The value of knowing when to step aside in leadership

What you need to know:

  • We need to continue to support alliances, and show our leaders that voters will only put their weight behind those who can work with people from across the political spectrum.

As a young boy growing up in one of Kenya’s more rural areas, I spent a lot of time around animals: watching animals, playing with animals, and learning about them. In fact, there is a lot we can learn from them.

We all know that humans are also a kind of animal, but we usually forget that we also have animal instincts. And quite often, our behaviour is ruled by pure instinct, without any of the rational human thought that is specific to our species.

When he saw me interacting with animals, my grandfather used to tell me his favourite proverb: If that rat cannot flee enough, let it make way for a tortoise. 

I did not think much of it as a child. I thought it was just an old line he had heard from his elders, without much meaning to it. But now as an adult I find myself reflecting upon it more and more.

There is a reason why the wisdom of our ancestors gets spread around generation after generation.

Animal and human behavior does not change much. We are all trying to get by in this animal kingdom.

In my understanding, the proverb means that if you are unable to do something, you should step aside and let other people try it out for themselves. No one has total knowledge or power, and no one can do anything alone. As part of our natural environment, we are all interconnected, reliant upon one another.

Any true achievement comes only with the hard work and commitment of an entire team. And not everybody is the perfect person for the job. Sometimes it takes a few tries to get something done.

And in the animal world, sometimes different species need to work together to survive. And we need to know when to let someone else put an effort in as well.

This is at least certainly the case for us humans. It is always better to gracefully ask for help than to attempt to go it alone. 

That is the attitude taken, for example, by our president himself. Like any other Kenyan child President Uhuru Kenyatta probably grew up hearing traditional proverbs from the elders.

 And in his leadership he has demonstrated the belief in working with others to come up with the best solutions, be that in terms of economy, development, agriculture or social issues. No one has all of the knowledge in the world, so working with teams of experts is an ideal way to develop successful public policy.

And it is also good to know when to move aside and let the tortoise take the lead.

The public discourse over the past year has been far too crowded by various politicians jockeying for power, obsessing over elections that are two years away. This is not the right time. There are many things to be accomplished before then, and I am not referring only to overcoming an international health pandemic.

The main focus of Uhuru’s second term in office has been uniting Kenyans in order that we achieve the economic prosperity and development of which we are capable. For years, Kenya was too fragmented to make real progress. 

This fragmentation has been one of the main factors preventing us from getting where we need to be, from becoming a middle income country with all of the good that comes with that. But if we agree to work together, and if we let experts in different fields lead development, we can get there quickly.

Sometimes a good leader needs to know when to invite others into the fold and partner up - like the rat allowing the tortoise to step in. It seems like our president is aware of this concept, but other politicians vying for the top job in 2022 have not yet learned it.

There is not enough teamwork going on, and too much individualism. This form of self-serving leadership that many of our politicians are sadly employing will only divide us more. We need to continue to support alliances, and show our leaders that voters will only put their weight behind those who can work with people from across the political spectrum. That is how we will succeed.

Mr Leo is a public policy analyst. [email protected]