“Every leader needs a fool,” he says. Someone to tell them the truth? Who? The chairman, their best friend?
“Your wife, your husband. And the fool should, regularly, tell you you are full of shit!” Consultants?
“No. Never hire a hungry consultant. Never.” Because they will tell you what you want to hear?
End of quote. This is an extract from a conversation between Manfred Kets de Vries and the author, Skapinker, M., 2021. The CEO whisperer: ‘Every leader needs a fool’, Financial Times.
Let me tell you a story. On second thought, I will tell you two.
The subject of both tales is Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill – Britain’s Prime Minister from 1940 to 1945, i.e. during WWII and again from 1951 to 1955.
Listen to the wartime story first. It is said that Churchill needed to reach the British Broadcasting Corporation (the BBC) offices to deliver an important national address.
An hour before time, he hailed a taxi in the street and asked the driver to take him to the BBC.
The taxi driver, who did not recognise him, said he could not take him anywhere just then because he was in a rush; he needed to get home in time to listen to Churchill’s speech. Churchill was extremely impressed with this and was happy to search for alternative transport.
Before waving the taxi driver away, Churchill compulsively gave the guy a pound. It was worth a lot in those days.
“All right, get in,” said the driver, opening the door of the taxi, “I’ll take you. To hell with Churchill and his speech!”
You know what? Mark Twain was right: the lack of money is the root of all evil!
The second story?
Not yet, let me first introduce today’s business. Two related issues caught my attention this week.
Barely 24 hours after Mzimba North MP, Yeremiah Chihana was expelled from Parliament after alleging that the Secretary to President and Cabinet (SPC) Zangazanga Chikhosi is Chakwera’s Achilles’ Heel; Martha Chizuma – the Ombudsman – made a solid case why anyone holding the position of SPC must, like Caesar’s wife, be beyond reproach.
Having anyone who seems – at best – conflicted and – at worst – incompetent as SPC means that the mess revealed by Chizuma in ‘Upholding the Profession’ a report on her investigation of hiring South African (SA) lawyers by the former Attorney General (AG) and Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC); will forever be with us.
Secondly, as per Hon. Yeremiah Chihana’s suspicions, with an SPC who operates under the principle of “work to rule” like the current one, the task force established by Chakwera under Chilima might just as well close shop because the reform will not see the light of day.
Now to our second yarn. Churchill apparently loved his drink, and he did not always drink in high-end establishments. He would sometimes ‘anonymously’ venture into a nondescript joint, sit in a corner and enjoy his drink.
In these ordinary pubs, incognito, he often heard honest views on the economy and politics from ordinary people.
He would, after a few, engage in a spirited debate with one specific regular, who happened to be cantankerous over any subject matter or issue. By debating with him, Churchill would come to understand policy issues’ pros and cons from a nonpartisan viewpoint and armed with ordinary folks’ perspectives, he could discern bad advice from aides and fellow politicians keen to please him by telling him what they thought he wanted to hear.
One evening he turned up at the usual pub and expertly manoeuvred to secure a vantage stool on the counter to sit close to and debate an emerging crisis with the cantankerous fellow.
The gentleman, however, seemed absent-minded. Churchill enquired if anything was the matter and the gentleman, after coaxing, revealed that he was in a fix and urgently needed 150 pounds. His banker had unfortunately rebuffed him, hence the contemplative mood.
Churchill made a call and loaned the gentleman the 150 pounds to be repaid in instalments. The dude left and Churchill returned to No. 10 Downing Street.
Next time they met, Churchill explained an emerging crisis scenario, outlined some policy proposals and sat back, anticipating a heated debate.
However, the guy was now the most agreeable of people, handclapping for and agreeing with everything Churchill had said. Churchill changed tact, he added a few outright stupid proposals.
The guy was unfazed in his praise; “Brilliant idea Sir!” he quipped, to the foolish policy proposals.
Eventually, a frustrated Churchill grabbed him by the lapels and yelled: “If you do not start arguing right away, you will repay my 150 pounds in full today!”
Now, two things come to mind. First, Oscar Wilde noted that “it is always with the best intentions that the worst work is done.” As you can see, the borrower believed that being agreeable even when Churchill’s policy proposals were flawed was being helpful. However, he was doing precisely the opposite, with the best of intentions.
In fact, talking of good intentions, Aldous Huxley asserts that “hell isn’t merely paved with good intentions; it’s walled and roofed with them. Yes, and furnished too!”
Vis-à-vis our intro from Financial Times’ article The CEO whisperer: ‘Every leader needs a fool’, Churchill had that “fool” who told him the truth, without fear of repercussions, when there were no favours were involved.
In our context, the moment Chakwera appointed friends, financiers, homies, church mates and relatives into critical positions, he did himself an injustice: he lost out on potential “fools” who would have made him an impactful president.
Any hope? Yes. Who and how? Read on.
Through her patriotism, consistency, conscientiousness, and sincere quest for rule of law towards a better Malawi, Chizuma continues to raise the bar by:
• first, yet again delivering an excellent and incisive piece of work;
• second, brilliantly diagnosing the root of all evils in the public service; and
• third, giving directives which – if implemented in full – will bring back sanity.
The problem is: from our experience with the current SPC, acting with urgency on directives, even those from President Chakwera (case authority: NOCMA and Ms Buluma) or arising from court matters (case authority: Mathanga vs RBM) is not his cup of coffee.
On this SPC, Marcus Tullius Cicero’s wisdom in the saying “in the conduct of almost every affair, slowness and procrastination are hateful” is totally wasted.
Now, while the dude can operate at whatever tired pace he wants, Malawians demand that the:
• directives issued by Chizuma in “Covid Funds – Misplaced Priorities” and “Upholding the Profession” and
• recommendations to arise from the Chakwera-Chilima Reform drive,
be implemented expeditiously. Is this too much to ask for?
If it is, then perhaps our evergreen Martha Chizuma should not be considered for the ACB Director General job. The SPC’s desk is where she belongs.
What say you? Anyone to second the e-motion?