The Power Of Vision

A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of spending some time with one the governor of one of our counties. I must confess that my expectations before the meeting were not extremely high, as I have often encountered elected leaders who were more about hype and charm than substance. To my surprise however, I left our meeting pretty clear about the man’s vision and priorities and even inspired to want to be part of the change that he was so passionate about!

vision2That encounter really got me thinking about the power of vision. Not just for elected leaders but for all leaders. Leadership guru Bill Hybels describes vision as ‘a picture the future that produces passion’. The word ‘picture’ suggests a description of the future that is easy for those following to visualize, understand and buy into. Whether you lead a government, an organization, a work unit, classroom or family, vision is your most potent leadership tool!

It’s pretty obvious to me when I walk into a space where there’s a clear and well-articulated vision for the future. You very quickly sense the energy and passion of those who work or live there. They have high ownership of their roles. They go beyond the call of duty, doing way beyond what is expected of them, in order to do the task well. Why? Because they believe! Vision is what turns bystanders into believers.

vision1The leader’s first task is to define such a vision for their followers. Unfortunately, most leaders don’t know this. Some think of vision as a generic statement crafted at an offsite retreat to be framed and hang in a prominent place in the company’s reception area. Others ignore it as they immediately dive into tackling the most urgent problems. But without a clear vision, it’s difficult to know what to focus on today and what to set aside for another time!

Vision also enables those you lead to willingly put up with present discomforts because they have bought in to a preferred future that they are willing to sacrifice for. In addition, vision increases long-term effectiveness. As people join the organization, they already know what it stands for and rather than each pursuing their own agenda, they are able to bring their various gifts and strengths to bear on achieving the same thing.

A good vision also leads to good results. Over the next year or so, it will become rather obvious which of our forty seven counties have a clear and compelling vision and which ones are merely engaged in urgent activities and in managing the status quo!

But enough about governors and counties; what is your vision for the people that you lead? What is your picture of the future that produces passion?

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We Need A Reformation Of Manners!

WilberforceWilliam Wilberforce is famous as the British MP who fought for the abolition of the Slave Trade. Against great odds, he led the fight against an activity that was thought vital by most of his fellow citizens because of its huge economic value to the British Empire. He was branded a traitor and opposed by powerful corporates and politicians. His struggle lasted fifty years and it was only three days before he died that Wilberforce heard the news that slavery had been abolished across the empire. His incredible contribution has been referred to by historians as ‘one of the turning events in the history of the world’.

But Wilberforce’s goal was much bigger than changing his nation’s laws. He set out to do nothing less than inform and shape the nation’s social conscience.  He called this “the reformation of manners.” Before his time, a respectable citizen could stroll past an eleven year-old prostitute on a London street without feeling a twinge of outrage. But Wilberforce set out to change the status quo, and challenge the evils tolerated by ‘polite society’. His goal was to change not just the law but people’s hearts and minds, so that social evils like slavery, child prostitution, alcoholism, public profanity and extreme poverty would not be contemplated or tolerated by good citizens. 

nairobiI believe our own nation desperately needs Wilberforces today! We live in a time when greed has been enshrined as a virtue; when young schoolboys hold up corrupt politicians as role models for how to get rich quickly without hard work. Soldiers are accused of looting the citizens they should be protecting but those same citizens will gleefully loot an overturned fuel or beer truck on the highway. Immigration officers turn a blind eye to illegal aliens. Drug dealers sell their wares with impunity. City council workers ignore the abuse of building regulations. The rich and middle class are oblivious to the extreme income disparities across our nation.

It’s not enough for us to express our disgust with the status quo on social media! We each need to begin to see our vocation as our space to bring about the reformation of manners. If you are a parent, you need to take your role of bringing up children with strong moral values seriously. If you are a media practitioner or entertainer, use your platform for the betterment of society. If you are an accountant or lawyer or farmer or marketer how is your practice or career or business not just adding to your bottom line but also helping create a better nation?

The second law of thermodynamics states that disorder is the natural state of things. Things generally move towards a state of less energy and more decay unless fresh energy is injected from an outside source. History confirms this. Things don’t just get better over time; someone must act boldly and sacrificially for our nation to change for the better.

As Edmund Burke, another 18th Century British parliamentarian once said, ‘All that is necessary for the forces of evil to win in the world is for enough good men to do nothing’.

Excellence From The Inside Out

runninglateHe was practically sprinting because of how late he was for the important meeting. He mind was on overdrive, striving to come up with an acceptable excuse. Finally, he opened the door to the boardroom. To his great relief, most of the other attenders had not yet arrived. Only the company secretary was there, and everyone knew she was always on time. After greeting her happily, he said, ‘Phew, I thought I was late!’

Okay, that’s a fictional story. But it’s one that is replayed many times every day in our city where we often run on AMT (African Mean Time)! The thinking is that if everyone else came later than me, then obviously I can’t be late. But this just a symptom of the fact that our standards of excellence are not based on an internal frame of reference but on what others around us are doing.

imitationSo guess what happens in Nairobi when you start an innovative business? Some sharp Kenyans will ‘copy paste’ it and soon everyone else will be doing it! This practice is not just the preserve of small ‘jua kali’ businesses. A few years ago, a local bank developed the innovative idea that they could lend to the ‘un-bankable’. After years of backbreaking labor, it finally began to pay off. So every other bank quickly rushed to copy what they were doing! ‘Copy and paste’ seems to be a national value. Have you ever noticed how identical most of our news programs are on TV, including the intro clock at a certain time? If you watch in black and white and ignore the company logo, it’s impossible to know what channel you’re watching!

Now I need to say at this point that there’s nothing wrong with doing market research or with adopting what is obviously working elsewhere! But we need to be careful that we’re not just following the herd, dependent on what others are doing. The inevitable result is inconsistency and mediocrity.

The good book has a great story about a civil servant named Daniel who regularly got promoted regardless of which government was in charge. After sixty years of public service, his envious opponents commissioned an audit of his work to try and get him fired. But it was futile! As the story goes, ‘Finally these men said, “We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God.”’

excellence3Daniel’s excellence was not based on who was watching or on what the competition was doing. It came out of knowing who he was and what God expected of him. You see, excellence is not something you put on for show. It’s not something you do for money or promotion. If you develop a lifestyle of excellence, you don’t come to meetings late because you know no one else keeps time. You don’t change your game plan every time the competition changes theirs. And you don’t need someone to look over your shoulders to get your work done well!

Do You Work Hard Or Smart?

muddy roadOne of our greatest strengths as Kenyans is that we are very adaptable. When the going get tough, we adapt! If the potholed road outside your house is muddy, you buy gumboots and pray for the day you’ll own a car! But this adaptability can also be a great weakness. It keeps us from constantly questioning the way things are and from building systems to help us change our reality.

As a child, I remember my dad remarking after a trip to the US that he thought Americans were very lazy. The reason was that they were always creating machines and systems to keep them from working hard! His background had taught him the value of working hard but not of working smart.  Not to be too had on my old man though because my own generation is not that different! A while back, I visited a German friend who lives on the outskirts of Nairobi. I was fascinated to discover that he had created his own electricity supply from damming a nearby river and created solar panels from local materials. In addition, his water supply was entirely from trapping all the rainwater from his roof into huge tanks!

rainwater harvestingThe reality is that none of that is rocket science. But while many of us pray for rain; we have little ability to store it when it comes. As a result, while my friend’s home city of Berlin only gets sixty five percent of Nairobi’s rainfall, no one worries about rain there; they never have droughts or power shortages because they have systems to use the little they get efficiently!

One of the reasons why we adapt to difficulty rather than create systems is because we feel we don’t have the time. I mean who has time to find out where the ward office is or how much CDF money has been set aside for roads in our area? But by creating our little private solutions, we fail to provide effective solutions for ourselves and those around us.

A second reason we prefer to adapt to difficulty is because of the benefits of inefficiency. If you write down your current job into manuals so that anyone can do it, people may no longer think you’re a genius! If you train others to run your company, people might no longer think you’re indispensable! Many working moms don’t have systems to help them manage their housework and kids. As a result, they’re always tired and even the time they spend with their kids is not pleasant. But the result is a martyr feeling – ‘I’m suffering for my kids’. Not having systems carries it’s own subtle reward!

The good book in Hosea 4:6 says ‘my people perish for lack of knowledge’. Note that it says knowledge not prayer! Investing in systems means that we stop bothering God with things we can do for ourselves and turn our prayers to the things that really count. As a friend once told me, God gave us a brain so that we can give Him a break!

What are the areas in your life that are sorely lacking in systems? What can you do this week to start working smart?

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Opportunities In Disguise

africa2Ever heard the little story about the shoe salesman who was sent to Africa? Before I repeat it, let me say by way of disclaimer that I’m always intrigued at the ignorance of those who think of Africa as one large mystical troubled country! Not wanting to throw the baby out with the bathwater, I’ll tell the story anyway.

So, two shoe salesmen were sent to ‘Africa’ to see if there was a market for their product. After a few weeks, they sent back their sales reports to headquarters. The first one reported back, “There is no opportunity to increase sales here; no-one here wears shoes.” The second one however had a different view of the same situation. “Wow, this is a fantastic business opportunity to grow the business; no-one here wears shoes!”

As a nation, we certainly are great at identifying our problems. A casual scanning of our daily newspapers or our online conversations will quickly confirm that we love to discuss and vent about our issues – whether it’s our traffic or the state of our roads, our school system or the corruption in our country, and of course our favorite, our political leaders! We all know what they did wrong and what we would have done better if we were in their shoes. And often we’ll shrug our shoulders and say knowingly or despairingly depending on our situation, ‘only in Kenya’.

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As we complain, its easy to miss out on the fact that others across the world are waking up to – that Africa is the world’s last frontier, with huge opportunities for all who are willing to see them. The world’s governments and multinationals are beating their way here to exploit these opportunities. They can see the vast untapped mineral wealth in this part of the world, and the increasing investments in infrastructure that are making it more accessible. They can see the huge market that is our growing middle class, as well as our bulging youth population. They can see the maturing of our institutions that is making business a whole lot easier. While all we see are the problems, they see the opportunities!

The good book teaches that in the beginning, God created an orderly and beautiful universe out of darkness and chaos. And then He created humans ‘in His image’. In other words, we too were created to invent solutions and create beauty out of darkness and chaos. We were created to be the problem solvers for our society!

God's image

It’s been said that ‘average people see difficulty in every opportunity but great people see opportunity in every difficulty’. As citizens of this great nation, we need to learn the truth of the simple saying, ‘don’t vent, invent!’ It’s time to stop seeing the ‘half-empty cup’ of what’s going wrong and start to focus on the ‘half-full cup’ of the opportunities presented to us by our many problems. Because every problem is an opportunity in disguise!

Heroes Wanted

heroes1At 2.49pm on April 15th, two hours after the first runners crossed the finish line, the first of two bombs went off just meters away from the finish line of the Boston marathon. The bombs killed 3 people and injured 282. I happened to be visiting the US at the time and with many across the world, my prayers went out to the people of Boston for the trauma, heartache and loss that they experienced. Watching the drama that unfolded for several days afterwards and resulted in the capture of the two brothers who carried out the act, I thought there were several things that I and perhaps my countrymen could learn from the way the Americans responded. 

heroesThe first lesson was how the typically liberal US media regulated itself. Despite the fact that many of the injuries were grievous, involving mutilation, shrapnel wounds and loss of limbs and that the site of the bombing reportedly resembled a chaotic war zone, you’d hardly have known that from your TV!

Just like in the 2011 twin tower attacks that kiled over 3000 or the 2005 Hurricane Katrina disaster that killed over 1800, the media shied off from televising dead bodies and gory injuries. heroes93Instead they showed what was clearly a sanitized picture of the bombs going off after which they quickly moved on to pictures of candles, cards and flowers placed on the site by mourners to commemorate the victims. The reports focused not on the carnage but on the investigation and the determination of their leaders to bring the perpetrators to justice.

I marveled at how different this was from our own approach, which has in the past tended to display uncensored bloody pictures to a gleeful international media that then sensationally splashes them across the world. Such pictures indelibly shape the world’s perception about us and of course negatively impact tourism and foreign direct investment. Or put in layman’s terms, they cut jobs and reduce the food on our tables!

heroesThe second impressive thing was how quick the Americans were to humanize the victims. Far from faceless bodies, their names and sympathetic biographies soon filled the airwaves and revealed them to have been the girl next door or the bright child with a great future. The media interviewed the families of the victims with great sensitivity, allowing us to identify with them while being sensitive about their need for privacy.

In many of our own disasters, we have instead tended to dutifully upload to the watching world pictures of nameless, suffering Africans. The net effect is apathy by those watching, and a lowering of dignity for our people as a whole. On this count, I am encouraged by recent outraged campaigns by Kenyans online against biased international journalists and media houses.

heroes3But by far the thing that stood out the most for me was the heroic portrayal of law enforcement officers and others who played a role in the whole process. Right on cue, the media was running segments with titles like ‘The Heroes Of Boston’, and the story of the investigation and subsequent arrest of the suspects began to sound suspiciously like a Hollywood thriller! This intrinsic American ability to create heroes of its citizens started with the Wild West cowboys and has gone on to define the staple fare of movie theaters across the world. No wonder children everywhere including here often wish that they were born or lived in ‘the land of the free and the brave’!

My own observations based on my travels are that Americans are no more or less heroic than any other culture. They just know how to create and celebrate local heroes better than the rest of us!

heroes8This is a skill that we too must learn and nurture. Heroes abound around us, from our fearless KDF troops that liberated neighboring Somalia to the regular cops who daily protect our lives. They include our world beating athletes and our Fairtrade teafarmers who grow the best coffee and tea in the world. But there are also many ordinary heroes around us every day, creating solutions for people in our informal settlements and rural areas, providing employment through their entrepreneurial efforts or just serving the public with dedication and commitment despite meagre resources. heroes92

Maybe we as a nation need to spend much more airtime celebrating our heroes than complaining about our villains!

And then as I wrote this, another thought struck me. What if we could learn to act this way even when there are no disasters? Is it possible we will begin to realize the potential of this great nation? Is it possible that our elected politicians will be forced to actually start acting honorably in order to get public attention? Is it even possible that one day in the future, kids around the world will wish they were born or lived in ‘the land of the heroic Kenyans’?

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Something I read online after the marathon…

If we gave more media coverage to every hero of a tragedy than we gave to the person behind it, people would start to realize that attention and validation goes to those who do good, not harm!

Africa’s Greatest Generation

Africa‘The Greatest Generation’ was a term coined by journalist Tom Brokaw to describe the generation of Americans who grew up in the deprivation of the Great Depression, went out to fight the 2nd World War, and then returned home to build their nation into a superpower. I too have come to believe that I am part of Africa’s Greatest Generation.

Today is a significant day in Kenya’s history. By it’s end, we will either have a president-elect or or a new election process in the next 2 months. The naysayers have continued predicting doom and gloom over this nation. I however believe that the way the elections went including the subsequent court case are actually best way that this nation could have tested the institutions that were put in place by our new constitution!

Whichever way the Supreme Court rules, I pray that my fellow countrymen and women will not only accept the verdict but rally together as one to effect the judgment and build this great nation. Whether it goes the way you wanted it to or not! I pray that those who feel the verdict went for them will celebrate modestly and responsibly. And that those who feel it went against them will embrace it with dignity and graciousness. Whoever wins the presidency, either today or in 60 days, will be the president of every single one of us.

Kenya FlagThis is but a beginning as we travel together to build a future for our children. We stand on the verge of great promise and potential but a lot depends on our choices going forward. The fork in the road ahead of us leads to either greatness or mediocrity. I want to paraphrase the words of a great American preacher, spoken 50 years ago, just before our own nation attained independence. He could have been speaking about us today…

“Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy. Now it the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of economic injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.

Now it the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of ethnic cocoons to the sunlit path of choosing unity and inclusion.

I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the dream of our ancestors, as they united together against colonial oppression.

I have a dream of a day when there will be no slums in our nation, and every person who desires to work will own their means of production.

I have a dream that my three children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by sound of their last name but by the content of their character.

I have a dream that one day every county in this nation will be transformed into an oasis of freedom, inclusion and justice.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be engulfed, every hill shall be exalted and every mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plains and the crooked places will be made straight and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”

This must be our common hope. United we stand, divided we fall! Now begins the real work – the work of unifying a nation that has long been divided by real and perceived injustices. Now begins the task of building a nation our children will be proud to belong to. And in the process we must have hope and faith that the God of all creation is more than able to bless this our land and nation!

I pray that my generation will be the generation that sees this dream become a reality. I pray that we will arise to become part of the greatest generation that Africa has ever seen!

AMEN!

africa arise