Looking for leadership

Looking ahead to 2019 there are plenty of reports circulating about economic growth in East Africa. Perhaps some of them haven’t been updated recently, because I’m not so sure. I speak to many business leaders and very few of them have made hay in 2018.

Kenya is still trying to normalise after double Election damage in 2017. Tanzania’s President may be a principled man, but there’s no money circulating in that market. Uganda is getting high on the faintest whiff of oil, and last week I attended a Tullow presentation on Project Oil Kenya which should have had the assembled CEOs skipping out into the street, throwing their papers in the air. But it didn’t, and not least because none of us know of an African economy that has been transformed by oil.

So I’d bank on 2019 being another tough year for business leaders. And tougher for their customers and employees. These three constituencies are, of course, inextricably entwined. Each is capable of making a significant impact on the other. Irritable customers meeting demoralised employees is a recipe for disaster; so in 2019 our business leaders will have to ‘up their game’. They alone can moderate the emotional temperature and turn bad karma to unexpected gain.Employees and customers need something very clear to believe in. Something that feels right emotionally as well as rationally. That is the essential delivery of a strong brand – be it corporate or product. In times of stress, a brand finds new ways to demonstrate its relevance and reaffirm the emotional relationships that matter for sustained success.

Brands are promised by marketing, but delivered by people. So in the year ahead a CEO might be forgiven for reducing marketing expenditure; but he will not be applauded for reducing his engagement with employees. They are the oil in the machine. The better ones are the spark that lights new ways to overcome challenges and seize opportunities. But only if they are well-led.

East African workers are increasingly looking to make their contribution to business plans, product and service development, and customer experience. And to be recognised for that contribution. At this time of year many of my forward-thinking customers are hosting sessions to crowdsource ideas for the future. Not the distant future (that’s the responsibility of the Board and Executive) but the immediate horizon. What can our company do in the first quarter of 2019 to chance its performance? What are the actions, business areas, and investments that we should chose not to do any more?

Let’s enter 2019 with our thoughts focused on doing things differently.

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