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Walking a mile in the shoes of Dr. Caesar Mwangi

Dr. Caesar Mwangi is currently the Chief Executive Officer of ICEA LION Insurance Holdings. He is also the Deputy Chairperson of the Strathmore University Council in addition to being the Chairman of Strathmore Education Trust, Registered Trustees. These are just but a few of the many leadership hats that he wears as a result of his vast experience across Africa. He is a towering figure in leadership, organization effectiveness and people effectiveness.

Who is Dr. Caesar Mwangi when he is not wearing his leadership hats?

I am an ordinary Kenyan doing my best to take care of the responsibilities that I have been entrusted with. The first being my responsibility to take care of my wife and children followed by responsibilities in my workplace and community. I am grateful for the simple things in life like joyful family life, good health, good friends, a roof over my head, and opportunities all around to deal with challenges that cross my path and to leave people and situations better than I found them.

If you were to describe your personality as an animal, which one would you be? Why?

I think I would be aligned to an eagle. An eagle tends to fly at great heights without fear and observe the big picture before it narrows down on its next course of action. It does not like hanging out in crowds doing what everyone in the crowd is doing and, in this regard, it is not fashionable and does not subscribe to what is most popular. I tend to dislike group think and pressure to conform to the latest fads. I recognize that time is a very precious commodity and hence I am weary of the overt mass manipulation of people that goes on in society pushing people to certain pursuits, passions, and time-consuming activities that do not add value to a proactive well thought out course of action aimed at a clear purpose. I think an eagle is discerning and proactive in its lifestyle and I would humbly submit that I aspire for a similar lifestyle.

You have a keen interest in organizational performance and management, what influenced your choice of this expertise?

As a young man, I initially started my career in the external auditing profession. I soon came to realize that accounting and auditing were more about recording the past as opposed to looking forward to the future. I thus opted for a career in management consulting. This career resonated well with my personality and interest in diagnosing business problems and providing solutions that could lead to positive outcomes in the future. I left a trail of very happy clients and many good relationships from the positive interactions and outcomes. I enjoyed this process and as I worked with more clients, I realized that I needed to enhance my knowledge to better serve my clients.

I thus enrolled for an MBA and then a Ph.D. specializing in my interest and passion for organizational performance and change management. On this journey, I learnt that learning leads to growth and growth enables meaningful contribution in situations requiring solutions. This process is often accompanied by fulfilment and anticipation of the next growth phase. The cycle of learning, growth, application, and contribution to what is better for society results in life being an evolving adventure where the only constant changes as we strive for a better future for all.

It is my view that we need to keep learning individually and as organizations and this will lead to growth and better outcomes for all stakeholders now and in the future. I must admit it has been a marvelous and fulfilling professional adventure as you can apply these skills in your own business and as an entrepreneur or in someone else’s business as an intrapreneur or even in your community contributions. This has been my journey and I am grateful for it. I have also enjoyed sharing my evolving knowledge base and experiences as a lecturer/facilitator and I continue to learn and teach wherever I work.

What would be your advice on organizational/ people effectiveness especially during this time of the Covid-19 pandemic?

This is one of the most interesting times for any professional because our operating environment has drastically changed over a very short period. A changing environment requires operational and leadership changes in all our endeavors otherwise one can be rendered redundant and your organization can be swept to oblivion by the changes happening. I have come to learn that we need to be as agile as people and organizations. Agility is about an organization being able to renew itself, adapt change quickly, and succeed in a rapidly changing ambiguous, and turbulent environment. In this situation, there is no time for staying in the comfort zone, there is no time for nostalgic wishes about the good old days.

Things have changed and we need to quickly innovate, try out new ways of working, new ways of servicing clients, and new ways of interacting with our stakeholders and at all times ensuring we do not run out of the cash that is needed to keep the business going or endanger the lives of our people. To survive in this situation, leadership must inspire people to face the future with confidence and do everything to contribute to this new reality positively. This pandemic has taught us to move concepts like innovation from the theoretical back burner to the practical implementation stage and to learn as we go. It has taught us to relegate fear and comfort to the sidelines as we embrace trial, error, and retrial in our continuous effort to survive and eventually thrive.

Mention 3 key leadership lessons you have learnt in your leadership journey.

When you empower the people, serve the people and, grow the people… the results will be great

These should however be anchored in specific leadership practices as you engage the people:

  1. The need to always be guided by a clear inspiring vision is linked to a timeless purpose.
  2. The need to sell the vision continuously to those who need to contribute to its fulfillment as they are the agents that hold the enormous potential that will power the organization forward,
  3. The humility to recognize that you are nothing without the contribution of others hence the need for gratefulness and a conscious effort to equip, encourage and build up those around you to be the leaders they are destined to be.

How has this season of COVID-19 changed your perspective about life?

In three words…”. Life is Precious”. When you keep hearing about hundreds of thousands of people losing their lives in the space of a few months throughout the world. One realizes that life is a precious gift that soon ends, and it forces one to reflect on the quality of one’s contribution in this brief window of opportunity. I have also come to recognize that real wealth is contained in the everyday situations we take for granted and which we have been denied such as the occasional interpersonal engagements with family friends, the daily interactions with colleagues, the handshakes and hugs that keep us close, the sharing of a meal, the human interactions that are no longer encouraged, etc.

I have also learnt that in a race to simplify life, we have made it extremely complex where our lives have been taken over by time electronic devices which have hijacked all our time as we try and keep in touch with the rest of the world yet lose touch with those we live with. I have come to realize that we need to be more aware of what is ultimately important and take control of our lives which seem to have been spinning out of control.

What do you do for fun?

I enjoy my work tremendously so I could easily say I work for fun. However, when I am not working, I enjoy the company of my family and friends, I enjoy reading good books that enlighten me on other people experiences and wisdom, I enjoy nature and the great outdoors and I just love green spaces such as Karura Forest and outlying hiking venues such as Ngong Hills, Mt Kenya, Mt Kilimambogo, Aberdare ranges, Sleeping Warrior and others I have been fortunate to visit. I enjoy the solitude and serenity of vast open spaces and the opportunity to get away from traffic and noise infested environments.

What is your leadership mantra?

Let me leave every situation I am engaged in better than I found it.

Given a chance, what is the one thing you would change in the world?

Before I change the world, I would love to change Africa and Kenya in particular.

In this regard, I would love to change the tragic selfish leadership phenomena in Africa that have consigned Africa with all its natural wealth and 1.3 billion-plus population to be referred to as a third world basket case famously known for exporting illegal immigrants across the Mediterranean ocean. It is painful to observe the deep poverty, frustration, and hopelessness many Africans have been consigned to due to a leadership ethos that is preoccupied with selfish pursuits misaligned to the common good.

I firmly believe that Africa and Kenya have the potential to be a superpower nation built on a solid foundation of sound servant leadership ethos driving a spirit of excellence, innovation, meritocracy, and sustainable development for all. These values need to be championed by leadership at all levels and imbued in the hearts and minds of all people. This would result in a bright future for all people, especially our numerous young people full of immense potential, and we would eliminate the tragic attempts to escape the current misery by so many illegal immigrants losing their lives as they try to escape from Africa.

This article was written by Martha Oduor.

Would you like to share your experience of living through the circumstances brought by the Covid-19 pandemic? Kindly email: communications@strathmore.edu