being a leader at any level

Leading the Leader

I had a conversation with my hair dresser this week about the gap in leadership. She has done my hair for the last 10 years thereabouts and I have followed her when she moved shop three times and now has put up just in the ghetto. It’s not exciting to go there and she has lost some business because of the location. She had to adopt and now does more house calls with that and the pandemic. She is really good at what she does: her fingers are so gentle that most times I actually fall asleep while she works and she’s an angel with braiding little girls. Those of us with a sense of loyalty have done all we can to accommodate her including one of my sisters who brings her daughter from across town to get her hair done.

Now, in her current station, as I said, it’s the ghetto and because she’s a meticulous person, she struggled until she got a container shop that’s easier to keep clean. But her neighbours keep encroaching on her space, the next shop plays unnecessarily loud music, the clinic across the path used her step as a cement mixing spot when building and now there’s a guy who is operating a shop at her veranda without having paid any rent. She is very upset and was complaining about how there’s no real leadership to give proper guidance or enforce rules. Then she does the mass mentality of “God help us with our leaders” which upsets me and I then lecture her about voting properly. Then it reminded me of a funny story when I worked with a theatre group.

“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”

Robin S. Sharma,

I mentioned how I bombed out of having an acting career (Dealing With Broken Dreams) and worked the front desk instead. So the first play that I worked at the desk was a hit about impunity in the country, it was called the 43rd Kenyan Tribe. It was hilarious and called out the corruption and I was proud to just a part of the whole shebang. The company’s plays used to be amazing and every weekend screening would be booked to the brim and still have some people coming in at the last minute hoping for no shows or cancellations whose tickets could be rescheduled and make space for the disorganised. When I tell you that the demand was high, you would have to be a regular Kenyan theatre fan to understand. So this particular day, it was a Friday evening and as usual, the place was packed, the lobby was full of people trying to get in even begging to stand just to watch the show and there was chaos. Sometimes, the worst thing would happen- seats were double booked or marked for the wrong day or someone rescheduling because they needed to watch it that day because of some emergency of some sort. Mashe (mentioned in the above post) would be the guy to figure out these placements while I would sit there, smile politely, sympathetically or patiently at the crowd depending on how many people were shouting, begging or negotiating with me at the time.

In the midst of all this, in walks a then government minister and his posse. The crowd parts for them to walk straight at me expecting the usual Kenyan way of “mheshimiwa” (honourable person) getting preferential treatment. At this moment, we already have a problem and there are people with tickets waiting to get in, temperatures are high, the play is starting, everyone is nervous. Anyone asking to buy tickets at that point has been receiving the same refrain- ‘The show is sold out for the next three screenings. Please take a flyer, call the hotline early in the morning when we will have clarified any open seats for the next day or just to book for Sunday.’ Smile, next person, repeat. Then Mhesh comes wanting seats for 5 people. Mashe is inside and there’s an irate customer on his back. So guess what little miss Becky does with Mhesh? “‘The show is sold out for the next three screenings. Please take a flyer, call the hotline early in the morning when we will have clarified any open seats for the next day or just to book for Sunday.” He says thank you, and politely exits.

“Sustained change only happens when we shift at an emotional rather than logical level.”

Robin Sharma, The Leader Who Had No Title

Mashe comes out just as Mhesh is out the door and nervously asks me what just happened. I tell him what I did, and he laughs a crazy laugh that only a meme can do justice to. Then he takes a deep breath and says ‘it’s cool, let’s just deal with the problems we have.’ and turns to the crowd. On the upside, this exchange drummed it into the waiting crowd that for real, the show was tight. So they took a hint, picked a flyer and/or booked for the next week and the pressure eased. Afterwards, both directors came to the desk to confirm that I really did send away a government minister then laughed like it was the most hilarious joke in the world. I will never forget Berry’s laugh because he had a laugh that was a statement in itself. Berry would laugh the same laugh when he’s firing you, roasting you, cussing you out or applauding you. I could never be sure what to do when Berry laughed. After they wiped their tears, they said I was crazy but I had a point, wasn’t that exactly what the play was about?

However, guess what happened the next day? Early in the morning, Mheshimiwa himself called right on time to find that we did have some space available and booked his seats. In the evening, he came on time, bypassing the day’s lot of last-minute hopefuls and settled into the play like any other civilized patron. Mashe laughed some more.

Similarly, I was once at the government printer’s buying a document for school when a legislator walked in and stood in line to get his purchase. The other people in the line moved to let him pass and he refused, pointing that we were there before him so he should wait. That man is running for president and I wish we could make 50 more of him to populate the government.

“Whether you think something is possible or impossible, you’ll most certainly be right. Because your belief determines your behaviour.”

Robin S. Sharma

At first I just wanted to share this story because it needs to be said. We keep waiting for someone else to be our salvation and do the things we know should be done. We keep dreaming of magical, instant results from leaders or other people. We demand understanding instead of giving clarification. This was a reminder that there are things you are still in control of. Emotional intelligence teaches that you control your response, that your circle of influence goes only so far.

Also, practice what you preach.

1 thought on “Leading the Leader”

  1. A timely reminder that we need to be guided by our values. Our values give us strength in our conviction to stand up for what is right. Leadership starts with doing what is right…from the lady in the street to those in Parliament!

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