A couple of months ago, I received the financial report of my former employer. As I went through it, I was in awe of the progress they have made in the one year since I left them. However, somewhere at the back of my mind, I was disappointed at this progress. Somehow I had thought that after I exited, this organisation would collapse and sink into losses. Okay I’ve exaggerated but you get the point. I had done a good job at this my former employer, and so when I left, a very silent part of me had waited for the day I would be able to say, ‘yee I left and the organisation even noticed’! Vanity, I know! But I know we all have such silent thoughts, we are just bright enough to keep them at the very back of our heads.
You leave a job and you wait for the day you hear the organisation collapsed after you left. You leave a guy you were dating and you wait for the day the world will vindicate you. Vanity yes but we all know ‘vanity comes easy to humanity’. As I reflected on this my very vain thoughts, I wondered how many opportunities I had let go, in the belief that they would not do as well without me. Unfortunately, the world moves on with or without you.
I was watching a tv series called ‘Scorpion’, the series is based on some geniuses who do extraordinary things. Towards the end of season one, one of the sharpest guys, I think he represents Walter O’Brian, who was the fourth smartest man on earth, is involved in a horrible accident. The next scene shows the rest of the world, and while this may not have been the idea behind the scene, what my mind captured was the lights in the city did not go off. Somehow, with all that this Walter had to offer, if he had died at that moment, the world would have moved on.
Such scenes are very sobering in my overly inflated mind.
Stories of great leaders…
Last week we had the pleasure of hosting the 5th Lapid Leaders Seminar. As usual, these seminars, left me not only inspired, but also focused onto my next steps. The theme of this seminar was ‘Step up, Stand out’. We had the privilege of hosting amazing leaders who shared lessons and insights from their lives; from Job Kabochi, one of the youngest Partners in PricewaterhouseCoopers, to Susan Wokabi, the Founder and CEO of SuzieBeauty, to Mwangi Kirubi ‘Mwarv’ a leading local photographer, to Calvin Jodisi, Founder Change Minds Change Futures to Mwendie Mbugua, the Marketing Director – Kijiji Agencies. Three things were consistently communicated throughout the seminar, I will share one of them today.
Each of these speakers had one attribute that has fueled them forward, a teachable spirit. As each of them shared the story of their lives, it was easy to pick up that these leaders have a learning spirit, they never arrive. The world may hand them stuff they do not want, but they have learned to be malleable enough, teachable enough to make it work. Job talked about how his dream was to be a doctor, but how he did not get the required marks for this and ended up in the law profession and chose to make it work. Suzie talked about how she was the first person to set up a make-up company in Kenya and chose to knock on doors all over to deliver the best product possible.
What I loved most was that while being teachable was the journey of these leaders early in their careers, it still is their journey today.
The ego problem
I interact with many people and I have come to believe that one of the greatest hindrance to greatness is that we arrive, and often too early in the game. I watch many people arrive because they have received the smallest level of knowledge, revelation, and success; and in the process they abort what they could have become had they remained teachable.
A few weeks ago we hosted Hilda Moraa, she is the first techpreneur to sell her start-up in Kenya and at amounts that have very many zeros. However, what struck me the first day I met her is that she has remained ridiculously humble. I could not help but ask her why. Her answer has stuck with me. ‘I am just starting. I never allow any success to become who I am, I look ahead to the things I want to do and I know I cannot afford to arrive.’ She has such a teachable spirit that I have no doubt we have not heard the last of her.
As I have audited and thought about these great trait, I have realised the biggest enemy to being teachable is our great egos! Our egos become too large to accommodate anything new. My ego had become big enough to think an organisation could collapse because I left it. Ego is your biggest enemy.
What does a teachable spirit look like?
I am currently attempting to finish reading a book called ‘Learning as a way of Leading’. This comment stopped me at my toes, ‘What are some of the ways learning leaders demonstrate their commitment? Well, they listen with close attention, observe with a discerning eye, and read texts of all kinds-including the texts of people’s experiences-with critical acumen. They are constantly on the alert for new information, novel insights, deepened understanding. For these learning leaders, everything learned is potentially grist for the leadership mill. They try constantly to make connections between what they have learned, the issues that matter to them most, and the goals they are trying to achieve as leaders. Nothing is too trivial or insignificant, at least at first, to be taken into account and used in some way to lead more effectively or to bring about change more proactively. Such leaders do not hide their enthusiasm for what they are learning, either. They eagerly and overtly share their reflections on experience, what they are reading, what new ideas they are coming up with, what interesting connections they are making, and how they are revising earlier ideas and practice because of new learning. They do this part because they are unabashed lovers of learning.’
Are you a Learning Leader? Have you arrived just when you have begun your journey? Like me, is your ego holding you back from being the Learning Leader?
The world is ridiculously unfair to those of us who will refuse to become Learning Leaders. I have learned you can learn from anyone, some the things I hold dear on developing Lapid Leaders as an organisation, I am actually learning from people who are very many years younger than me. And so like Paul, this has become my prayer and the words that quickly leave my mouth, ‘Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead.’ When Paul said these words, he had done a lot, preached the gospel, healed the sick, raised the dead, yet He says I do not consider myself to have attained, instead I forget and press on.