There is Enough Success for all, Says the Leader

Confidence they say, has no competition and Winners, love to see other winners win.

Early this year, I purposeful started priming two of my immediate team members to be able to perform and take up my role and effectively perform my duties within the Business Unit that I lead. One to be able to take up both operational as well as strategic duties, while the other to shadow me only on the operational matters.

Although I had practiced some form of this type of Leadership or if you wish management style since 2016 (just year after I took up my first official team leadership role in my career), I only got yo take it up much more seriously after setting up the necessary processes and strategic direction. This way of thinking I will tell you for free is not easy and comes with a great deal of challenges. First and foremost, as a leader, you have to understand that:

You can delegate authority, but you cannot delegate responsibility.

The responsibility for success is shared, however, the back really stops with you as the leader of the team more so when the team Fails. Here are two key lessons I have learned from this:

Only when you WIN does your team Win

As a manager, one of our primary roles is to ensure that those we are charged with leading or managing WIN. What does making sure they WIN mean to me. First, I have to make sure I WORK with them – the leader has to roll up his or her sleeves and get into the gutters with the team, failure to do this leads to lack of trust and confidence from the team. However, what every team member does in the gutters is different. Clearly defining your role as the leader and delivering on it is critical in order to gain and sustain the trust of the team. As a team leaders, your Actions speak louder than anything you say.

Secondly, INSPIRE your team. Leadership really is about inspiration, this in my view is about bringing out the best in each of your team members. In so doing, this will definitely involve putting the interest of the team before my own personal interests and encouraging team success as opposed to individual glory.

Finally, NATURE And NURTURE – the debate on these two is ongoing, however in our context, we will stick with the two. Whereas leaders need to nurture the right not only correct) behavior, we also need to ensure that we nature the right behavior. Studies have shown that human behavioral development is affected both by peoples’ natural disposition and the environment in which they are raised or are in. As a leader, select and assign roles with this in mind and ensure you cultivate the right environment to drive the desired behavior.

WIN – Work, Inspire, Nature and Nurture.

Be Quick to give Credit and Slow to pass blame

Leading a team especially of knowledge workers is especially challenging. As a first time people manager, In the beginning, I struggled with the fact that a large number of my team are much more technically knowledgeable than me -( see this article on Finding Comfort in NOT Knowing) However, having come to the realization that my success as a leader actually rested with my ability to hire and bring on board people who are smarter and indeed different thinkers than me, I quickly accepted the fact that I do not have all the answers.

True leaders pull the thumb, before they point the finger. They take responsibility… for EVERYTHING

The sooner as leaders or managers we realize that we do not have all the answers, the better our chances for success. In my area of trade (Technology) where most people end up as managers due to their ability to be star contributors individually, we are tempted to continue with this kind of thinking when we get into management. Indeed I have seen many a managers “get their hands dirty” and pride in their ability to resolve “technical challenges” forgetting their primary duty as leaders – Inspire, coach, et.al. and take up the credit while being quick to throw the team under the bus when things go south.

As a leader, one of your primary responsibility is to ensure that you not only prepare your team for winning, but also that when they win, you give them due credit as well as the opportunity for them to learn from their failures. It is not enough to just keep your team engaged and motivated, ensuring that their successes are celebrated is equally important so as to drive satisfaction.

Bringing it all together

In summary, Leadership is about Inspiration, it is about ensuring that you as a leader you are in it to WIN – Work, Inspire, and Nature. It is only when you are confident of your own abilities and aware of your limitations that you can drive the right behavior. Leaders do not have all the answers, harness the abilities and strengths of each team member to ensure the success of the team. Remember, there is enough winning and success to go around for everyone, and it is your responsibility as a leader to ensure that team success always takes precedence over your own glory and indeed over individual golden goose success.

It is only by lifting others that we rise! – (See this Article on Finding Comfort in Not having the answers as a Leader)

Corporate Bad manners: A manager’s guide

There are many things that Block-chain, Machine learning, Natural Language Processing et.al can solve, but one thing that they are yet to sort out is plain old bad manners.

Last week I was having a discussion with a friend of mine on the evolution of the workplace and how the ever changing workplace demographics is affecting what we call organisational manners. One of the things we quickly agreed on is that whereas on the one hand technology and the whole digital transformation has impacted how we work, play and live, on the other hand the bureaucracy at the work place especially among the older generation has not evolved much in terms of delivery of employee experience – how the employees interact with the whole organizational machinery. We agreed among other things that corporate bad manners is a major occurrence in today’s evolving workplace.

So what exactly is corporate bad manners really?

The phenomenon of Corporate Bad manners (As we coined the term) simply put, is behavior by employees, particularly senior personnel or people in leadership positions within the organization (since naturally they are expected to lead the way even in mannerism) that is essentially ego driven and has no rationality whatsoever. Here are a few examples:

  • Hoarding International/business Trips: One of the things that people in leadership positions MUST avoid is putting self interest before practical business or professional and people management decisions. There is no better way to communicate to your team (especially junior staff) how self centered you are as a manager than to take trips just because you can (or to earn Per diem 😊 ). Simply put, this is BAD MANNERS. It goes a long way to ensure that your direct reports or the team you lead are given an opportunity to attend both “their level” events and “above their level” events. .
  • Taking More Pens/Books/Cake/Free Beer than you need: This is one of the craziest thing I have observed in organizations. Whenever free beer, cake or even chocolates or indeed T-shirts , water bottles et.al are brought to be shared, people for some reason feel the need to take more than what is enough for them. Recently I asked a colleague of mine why they find it necessary to take almost a full bowl of Cake yet first they can afford to buy it if they wanted, and secondly other people were yet to take a piece – the eye roll that i received and “shida yako ni nini?” I walked away and asked God to teach me silence. Guys, taking more cake than you need or more notebooks than you need is a poverty mentality that you need to exorcise out of your system and is plain BAD MANNERS.

“Every Office has two people who do all the work and 12 people who walk around with bottles full of water, cucumber and lemon”

  • Peeping behind People’s workstations: Micromanagement in the digital age is one of the best ways to lose talent. As managers, sometimes we are tempted to want to go into the details of what our teams are doing without decorum. Looking at their workstations – particularly PC/Screens is a classic example of not “minding your own business” and just plain BAD MANNERS. Resist the temptation to walk around looking at what people are doing as it is not only uncouth but also plainly creepy. It helps to accord people personal space in the workplace and in this age, there is probably nothing more personal than your employees electronic devices and their lunch/snack boxes.

Bringing it all Together

There are indeed many things and benefits of technological advancements in the workplace, however, there are a number of things that Blockchain, AI and Machine learning et.al still cannot help us overcome at the moment, one of them is plain old BAD MANNERS. As managers, or leaders, let me know what other things you would classify simply as bad manners.

Remember, the real test of good manners is to be able to put up with bad manners pleasantly.

Have a fantastic Weekend!

Tough Spots – Leading when we are not winning

We closed our Financial Year last month. And as I looked back at my Journey during the FY and my overall time leading the Customer Experience and Collaboration team in my organization, I realized that in the 4 years that I have been the captain, we have had so much done yet we still have quite a long way to go. As a team, we have had many highs and indeed many lows, winning opportunities we never thought we stood a chance to win, while losing some we were so confident that we would come out on top.

In addition to these we have also had highs and lows as a team that are outside our core business at the organization and what makes us individuals that we are. In family as well as at personal levels. Looking at all these what I have come to realize is that it is that in our team, we will always have moments and times when we are winning and those that we are loosing and indeed learning. The moments when we loose, the moments we are not winning as a team are the moments that have greatly tested my leadership of the team.

In these moments when we are down I did learn some key lessons:

  1. My Team members are human beings with emotional needs: As managers it is sometimes very easy for us to “forget” that our team members (even the golden goose 🙂 are humans and they just like us more often than not also feel the pain of not winning. As the team leader, the Revenue and GP target rests with me and more often I may feel the pressure of not achieving the Quarterly targets, but this year more often than not I saw it in my team especially the more senior technical guys that indeed they felt my pain every time we lost an opportunity. As the team leader, my role in charging them forward in these moments proved vital as we had to keep moving forward. Being acutely aware of the emotional strain they too had proved to be a great asset enabling me to learn and value their feedback every time we took a review on why we didn’t win.
  2. Real Leadership is at the moments we are NOT winning: It is easy to lead when the ship is a float, it is easy to lead when the deal is closed and the champagne bottle is being popped. However, it is much more harder to lead when you just lost a contract you have had for 3 years. It is in these moments that my leadership and ability to rally my team and to share the hope and vision of a better future were tested. During these moments as a leader, my attitude, confidence and indeed feedback to the team members who were involved in the particular project or opportunity is very important. Not only was choosing my words critically important but also my behavior and actual reaction were critical.
  3. How I bring myself everyday, impacts my Team: This is probably one of the most critical things I learned in FY18, that each morning presented me with a new opportunity to not only re-invent myself but also give my team the opportunity to do better than we did yesterday. As a leader, my team always read into how I brought myself every day. In FY19, we had a tough year , however when the calendar finally turned to a new FY, our resolve is clear and I have purposed that we will bring our A game each time.

Indeed there will be moments we are winning and those that we are not winning. These moments will be our tough spots but it is at these moments that I will purpose to bring myself in the right way and as a result the team will do what we have to do.

Bringing it all Together

Leadership is indeed a tough and long journey. As team leaders, we ought to realize that our teams are composed of people with emotional needs, people with families, people that want us to succeed and every time we do not win ( or have conflict) , these people like us, also feel the pain and the disappointment. Our leadership will be greatly tested in moments when we do not win, it is during these times that our resolve, our attitude and “whom” we bring to the table will determine our long term success as a team and by large as an organization.

FY21 Lego!

On Legitimacy in Leadership

Although my mum was the only female in my family for almost three decades, she got and has always gotten more than 90% of family decisions go her way – thanks to her slippers throwing skills but also to something else. Being a mother of 5 boys, a career woman , a dedicated Christian and handling my father (who for some reason has become more playful as he ages) is not stuff of the faint hearted.

As I reflect on my childhood, I couldn’t help but notice how profoundly it has shaped my choices in life particularly in the career choice and trajectory but more so in how I try to lead and manage those in my charge. Growing up in a family of five siblings and particularly all men is not exactly a walk in the park in Africa. This was particularly challenging and fun at the same time during our teenage years.

But what is it that made these two legends run this sort of military camp with precision? What is it that these two lovebirds put in place that resulted in what I would consider by all standards a successful family? What has made this “Band of brothers” (This is our WhattsApp Group name) stay true to each other?

Three things that I would consider gave them and continues to give them legitimacy and that leaders and managers should embrace if we want to create and develop winning teams.

Give them a VOICE

My father has a strong voice. Those who know me can attest to this. I also have one. However, the voice I am talking about here is the ability of those in position of authority to allow those they have authority over to be heard. Those who are asked to obey must always feel like they do have a voice and that if they raise it, it will be listened to and heard.

Being heard in my view comprises of two critical aspects, one , Listening and second one Action. Ask yourself, how do I listen? Do my employees consider me a listener? Do I seek to first understand?

Consistency and Predictability

Picking up your plate from the dinning table and putting it back in the kitchen sink is one of the practices my father has ALWAYS done. This same practice has followed me and now I am passing it on very strictly to my son.

In ensuring team synergy, and leaders need to do this, consistency and predictability of actions either towards reward or reprimanding should be in place. People need to have an idea or know that the rules by which they play are largely the same. So if the team Webex meeting gets locked 5 minutes after start, then that should be the case no matter who is not into the meeting by then. These simple things ensure that the team is always aware of the rules of the game and work to give the leader the legitimacy she requires.

The next rule for my son Mich, making his bed no more than 15 minutes after wake up time.

Compassion and Gratitude

Being grateful and compassionate may not come out as related at first glace. But a closer look into these two shows how important they serve as a basis for building social capital for individuals and particularly leaders. When we are compassionate, we are able to appreciate the struggles that people within our teams go through and become more grateful for the space we are in in our own lives.

When we are grateful, we develop an abundance mentality, this in turn enables us to be more compassionate towards those we lead. Our teams need to feel that they can come to us without necessarily being victimized or judged , but rather appreciated and understood. At both personal and professional level, the spaces we create for the team in terms of culture gravely impact the outcome and the quality of work they produce.

Finally, practicing these two enables us to be even more fair in our dealings.

So for my parents, I believe that these have worked out well, by giving us a voice, they have made it possible for us to appreciate the fact that when we speak, we will be heard and not only that, that every action that results from the voice will always be consistent and predictable to a large extent. In addition, they will listen to us not in judgement, but with compassion each time and offer sometimes advise, other times just appreciation or gratitude for the effort we have put in life.

Talk is Cheap? Well, Not for Leaders

A “friend” of mine recently made this comment in the middle of a discussion we were having with him. It got me thinking, “as Managers and Leaders, is talk really cheap? or is it priceless and premium?”

In the Management positions that people hold in the organisations, most can be considered as also requiring the said individuals to provide Leadership. I say this because I am fully aware that Management and Leadership are two different concepts. One of the key things thus that Leaders and by extension effective managers must hold very dear is “talk” aka words. Those we lead in addition to following what we do keenly, what we say to them and the emotional effect that our words have on them cannot be understated.

In my position as a manager, and indeed as a life long student of leadership, I have always held dear that which I tell both those in my team, and those outside of it. Primarily, I pay keen attention to what I say to my team members and as such, talk to me is not cheap, Talk is actually Premium.

In “Talk Is (Not!) Cheap”, Jim McCann illustrates how the art of conversation leadership—the process he developed to engage others and create forward momentum in the workplace—can be used to inspire, innovate, and win. This and other books on the importance of conversational leadership (Using words and constant talk and deep listening) serve to show us the importance of the gift of the gab to leaders.

Ask yourself these three questions: abbreviated as KTN

Is it KIND

Simply put “If you can’t be Kind, be quiet.” I had this printed out and put on my work station for almost the whole of 2017. If there was something that I recognised early in my management and by extension leadership journey is that being able to practice empathic listening and talking is one of the most critical things as I needed to learn.

Emotional Intelligence (EI)/Emotional Quotient (EQ) is a critical skill of Leaders. When we are emotionally intelligent, then one of the things we are able to practice is Empathy. Kindness, and Compassion work together with Empathy to enable leaders not only be able to understand their team, but also inspire and influence them.

” Unexpected kindness is the most powerful, least costly, and most underrated agent of human change.” –  Bob Kerrey  

We need to ensure that every word we utter and speak is kind and doesn’t serve to heart or put down those we relate with and in particular those we lead and work with in our teams. Being kind must not be confused with not being firm, in-fact when we are kind, we are able to put across our views in a more objective and by extension firm way as opposed to when we are not kind which only serves to show how inconsiderate and may be even uncouth we are in character.

Is it TRUE

Simply put “Speak the truth and it shall set you free.” Integrity is key if not the greatest virtue of any employee and indeed every leader. After evaluating if what we are about to say is kind, it is critical that we “fact check it” to ensure it is the Truth or that it is true. Remember, something could be true but how we say it may not be Kind, this is why as leaders, we need to ensure that how we say something is just as critical as to what we are saying – content of the message.

“Truth never damages a cause that is just.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

Managers (and Leaders) need to ensure that they constantly speak the truth. Truth in itself must not be confused with Fact – this is a debate we will have some other day :), for now, ensure that everything you speak is both kind and true. Be careful not to “stretch the truth” as that serves only to negate being kind and may actually move you towards the realm of lying.

Is It NECESSARY

In my MBA course, one of the cases we looked into (in Management Communications) dealt with how to deal with crisis as an organisation in the age of social media. In this case, we looked at how an organisational leader may need to communicate in a time of crisis choosing carefully what information is necessary to be shared with the public, under-pining how leaders need to carefully and without altering the truth pick the necessary content of their messages. Same applies to leaders and teams, it is important that what we talk about or say to those in our teams is necessary and serves to grow, inspire and motivate or make them better people.

After evaluating if what we want to say is Kind and True, it is important to weigh it on the scale of necessity. Not everything that is Kind and true should be said, and it must not be said to everyone, evaluate the impact and why or if it is necessary at that time or can be deferred.

Before you speak ask yourself if what you are going to say is true, is kind, is necessary, is helpful. If the answer is no, maybe what you are about to say should be left unsaid. ― Bernard Meltzer

Bringing it Together

Communication is transfer of meaning. Ensure you transfer the right and correct meaning as a leader. Evaluate what you want to say using KTN among other criteria before you say it. Your “talk” or words as a leader or someone in authority go a long way and have the power to not only impact the direction of the unit or organisation, but also impact forever or a very long time the lives of those you are leading.

Do not be like my friend and kill visions and dreams by just one comment :).

Behind The Resumé | The path I never took

The Path I never took

Growing up , I wanted to become a lawyer and all but my mother always confessed what a great lawyer I would be. So when people asked me as a young lad what I wanted to become, I would swiftly respond with “I want to become a Lawyer”. Fast forward to high school, I decided that this is the path I would take and when Form three came around, I quickly dropped Physics because why would a Lawyer want to study Physics? What value would Ohms law have to someone who will be defending Mike Sonko in court? None! So after term 1 of 2003 , I returned home with my shinny grades on humanities and the two sciences that I was taking – Chemistry and Biology. When I showed my mother the report form, she was in disbelief –

“You need to go back and enroll for Physics. I do not know which one you will drop, but what I know is, you will take physics”.

My mother, is a trained Engineer (she had this bias) and she has raised 5 boys so she is not exactly someone you can simply push over, I swiftly tried to defend myself but realizing that this was simply going to make my life miserable, I dropped that course of action.

When second term came up, I quickly went back and enrolled in the Physics class, I didn’t want to disappoint my mother. And since I didn’t drop physics for any particular reason other than I loved History and according to street knowledge you needed History to qualify for law, I took it up again. Two weeks into the second term, my father came to school and delivered “PHYSICS” by Arthur F. Abbott. Those who know this book know that this was the “Malkiat Singh ” (8-4-4 kids you know this one hahahaha) of Physics or simply put, the Bible of Ordinary Level physics. I went on to do fairly well in my high school exam and joined my alma mater Jomo Kenyatta University (also known as Juja boys to show the disproportionate number of boys/men in the university compared to ladies).

Behind the resumé

These are some of the stories we never get to tell on our CVs, they give the other version of who we are and how we ended up down the path that we are currently taking.

We all have happy and challenging stories. Some of us have gone through so much pain to get where they are while others have been lucky enough not to have so much painful experiences, no matter the journey we have each taken, these experiences and stories especially those that have impacted our professional lives most often do not find their way into our resume`. They most often do not look like they have shaped who we are or the path we eventually chose to take, but the fact is that they did shape it.

Hiring Managers/Interviewers: Appreciate and learn to ask for the story behind the resume`. Rethink of the answer to “tell us about yourself”, allow the candidates to bring out whom they truly are. Give them a chance to share with you the Path they never took and use it to asses various aspects of their personality and who they are.

Create an atmosphere where the candidates do not share revised/crammed answers, but are able to share with you freely what their dreams and ambitions are, their fears , their strengths and their weaknesses, their childhood dreams et.al. This will give you a better chance at not only on boarding the right team members, but also playing them in the right positions and knowing if they are a cultural fit to the organization.

Candidates/Interviewees: Share with the hiring manager the story behind the CV, share with them who you truly are and how your experiences have brought you to this point in time. Share the authentic self, the lessons you have learned, dare to be true to the self that you truly desire to be. Probe from the interviewers how the organization will be great for you – Socially, professionally and Culturally.

Finding that great fit can be the difference between bringing out the best in you and being mediocre in your performance. Remember, even great players need great coaches who can see whom they can become not who they currently are. As you are being interviewed , remember also to interview those in the panel and by extension the organization.

As Robert Frost noted in his famous Poem here.

I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.

What was your road? Let me know in the comments 🙂

What Do People Need to Perform at Optimal Levels?

Many of us do not perform at our optimal levels. Research shows that for employees to perform at high levels, a mixture of personal, interpersonal/relational, and organizational factors are critical. 

Role Clarity and Simplicity

  • They are clear about what they are expected to do.
  • They are not overwhelmed with rules about how the work has to be done or with unproductive meetings.

Supportive and Safe Work Environment 

  • They are willing to ask questions and feel safe doing so.
  • Their organization supports creative problem solving (e.g., implementing employee suggestions for improvements) and provides rewards and recognition for jobs well done.

Dedicated Leadership and Purpose 

  • Supervisors notice and acknowledge employee feelings, understand how their decisions will impact employees, and help them manage their emotions.
  • They see purpose and meaning in their work and are committed to their organization.

Bringing it Together 

The individual’s Mindset, support from Management , particularly line managers as well as organizational culture and Leadership need to all work in symphony. If any of these is out of place, then even the most talented , Motivated and committed teams and employees will fall short of their potential.

In an era of “We are an Agile organization “ and “We are a People Focused Organization “ buzz statements , it is even more critical that both employees and Leaders have the right mindset , supported by the right organizational culture in addition to metrics used to measure performance in order to ensure they are truly People focused and agile to deliver at their full potential. 

Source: Harvard Business Review. Read full article here.