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Kenya’s Age of Bad Leadership

The following article, about the debate over setting age limits for Kenya’s political leadership, originally appeared in The Star.

Is there an age limit to political leadership? Are some Kenyans contending that if an upper-age limit is declared beyond which one cannot lead, this will be the silver bullet to remove the country from its miasma of mediocrity? What if an energizer battery were to be discovered to provide extra energies to the likes of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu? Would we continue to insist that they be consigned to old peoples’ homes merely because they are past a certain age? Hogwash! Poppycock! Balderdash! Nonsense upon stilts!

Rather than consign old people to retirement, the imperative should be to decisively reject old ideas. These would be the kind of tired and retired ideas that have continued to strangulate our political energies and entirely paralyzed any forward political movement. Are corruption, tribalism, aggression, patriarchy, impunity, and patronage only the preserve of the elderly? How old was businessman Kamlesh Pattni when he lent his name to Goldenberg International, a shell company which is estimated to have defrauded the country of billions of shillings? Or Mobutu Sese Seko, the former President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, when he forcibly grabbed power? Are the “Ocampo Six” (Henry Kosgey, Minister for Industrialization; Uhuru Kenyatta, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance; William Ruto, suspended Education Minister; Francis Muthaura, Secretary to the Cabinet, Mohammed Hussein Ali, former police chief; and Joshua arap Sang, a journalist with Kass FM) exclusively from the elderly age group?

Again, a red herring has been sprung into Kenya’s political discourse with the sole intention of diverting attention from the inglorious nakedness that we must necessarily confront: bad leadership. Bad leadership is not a preserve of either old or young, man or woman, rich or poor, Gikuyu or Kalenjin or Luo. Rather it is a pervasive phenomenon which we can only tackle after recognizing and accepting—rather than denying—it.

There have been numerous studies over time about leadership and, thankfully, Ngunjiri Wambugu of Change Associates unearthed a really pertinent one on dysfunctional leadership by Med Yones. Yones is categorical:

Leadership is the most important competitive advantage of a company, not technology, finance, operations or anything else … The leadership team is the most important asset of the company and can be its worst liability... Poor performance is the result of incompetent or dysfunctional leadership … the main reason for poor organizational performance is … negative internal politics.

Welcome to Kenya Incorporated.

To diagnose bad or dysfunctional leadership, Yones provides 17 signs. They are:

  • Dictatorial Leadership: Management that does not allow disagreements out of insecurity or arrogance.
  • No 360 Degrees Feedback: There is limited or no leadership performance feedback.
  • Personal Agendas: Recruitments, selections, and promotions are based on internal political agenda, for example hiring friends to guarantee personal loyalty at the expense of other highly performing and more-qualified employees.
  • Political Compensation: Stock options, bonuses, and perks are not fairly linked to performance.
  • Inefficient Use of Resources: Budgets are allocated between business units or departments based on favoritism and power centers rather than actual business needs.
  • Empire-building Practices: Managers believe that the more people they manage and the bigger the budget, the higher the chance that they will be promoted. This results in raging battles around budgets, strategies, and operations.
  • Unequal Workload Distribution: You'll find some departments are underutilized while other departments are overloaded.
  • Too Much Management: There are many management layers in the organization, thus hindering communication and resulting in slower execution.
  • Fragmented Organization Efforts: Interdepartmental competition and turf wars between rival managers lead to the emergence of silos, which results in communication gaps. Management silos almost always result in fragmented and duplicated budgets and projects, thus wasting valuable company investments.
  • Too Much Talk: Plans are heavy on talk but light on action. In a political corporate culture, image management becomes far more important than actions.
  • Ineffective Meetings: Argumentative and heated cross-divisions meetings with discussion and language focusing on point scoring and buck-passing rather than sharing responsibility and collaborating to solve the problem.
  • Lack of Collaboration: Every person for himself/herself. There is low sense of unity or camaraderie on the team. The key criterion for decision-making is What is in it for me?
  • Low Productivity: Management wastes more time and energy on internal attack and defense strategies instead of executing the work, innovating and overcoming challenges. Critical projects fall behind on deadlines, budgets and performance targets (e.g. sales, market share, quality and other operational targets).
  • Constant Crisis Mode: Management team spends most of their time on fire fighting instead of proactive planning for next-generation products and services.
  • Morale Deterioration: Muted level of commitment and enthusiasm by other teams. Even successful results cannot be shared and celebrated due to animosity and internal negative competition.
  • Backstabbing: Backbiting among the executives and managers becomes common and public.
  • Highly Stressful Workplace: There is a high rate of absenteeism and a high employee turnover rate.

This is the challenge of bad leadership for Kenya. Notice the absence of an age limit in these warning signs?

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