When the first case of the coronavirus was announced in Kenya in March, the government moved swiftly to shut institutions like schools in a bid to curb the spread of the virus. Many schools found themselves adapting to a whole new system of doing things, having to put in place infrastructure for online learning and remote working in order to ensure continuity of educational services as well as business continuity.
However, in one family-owned school, which had been operating in the area for over three decades, things were totally different. Shortly after the closure of the school, all the staff received a phone call from the owner informing them that she was shutting down the school permanently within three months. The reason cited for this closure was that she could not run the school alone anymore – unwilling to relinquish control, she had been the one taking care of most business processes. Long-serving trustworthy staff members stepped up, volunteering their services to help run the school and put in place proper business systems so as to ensure continuity. However, the owner was unwilling to take any advice and was determined to do exactly as she wanted, and in July, the school was officially closed rendering almost 50 people unemployed and hundreds of students stranded.
To make matters even worse, the school was later quietly sold to another school owner in the area. No stipulations were made during the acquisition to absorb staff previously employed by the school.
When reflecting on what to write about for this article, I decided to use this scenario as a case study into responsible leadership, or lack thereof, because I felt that this school owner was the antithesis of a responsible leader, and I thought that it would be interesting to evaluate how different things would have been had she actually been a responsible leader.
So what then could responsible leadership be defined as? The Financial Times defines responsible leadership as: “making decisions that, next to the interests of shareholders, also takes into account all the other stakeholders, such as workers, clients, suppliers, the environment, the community and future generations.”
When this definition is used as a context to evaluate the scenario presented above, it can be concluded the owner did not make decisions that considered all stakeholders in the school. Rather, she considered herself the only stakeholder, and therefore she did not think that students, parents or teachers were stakeholders and therefore it was not important to her to involve them in consultative talks that would lead to a more productive outcome.
As a responsible leader, she could have held a meeting with her most trusted senior staff in order to come up with a business model and a business system that would have allowed her to cede administrative and operational control to some of these staff members, while still having the final say on all major decisions. Had she been open-minded and considerate of the constructive feedback being presented to her, she would have still been running a successful and reputable school remotely, offering the quality service that she had for several years.
Instead, she left behind bitter stakeholders, a tattered reputation and a legacy in ruins. Something that took decades to build was destroyed in the span of a few months. Just some of the consequences of not being a responsible leader.