture

I am an advocate for constructive conflict or disagreements within teams. I truly do believe that it is only by allowing my own ideas to be challenged that I can grow. It is never easy, but it is essential for growth. When leaders create an environment where people are alienated or treated differently because they challenge ideas or bring different view points, then they create one only focused on command, control and egos.

“An environment that is not safe to disagree is not an environment focused on growth—it’s an environment focused on control.” ~Wendi Jade

These kind of toxic environments do not only stifle growth, but they also result in malicious obedience among employees, as well as create loud silence especially among passionate employees. And as pointed out by Tim, when this happens, then organizations or teams, are well on their way to losing these people, but not only that, also demotivating the rest of the teams they interact with.

To resolve this, focus on growth, build and create a growth culture where people not only find joy in being wrong, but also enjoy having good fight – The Fight Club Story – with each other fully aware that great ideas do not have a bias to specific people or positions but can and should always surface from anywhere within the organization.

Create and environment where TRUST forms the foundation of all interactions.

Inconsistent and illegitimate Leadership

Leaders need legitimacy. Giving people a voice, being compassionate, listening and Trust are key issues that give leadership legitimacy. However, one of the most important element that gives true legitimacy to those in leadership is being consistent. Consistency and predictability of actions either towards reward or reprimanding should be in place. People need to have an idea of or know that the rules by which they play are largely the same.

“Consistency is the true foundation of trust. Either keep your promises or do not make them.” ― Roy T. Bennett

This doesn’t mean lack of agility or dynamic changes depending on the situation, it simply means that the fundamental rules or values upon which the organization operates are clear to all.

Bringing it Together 

In Summary, leaders have access to great sources of information, but with this comes the paradox that sometimes the information that reaches them is largely filtered and is what people believe the leader wants to hear, and not what they really need to hear or what is actually happening.

Create a culture of Trust, that not only encourages and values growth and ideas, over the individuals who the ideas come from, but also one that those within the teams feel safe enough to voice their opinions and view points.

Ensure that those charged with leadership have legitimacy within the whole organization and particularly those that they lead.


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