“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, et.al 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

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

Think Again; The Fight Club

The Press Announcement

My wife and I love a good fight. Research shows that how often parents argue has no bearing on their Children’s academic, social or emotional development. What matters is how respectfully parents argue, not the frequency. 

When I took up my current role about two months ago, one of my most important and urgent tasks was to form a team that I would work with. Naturally, as I was taking up a role previously held jointly by two people, and involving multiple teams, seeking their (previous officeholders) advice and review of the current team members were inevitable. 

Eventually, I had to make the tough decisions of who to include and whom not to include in my team; some didn’t take it well and took their exclusion as a personal vendetta and attack on them. The truth is, I too would be hurt if, as a salesperson, the Accounts I have worked on over the years were to be taken away and redistributed. With one particular individual, let us call them Hawi, the conflict escalated to the extent of Hawi attacking my character as a person. Making allegations that were not true made me question how I handled the situation and Think Again. We had and still do have a relationship conflict. 

There are two types of conflict; Task Conflict and Relationship Conflict. As the names suggest, task conflicts revolve around ideas and opinions, whereas relationship conflicts mostly Centre on characters, values, emotions, etc. 

A meta-analysis (which is the study of studies) of various studies show that relationship conflicts, unlike task conflicts, are generally bad for performance. However, objective task conflicts can be beneficial in the long run. The absence of conflict is not harmony, it is apathy, and for leaders, those who do not listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say (remember the story of the naked King?). 

The Ring: Tense but Secure 

Psychologist Robert Albert says this “ The creative person-to-be comes from a family that is anything but harmonious, one with a wobble.” These families or organizations aren’t physically or verbally abusive, but they don’t shy away from conflict either. Instead, people are encouraged to stand up for themselves and learn to dish it out with respect and consideration and take it with grace and humility. They are “Tense but Secure”

Round 1: Confident Humility 

To be able to Think, we must risk being offensive. However, to learn, individuals must attain what Adam Grant calls Confident humility.

The ability to have faith in our capabilities but at the same time appreciate that we don’t always have the right solution and may not even be addressing the right problem. This dichotomy gives us the ability to hold enough doubt on our status quo and confidence to pursue new knowledge and insights. 

For Leaders, it is being able to have faith in our strengths – Confidence and being keenly aware of our weaknesses or limitations – Humility. 

Last Round – Final Word

As I try to find a way to resolve my current Relationship conflict, I am travelling on this path fully aware and constantly learning about my limitations. I would like both my team and I to have the courage to put up a Great fight for our ideas and the resilience to lose a fight/disagreement without losing our tenacity and trust in each other. 

I don’t want a team where my most passionate people become quiet because they don’t feel safe to speak; I don’t want to be the naked King. I want to grow a team and an organization at large where individuals are not only happy to discover that they were wrong (like I have discovered looking back at how I handled the relationship conflict) but also learn from the discovery.

Key Ref: Think Again, Adam Grant, On Conflict, HBR

On Leading through Conflict

One of the main responsibilities of Team Leadership is Conflict Resolution. This is both Intra-team conflict – Conflict between Team members and Inter-team conflict – conflict between your team and other teams within or outside the organization.

In this Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) world, conflict is almost inevitable. However, as pointed in my article – Conflict in High Performing Teams conflict is not always a bad thing, in fact, conflict can be used to stimulate intellectual growth and trust among team members.

“An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

As a Team leader, what are some of the tips or nuggets can you use to manage and resolve conflict within the team? Here are Two:

  • Seek First to Understand, then to be Understood

In his book 7 Habits of Highly effective People, Author Stephen Covey points out that most people do not listen with the intent to understand; but rather they listen with the intent to reply. Yet in order to effectively resolve conflict, the ability to understand or at least to intentionally seek to understand the point of view that is in contradiction with our own is one of the most important skill to develop. There is a reason we have two ears, and one mouth. Many times I have caught myself preparing my response when the other party is trying to put their point across while at the same time assessing their point of view from my own biases.

“The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding.” – Leonardo da Vinci.

If you want to have or be great at handling conflict with your teammates, first, purpose to intentionally understand their point of view, ask for clarification on what is not clear, probe and ensure you truly understand their side of the story and secondly, be conscious and fully aware of your own biases then intentionally put them in check. If there is something that leaders must constantly do, is to constantly question our own assumptions and biases.

  • Don’t Just Communicate, Connect

The ability to effectively Communicate is one of the most important skill a leader must poses. To get people to work together or as a team – which I define as a group of people who TRUST each other, three things are important, Shared Vision, Shared Goals and Shared Purpose, all these must be communicated to the team. In his book “Everyone Communicates, few connect” Author John C Maxwell points out that Connecting not only increases your influence in every situation, but it also ensures that you as a leader are able to build consensus.

“If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend.” —Abraham Lincoln

When conflicting ideas come up, what you say and how you say it are both just as important as what your body language communicates during that time. As leaders, your teams like children in a family, they not only listen but they also watch how you treat those you do not agree with as much as mimic how you address conflict or disagreement. During these times,, ensure you are using non-threatening language that serves to reinforce your understanding of the other person’s view as well as communicating clearly your points of agreement if any and your point(s) of departure from that view.

  • Keep a Positive Attitude, Think WIN-WIN

Few things determine the outcome of a conflict like the attitude of those involved in the conflict. William James captures this very well:

“Whenever you’re in conflict with someone, there is one factor that can make the difference between damaging your relationship and deepening it. That factor is attitude.”

So simply put, have a POSITIVE attitude, always believe that after the conflict, both or all parties involved will come out better. This is such a simple yet difficult aspect to grasp during a conflict. It is so hard to program our minds that something with a negative connotation like conflict can actually result in a positive outcome and that we need to keep a positive attitude and mindset throughout or during the engagement.

Death by Meetings aka Reviews

About three years ago, I decided to remove the recurring Team meeting from my calendar and that of my direct reports. Instead, we decided as a team that I will send an invite every week on a need basis. This has turned out to be one of the best stress relieving medicine we as a team have taken over the last 24 months.

Why is it that managers find the need to have reviews? Why is it that particularly in this part of the world we like to have a review to review the last review meeting? How come most employees HATE reviews especially with their direct bosses?

To put this into perspective, I am not saying meetings are bad, I am for meetings and by extension reviews, it is one of the many ways Teams, managers and leaders get feedback, a manager who hates meetings is like a surgeon who hates operating on people, really all that managers do is meetings aka reviews -okay, mostly 🙂 , and the solution is not the elimination of reviews, but rather making them meaningful, engaging and relevant. Here are some ways we have used to make our team reviews less painful , stressful and boring.

Sales Force…..Microsoft Excel et.al In my line of business, Sales Force and the old age excel have been of great help. If something can be obtained from a Sales Force report or an excel sheet, why do we need to review it in an actual physical meeting? As a team, we have found that sharing the report and strictly highlighting areas that need clarifications saves everyone’s time and makes life fun. So next time before you schedule that meeting, try logging into your company’s reporting tool and see if you can get that information from the “system” as opposed to wasting valuable time getting people into a room.

“Mr. Watson–come here–I want to see you.” these were the first words of Graham Bell in 1876 when he invented the Telephone. It is over one hundred years since the phone was invented yet a big number of managers are yet to use this revolutionary invention to hold a conference call with their team and quickly agree or plan on what needs to be done. Pick up the phone, conference your team and get it going. Do not drag everyone into that room that doesn’t have Air conditioning in the middle of the day.

long enough to cover the subject and short enough to create interest. aka short and sweet

Agenda….. Agenda….. Agenda….. Stick to the agenda. Keep the meeting short and sweet. In Africa, greetings , pleasantries and unnecessary stories find their way into meetings almost 90% of the time. As a team, we decided that only the first 5 – 7 minutes will be used for this purpose – this also caters for the African time (Time between the scheduled start time and ACTUAL start time), which tends to be longer but over time we have shortened this to ensure that the agenda is followed and stuck to. Every meeting MUST start on time, remain focused and have clear action points – including ownership and timelines.

In summary, First, embrace the technology that you have invested in, secondly keep the meetings short n Sweet and if possible schedule it Every single time, do not have a recurring meeting for over 1 month!!!.

What other things do you do to make your meetings productive?