The next challenge of the next Government, regardless of the direction the Supreme Court will give to the two petitions on Presidential Election before it, is the appointment of the Cabinet.
For it is the members of the Cabinet and the Principal Secretaries who ultimately help the Government to translate the promises it made to the electorate into policies, and programmes for implementation. It is the cabinet Secretaries and Principal Secretaries ( Ministers and Permanent Secretaries under the former Constitution) who help the Government to effectively meet and take advantage of challenges and opportunities that rise up in the polity.
History Professor, Macharia Munene was quoted by a section of the press as saying the people the President Elect should appoint “should have the expertise to hand the docket they have been nominated into.”
That is, without question, bad advice. The Civil Service is suffused with men and women with technical ability. The Ministries, Departments and Agencies is full of specialized people relevant to their respective mandates. All that they need is leadership. It needs men and women at the very top whose claim to those strategic positions should be leadership: ability to provide vision, mission, values, energy and shared goals and purpose.
In senior role, technical excellence fades in value, relative to strategic thinking and motivational skills. In his best selling book, How To Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie notes that even in such technical lines as engineering, about 15% of one’s success in performance as a manager, is due technical knowledge and about 85% is due to skill in human engineering—to personality and ability to lead people.
This country has, under President Kibaki’s administration, established two very strong foundations for the effective management of public affairs. It has established strong legal and policy framework that now provides a strong foundation for institutional building. It has also radically improved the public finance by streamlining the collection of internal sources of revenue in central Government Finance systems.
The Government is now able to raise over Kshs.800billion today against about Kshs.200billion it used to raise as revenue in 2002. The legal and policy framework that the Government has instituted in the last 10 years means that t it is now able to meet any conceivable public policy challenge or problem. Nay, these has also made the Government have the potential, to take advantage of the strength and opportunities that the superior human resource capital it has and the strategic position it has. All that the Government need to do this, wise and honest administration of the Constitution and the laws.
The workforce in the public service has all the technical reserves and energy to meet these challenges and take advantage of the opportunities. All that it needs is some ignition. Inspiration. Direction. People activate the latent energies. Someone to inject meaning in the things they do so that they can give the very best of their knowledge, abilities and ability to the tasks at hand.
The leadership in question will face the arduous task of renewing the culture, break the bonds of bureaucracy and unleash the creativity that the workforce has to tackle the public policy challenges and problems that the Government anywhere, and this one in particular face.
Prof. Munene’s prescription to the effect that the President Elect secure specialized people to handle the dockets they have been nominated into is counter-productive to effectiveness and efficiency management consultants look for in any organisation. Professors Douglas Ready, Jay Conger and Linda Hill of London Business School, and Harvard Business Schools strongly advise that leaders should not aspire to be the best engineers and the best design team leader at the same time. They make these observations in an article entitled Are you a High Potential? In the Harvard Business Review of June 2010.
The disadvantage of appointing people to leadership positions to organisations relevant to their technical background is that their technical background tends to subtly interfere in their overriding responsibility as leaders of that organization. They narrow their concerns instead of being broad minded and long-range in their approach to the challenges and problems the organisation face.
They in fact stifle ideas. Subordinates with brilliant ideas fear expressing them because the boss will sneer at them if they happen to be different from his/hers. The tendency on the part of the boss whose technical background is relevant to the mandate of the organisation is to micromanage highly technical issues that should be left to the technical. The team leader exist to ensure he/she develops, in consultations with all the technical divisions within the organisation, the strategic direction and programmes that could effectively and efficiently deal with the challenges at hand.
The best strategy is to appoint and deploy people to mandates that have remote connection with his professional or technical background. We should not deploy a man/woman with a medical background to a medical institution. If the President Elect or the Public Service Commission has discerned leadership ability in a man/woman with a medical background, the country can optimally use him/her in a non-medical institution. It is also in the person’s interest to also learn other areas of human life instead of living and later expiring having known nothing else but medicine.
The public Service is a vast reservoir of talents, skills and abilities. It is ready and will turn this country into a haven of opportunities, wealth and jobs if the Government and the Public Service Commission will manage those talents and energies skillfully. That requires leadership: ability to revive and strengthen creativity, its sense of purpose and create a work environment that develops genuine affection for productive work that transforms the lives of millions of Kenyans while at the same time, shows genuine affection for productive employees.
All that requires not technical or specialized people at the helm of Ministries, Departments and Agencies, but men and women with leadership qualities.
The Kenya School of Government at Kabete long appreciated the need for leadership by developing and offering Strategic Leadership Development Programme(SLDP) to senior staff on the principle that stewardship of Ministries, Departments and Agencies should be based on leadership and not technical competencies.
That is the principle that should guide appointments into Cabinet positions. We stand to see highly rejuvenated public organisations with the ability to provide services more effectively and efficiently should the Principle underlying leadership training programme at Kenya Institute of Government guide Cabinet appointments.