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

|The Eagle – A leadership Tapestry

As a committed life student on leadership, I like to ask myself every time I see a natural phenomenon what lessons can I draw on leadership. When the eagle spreads its wings, it is a sight to behold. From tip to tip the eagle’s wings measure about 1.8 – 2.3 Meters on average. This majestic bird was built to soar high. It was built for the sky. The eagle flies into the storm, as other birds run for shelter, the eagle literally flies into the storm and uses that to be lifted up high. Amazing. The eagle has many lessons that we can learn on leadership. These can be on Leading with Love, Maintaining the right attitude, focus and always flying at the right altitude.

But what lessons can we learn from this bird on leadership?

 Eagles Make Love at high altitude

We do not know how they do that, but this is true. Eagles actually make love in the air. From a leadership perspective what does this mean? Eagles Love at a high level (High Altitude), as a leader, your love and passion first for the people you lead must be on genuine and true, secondly the love for the mission and vision must also be at true. People you lead are able to read genuine love from the leader as well as a love for the mission. This act of love also means that while making love in the air – they actually do a love dance; the eagle knows for sure that it is not reproducing with a chicken 🙂 . Second, Leaders have to maintain the right relationships both privately and in their teams – dance with other eagles, fly with other eagles at high altitude, make love in the air.

 Maintain Focus and Relish Challenges

In flight, the eagle maintains a sharp vision. Looking out for both the prey and predators a like. The focus is up to about 5KM on a prey, once the eagle narrows its focus, it sets out for the challenge. As leaders, we must retain focus, cleverly avoiding distractions on our path to achieving excellence and influence. Like an eagle, we must relish challenges. No matter the obstacle, the eagle will not move its focus from prey until he grabs it.

On challenges, the eagle is the only bird that loves the storm, it uses the storm to push itself to greater heights. Once the eagle finds the storm wings, it stops to flap its wings and uses the pressure of the raging storm to soar whilst resting its wings – Operational efficiency, the rest of the birds hide in the bush 🙂 . In leadership, we need to constantly see opportunities in challenges. Use our troubles to energize our teams to rise to greater heights. Leaders relish challenges and use them profitably.

Eagles prepare themselves for the next generation, discard the worthless and renew themselves

The male eagle collects twigs, thorns and soft grass. However, the most amazing thing is that he plucks his own feathers for the female to lay eggs! This is a very important role of a leader, as a leader, we must prepare our followers into leaders, we must make sacrifices for the people we influence, we need to prepare our followers to take up the mantle of leadership. True leadership is about bringing up leaders. We ought to prepare the next generation. While at it, a leader must be able to discard the worthless and renew ourselves always.

One of the most remarkable thing about eagles is that at the age of about 40, it undergoes a painful renewal that takes about 150 days, failure to undergo this means death – read this online. As leaders, transformation is not an option, we must constantly evolve, change and transform to adapt to the dynamics of life. In order to survive, we must start a change process. Only by freeing ourselves from old dogmas do we can take advantage of the present and future opportunities.

Bringing it all together

The Eagle presents Leaders with a great tapestry of the intricacies of leadership, like an eagle, leaders need to have both the right attitude and altitude. Leaders must ensure that they surround themselves with other leaders – Eagles fly with Eagles not chicken. Finally, leaders must evolve, constantly scouting the horizon for big picture dynamics ,failure to which leadership will die. “Leadership transformation is a matter of life and death.

The coin and the Rubber band story 

I like to have off the cuff discussions with members of my Team. On most ocassions, I use these to gather feedback and to genuinely empathise with my team and Listen to them.

Of great interest to me has always been in moments we don’t agree on issues from how to design and address a client’s needs with our technical solutions to where whether we need to hire someone else. As the leader of this highly intelligent crop of individuals  ( I have a CCIE, MBA , Two First Class Honours Engineering Graduates in my team ) as expected,  they have their own views with regards to Why, How and what stuff we need to do.

The two sided coin

However,  I have come to learn that in order to be effective both as a leader and manager of this great team, I must be able to be comfortable with the fact that we can disagree but that doesn’t mean they are not with me – we may have two sides head and tail but we are still a single coin.

Are you leader enough to understand that somebody can disagree with you and still be with you?  For instance, on the issue of hiring,  they looked at the fact that we would reduce the workload greatly if we brought another team member but I looked at the fact that we may not currently have enough business to sustain the wage bill.So bringing someone in is a great idea however it means we need enough business to sustain the additional overhead. 

As a leader, I ought to be able to understand that disagreement doesn’t mean betrayal. 

The rubber band story

Do you know your limits and that of your team members?  In assigning duties to my team mates and taking up duties myself, one of the key things I do is keep in mind both their individual capabilities and team abilities. See,  the rubber band is designed to stretch so whenever you are stretching it you are using it in the way it is designed but if you over stretch it it breaks.

As a leader, you want to be challenged and stretched same for your team however you don’t wanna pop them or yourself. Learn your limitations and those of your team both individually and as a unit. Do not let people push you beyond your competence, instead be patient with yourself and your team and challenge them.

The coin has two sides,  they are not the same however, both make what is known as a coin. The rubber band is designed to stretch not to pop!

The Silence of the Eleven |The voice of the One

Who do People say I am? Is a famous Question asked by one of the world’s greatest leader – JC. However, before we go to the answer from Peter to this question I would like us to take note that what is incredible is not the answer that Peter gives, It is not the statement of the One that amazes me rather the Silence Of the Eleven. – Read Story here.

From this text we can learn three Key Lessons on Leadership:

As a Leader be comfortable with Controversy.

Often when you are in Leadership, you probably leading people who do not know who you are. The Position of a Leader is a position of controversy, but that is alright. Controversy builds your Character as a leader.

John Quicy Adams says “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” Thus as a leader ensure you are committed to the vision and Purpose. Your actions thus must always further the vision upon which you are committed.

Commitment has to be accompanied by Character. Remember Hitler was committed, but his Character was rotten thus commitment without Character is Dangerous. When you have great Character then controversy will not distract you from your goal. As a leader, remember your team is always watching you. How we treat people we perceive that we do not need is a great indication of people’s Character.

Take Time to Choose and Know your Team

It is about the 12. Picking your Team is one of the most Critical tasks a Leader has to get right. In your team there are different groups or categories. Let us look at these:

Confidants – Looking at the Text above Peter was indeed a confidant. He knew Exactly who JC was. The confidant’s commitment is to YOU not the mission. Trust them. A Leader must have someone he or she can talk to. The confidants feeds off their relationship with you.

Recently I had a conversation with my long time friend and Confidant Lenin Oyuga. He gave me a concept that I have since found to be very important. He called it “The Last six ” . Your casket when you die can be carried by six people, take time to think about who these people will be. These are people who are with You till the end no matter what.

Constituents – These are people who are with the mission. They are with the course, the mission is what attracts them. They are with you as long as you facilitate their mission, they will resign immediately someone approaches them with a mission that furthers their objective, It is never about you. The difference between them and Confidants is they do the same thing but with different Motives, One will be with you even when the mission is compromised the other will leave you in a heart beat with your heart beating. You have to be able to work with people who come and Go, some of your employees came to leave don’t get bitter. A great example in my view for this in the text is Judas. When he saw that money could further his course off he went.

Comrades – When you are in a fight and someone joins you in a fight, do not always think they are your friend. Comrades are not for what you as a leader are for they are against what you are against.

As a leader you ought to have all these. You MUST understand among your Team which one is which. For example as a leader you can never confide in your comrade, he or she will use it against you when the fight is over. You can never have a room full of confidants 🙂 .

You can only pass the mantle to someone who knows you

Identify Peter, the person who knows who you are. Then pass the mantle to him. Groom him/her for your position when you transition. He or she is the person who will speak up for you, he will defend you with a sword when that time comes. Peter got to preach the inaugural message because you cannot pass the mantle to people who do not know who you are as a leader.

In my first Leadership (Team Leadership) role at Dimension Data I have learned to always remember that as a great leader you cannot inspire people to follow your lack of commitment. You MUST be committed and have Character. As a leader you ought to hang tough – be comfortable with controversy. Great leaders Never commit to more than their competence. Like a Rubber band, it is designed to stretch not to pop. If you stretch it too much, it will Pop. Similarly as a leader, be willing to stretch but watch out not to Pop.Know your Limits.

No Matter What | keep Moving Forward

“No matter what, we don’t stop, we keep moving forward”

When I first took up my role as a Practice Lead , I went hiking with my immediate boss. On this particular day, it was quite chilly in Longonot and so it would be quite challenging. However, we were determined to climb. So my boss and I set out to hit the top, make one lap round then come down.

As we began, we had a series of conversations with him some of which revolved round the challenges I have faced thus far and those that I would be facing. In a way, I was taking up a path he had walked for long (Both literally and figuratively ). In the midst of our conversation, I was getting quite exhausted and so I believe he figured this, so I decided to ask ” NK, Could we slow down a bit?” he responded with “Sure (Pause), no matter what, we keep moving forward”. Three lessons I learned on Leadership:

Know your Team and their environment of engagement

As a leader, you ought to be fully aware of your team. This applies to individuals and not a generalization. Aspects like the team Morale as well as any challenges they are having delivering their core responsibilities. Creating and fostering relationships with each member of the team is critical for success. Like my boss, he was keen to understand from my request to take a break that I was losing morale, as such, he didn’t dismiss it but found a more effective way to address it. He says “Sure ” this is affirmation, he understood that being my first attempt at Climbing Longonot, I would have challenges, just like a first time manager, then he proceeds to say, “no matter what, we keep moving forward” -Encouragement, with a clear goal in mind – The Summit!

Inspire Through Clear Vision, Goal and Commitment

As a leader you must have a clear Vision and Commitment. Great Leaders are committed to their course and ensure that their team members understand and see that commitment from them. Through Commitment to the Vision and Goal – which for us was reaching the Top, as a leader I must find ways to inspire and motivate each member of my team. “No matter What, ” this statement shows his commitment to the vision. He was aware of the challenges, but with a strong will, he sought to assure me that we will “keep moving forward” that we never lose sight of the goal or mission because of challenges.

Be clear on what we won’t do

As much as a leader is clear on what we will do, a leader ought to be clear on what we as a team and hi or her as an individual won’t do. It is NOT success at whatever cost. As a leader, your character is always on the line and whatever you do, is under watch. This doesn’t mean you cannot make mistakes, however, mistakes must just be that – Mistakes. “No matter what, we don’t stop,” It was clear to me and to both of us, stopping was not an option. We would rather slow down but keep moving forward. However, we don’t stop. Dag Hammarskjold, once remarked ” Never “for the sake of peace and quiet” deny your own experience or convictions.” A leader must be a man of conviction.

In summary, as a leaders, we have the responsibility to inspire our team members to become more, learn and do more. We can only do this through conviction and commitment to the clear vision that we have defined. And no matter the challenges, we always keep moving forward.

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”~ Martin Luther King Jr.

Next: When You don’t Give Up | You Can NEVER Fail