Managers Are Not Always Leaders

I recently had a very interesting conversation with a European expatriate who has been working in Africa for a number of years. Bruno (not his real name) is German, but grew up in the chocolate and wristwatch producing capital of the world, Switzerland and posits that the problem we have on the continent is using the word “leadership” fairly loosely when what we should be demanding from those in charge of both public and private institutions is “management”. I had to pause for a moment and reflect on his words. “So what would you call Angela Merkel then?” I asked. “In light of the craziness of Donald Trump, wouldn’t she be regarded as the leader of the free world?”

Bruno was very unambiguous in his response. “Germans don’t consider Angela Merkel as a leader. They view anyone in government as being managers, there to take care of the country’s resources. Angela is therefore the chief manager for German resources and has built a very strong track record around that.” He quickly scribbled a bell curve to illustrate his point. “Leadership is a very rare quality and it is reserved for people who make a big difference in the lives of their followers.” Pointing to the tapering right hand side of the bell curve, he continued,“Only about 10% of a population is made up of true leaders. The majority sits in the middle as people who manage.” He chuckled as he pointed to the left tapering side of the bell curve. “This 10% or so are not worth mentioning. Most of us sit in the middle, we are given the responsibility of managing institutions or countries and that is what we are capable of.”

By now my curiousity was really piqued and I urged him to continue. “Germans don’t like the tag leader, since the whole Adolf Hitler thing, and it’s the same with the Swiss. Do you ever hear about Swiss leaders?” Hmm. That stopped me dead in my seated tracks. I’d never heard about a Swiss leader, come to think of it. So Bruno threw me a challenge to read up on Swiss politics in order to see where the concept of management versus leadership was well executed.

The national government of Switzerland known as the “Federal Council” has only seven members, who are elected by Parliament for a four-year renewable term. The seven members are drawn from the political parties with the highest political base. On an annual basis, a “President” is elected from amongst the Federal Councilors to serve a one-year term. The Federal President chairs the sessions of the executive and undertakes special ceremonial duties, particularly abroad. Each Federal Councilor, including the President, heads one of the departments (ministries) of the Federal Council. The Federal Council is a collegial body and everyone is deemed to share power.

In Switzerland and Germany therefore, according to Bruno, politicians are considered to be managers who are there to manage and oversee the resources entrusted to them by the citizenry. You only need a leader in a crisis, but if an organization is well managed, then you don’t need a permanent leader. He paused to watch a variety of emotions, particularly discernment, play on my face. He concluded, “It’s wrong to ask managers to lead when they are simply not capable of doing so. When one is in office, one should ask themselves: Am I supposed to be a leader in this situation or am I supposed to be a manager?” If Bruno’s argument is valid, and we pressed ctrl+alt+del to reboot our country, imagine the standard we would hold our political and corporate “leaders” to? Deliver the simple mandate to utilize resources well and produce a return and you will be considered successful. Fail on that mandate and, well, keep on Johnny Walking.
Last week I erroneously stated that the KCB Mpesa loan product was fee based rather than interest rate based. I wish to clarify that the KCB Mpesa loan is interest rate based, charging 1.16% per month with a one off negotiation fee of 2.5%. The cost for a one-month loan therefore is 3.66%. My sincere apologies for the misstatement.