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When Margaret Thatcher took over as the Prime Minister of Britain, she had a clear vision for her country: “I came to office with one deliberate intent,” said Lady Thatcher in 1984, “to change Britain from a dependent to a self-reliant society — from a give-it-to-me, to a do-it-yourself nation. A get-up-and-go, instead of a sit-back-and-wait-for-it Britain.” With this, Thatcher introduced a series of political and economic initiatives to address Britain’s high unemployment and ongoing recession.
Judging from some President Kenyatta’s actions, it is clear he has a similar vision and passion for Kenya. It has been heart-warming to see some of the decisive actions the President has taken — many times against all odds — to try and get the nation back on track. The President has on various occasions had to step out and personally deal with matters security. In the fight against graft, the President stirred up Parliament with the infamous list of shame that has seen some government officials and leaders step aside and others visit the courtroom. The President, again, had to personally call for investigations into the airport bus scandal before the Kenya Airports Authority board jumped into action. More recently, the President ordered action against illicit brews that have been killing Kenyans for years. Comical drama unfolded as leaders competed to show themselves more vicious than others in dealing with illicit brews.
While the President must be commended for these and many other positive actions taken to ensure Kenya finds its place in the global family of developed nations, there is danger that the fate of the Thatcher reforms may soon befall us. Although Lady Thatcher’s strategy largely worked towards fulfilling her vision for Britain, it was eventually undermined by her direct dealings in the public arena. She was later to be nicknamed the “Iron Lady” by a Soviet journalist, mainly due to her uncompromising politics and leadership style. She eventually had to resign. Yet, in Thatcher’s nation then, as in Kenyatta’s now, was a situation that often creates a leadership dilemma — whether to stay in leadership or step into management. The distinction between leadership and management is a discussion that has taxed the minds of scholars and practitioners alike. Some have gone to the extent of contrasting the two, with the unintended implication that one is better or more important than the other. The fact is that these are two sides of the same coin. Every leader needs a manager and every manager requires a leader. The leader is what a Pilot is to an aircraft while the manager is the Flight Purser. Both are essential for an efficient flight experience.
The dilemma of leadership arises when managers are either unable or unwilling to carry out their duties efficiently and effectively. If the Purser is unable to handle passengers such that there are persistent complaints or rowdiness, the Pilot may be forced to step out of the cockpit to deal with the situation. I once witnessed this on a short flight from Kisumu to Nairobi via Eldoret, when a rowdy passenger could not be effectively controlled by the steward. The pilot had to step in and the passenger was finally offloaded in Eldoret. Such a situation is not sustainable though. Its net effect is a disrupted journey and unmet flight goals. What we are witnessing in the nation is a situation where our flight pursers are either unable or unwilling to deal with matters within their dockets. The pilot has had therefore to keep stepping out of the cockpit to deal with what are obviously management matters. Sadly, though, as soon as the President has stepped in to do their work, they have moved with such artificial passion as to imply that they have just suddenly discovered that there was a problem.
There are at least two reasons why we must change this course of events. First, when a leader steps into management, it naturally degenerates into Thatcherism. Primarily because by the time a leader takes such action, he/she is frustrated and will usually act with high emotions. Sadly, this is often turned against him/her and interpreted as dictatorship, thereby alienating people. But secondly, a leader’s involvement in management erodes people’s faith in managers. When passengers perceive that they cannot get food or drink except with the intervention of the pilot, they will flock at the cockpit door. Unfortunately, this exacerbates the leader’s frustration and leads him/her deeper into management — a vicious cycle that could eventually lead to Thatcher’s resignation.
In our national context, it is clear that our flight pursers must take their jobs more seriously and thus allow our pilot to fly us safely through our projected economic growth trajectory. Otherwise, we may not only be delayed, but the delegations to the cockpit may also greatly increase — a fertile ground for corruption, sycophancy, and patronage.