A recent survey of Nairobi residents carried out by a TV station showed that 2012 was thought to have been a horrible year; many were glad it had come to an end. Kenyans, being the world’s most optimistic people, were sure that 2013 brought better tidings.
There was a lot to be said about this view of life, including inflation and interest rates that fluctuated unpredictably and scandals galore, foremost of which was the demolition of houses in Syokimau that rendered many homeless.
Political outrages ranged from MPs’ demands for exorbitant retirement packages, to broken promises.
It can also be said to have been a difficult year for a number of business people. A local entrepreneur tells of how his air ticketing business was defrauded of blank electronic tickets that were then sold to unsuspecting customers all over the world.
Going to the office every morning for him became gut wrenching because of the prospect of receiving invoices from Europe, South America and other parts of the world.
Within a short while, this entrepreneur became despondent and discouraged, indulging in self-pity and suspicion at everyone, particularly at members of the ethnic community from which the prime suspect came from. He slowly became obsessed with the tragic turn of affairs, narrating it to all and sundry.
Conversations invariably began with: “Didn’t you hear what happened to me….”
It wasn’t until he engaged a consultant to help him unravel the fraud that he begun to come out of his depression. The consultant separated the issues into two: what happened — that there was a scam; and the leader’s explanation for the event, which demonstrated that he had no control over the event.
While these two circles of events were completely independent, the leader’s attitude had brought the spheres together to the point where they were interlocked; he saw them as the same thing.
Stuck in a rut
So it is with many leaders of a family business. A number of them never get past the events of a bad year, choosing to get stuck in a rut of negative introspection, suspicion and myopia.
Many hold endless pity parties — in which they are the chief and often, only guest, many of their regular friends having long departed — where they indulge themselves in self-flagellation and non-useful reflection. Unrestrained, they slowly die inside with their business following soon after.
What is an entrepreneur who has been through a particularly difficult year to do at the end of it? How is he/she to make the best of their experiences and avoid getting stuck in the rut of failure thinking?
First, one should analyse the situation at hand and define what he/she means by a “difficult year”. Many will find that this exists only in their minds as they compare themselves to friends and neighbours rather than to their business’ current performance to that of the previous year, which might show that they performed relatively well.
Second, if one did indeed have a difficult year, he/she should identify what led to these difficulties and separate the issues — what was within his/her control and what was not. For each, one should identify and document their explanations for this undesirable turns of events.
Third and most important, the leader of family business should take note of lessons learned, incorporate these into future operations and choose to move on.
Such leaders succeed in life because of their ability to isolate failure, learn from them, resist the temptation to indulge in pity parties and treat each day, week, month, year and decade as a blank slate just waiting to be written on.
They do not carry yesterday’s failures into today’s operations but make the most of every opportunity they encounter. Leaders who do these things will come to a good end.
Mr Mutua is a Humphrey Fellow and a leadership development consultant focused on family businesses. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org