Friday, November 28, 2008

Watching your mouth

Its often said that what you don't know does not hurt you. That's a common catch phrase for those who believe that ignorance is bliss. But in corporates its clear that what you don't know really does hurt and can hurt real bad.

My friend narrated to me a story how he had sneaked out of office during the busy hours of mid morning to attend an interview at a leading firm in industrial area. He was running late by the time he got to the notorious Haile Selasie round about. There was this bully in a menacing Toyota landcruiser who kept on pushing him out of the road and sometimes cutting him in the chaotic traffic jam. He felt belittled and slighted. But he knew that his small toyota corolla would not stand a chance with the bullbars on the landcruiser. However he insolently dodged the guy and managed to get in front of him but that was not enough , he stuck his head out and threw some f** words at the rouge driver and even asked him who he thought he was to bully people like that on the road. Not getting enough of his rage out. he showed the guy his middle finger before dashing off. By the time he got to the Nyayo round about, he was clear of the bully and the rest of the drive was without any drama. Got at the venue 10 minutes late, hurried and harassed. Organized his papers and thoughts and got to the reception. the sweet receptionist confirmed his name knowingly and to his relief told him he had to wait a few minutes as the main interviewer who would be his CFO hadn't arrived. After what seemed like 20 minutes he was ushered into the large plush boardroom for his panel interview and who was sitting right at the head of the long table??? The bully! and he was wearing a queer smile!

The poor guy experienced what we used to call in college a brain lock and simply failed the high profile interview. The big career leap evaporated before him like rain water in the Sahara.

But this is not the only time such things happen. In the corporate world sometimes, employees bad mouth their bosses mentioning some unutterables not knowing that the listeners may themselves be going to bed with the said boss. such careless talk can not only be career limiters but also career assassins.

A colleague of mine never utters anything controversial until he is sure of the associations of all the people around him. Else he will just throw in a generally accepted remark here or there.

However on the other hand this kind of thing may also be counterproductive since people then become prisoners in a free world. mostly all that is required is have your facts and be confident about what you are saying without making hurtful comments.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Today I was asked about how to be a good mentor. the person in fact wanted a mentoring manual. She has been invited to mentor young professionals in Nairobi and thought I would provide the best insight.

Well lets just start by saying that the inquiry really did massage my ego! I have been a mentor to a couple of people but even I at the beginning sought out manuals and articles on mentoring even in the internet. I got quite a bit of information but did not feel really satisfied.

However after swimming in the joy of being considered a man of such high wisdom , I gave my friend just three things I thought were worth considering when it came to mentoring:

That 1. a mentor is very much like a counselor. Your duty is not to provide answers or direction but to help the mentee see clearly or with another eye, things that may be obscure. The mentor may also help the mentee see these issues from different angles. eg if it involves job development, to be able to see it from the managers perspective. 2. that the mentor must start with what the subject knows and build with what he has. There is no point telling the person that 'you know what lets talk after you acquire a degree'. or lets talk after you get 3 years experience. 3. That at the end of the relationship, the mentee should be able to say she/he made the decision, or he achieved this or that. If she says you helped her or held her hand or showed her this or that then you shall have failed as a mentor.

Finally i thought time with a mentor needs to be as brief as possible. I normally meet with my mentor for less than 20 minutes at any time. I normally initiate the meetings and I always come out feeling I drove the meeting and made the decisions. My mentor often asks very few but thought provoking questions and his examples or pointers are normally very brief but sharp. He often has an easy eye contact and is often looking quite at home with anything I say.

Having said that, mentors are great people to have since they actually give you a great shortcut in life, they help you see the ditch which may have been veiled as a soft landing patch. they help you see the thorns in the greener grass yonder and so on.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

dadhood bliss

I have not been to a formal (read public) function for a long while. most of the functions i attend are private or informal ones where people don't have to glance at their watches yawn or doze off. jana i was at my daughter's graduation from nursery school. and boy did she look lovely. The function should have started at 12:45 so i made sure my desk was clean by 12 and all delegations were made in time and then braved the jam to the school. got there just before 1 and got podium seat. The place was packed. Faces aglow and sweet marashis all over. animals sure do love their young. But the wait was too much, the function just couldn't start and music after music was played until my belly started to show signs of wanting to be filled. i wondered what was cutting as my smile slowly turned into a frown. after asking around i learned that the guest of honor was the one keeping the ceremony. he made us wait a whole one hour, then when he came we were told to stand up and clap to show him respect.

shortly the entertainment started and again i was simply shocked at what those kids were able to do. my small girl also recited a poem you should have seem me struggling to control the excitement in me as she went through the lines and the crowd clapped and oooed in approval while cameras clicked. 'she is just as sharp as the dad', i told myself. only problem was that somehow almost everyone here was a paparazzi and after a short while, we who were sitting could no longer see the kids performing, the cameramen and women had taken up all the view and we were left with their tired backsides to stare at. even the guest of honor whome we had awaited for all that long wasnt spared!

But becuase kids are loved so much, everyone wanted to cash in. unsolicited cameramen who produce prints as the ceremony is going on were selling those prints for 150 /- instead of the usual 50. the teachers had charged us 500 /- to hire a graduation gown for the small people and on top of it we were required to pay a further 1000 /- for a suvenir framed picture of the baby in the graduation atire replete with cap.

The function however ended on time as per the program even the guest of honor did us a favor and did not lecture us for too long. After that the satisfied parents with wides grins on their faces were treated to snacks while others like us took our babies home for real big party!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Staff Motivation and Fraud

I have been thinking a lot lately about staff and demotivators. really the kind of things that drive staff to levels of risking their very employment to call for strikes, sit ins and general lethargy or go slow. this is also in the wake of business threatening strikes being reported from Kenya Airways and the likes. the teachers strike for pay is now almost part of our own culture as Kenya.

A number of things get said about motivation and employee moral but none ever gets to to be specified about the role of moral hazards in the part of senior business leaders in companies. The one thing that does get ignored by managers most times is like parents do with their kids they assume that their junior staff do not see what they are doing. that the staff aren't aware of reasons why this manager is keen on getting this project complete as opposed to the other. or why this thing is being pushed etc. Employee gets demotivated when they realise that while the senior manager or CEO refused to give a raise or refused to approve a training, conference or overtime citing cost cutting or cost leadership, the same manager signed a huge over priced tender since he had a major cut in it. from that point that staff will go on a go slow or engage in his own fraud at his level. such staff then start to look for any means possible to get advantage from the company and may even start stealing from customers. We have seen how this is capable of bringing down companies.

In the past i used to think that what ails our nation most was tribalism. Well i still think this is a major problem. but a much bigger issue is really the acculturation of fraud. the vice is so in the blood of Kenyans that they don't see it. they only see the ones highlighted by the media in the scale of anglo leasing etc. I was talking to someone and he could not see that buying goods at staff price to sell outside at market price was actually defrauding the company!

Last Wednesday i left work feeling extremely low after i realized that a colleague i respected so much was actually defrauding the company i work for and making big money out of every contract signed. i got to know that he was the force behind contractors who keep on getting contracts in spite of repeated mediocre service and permanently delayed projects. I felt like strangling the stupid villain. but he is quite a rich dude now and i was made to understand that he is a hot live wire. touch at your own peril.

But driving home, i couldn't help but see other forms of fraud, like the driver who cut in front of me, or the one who disrespected the lights or even the one i met head on on the wrong lane also known locally as overlapping. All this to me is fraud but it appears we have become so accustomed that the person who avoids such things is the abnormal one. Its a real sad state of affairs

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Thinking of Faustin

In the quantum of solace, the villain coerces a former dictator to sign off rights to own what appears to be a wasteland in his country. his reward? being helped to take over his former position as the country ruler. His loss? someone else will sign and he will be killed. The wasteland in question turns out to be the only source of water for nearly half of the South American continent. In short the Villain is seeking to control the water source serving a whole continent and he is going to get it courtesy of a single signature of a man whose only desire is to rule.

That story resonates so well with the sorry situation in DR Congo and indeed most parts of Africa. Today am thinking so much of my dear friend Faustin. Faustin is a Congolese whom i met when i was a religious guide in Nairobi. He had come with his half brother to Nairobi to seek treatment for the brother. They did not have much and he told sad stories of the senseless war and displacements in Congo. I like Faustin for his passion, hard work and focus. within 3 short months, he was able to learn English and Kiswahili and be able to get jobs teaching french privately and doing simple translation in Kenya. after a short while he managed to get scholarship for a Masters course at Daystar university and even landed a job as a journalist. in the meantime he could write short articles on the life in Nairobi for sale to some publications in Canada and Belgium. Today he is a doctoral student in Swansea university in UK.

Yesterday i got a long mail from him outlining how the war in DR Congo is planned , executed and perpetuated. We see women and children running and hear gun battles but Faustin asks how the poor rebels, some of whom do not even have formal education are able to get those sophisticated and expensive weapons. I hear even a simple shotgun is very difficult to aim and fire. how have they mastered these great killers. Someone is playing quantum of solace with the poor greedy leaders of Africa who are willing to mortgage their whole nations for leadership opportunity. This blog entry is dedicated to Faustin and many people like him whose energy, intelligence and passion is being wasted due to a useless war and due to visionless greedy and myopic leaders of our time.

Faustin, looking at the history of great people in the world and how small efforts changed whole generations, do not despair but continue to believe in every small step you make. Knowing that bit by bit fills the bin

Monday, November 10, 2008

Arduous argument with Q

yesterday i had a lengthy and tiring argument with one of my friends. Let me call him Q. Q believes that in this world you cannot get anywhere unless you know someone 'strong' somewhere he further believes that knowing that someone aint enough, he must help you get some strong deals in high places for you to make supplies. We even went into argument and he strongly believed that Obama won coz he had some strong pple backing him. now this was different from what i thought coz i thought the man was disadvantaged from start. it was Hillary who had the strong backings , strong name etc. Obama won coz he had the small people in mind but Q told me i was too naive. That nothing is ever black or white, that there are several shades of gray. Now i have several problems with that school of thought.

one, because am one person who does not know strong people. so by telling me that, it only goes to tell me that i am headed no where. i wont take that!

two, because i believe immensely on the goodness of people. i have seen it here in this very blog. people i hardly know and who hardly know me sent me money for our project in Urenga. All due to good will. People in urenga probably think i know some people in high places and that's why i have been able to put up those classrooms and pay school fees for disadvantaged girls but they are wrong. very wrong

third, coz i think this mentality is to blame for all the problems we have had as a country. I even believe that the presidency is often fought for like that in Africa since its supposed to give you free access to strong deals, read corruption opportunities

fourth am angry because these kinds of corrupt people are the ones who have messed up the NSE for us honest investors. Everything was going on well till 2005 when lazy rogue brokers who loved shortcuts came into the market and started to manipulate it with abandon. This very blog was started inspired by the NSE. but later the market could make no sense at all due to all that greed. I have since painfully and regrettably reduced my participation in the NSE and even comments on the goings on have reduced on this blog.

Q is also actually geneticist (sorry if misuse the term) who also believes that success is genetically passed on. He believes that Kelenjins are genetically wired to run long distance races. Somehow he has funny facts to prove it! Even he tried to prove that the genetic make of Brazilians is tailored towards footballing agility! I hate such beliefs since they make me feel helpless! unfortunately Q is one of those people bless with power of speech and is very convincing.

Friday, November 07, 2008

of Bond stunts and Rain floods

Every time i watch a James Bond movie i always come out feeling smarter and tougher. after watching Quantum of solace yesterday, i couldn't help but feel fully equipped to handle all the nasty villains of this world. getting back home to find a major blackout, i felt heroic opening the doors and flashing my mobile phone looking for bad smart men who could be hiding there. i always feel i could kick like that, jump , run and turn my pens into lethal weapons like James Bond. Its the feeling we used to have as young boys in Kisumu after watching the open air (walk-in he he) kung-fu movies brought by factual mobile cinema or Kenya film corporation. the following day all the boys would be black-belts with deadly blows and flying kicks. But bond movie stunts are normally a pure genius.

And even though the movie is just that, movie, the concept of hologram that was done by CNN during the coverage of this years elections in US was way out of this world. tele-posting reporters from Chicago, arizona and the like to a central studio was a masterpiece of television. It added much spice to the whole thing.

But yesterdays bond movie did not help me know how to drive through the floods that blocked my way back home. It had rained like the heavens very life depended on it and our south c with its black cotton soil, portholes and poor drainage could not handle the water. even today there were families whose houses still had flood water. It reminded my wife and I of Kasagam in Kisumu. but Kasagam floods were good since the water mostly came from burst river banks and if you were lucky, you could get fish trapped behind when water retreated though also left behind would be snakes, and all sorts of debris.

However apart from the floods, the broken submerged cars and traffic jams i normally just love the coming of rain.

PS. one annon has told me to stop pushing it but i have to share this forward sent to me by w friend:


Chungwa Moja Ni Maisha Bora

(the fonts were in orange! )

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Obamic Inspirations

A lot has been said about Obama's blackness and the significance of his being the first African-American (Luo-American according to my friend Ken) in the highest office in the planet. Most people have said that what Obama will do as president is not important rather than what he has already done as an underdog winner. But I suppose Obama is a lot of something to very many different people.

first being an orphan, am sure it resonated very well with millions of Kids. His having been raised by grandparents is something many kids in his Siaya and kogelo village alone can significantly identify with. Am sure the same is shared by those million Americans who shed tears on our screens yesterday.

Another thing is that he was initially also raised by a single mom. and there are many like him. kids of single parents some of whom may feel that they are disfavored just for that simply reason. Further that his parents divorced at such an early age. Divorce is a major problem in America and elsewhere. also that he was son of a drunkard who could not settle on any one woman as wife. Many people find themselves in such situations and his win will encourage them that 'Yes They too can!'

But there are other similarities like his 'wrong' name Husein,Barak and even Obama. The fact that Barak could stop smoking and abusing other drugs with the support of his wife must give great courage and inspiration to many people who are caught in this addiction and any other major addictions.

But all in all my major lesson from the new president of the universe again to quote Ken is that if you are so down and so low then you have to work real hard , real smart and real different.

Was his life story that of fate? isnt it fate for all of us. In all the stories, i coulnt help but miss the mention of another great Luo brother Thomas Joseph Mboya. Whose briliance could not be stoped even by the bullet. More than 3 decades after he was felled by chauvinist coward evil men of the first kenyan administration, the
bye-product of his great vision is being toasted as probably the greatest president of the world ever!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Congratulations Obama

It was a historic moment, historic speech and historic win. i was part of that moment. I congratulate you for being a fulfillment of a dream, being a beacon of hope, taking such huge responsibility to fulfill the expectations of a world in crisis.

And congratulations to your family, friends managers and also to Mccain not only for accepting his defeat but really accepting that your time had come. For being a gentleman. More also for making you big by being so big himself. For to win is great but to beat two great people; Hillary and McCain in the process of beating a great history of odds ,of pain , of discrimination is greater far than most things.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

demolitions and good roads

What do you make of the demolitions of the buildings along thika road? The government says they must be pulled down to pave way for 10 lane superhighway. tres bien. But does it show that the government has finally decided to act on illegal allocations or does it mean someone is not thinking out of the box? Who said that a thika road must pass through Thika Road (???) i mean must we expand the current one? why cant we just put new thinking into it and do a completely new road through somewhere else?

But if you have driven to Nakuru in the recent past then you would appreciate the goodness of a well done road. Naivasha is done so well it looks like cherembes or majuu (a term my sheng pal uses to refer to a first world) with clear markings, good width, good grip. its just pleasure. But you have to watch out that you are not overtaken by that pleasure, policemen with speed guns hide just after the last hill towards Naivasha, and if you are doing anything more than 100km/h you either pay a cash bail of 4,000 or go to court. yes even if its 101km/h! Of course there is always a third way. the bribe way. i think those cops there are making a killing. am sure they take home upwards of 20,000 Kshs per day in bribes. so much for they 15K monthly salary.

I used this road last week to attend a funeral in Nyahururu. after the branch off at gilgil, you don't meet too many people and you can go at good speeds thought the road is a little challenged at this point. Driving on this expansive flat area, i couldn't help bu notice the beauty of this country, no wonder people were willing to kill for it last January. We passed ol kalau ( refered to as orkarau localy) before orjorolok (lol). the land and even climate and atmosphere of nyahururu reminded me so much of my rural. Even the soil and roads look strangely familiar. We celebrated the life of a man who has lived a very long and fulfilling life having even been taken to the concentration camps during mau mau. I felt like asking him to pass my regards to my relatives who had gone up there before him but then i wondered if they would understand each other. those guys spoke luo. What language is spoken up there?

On the way back , the lure of Nyahururu falls (thomsons) could not be resisted and we had our lunch at the lodge against the backdrop of its roar. beautiful place with nice grass. i saw many lovers in twos on the grass. it costs you 50 bob to spend quality time with your soul mate on the picnic grounds. So for 2000 bob you could actually do a season of picnics. there are even cameramen to take you spectacular photos the ones that come out as if you are drawing water from the fall , washing your hands or swimming against it!

the magic of the place made us leave nyahururu towards 6pm. and we stoped several times along the road to buy vegetables. nice succulent carrots, cabbages and potatoes sold so cheap that we wondered loud if they were real.