Every time I look at President Magufuli as he steamrolls through his agenda undeterred by criticism and/ or obstacles, I am reminded of the one leadership attribute that often goes unsung - possessing enough energy for the job!
We always hear people talk about the importance of having the right attitude as the main determinant of great leadership but we rarely hear people talk about this one thing that may actually be more significant than even your attitude in not just getting you ahead but more importantly keeping you there.
Years back (actually more than a decade ago now) when I was just starting my career as a marketeer in a management trainee capacity with one of the worlds largest multinationals, Unilever, I came across the term ‘energy’ for the first time as it is used in reference to performance management and organizational behavior.
One of my bosses then, an HR executive of unquestioned reputation, had expressed concern that Tanzanians, or at least the ones that he had come across (as he himself was a non Tanzanian), when compared to their neighbors in Kenya and Uganda, lapsed noticeably in energy levels; he observed that they would start the day well but before lunch was over they were mentally ready to call it quits for the day.
The energy he was talking about here may be easily misinterpreted as the physical energy one exerts to do a task or even the energy caused by momentous surges of excitement or enthusiasm that often characterizes the behavior of people referred to as energetic.
So a quick intake of caffeine should have done the trick then, no?
A closer examination shows that the energy in question is more about mental strength and resolve that enables even people who are not physically apt or as enthusiastic about a task to endure through its execution and beyond.
Not just as a nod to our foremost citizen, His Excellency, the President, but as a reality check for anyone perusing a place in the upper echelons of leadership, I find reason to reflect on this one attribute that has clearly been pivotal in getting Magufuli to where he is and will be central in keeping him there.
Magufuli, by most accounts, was one of the best performing ministers year-on-year during the Mkapa era and clearly one of the top most performers under Kikwete’s administration consequently earning him the now signature accolade of ‘hapa kazi tu’. That’s more than two decades (count them 1,2,3,4… 20years) of consistently exceptional performance, under any circumstances. Irrespective of the task thrown at him, Magufuli just seemed to have the knack to turn it into an opportunity to demonstrate his do or die performance attitude. So he famously moved from counting road kilometers to counting the not-so-glamorous fish with the same zeal and enthusiasm.
A quick assessment of his track record shows that President Magufuli may not out-talk or even out-smart his ‘detractors’ but he surely out-performs them because of his unmatched resolve and persistence even when the odds are totally against him.
In my no longer so short life, I have learned that there are three kinds of people when it comes to performance motivation: 1) those who ‘hit it until it’s hot’ (these people are normally principled) 2) those who ‘hit it when it’s hot’ (these people are normally opportunistic) and 3) those who manage the heat (these people are normally both principled and opportunistic).
The difference between the first type of people and the second two is that those who ‘hit it until it’s hot’ use their energy to create energy while the latter use their energy to drain or maintain the energy that someone else creates or has created.
Sadly, we are living in the ‘hit it when it’s hot’ era, where anything that gives instant and immediate results rules the roost.
We live in an era where people are only interested in politics because they are guaranteed ‘insider access’ enabling them to make a killing just by showing up; and business is no longer for risk takers but for people with connections and influence guaranteeing them instant returns again just for showing up; or even worse people want to be recognized as leaders just because they hold a position or have a title even if they don’t do justice to the role that underpins the legitimacy of the position or title.
Life, at best, is an approach that you perfect over time through the choices you make. It is informed by habits we build through these actions that over time become part of our DNA.
‘Hitting it when it’s hot’ when repeated over and over again becomes a habit just as much as ‘hitting it till it’s hot’. So overtime, we train ourselves to be either be principled, opportunistic or neutral.
From Bill Gates to Oprah Winfrey and even our very own President Magufuli, the best leaders often subscribe to some form self governance norm or principle that they stick to irrespective of the circumstance. Sadly, in as much as they almost always start to build this principles approach as hit it till it’s hot crusaders most of us will only notice them ‘when it’s hot’.
So the next time, when you are working or even contemplating on being a leader, do not just invest in your vision and/ or attitude, but more importantly invest in mastering the ‘hit it till it’s hot’ art of using your energy to create energy to keep your vision and attitude in tack even in the face of deterrent forces.
This not only keeps you, as a leader, ahead of the pack, but also gives you strength to pull your followers (who will most likely be ‘hit when it’s hot’ or ‘manage the heat’ types) along in case they are lagging behind or worse pulling in the opposite direction.
After all, in a heated race, like the run that life tends to be, how can you expect to lead the pack if you are the first to run out of breath?