Corporate Bad manners: A manager’s guide

There are many things that Block-chain, Machine learning, Natural Language Processing 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 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 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.


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 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. 

On managing the golden goose

2018 marked my third year leading a team of highly intelligent people. People much better and more brilliant than myself. That really is the main objective in my view of a hiring manager, to hire people who are better than you and ensure you constantly bring out the best in them.

In my role as a manager, I have had to deal and interact with people with egos as big as my own 😊. Unfortunately for me, these people are also most times more intelligent, seen to be more innovative and more qualified sometimes for my job than I am – or so it seems.

But how do you handle the proverbial golden goose aka star player? How do you ensure that their toxic attitude and titanic ego doesn’t get in the way of work, how do you still bring out the best in them while ensuring they remain motivated just like the rest of the team?

Manage your own ego, then that of your golden goose

As a manger and leader of a team, taming my own ego has been a journey that I have had to intentionally embark on. By s doing, it not only gives me the humility to accept that I will never have all the solutions and that there are much better than me out there. Success is the main enemy of success and it is to ego what petrol is to fire. Unchecked ego is destructive, ego is the enemy. From Ryan Holidays book “Ego is the Enemy” he defines ego as “Unhealthy belief in our own importance”.

Star Payers always have blotted egos, turning their concern into obsession and Confidence into arrogance – sometimes subtle with a false humility and other time public arrogance.

For Each fighter, to become great, he needs to have someone better that they can learn from, someone lesser who they can teach, and someone equal that they may challenge themselves against. ~ Frank Shamrock

Find their reward language and work it

Like the five languages of love, we all have our reward language. Some of us would use financial reward, others just recognition and others still opportunity to teach or coach others. In my case, I have always ensured I get knowledge on the reward language of the golden goose. Identification of reward language entails a lot of variables key to observe is the actual communication style, there are those who for instance use “I did…” as opposed to “We did…” this in most cases is a clear sign of someone who likes public recognition and accolades ensure you deliver them at every available opportunity. However, exercise some caution as this may negatively impact the rest of the team if not done the right way.

As a manager and leader of the team, it is vital that you always be quick to give credit to the team and take blame 😊 or ownership of failures that is just what it is.

Let the goose Wander Away, save the team

Sometimes the only alternative you have is to let the golden goose wander away. It is always about bringing out the best in the team, this is one lesson I have learned as a manager and a team leader. I highlighted in my earlier articles on conflict here that conflict is good for the team, however, there are levels that conflict can become toxic.

When you have tried everything, you have in your arsenal, then this is the option you are left with. Ensure that you manage the goose out in an intelligent way and communicate this clearly to the team as well. This would ensure that any wrong perceptions are eliminated and that the team understands that you would rather have a team working cohesively than sacrifice everyone else to have one shining star.

Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships. ~ Michael Jordan


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