Friday 13 June 2008

Action this day!

Winston Churchill was famous for many things. For leading the UK during it’s “darkest hour”, for winning a Nobel Prize for literature and for consuming staggering quantities of the hard stuff. He was also a complicated and flawed but inspirational leader. He wasn’t, however, either subtle or very diplomatic when it came to leadership. He was famous for writing on documents, in his trademark green ink, the phrase, “Action This Day!”. Woe betide any subordinate who failed to get something done within the required 24 hours.

Of course that was during wartime when things are different. Despite our power crisis, the impact of HIV/AIDS and epidemic of foreigners who refuse to pronounce Gaborone correctly we’re not in such a desperate state.

Nevertheless I do like that demand for action. I like it when there is pressure for things to get done, I think that’s when people, organisations and countries make real progress.

The problem is that we either are, or have become, a passive nation. Action seems to be rare, passivity seems to be the norm.

Just last week we had a Royal Visit from Steven Covey, the author of a number of management books including his best seller, The Seven Habits of People Waiting For Their Flight In Airport Bookstores. He was here no doubt to talk about the same things that he has written about endlessly. Don’t the organisers think we can read for ourselves? Alternatively is the book written so badly that it has to be explained to us? Or, more likely, is it that we have fallen for this ridiculous fashion for motivational speakers coming here and telling us the plain bloody obvious over and over again?

Just for once I’m going to try my best to avoid going on about how Covey is a very senior member of a church that, until 30 years ago, didn’t allow black priests. Are we really saying that we should take management advice from a man whose doctorate is not, as you may think, in Business but in Religious Education? Above all, is there any real evidence, I mean real scientific evidence based on professional research, that motivational speakers like Covey actually achieve anything other than making millions from selling books and speeches? Do organisations that find something to adopt from this inspirational blather actually make more money than those that don’t?

I’m not entirely against learning from the wise, it’s just that I would rather listen to someone who had actually built a business rather than someone who’d just written a book about it. Giving us so-called wisdom that is actually no more than a sequence of platitudes about effective delegation, thinking win-win and “leveraging innovation” is nothing more than an assault upon the English language.

Without wishing to sound too much like the speakers I despise, change only happens when it comes from within a person, from within a business or from within a community. Not when it comes from without. Flying someone over here from far-flung shores to tell us that successful people are organised, put first things first and “begin with the end in mind” is just a waste of time, money and aviation fuel.

But the big thing is that this is all totally passive. We seem to have become a nation who has things done TO us, rather than doing things ourselves. We want to BE empowered, rather than to empower ourselves. We want Government to help us thrive, rather than getting off our rear ends and thriving through sheer hard work. We want promotions because we’ve served our time and not screwed up too badly rather than actually showing that we are the most deserving candidates for extra money and responsibility.

Our beautiful country will only ever succeed when we make it a success ourselves, rather than waiting for someone else to do it for us. We don’t need motivational speakers, we need action.

What we need is heroes, local heroes. Locals boys and girls who, through sheer hard work, sleepless nights and, above all, passion have made businesses from nothing.

Tragically we now have one fewer of these rare creatures. Puso Kirby, who died tragically and prematurely last week, was great example of a passionate man. When I first knew him he was running Mokolodi Nature Reserve. I’ve done the game and nature thing many times since then but I have never met anyone with anything like Puso’s passion. His overflowing love for his environment was awesome even if he was probably most famous for having one of the cheetahs take out a chunk of his knee while being filmed for the BBC. It came as no surprise that soon after he left Mokolodi his new brainchild, Creations of Africa was born. Supplying locally produced goods for the local and international market his passion was again obvious. Supplying them but also making money and even exporting these goods was a tribute to his team but above all to his energy and enthusiasm.

Doing all this while being a loving husband and father and a really, incredibly nice guy is something very special indeed.

We urgently need more like Puso. People who lead by example, who have probably never read a management book in their lives and if they were given one probably wouldn’t get past the first chapter because they’ve actually got some work to do.

This week’s stars!

  • Lemack at the Engen station on the southbound Western By-Pass was wonderfully pleasant and helpful on a chilly Saturday night.
  • Thabo and Emmanuel at Game for being “especially pleasant and helpful with a price check/complaint and product information”.
Petunia at the Woolworths at Riverwalk who is apparently always patient and pleasant.

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