30 gems from Prof Olive Mugenda to the YALI participants

YALI invited the Vice Chancellor of Kenyatta University,Prof Olive Mugenda to give one of those motivation/inspiration talks. She is, they said, a transformational leader. The good professor came and gave a talk titled “Systems Theory and Transformational Leadership: Building blocks for sustainable performance”
It was, in a nutshell, the story of her life, intertwined with the story of Kenyatta University.

Here are 30 things she said. Read, get your lesson, smile and move on. Is it ever that serious? Well, let's see....

  1. "When I was here many many years ago, this place was like a desert…The first thing I did was make it green. Have you seen the beautiful green hedges? When we first planted, the students would uproot them, but I'd tell my people to go and plant them again… now if you try to uproot them, the students won’t allow it. They love it! 
  2. "In a university like KU, even if I didn't transform it, life would go on.  I'd come to the office, sign the vouchers, do the administrative work and life will go on the way it is happening in other universities
  3. "All these governors are getting money and they are being told to do development and bring transformation…. If you are fighting all the time (in the counties), if you are not creative nothing will happen”
  4. "There is no way you are going to be a good leader if you are not visionary... you must have the ability to articulate and implement that vision... you must get that buy-in of the vision.
  5. "Doing the same things everyday will not deliver new results.
  6. "Take risks which are manageable, but always have a Plan B
  7. "You have to learn not to listen to some of these things (distractions, negative vibes), or else your vision will be derailed. The best thing is to focus on your vision as long as you are doing it right.
  8. "We bought a hotel at the Coast, 129 rooms, when we go there for meetings, we all stay at one place...within three years, we had cleared the loan....
  9. "Believe in people, build their capacity, be firm.
  10. "There are some of us who want to be in a little corner, to do their own things and succeed. Learn to work in a team. It is more valuable.
  11. "I have been offered Sh60 million...(When she rejected it, the giver of the kickback was so shocked that Prof Mugenda had to do a little therapy) I have to manage the shock so that they leave the office not feeling dejected. You have to be value driven. If you make that mistake (and take the money), how will you tell the people below you to stop being corrupt?
  12. "When you have a negative attitude, nobody wants to be with you!
  13. "I'd rather have a person who has 100 per cent good attitude and 80 per cent hard work, than one who is a good performer with a very negative attitude. Attitude is everything! Remember the cheese story!
  14. "Keep improving your skills. I did my MBA when I was a VC. In Arusha. I couldn't do it here because they'd probably give me a C.” (Laughter)
  15. "Communicate a clear sense of urgency that motivates the necessary attention and learning. Don't delay things. Let people know that we are not here forever.”
  16. "I don't like watching wildlife, they get caught all the time and they get eaten. I must win, I must do it right and I must do it now.
  17. "Who would have thought that a university can build a mall? I have been told 'why are you building a mall instead of classrooms?' But that mall, even in a hundred years, it will keep bringing income to this University.
  18. "I want to get American and Indian doctors to come work in our hospital and our students to go to those countries and succeed... it is about partnerships...I have 121 partnerships."
  19. "You must sacrifice your sleep a bit. Even at my age. I put two hours of KU work before I come to work. Because there is always a queue at the office, people waiting for me and I can’t tell them to go away, I have to serve them. I can't tell them to go and come back later.
  20. "Think about the little things you can do which will not cost money… the low-hanging fruits."
  21. "The plan in 2005 when we were doing the strategic plan was to have 45,000 students in 2015, we now have 71,000. Isn't that Transformational? "
  22. "We buy a lot of these things directly from the manufacturer.”(Cement, Steel, and construction equipment. Actually, she said the National Construction Authority has given KU a license similar to the one given to the Chinese contractors!)
  23. "When I was building the library, some people asked me, ‘why you are putting escalators, stairs and lifts. Just put one!’ I said, I don't want our students to go abroad and see escalators at the airport for the first time…."
  24. "If you have a good idea, don't keep quiet.
  25. "I have not seen a challenge of people disrespecting me because I am a woman.
  26. "In 2009, I almost resigned...there's a lot of politics in these universities. There is someone who said KU should be investigated. He said 'where are they getting the money for all these buildings'? I said, they should be asking those who are not building where they are taking the money they are getting! "
  27. "There are people who never smile. Life is not like that. Smile. Be happy. Do your work. If people came to the office, and I was annoyed, would people care. They just want services delivered. They don't care about your personal life".
  28. "When I was here as the student, I didn't know I will be the VC. I just worked hard. So, work hard. Have a vision. Follow your dream. Things will work out.
  29. "Get people who can support you, people who can say the truth. Be strategic. Be a politician.
  30. "Unless I am out of the country or I am very busy, I rarely turn down the opportunity to mentor young people... before I leave the university, next year I will be writing a book...to teach many more”


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