Stay in your lane


Nairobi Expressway along Waiyaki Way in Westlands, Nairobi in this photo taken on April 16, 2022. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NMG

If you have ever been on the Nairobi Expressway you will understand what I mean when I say it is equal parts amazing and annoying.

Amazing in that it takes less than 20 minutes to traverse the 27 kilometres from the start at Westlands to the end at Mlolongo, a journey that ordinarily requires a resilience flavored porridge breakfast to start.

Annoying that it can take more than 20 minutes to evacuate the expressway at the Museum Hill exit because cash users have blocked all the exit lanes including those for the prepaid electronic tag holders. Part of the problem is the fact that the management of the expressway have chosen to put signs in Acronymese to guide users.

The lanes are brightly and very clearly marked MTC and ETC to guide drivers on where they should go to pay for the use. This crystal clear language is supposed to help the averagely intelligent driver to know exactly where they should be because everyone and their frustrated brother were taught the meaning of MTC and ETC at driving school. If you’re hoping I am going to help you understand, I won’t.

After all, I don’t speak Acronymese. But I do wish you the very best trying to exit the Expressway at the Museum Hill chokepoint after 4:00 p.m. on a weekday afternoon.

Labels are an important, if not critical, aspect of communication. If you don’t believe me, ask the accountants and the company secretaries in Kenya who over the last decade have taken to placing their professional initials before their names.

CPA John Doe and CPS Mary Dee have now joined the professional branding fray that Engineer Tom Day and his professional engineering colleagues subscribed to.

After all, it was not enough for medical doctors to have a title next to their name, before the other professions felt honor bound to join the titular race. As we wait for the lawyers, human resource managers, architects, economists and zoologists to wake up from their nomenclature slumber, a more disturbing trend is pervading regional board rooms.

I recently spoke to a Ugandan board member (let’s call him Stephen for now) who was getting fed up with management referring to him and his board colleagues as “Director X” during board meetings. “I don’t like it when management members call me Director Stephen as we engage in meetings. It immediately draws an invisible line in the board room. Us directors against them, management.”

I agreed with him wholeheartedly as I had witnessed the same some years ago on a board I sat on. In an attempt to be deferential to board members, the management of the institution started to preface a response to a board member by referring to the board member as Director so-and-so.

The chair of the board nipped that developing practice in the bud as he could see the direction it was heading towards: a yawning formality chasm that would be difficult to bridge and that would create communication barriers in future.

Management are an emotionally intelligent and very socially aware bunch. They are keen observers of board members and watch many directors fall into the ego trap that sitting on that organisational pinnacle can produce.

They will stroke the ego of the director who needs to be buttered, the supercilious board member who feels her role is more superior to the CEO. If it means that management stays in their junior lane, then so be it. Director Stephen it shall be, oh ye of such wondrous and sagacious insights. Thy will be done on management earth and in director heaven.

The board role is tripartite. To offer oversight on the immediate past, insight on the present and foresight as to what may be ahead. Underpinning all of this is a partnership approach where the board collaborates with management to lead and deliver sustainable growth and survival of the institution.

For that partnership to succeed, management need to feel that directors are approachable and easy to engage. Setting up a titling culture in order to be addressed is a rapid way of creating lanes in the board room.

And just like the accountants, company secretaries and engineers are doing in this part of the world, it is a very public announcement that you’d better recognize who it is you are addressing: A learned person. A professional. An academic deity.

As I prepare for the attacks that are bound to come, let me go and seek the protection of my legal fraternity, my former banking and my current consultant colleagues.

Yours truly,

Adv, Bkr, Cslt Carol Musyoka.

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