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In 2008, at the onset of the global financial crisis, during a staff meeting, the CEO assured those present that the bank was not going to lay off staff due to the expected economic meltdown. He reinforced the message with an assurance that the board had set aside a financial “war chest” that would cushion the bank from the crisis.  After the reassurance, he challenged everyone to concentrate on business growth with a view to ensuring that the resultant growth would offset any losses emanating from the crisis. Despite the negative news and anxiety at the time, the CEO remained positive all through the meeting and kept referring to the bank’s desire to become a leading financial service provider in Africa, an ambition that is still on track.

During the year, the bank’s expansion program continued with not less than new 20 branches being opened, taking the network to 100 branches. I have no memory of discussions within the bank about the difficult operating environment. To the contrary, discussions focused on the bank’s growth trajectory and the opportunities in the marketplace. The foregoing happened despite the fact that Kenya was also going through an economic downturn occasioned by the 2007 – 2008 post-election violence.  The positivity was reflected in the bank’s end of year financial statements through a growth in profitability, asset base, return on equity, return on assets amongst other financial metrics.

In a 2013 interview on CNN, Tabitha Karanja, Keroche Breweries CEO explained how she persisted with her vision of breaking an 80-year-old monopoly in the beer industry and give Kenyans affordable alcoholic drinks despite stiff and unfair competition, unfavorable changes in taxation laws and gender stereotypes amongst other challenges. She outlined how in 2007, taxes imposed on alcohol manufacturing made it difficult to keep prices low thus rendering her product too expensive for her target customers. The high prices forced her to stop producing fortified wine. However, instead of bowing out of the industry, she came up with a new product.

In another interview with KTN in 2013, Tabitha outlined the many challenges her company faced including legal suits, inflated tax bills and unethical trade practices such as destruction of outdoor marketing bill boards and negative influences on distributors amongst others. In her word, conviction that her success would inspire other local entrepreneurs kept her positive and focused on her goal instead of the challenges. Though she frequently acknowledged the challenges, her interview was full of examples about how she focused on the opportunities in the marketplace and her company’s strengths instead of the external threats and challenges.

Last week, I highlighted about how negativity can obstruct strategy development and implementation (read here). The good news however, is that leaders who deliberately focus on the positives, possibilities, opportunities and internal strengths have an ability to succeed in strategic planning and implementation. This focus spreads positive energy and optimism which helps teams and individuals develop resilience in the face of challenges and setbacks. It also promotes positive thinking which helps people view obstacles as temporary and manageable. In addition, it focusses people on the search for solutions instead of the problems. The foregoing usually leads to increased productivity, attracts opportunities and may also help in improving team members’ emotional wellbeing.

Dr. Weru Mwangi is the CEO & Lead Consultant at Ultimate Management Solutions, a firm specializing in training & consultancy in Finance, Governance, Strategy, Risk Management and Leadership Development.  He can be contacted on weru@umslgroup.com  

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