Gilbert Arland said, “When an archer misses the mark, he turns and looks for the fault within himself. Failure to hit the bull’s eye never the fault of the target. To improve your aim- improve yourself.”
One day on my way to the city centre, I passed a bill board along Jogoo Road that pretty well sums up the Kenyan character of late.
The billboard showed an illustration of five crying babies. Each baby was pointing a finger at the baby to his or her right. I have no idea who paid for the billboard. But the idea I have which I learned from the billboard is that we have become a nation of crybabies; a country populated by what I call ‘voluntary victims’. When I talk about voluntary victims, I mean people or leaders who are chronic complainers, even when they have power to solve what they are complaining about.
Marion Rudin Frank, a clinical Psychologist said, “By repeatedly becoming their fate, chronic complainers cast themselves as victims…..which is nothing more than self sabotage.”
The truth is voluntary victims don’t really want to fix problems because they don’t real care about solutions. The role of the victims absolves them of any responsibility for fixing a problem and secretly they enjoy the attention they get from whining.
As leaders, let us face the facts. Playing the victim never solves anything. All it does is add fuel to the misery bonfire. If you are a new CEO of a company and the company start experiencing a decline in performance, do not start playing victim by stating that employees are sabotaging your leadership. Do not even change your office locks as most leaders do when they take over the reins of new leadership. Remember that every door however expensive has a ‘keyhole’ and anyone who wants access to your office can easily look through it. Therefore trying to change keys, locks and so on is an exercise in futility.
Some even surround themselves with people whom they think are loyal, excluding those they perceive as their rivals who have strong egos and ambitions. This is not the victorious way to start your new leadership assignment in an organisation.
CBS anchor Katie Couric asked Barack Obama which one book he would take with him to the White House, apart from the Bible. The eventual winner of the Presidential election singled out ‘Team of Rivals,’ Doris Kearns Goodwin’s 2005 best selling account of President Abraham Lincoln’s leadership during the civil war.
You can take away several lessons from studying Abraham Lincoln’s Presidency. This will help you know particularly how to select people you want to work with. For example Lincoln surrounded himself with people including his rivals who had strong egos and ambitions, who felt free to question his authority and who were unafraid to argue with him.
For instance, Lincoln brought Salmon Chase into his cabinet as treasury secretary and kept him there for three years, knowing full well that Chase craved the Presidency with every fibre of his being and knowing that Chase was undermining him all the time with Cabinet members, congress and the rest of the country. As long as he was doing a good job at his post, that was more important than personal feelings.
Similarly, when you take up leadership you need to have intelligence, and the self confidence, to know that you require the best people by your side, people who are very aware of their own strengths. People who will state the truth about your leadership. Rand Pausch said, “If I only had three words of advice, they would be, Tell the Truth. If I got three more words, I’d, add, All the Time.” That is an important insight whether you are the leader of a country, or the CEO of a company.
To explain exactly what I mean, I want you as a leader to think for a moment about your eyes. What colour are they? The answer is, you either looked in a mirror or someone told you. In fact, these are the only two ways to determine your own eye colour.
Therefore, it does not matter how smart, cute or talented you are, you simply cannot see your own eye colour by looking from within yourself. This simple analogy forms a basis for me to suggest to you that independent people, not sycophants, act like a mirror through which you can see your lapses or error in your leadership.
You need to know however, that there is the downside of having very independent people in your leadership. I mean if you are as inclusive a leader as Lincoln was, then the danger is that you are constantly talking and arguing about things late into the night without reaching a consensus. It can be paralysing so you have to be prepared to vote on decisions, and if a vote results in a stalemate, then you have to make that decision yourself and be ready to tell the team, “like it or not, here is what we are doing,” otherwise your leadership will become a victim of paralysis by analysis.
It is not enough to be competent or have a competent and independent team surrounding your leadership. Such a team must have mental pictures that determine the actual future of your organisation.
I have been listening to various political leaders articulate ways of tackling poverty. In my view they are all victims of the past ways of tackling poverty.
I think winning the war against poverty must begin with a correct diagnosis of what causes poverty. When you begin correctly at the beginning, you are too sure of the end. Often, it is wrong diagnosis that causes the death of patients in our hospitals. A man may be suffering from cancer of the lungs, but he is being treated for a common cold. After his death, the doctors see the need for a postmortem to try to find out what actually killed him. As long as the diagnosis is wrong, you cannot hope for economic recovery.
Until you change the way you think, you cannot change the way you live and will remain a victim of your past. The cause of poverty is more of mind than is of the hand. It is more of mentality than it is of activity. As a man thinks in his heart so is he (James Allen). Likewise until you are healed, your recovery is not in view. It is your mental picture that determines your actual future. The mind has to be repositioned before a recovery can be experienced.
One day I stopped over at Nakumatt Junction along Ngong Road to buy a book. As I was passing by, I saw a sign at a restaurant reading, “Kentucky Fried Chicken”. Immediately I saw this I connected to a story of a 63 year old man named Harlan who had every excuse in the world to play the role of a victim, but he chose to become a victor instead! At one time Harlan owned a restaurant-motel-service station business which he had built up over the years.
Two years later the state built a new superhighway bypassing his business and within a year Harlan lost everything. Here he was 65 years old, very broke and no income. He could have sued the state for destroying his business, but he didn’t. He could have taken to the bottle drowning himself in his sorrows because he was too old to start over. But he didn’t.
Instead of playing victim, Harlan took stock of himself. He loaded his battered old car with a pressure cooker and his special recipe, and set out to sell his idea to the world. It was tough going; he often slept in his car because there wasn’t enough money for a hotel room.
The man was Harlan Sanders. Most likely you know him better by his more recognisable name – Colonel Sanders, the legend behind Kentucky Fried Chicken.
It doesn’t matter fellow Kenyans what your position in society is; whether a CEO, a Governor, a President, a business person, a head of department and so on. You are always better off being a victor than a victim. You may choose to learn from Abraham Lincoln, Colonel Sanders or any of your mentors. If you choose Lincoln, you saw how he handled the civil war and became victorious. If you choose Colonel Sanders, you will note that he remained true to his life-long conviction that starting and running his own business was the only way to go, he emerged a victor not a victim.
I would add here that one more victory factor is key for great leadership, be it in business or politics, and it is one that is usually overlooked. As a leader you need to know how to relax so that you can replenish your energies for the struggles facing you tomorrow.
Franklin Roosevelt had to organise a cocktail hour every evening during Second World War when he just couldn’t talk about the war. He needed to remain free from thinking about the bad things for a few hours. Therefore, the ability to view various scenarios from a victor perspective rather than a victim perspective is crucial for successful leadership. David killed Goliath because he saw him as too big to miss to hit. You have power to become a victor too!