Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up knowing that it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. At the same time a lion wakes up every same morning knowing that it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death.
In this article I have taken the metaphor of a gazelle being chased by a lion or a lion chasing a gazelle and drawn an analogy to leadership, business or personal challenges that we have so far faced as individuals or a country. The challenges that we face are like a lion chasing a gazelle and our success will depend on whether we will run fast enough to outrun them.
You need to know that no matter the economy of the jungle, the lion will never eat grass. It is not that it is proud, it is just who it is. It must look for meat. In other words challenges or tragedies must confront us in one way or another. When they do, we question whether or not life is still worth living. This is the time when hope flees our hearts, when fear paralyses our minds and destroys our enthusiasm and when tears rush to our eyes more often than laughter to our lips. We cannot run any more. We start looking in envy at others who are running faster than us, their lives seem glamorous. But when we start looking at their failures and other problems, our own will begin to take new perspective and will motivate us to start running faster.
The grenade attack at the city centre just recently serves to remind us how vulnerable we are and we can’t take a day for granted because it may be our last. We live in challenging times, no question about it. I mean if you are not safe in the Central Business District, then you are not safe anywhere around the city, are you? As the old saying goes, “there are no guarantors in this life.”
Several tragedies have occurred in our country finding us quite unprepared. How fast have we been running since we experienced the last tragedy so that another one does not catch us unawares again? I read a story on how Thomas Edison started running again when he experienced a disaster in his business.
On the night of December 9, 1910, Edison Industries of West Orange, New Jersey, burned to the ground. Thomas Edison lost property worth Ksh.180 Million. The next morning as Edison walked through the charred remains of all his hopes and dreams, he told his family: “There is a great value in disaster because it burns up all your mistakes. Thank God we can start anew.”
Thomas Edison knew the meaning of running faster than what was chasing him. The months after the devastating fire, Edison Industries presented the world with its first phonograph. As a leader, when the sun comes up, how fast are you running not to be caught again by another disaster or challenge?
William James, at twenty five tried to commit suicide. In his despair, he sought the ultimate escape, but he did not commit suicide. Instead he rebuilt his life, discovered the power of attitude, self esteem and became one of the greatest psychologists that the world has ever produced. He is the same man who said, “The greatest discovery of my generation is that the human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind.”
Eleanor Roosevelt, though married to one of the great presidents of United States, had a major problem because she knew she was not an attractive woman. But she wrote what became the theme of her life, “No one can make me feel inferior without my permission.” As a result she changed the way that she saw herself and made a monumental impact upon her time. The people that worked with her, around her and for her said that the longer you worked around her, the more beautiful she became and she knew that beauty was just skin deep. She ran faster and eventually she was able to outrun her unattractiveness.
In 1963, Kenyan founding fathers set themselves the goal of ridding Kenya of poverty, ignorance and disease. As a young man growing up in a village or as a man now in the city, I have seen one administration come in and go, new buildings have come up and new roads, like Thika Super Highway, have been constructed, yet the people are still fighting over the same issues that our forefathers fought over. Is it that we are not running fast enough? Or have we stagnated?
I know for a fact as a Christian that historically, King Solomon did not fight the battles that his father king David fought. When people have to fight the same battles of previous generations it implies either that leaders are not running fast enough or they have been climbing the ladder leaned on a wrong wall or there is stagnation.
If the problem is speed (not running fast enough to outrun the challenges), then leaders should borrow a leaf from what Vince Lombardi said, “Practice does not make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect.”Even Jesus seemed to understand this principle. Jesus went alone into the wilderness and meditated and fasted for forty days and forty nights. From that time on, records saint Matthew, He began to preach. Shortly after that He delivered one of the world’s most celebrated speeches, the sermon on the mountain. He knew how to run faster than what was chasing him.
If the problem is that leaders have climbed a ladder leaned on the wrong wall, then they need to climb down and lean the ladder on the correct wall. Covey writes in the 7 Habits of Highly effective people:
It is incredibly easy to get caught up in an activity trap, in the busy-ness of life, to work harder and harder at climbing the ladder of success only to discover it is leaning against the wrong wall. …if the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster. We may be very busy, we may be very efficient, but we will also be truly effective only when we begin with the end in mind.
If the problem is stagnation, leaders need to distinguish motion from progress, productivity from activity. John Henry Fabre placed caterpillars in a circle. For twenty four hours the caterpillars dutifully followed one another around and around and around. Then Fabre placed the caterpillars around a saucer full of pine needles(their favorite food).For six days the mindless creatures moved around and around the saucer, dying from starvation even though abundance of choice food was located less than two inches away. They were not progressing; they had stagnated that is why they had to die.
I attended the 28 ICPAK annual seminar and there was one presenter (Dr.Gituro Wanaina) who caught my attention. His presentation was entitled Kenya Vision 2030 Flagship projects: are we on track? He showed how valley Road area and Nairobi River looked like at independence and compared how the two areas look at present, the difference to say the least was unbelievable.
Since his presentation was on vision2030 and the leaders always say that we were at par with Malaysia in terms of GDP and economic development at independence, I wanted to find out how Malaysia was managing their vision 2020.
I noted that Malaysia’s vision 2020 under the stewardship of Dr.Mahathir Mohamad caught the imagination and excitement of the whole nation. I was struck when I read that any meeting he chaired whether cabinet or not, every participant had to carry with him or her raw egg at all times. Those who thought it was ridiculous to carry an egg with them all the time and therefore left behind had to go back for it. It was at the end of the meeting that the participants were told the significance of having the egg all the time. Dr Mahathir said living in multiethnic society is like carrying an egg, if we don’t handle it well, it will crack and it won’t be easy putting it back together again. This is a simple but powerful analogy.
As Kenyans we need to borrow a leaf from this analogy. We need to build a cohesive and coherent nation which is physically united and not easily destabilized by divisive forces such as ethnic, tribal, language, religious, class or regional differences. The acquisition of both attributes of cohesion and coherence are important because cohesion without coherence would be like a body without a soul.
I further noted that the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) equivalent of our proposed Konza city, occupied a central place in the government of Malaysia’s total planning perspective. The Prime Minister said one time that he could not allow the MSC to fail and to ensure this; he said, “the Deputy Prime Minister and I will personally oversee the activities of the Multimedia Development Corporation (the Manager of the MSC) and will resolve issues brought to our attention.”
I have used some of the above examples to show the speed at which the Malaysian leaders were moving from the moment they conceptualized an idea. One may ask, how fast are we moving with Vision 2030 or any other national project? If not fast enough, let us trace the tracks of Malaysia.
Jean Giraudoux said, “Only the mediocre die always at their best. Real leaders are always improving and raising their bar on how superbly can perform and quickly they can move.” Leaders should strive to get better than yesterday if they have to outrun the challenges of yesterday. They need to go beyond the call of duty in the realm of personal pride. They need to see the work they do as their signature and make excellence a lifestyle.
We need to run faster or else we will be caught. It does not matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle, when the sun rises up, you had better be running.
Mr. Joseph Nyanchama is a member of ICPAK and Institute of Directors (Kenya) and a Motivational Speaker on Transformational and Servant Leadership.