Opinion: Sonko wasted chance to stamp authority, leadership

Governor Sonko
Did Governor Sonko miss the magic of the first 100 days? This question came to mind as I watched a TV discussion in which the Governor’s political advisor, Oyieyo Onchari, tried to defend him against allegations of non-performance.

Onchari’s main line of defence was that much of the period of Sonko’s leadership had been rendered unconducive to any meaningful activities by the post-election unrest.

 Accordingly, the county leadership effectively started work only after the handshake between President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga.

While Onchari’s arguments are quite understandable and may actually hold some water, they fail to take into account a critical factor by which new leaders are judged – the First 100 Days.

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In leadership studies, it has been shown that the first 100 days are, for top leaders (and 90 days for other managers), the most critical for making tangible changes towards success. Generally known as the leadership honeymoon, this period is purely a psychological window “granted” by stakeholders to the leader to make whatever changes he or she deems necessary.

Within this period, all organisational members are psychologically prepared to allow the leader to take the most radical and even painful measures to set the organisation on the path to success.

In situations where the organisation has not been performing well, members are especially on high alert, anticipating radical steps to restore lost glory. Accordingly, during this period, all staff – though apprehensive – anticipate operational and personnel restructuring, no matter how unpleasant.

Indeed, those that know or believe that they are poor performers, generally prepare themselves for whatever eventualities. Wise leaders therefore take full advantage of this illusionary window to cast their vision and institute changes that confirm and buttress their leadership capacity.

It does appear that the Nairobi Governor, whether he knew it or not, failed to take full advantage of this opportunity to stamp his authority and leadership in the city. Leadership and management pundits advise that in the first 100 days window, it is important that the leader acts on high impact, highly visible, and easily achievable projects or programmes.

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Accordingly, Governor Sonko, having come in with a cloud of doubts hanging over his leadership capacity – especially among the Nairobi elite – should have moved with speed to tackle critical but visible needs within the first 100 days.

Though there were some attempts in this direction, it is unfortunate that most of them negatively affected his most ardent supporters.

The move to relocate hawkers, rid CBD of matatus and motor cyclists, may not have been very clever as these are mostly the people who put him into office. No wonder, that constituency has gone silent as the Governor is placed under siege by the political and city elite.

On the other hand, President Kenyatta, who himself was under siege even before taking the oath of office, took advantage of the short window of opportunity to secure his legitimacy and reassert his authority as a leader.

The great handshake with Raila Odinga was a radical, highly visible, high impact move that in one sweep cleared the way for him to work towards a successful finish.

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Friend and foe alike were thrown off balance but were united in praise of a wise move that cooled the temperatures of a nation on the verge of an implosion. Combined with the recent and apparent commitment to tackle corruption, the President is likely to attract further public support and thus soar up his popularity as he consolidates his leadership legacy.

As for Sonko, though the 100-day window is long gone, it is still possible to identify a project or programme dear to city residents and work on it with speed. He must avoid antics that add no value to his leadership.

 Because, it has been shown that as this window of opportunity closes, so do expectations and goodwill. Externally, the leader loses favour with key stakeholders. Internally, members settle back to status quo, but with a great sense of disappointment.

The consequence is that organisational politics kick in and old habits become even more entrenched. Every move by the leader is thereafter criticised and judged with the old lenses of the organisation’s culture. It is no wonder that an Indian Proverb says: A man who misses his opportunity and a monkey who misses its branch cannot be saved.

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