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Transformational Leadership: Advice from Former KNH CEO

  Jul 19, 2013

By Julius Riungu

Transformation through virtue. That’s what we sought, as the Class of 2014, when enrolling in the Strathmore Business School Executive MBA program. Such was the expectation walking into class on Wednesday 17th July 2013 to find the Principal Secretary of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, Mr. Richard Lesiyampe, MBS ready to give a talk on Managing Change: The Case of Kenyatta National Hospital.

MBA programs in Africa are often thought of as full of theoretical jargon applicable only in developed economies and not reflective of the harsh realities of doing business in Africa. However, this was a chance, for us, to hear firsthand how transformational leadership had been effected in our own homegrown institutions. Mr. Lesiyampe who is also an alumnus of the LeHHO program, hit the ball out of the park.

For Mr. Lesiyampe, growing up in the rugged plains of Kenya’s Samburu County, herding cattle, little did he know that many years later he would be planting the seeds of transformational leadership in current and future African business leaders. And he surely did.

For me, Mr. Lesiyampe brought home the theories, steps and tools of transforming an institution from mediocre to world class. From a lethargic institution to a vibrant one. From an unmotivated underperforming staff to a proud hardworking team. From an institution serving well below its potential and short of customer expectations to an institution that lives and breathes the customer’s satisfaction and does so happily as a team. We learnt that transformational leaders create visions, inspire and mentor followers. The principles of Gemba Kaizen came alive in his examples. Effective communication and employee engagement were portrayed as central to a change effort. He emphasized that, in managing change, there is no epic miracle moment, but it is the small things that make the difference.

Slide after slide, point after point, Mr. Lesiyampe went through his two year transformation program at Kenyatta National Hospital, the largest hospital south of the Sahara and north of the Limpopo River, that has won him national and international accolades. The inspiration was palpable and the moments were refreshing. For a man, who had an option to pursue the immoral and unethical, he chose virtue. Faced with a chance to pursue narrow private interests, Mr. Lesiyampe chose the greater public good. He maintained a laser focus on transforming the institution albeit with immense personal sacrifice. The results were outstanding. Such is the inspiration that we all felt in class.

Change is not by Chance

Lesiyampe reiterated throughout his presentation that change must have a strategy. It must have commitment right from the board. Have a group of champions – an effective team – competent, professional and learned individuals to drive the change. It takes leadership that does the small things. Society often thinks that leaders have to do great things for great impact, making them the great leaders they are. Look at Wangari Maathai and her love for trees. Nelson Mandela and his love for freedom from colony. Mother Teresa and her love for helping the poor. Leaders do small things: humility, they are visionary, they feel-see-change, they are trustworthy, they create an effective team, value people and most importantly, they are present. They are visible and lead from the front. Lesiyampe lead from the front.

In some of the change activities such as creating a cleaner environment at Kenyatta National Hospital, he talked of wearing overalls with brooms and wash buckets to get to the job, together with his colleagues. He removed the conventional barrier that would separate CEO offices from their secretaries especially in parastatals, just to be able to easily say ‘hi’. He changed the culture of waving a quick hand in an effort to say hi to passers-by on the corridors, to stopping and even giving hugs to colleagues. It is in these small things that Lesiyampe slowly changed the culture that was plagued with demotivation, absenteeism & lateness, malicious compliance (where people would indeed report on time – 8:00 am – then leave at 8:30 am) and other symptoms of a dwindling organisation, to having a responsible workforce that cared for a clean environment. Employees resorted to picking a wandering paper on the floor, to turning off leaking taps, switching off unused lights and other activities that were towards creating a responsible environment.

The presentation was laced with real life examples of the transformational journey that begins with the individual. We learnt the deliberate actions and strategy of a transformational leader, whose true north is upright moral leadership. We learnt his dedication to knowledge and passing it to future generations. It was an eye-opening and truly refreshing lecture.

Walking out of that class, I believe, we were all reflecting on organisations we can transform; through virtue.

Julius is a 2nd year MBA Student. Professionally, he is a Consulting Electrical Engineer and Real Estate Developer.

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