Last week was the annual general meeting of the Kenya golf union (KGU). This organization has become dear to me by default. I stumbled into it in 2013 as I tried to run away from golf leadership. My seniors at Limuru country club insisted I had to join the apex body that has run golf in the country for almost a century. I had just finished my term as golf captain at Limuru and was happy to retire with Kibaki. Little did I know that sir God was orchestrating my leadership journey by opening doors that I didn’t knock on. I think he decided not to consult me because I was going to slow him down hehe. It was a case of the biblical Jonah being swallowed by a whale as he ran away from a divine appointment.
I joined KGU and rose the ranks to chairman in 2018 / 2019. It has been a great experience that confirmed my future in public service. One of my favourite leadership books – Leading with a limp opines the best leaders are the ones who are not looking for leadership. That makes for an interesting conversation but from my experience, I tend to agree. The part that helps most with that approach is that when the time to exit comes you don’t struggle to leave. That’s because the position did not define who you are. I was fairly comfortable (almost relieved) leaving office but there was a flip side. My appetite for more similar engagements increased. That has driven me to seek board opportunities with organisations in my area of interest. Two that stand out are sports and the leisure/tourism industries. Now Sir God si you open those doors please as easily as you opened the golf ones..
A classic case I deeply admire is that of Prof Bitange Ndemo. I remember when he left government he wondered why his phone stopped ringing. He realized people look for you because of your position. Once you leave your value and importance to many exit with you. A bitter lesson there especially if the position and its trappings have got into your head. He found contentment in his teaching profession until recently when he was appointed again by the same government to be a diplomat. I recently saw a remark where he’s surprised that his phone has started ringing. People are looking for him again. What a great mental space to have as one gets into leadership especially public service. All the best prof.
Last week Friday I showed up for the AGM at Muthaiga Golf Club to witness the hotly contested elections. After the treasurer took us through the accounts which are where most time is spent, the outgoing chairman presided over the elections. At this point, I was just observing from the back when I heard my name called out together with another past chairman of the union. We were appointed on the floor to be returning officers in the uchaguzi. That shouldn’t be too difficult in a well organized AGM like this one so why not?
We played our role and oversaw the elections. No one complained so I take it that they were free and fair and we had done our job well. That experience reminded me of my days at the union. It’s not that I missed them but I wondered why I’m still relevant to this organization, however little. Well, I’m sure I was asked to participate because I was present, not because I had special skills. But I also saw it as a mark of approval or respect even after I had left KGU.
This got me wondering whether we focus too much on the few elective (especially now in our country) opportunities and ignore the many vacant positions that are important yet neglected. Those everyday opportunities that require us to step up and help our fellow humans. Leadership does not have to be on a platform with the lights shining on us. It can and should be everywhere we see a need. But then again that’s like leading in the dark with no reward especially financial. And that’s what makes leadership without portfolio unattractive to many. Yet that’s where the best leaders are found. They picked Prof from the classroom and I believe it is because of the good he has continued to do out of the limelight. I have often joked that in these golf jobs we are paid with parking and mandazi.
Many of us do not see the eternal benefits of unappointed and less colourful leadership. The dividends are for a lifetime. Social capital is enhanced and even the generations that come after us will benefit. And for those who believe in eternal life, good (servant) leadership has been likened to storing treasures in heaven where rust and moths cannot destroy. We see this playing out for instance when we hear wazees asking a young man, who is your father? When he’s looking for a job or a wife. The CV we create when in leadership positions whether appointed or not will impact our children and many others.
I was happy to play my small seemingly insignificant role last Friday for the good of the organization and the game of golf as a whole. Maybe if I had a questionable reputation when the chair, I would not have been asked to oversee this important process because the outcome would have been questionable too. May we seek to lead well long-term and for the greater good whether the lights are on or off. The dividends are eternal.