We need to reclaim `Transformative Leadership’. Urgently. Period

It was indeed a great pleasure for me to sit and interact with my close friends (or allies) last evening in an undisclosed room. Chairman Luke Arrumm led us to discuss the value of `mentoring’ as a way of giving back to society (the concept of Adok aTimo).

I am almost a month into my 63rd year of existence on this planet. I have very little to show of this unique investment of my life by the Almighty. But I must not give up. 

During my birthday mid-August 2020, Rev. Alfred Apela took us to the scriptures and specifically to the story of the young boy with five loaves of bread that fed the many.  You can find this in the Book of Matthew 14:13-21. I quote:

13 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

15 As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”

16 Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”

17 “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.

18 “Bring them here to me,” he said. 19 And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. 20 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21 The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.

In the teachings of Jesus, He repeatedly implores us by starting off by saying `Verily, Verily, I say unto you..” Those who are theological know the meaning of those words. Truly, Truly..

But as always, I digress.

Transformative Leadership, Mentoring and giving back to society. Read Ali Mazrui’s `The Africans: A Triple Heritage’. Transformation is an imperative in todays life. Transformation is also an imperative for all organizations today, be they universities, churches or companies. In a fast-moving environment characterized by digitization, we face threats that emerge more rapidly—and from a wider range of competitors—than ever before. For companies they need to transform their organizations to stay on top, while others face a decline in performance and require dramatic measures to turn themselves around. In either case, transformations are extremely tough to pull off. Only about 30% of large-scale efforts succeed. No wonder the CEO job is more demanding than ever. 

But we know some CEOs do manage to transform their companies, delivering a fundamental reboot that changes the direction of the organization and dramatically improves its operational and financial performance. These leaders seem to have captured lightning in a bottle. How do they do it? Lars Fæste (https://www.bcg.com/publications/2018/five-traits-transformative-ceo) of the Boston Consulting Group says he knows ‘The Five Traits of Transformative CEOs’ and we need to learn from him.

On the other hand, mentoring is a personal, one-on-one relationship between a more experienced person and a young person-in-the-making. The mentor is exposed to the mentee’s energy and ideas, and the trainee receives the guidance and encouragement necessary for professional development, wholesome maturity and survival skills for the challenging world.

You have heard of the expression `passing on the baton’ and watched athletes do that in relay races. It is an allusion to a relay race in which one runner literally hands a baton to the next runner. One runner approaches the team member who has also started the sprint. At the point of exchange, both are running. Mentoring should just be like that. You take the hand of the mentee and walk with them before leaving them to get on with implementing what they have learned from you. By this act, you bestow one’s responsibility or job upon someone else. The traits of a good mentor are: 

  • Accessibility: An open door and an approachable attitude;
  • Empathy: Personal insight into what the trainee is experiencing;
  • Open-mindedness: Respect for each trainee’s individuality and for working styles and career goals differ from your own;
  • Consistency: Acting on your stated principles on a regular basis;
  • Patience: Awareness that people make mistakes and that each person matures at his or her own rate;
  • Honesty: Ability to communicate the hard truths about the world “out there” and about the trainee’s chances; and
  • Savvy: Attention to the pragmatic aspects of development.

How does one go about getting the best out of mentoring?  

Being mentored is as much an art as mentoring. It’s a matter of getting plugged into a complex network, knowing whom to ask for what, knowing how to accept the professional advice you receive, and maintaining long-term personal and professional relationships. The following suggestions from `Making the Right Moves’ (available at: http://www.hhmi.org/labmanagement) are useful:

  • Foresight: Start early to think about your future;
  • Proactivity: Don’t expect to be taken care of. You could easily be overlooked in the competitive and often frightening global village;
  • Probing: Ask tough questions. Find out about the experiences of others with this potential mentor;
  • Respect: Be polite. Make and keep appointments. Stay focused. Don’t overstay your welcome;
  • Gratitude: Everyone likes to be thanked;
  • Reciprocation: Repay your mentor indirectly by helping others; and
  • Humility: Be willing to accept critical feedback so that you are open to learning new ways of thinking about getting on. 

Giving back to the community or society is recognizing that you have been empowered to empower others, and it is a moral obligation; there is no government law that obliges its citizens to be charitable; in other words, you will not be imprisoned for not being charitable.

I have written about my life experience and the choices I have had to make: http://yoroguyo.co.ke/2020/05/10/a-man-of-many-worlds/. I have also spoken to you about learning from Sankofa http://yoroguyo.co.ke/2020/07/08/learning-from-sankofa/.  

Yor Oguyo is a Luo phrase that translates as `the path of the butterfly’. The words were not coined by me, but one far greater than I, my mentor and friend. namely the late Professor Risely Odhiambo, founding Director of the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE), founding President of the African Academy of Sciences (AAS) and Third Word Academy of Sciences (TWAS) among many others.  In 2003, months before his physical transition, Odhiambo said:

“There is an impression some people have that during silence nothing is happening… 

My own experience is that a great deal is happening during silence and that, in fact, it is a profound experience. A good analogy here is that of the butterfly.

Scientists who have studied the life of the caterpillar becoming a butterfly can tell you that they seem to be almost entirely different species. A caterpillar is a voracious feeder – a massive eater, eating almost continuously 24 hours a day. It eats several times its own weight in volume of food. It feeds so fast those who are studying it closely can literally see it grow in the 10 days or so that it is a caterpillar. In contrast, a butterfly is a very selective feeder, flitting from one flower to another, feeding on nectar, which in some cultures has been referred to as the food of gods…

In between these two – voracious feeder and the delicate feeder – is the pupa, the chrysalis. It is totally immobile… it does not feed at all for three or four weeks it is in that stage… 

My point is that biochemically and physiologically a profound transformation is taking place during this period. The whole organism is being transformed into a totally new animal. That is why in the old days’ people thought that a caterpillar and a butterfly were totally different animals that didn’t share anything. But now we know that it is the same animal… Transformed in the silence of the chrysalis.”

The point of my analogy is that during that silence, when you have gone inside, a transformation takes place in you, and by the time you finish the silence you are a different person – transformed profoundly…’

The ethos and philosophy of Odhiambo largely influence the blog’s rationale. Having been closely mentored by him, I found myself captivated and transformed by that thinking. Odhiambo gave so much to us all, but sadly he passed on without having published his memoirs. As I have narrated somewhere in my memoirs which I hope to publish soon, named `Of Pythons and Sacred Forests: Reminisces of a Career Scientist’, Odhiambo was a close friend of the founding father of Tanzania, the late Mwalimu Julius Kabarage Nyerere. Sadly too, Nyerere passed on without having written down his vision for pan-Africa.  I have named the book from an experience I shared with Prof. Odhiambo those many years ago.

The importance and benefits of giving back to your community can not be understated and I recommend you read from the EF Academy Blog: https://www.ef.com/wwen/blog/efacademyblog/importance-giving-back-to-your-community/ 

Many get baffled and ask how is it that I find time to read, write, act, keep bees and do all the many things that I get engaged in. Now you know. I have deliberately created functional networks that drive the agenda. They bear the load and do the pushing. I provide some guidance but the networks organically own the programme.  It is that simple. It is a philosophy that seems to work. 

My people, food for thought…!

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