I went to one of the supermarkets and purchased a mach3 shaving machine, a Gillette product. When I was enjoying my shaving, I remembered the story of the CEO of Gillette, Mr. Colman Mockler who was in the top helm of the company from 1975 to 1991. If you are well acquainted with the story, please do not let your familiarity with it rob you the gripping message that I want to pass.
During Mockler’s tenure, Gillette faced three attacks that threatened to destroy the company’s opportunity for great success. Two attacks came as a hostile takeover bids from Revlon. The third attack came from Coniston partners, an investment group that bought 5.9% of Gillette stock and initiated a proxy battle to seize control of the board, hoping to sell the company to the highest bidder and pocket a quick gain on their shares.
Had Gillette been flipped to Revlon’s at the price he offered, shareholders would have reaped an instantaneous 44% gain on their stocks. Looking at this gain, most executives would have capitulated, pocketing millions from flipping their own stocks and cashing in on generous golden parachutes. Mockler did not capitulate choosing instead to fight for the future great success of Gillette even though he himself would have pocketed a substantial sum on his own shares.
Mockler believed that the future value of the shares far exceeded the current price, even with the price premiums offered by the raiders. To sell out would have made short term share flippers happy but would have been an option for Mockler to take the easy path and turn the company to those who would milk it like a cow, destroying its potential to become successful. It wouldn’t also be an option to Abraham Lincoln during his leadership tenure to sue for peace and lose forever the chance of an enduring great nation.
Mockler was determined to handover a company to his successor which was not only profitable but one whose products could benefit many customers where I am one of them. He understood that leadership is a relay because if your predecessor drops the baton, you may not finish the race successfully.
If your staff or family can function well when you are not around, you are an effective leader. If they can carry on even after you have retired, resigned or gone to glory, you have fulfilled your mission.
If your children sleep hungry because you are not there to cook for them, then you have completely failed as a leader.
If your household dissolved in chaos every time you went out on an errand, or worse your family disintegrated upon your death and never recovered, something was wrong with your leadership. The test of a leader is how many others are leading or at least mentored to lead.
I was reading about the Kennedy family (which most of you I believe know) and was amazed how it suffered for the loss of its leaders for generations and yet the family’s legacy, influence and leadership go on.
For example, for generations, it has suffered the loss of its leaders: Joseph Sr, Joseph Jr, John, Robert, John Jr, and Rose. But the family kept a high profile in public service. In each generation, someone seems to step to the forefront.
Edward “Teddy” Kennedy had to step up following the death of his brother Robert in relatively quick succession. In fact when his brother was short by an assassin on the way to the Democratic nomination for President in 1968, he gave the best speech of his long career, and much of it quoted a speech given by his brother Robert only a few years before to students in South Africa:
“Give me a place to stand; said Archimedes and I will move the world, these men moved the world and so can we all. Few will have greatness to bend history, but each of us can work to change a small portion of the events and in the total of all these acts will be written to history of his generation.”
The Kennedy family had a way of managing succession both in letter and spirit. The family knew how to handover batons in leadership relay. When Edward himself died one of the family members said, “…the death of Edward Kennedy has extinguished a hopeful light in the world but the torch remains lit and it is in our hands”. They knew how to handle transition and power transfer.
You all remember the Mo Ibrahim foundation award dedicated to a “democratically elected African head of state or government who has demonstrated exceptional leadership, served his or her constitutionally mandated term and left office successfully. In other words the award aims at promoting good governance on the continent.
It is surprising to note however, in the seven years since its inception the annual prize has been awarded only three times plus a special award for Nelson Mandela. In 2009 and 2010 for example, the foundation did not award the prize, saying there was no suitable candidate.
From the experience of Mo Ibrahim foundation’s failure to find a suitable candidate for its prize, I have concluded that the aspect of leadership that is most lacking is mentoring for succession.
A high percentage of all leadership conflict in the developing countries especially Africa, takes place at transition, either at the death of a leader or because of a coup. Conflict comes whenever there is a change of leadership in an organization or a political party. We have experienced this in CMC, Kenya Bureau of Stands and currently Tourism Board.
Leaders continue making same mistakes because they do not understand what leadership transfer (handing over a baton of leadership relay) entails.
The first point I wish to make regarding leadership transfer is that leadership is never given to just one generation. Any leader who thinks that he or she is permanent will face one neutralizing agent – death. Therefore it is important for each leader to keep his or her mortality in view.
When one of Abraham Lincoln’s famous debate with Judge Douglas became hot and indications pointed to his defeat, he made critical conclusion remarks in his peculiar monotone by stating the following words: “my friends, it makes little difference, very little difference, whether Judge Douglas or myself is elected to the United States Senate; but the great issue which we have submitted to you today is far above and beyond any personal interests or the political fortunes of any man. And my friends, that issue will live and breathe and burn when the poor, feeble, stammering tongues of Judge Douglas and me are silent in the grave.” From these statements, Lincoln knew that leadership is like a relay race and once you run your part you hand over the baton to the next sprinter. This can only happen if a leader keeps his mortality in mind.
Secondly, leadership that serves only its generation is destined for failure. No leader should lead with only his or her generation in mind. Whether you are a school teacher, head of department of a company, editor, a CEO or a Board member, remember that your responsibility is not only to serve your generation but also to provide for the future.
Thirdly, Leaders should remember that success without successor is failure. It does not matter how successful you are as a leader. If you have no successor, it does not matter how many things people say you have accomplished. You have been a failure.
It does not matter how great your vision is, it does not matter how great your ideas about your company or country may be, and when you die it all dies. Many people have done great work on earth that people admired and that benefited people while they were living, but they failed if they took to the cemetery everything that they were supposed to leave behind.
Do not step on the person you are supposed to handover a relay baton to. He or she may stumble and eventually you may lose the relay race.
South Africa for example could not benefit from the many and splendid talents of those it held down, ignored and oppressed. Germany could not benefit from the enormous talents and contributions of the people Hitler destroyed. Slave holding nations like US and Brazil could not fully benefit from the tremendous potential of the Africans while they held them in bondage.
Even here in Kenya, I remember when I was in school, every school was mandated to gather all students in assemblies to honour the President through patriotic recitations of loyalty pledge.
The clearest impression on our young minds was that we were born to worship the Presidency, that we were not capable of leadership. We were conditioned to “depend”’ on the powers that be for life, trained that we could not determine our own destinies. Chart on our own future, plan out lives. This was a failure in preparing the young for generational succession.
Put another way, the true purpose of leadership is to release others to take over when you are not there, because you should not lead with only your generation in mind.
Hand over your leadership baton relay successfully, and when finally the neutralizing agent- death crystallizes on you, you will be remembered by generations to come.