Ideas & Debate

Why I haven’t tired of talking about good leadership values


It’s 12 years since the first of my columns appeared in this paper, and since then over 320 have been published. During all this time my editors have never told me what I could or could not write about, and for this I am most grateful. It is also good for my readers to be aware of the freedom of expression I have been accorded.

As I write I am conscious that I do not do so in search of dramatic headlines that will earn me front-page prominence. The “if-it-bleeds-it-leads” maxim is irrelevant to my page-nine slot, where in each of my appearances I coexist happily with the “OTHER VOICES” who fill the rightmost column – a few lines about trios of world leaders from other media.

In any country where there is a free press the stories that do make the front page are likely to be about conflict and confrontation, about winners and losers… about crises and dramas. It’s what keeps us glued to the daily episodes of our political soap operas, regaled with stories of what is not working and what an awful country our Kenya or anywhere else is.

It’s only in countries where freedom of speech is denied that the media merely sing the praises of leaders, celebrate their latest triumphs, quote their every public pontification. Elsewhere, the Fourth Estate rightly sees its role as speaking truth to power, telling it what it does not want to hear.

However the luxury I am afforded is that I don’t need to feature only stern-parent knuckle-rapping judgements. I am under no obligation to deliver doom-and-gloom excitement and tension. As a columnist I can be more reflective, including by revealing good-news stories. Indeed nothing gives me more pleasure than to write about the attitudes and achievements of competent and professional leaders, and not least public servants — of whom there are many — as I rub shoulders with them in my various assignments.

Much of what I write about emerges from my consulting activity, plus from my directorships or where I have been asked to speak on some topic to do with my activities. This relates to what I observe from my travels around the country and elsewhere. As I looked back over my inventory of a dozen years of articles I was reminded that my first one was about emotional intelligence taking centre stage; the next asked if Kenyans were up to the challenge of living healthy visions and values; and the one after examined positive developments in our public service, through initiatives such as the Rapid Results Initiative.

In various ways these have provided recurring material for many subsequent columns, and the more I write the more I feel that what brings it all together is carried under the umbrella of good leadership. Indeed in the last few years more and more of my work has revolved explicitly around leadership development.

My thinking on the subject was greatly stimulated by my participation in a recent programme on transformative leadership that was hosted jointly by the Aga Khan University Graduate School of Media and Communications and the Harvard Kennedy School, and I have written several articles around its theme of “Adaptive Leadership.” Readers will recall me waxing eloquent on such aspects as leaders “getting up on the balcony” to look backwards, downwards, forwards and inwards; “giving the work back to the people;” “communicating for influence;” and helping others to deal with loss by keeping them in the “productive zone” – neither too cool nor too hot.

Happily the programme will run again this year, with one module in September and another in November, and this iteration will go under the banner “Transforming Leadership for 21st Century Africa.” So I look forward to having another opportunity to reflect with the participants from around the continent on how we must all keep adapting – yes adapting, as in “Adaptive Leadership” – to the ever-changing circumstances of our Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) world.

No doubt I’ll be writing about what emerges, as I continue dreaming up topics for future columns.