Leadership Evolution – The Missing Link

Leadership-Evolution-The-Missing-Link-Kimunya-MugoAbout eight years ago, I attended a job interview. It was your typical run-of-the-mill affair. The panelists just wanted to confirm that I was whom I said I was on my resume. The questions came at me fast and furious. “What is your main weakness? How do you cope when you are under pressure?” The scene was akin to the Spanish inquisition!

One thing bothered me throughout the interview. There was something wrong with the whole approach. It seemed none of the interview panelists was interested in knowing ‘who’ I am: the core of my person that is my heart, soul, and passion. Their focus was on ‘what’ I was. What had I done? What was I bringing into the organization? What this, what that… At some point, I was ready to walk off in protest if anyone of them uttered another ‘what’!

Fortunately, I got a small gap at the tail end of the interview. “Do you have anything you’d like to ask us?” asked one panelist. “More like something I want to share with you,” I replied excitedly! “I just wanted to let you know that I have a young family and my first baby on the way,” I began. Four bewildered faces stared back at me. It was like some tiny hamsters were furiously running tiny wheels in their cranium. Good sign, I had their undivided attention. “You see,” I began, “My family is central to my life and work. If any of them squeaks, I jump. They are my first priority.” You should have seen the baffled looks on their faces! It was like I had just walked into the dentist’s with a major cavity in my tooth while chewing on candy.

That is why I started to ask this question. Isn’t it time that recruiters looked beyond the papers? Some do, but where I come from not many. Now, in any recruitment process I am involved in, I try hard to learn as much as I can about an individual’s background. To try to know the person in a deeper way that goes beyond their talents and qualifications. Why is this important to me?

Human beings abhor vacuum

I find a disconnect between work and family. There seems to be an assumption that as long as one can perform well at their duties in there workplace, then they can move up the ranks and become leaders. For a few, this may be true. However, it is paramount to remember that leaders can’t develop in a vacuum. They only grow and thrive in context of their background; community and family. If any of these relationships are broken, chaos is the most probable outcome.

In mid-February this year, Kenya carried out her first-ever presidential debate. What stood out for me was not the normal political rhetoric. I was stunned when the candidates could not respond to a simple question, “Who are you?”

None could provide a credible response. They fumbled through their answers, reciting their qualifications, what they had done, hadn’t done or what they could do. None talked about growing up, or their family interactions. They came across hollow as an owl’s hoot in the dead of the night.

It left me wondering if we are molding ‘whos’ or ‘whats’. It may have been that they are driven to believe that if they have the credentials, then that could transform into credible leaders.

Leaders don’t tell a better story, they make a story better .”~ Kimunya Mugo Tweet this!

Family gives a sense of leadership potential

If you dig a little deeper into a someone’s family background, the probability of determining their leadership potential becomes higher. It exposes their ability to work in a team, to be accountable for their actions or lack thereof, and be open to opinions or different cultures. You are able to appreciate his or her clarity of their roles or responsibilities.

“Superficiality is the curse of courage…the desperate need today is not for the greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people,” notes Richard Foster. Deep people care about transformational leadership. They can be trusted, are more probable to have regular open communication, and tend to have activities outside work that involve family. Team building is a common trait amongst these people.

Susan Thorn puts this very well. “I recently hired a dynamite nurse for a new Case Management Model in a journey toward a patient centered medical home delivery of care model. She does not start for several weeks but we will be having a 7 am breakfast on Friday in my attempt to do just that. Discover how we fit into her work and family. I agree on the family. I have told employers that if ‘I give 100% to my family when they need it, I will always be able to give 100% while I am here’. And I tell my staff the same. Family always comes first!”

When you can say who you are…

This I believe is the missing link in the evolution of a leader. It is that sense of self-awareness. One does not walk around trying to seek power in material things or power. Knowing who you are helps in identifying with a cause and provides an opportunity to lead. Remember, people don’t buy into what you do but why you do it…the missing link in leadership.

There are those who lead. They inspire us. We follow because we want to and not because we have to. Remember, leaders don’t tell a better story, they make a story better.

Are you bridging the missing link in your leadership evolution process? Are you looking for ‘what’ rather than ‘who’? What are you going to do different in your leadership development pursuits? Let’s keep the discussion going…

About Kimunya Mugo

Kimunya Mugo has a burning passion for family, authentic leadership, communication and branding. He works with individuals and organizations to help them to become unmistakably authentic in their action. His experience spans over 15 years serving international organizations. Together with his wife, he has been a parenting coach since 2007. They have three children and live in Nairobi, Kenya. Kimunya is an author and speaker.

Connect with Kimunya Mugo


  1. Thanks Kimunya,

    That was an excellent read. When I sit in on interviews and the standard set of recruitment questions are asked, I find myself either drifting off somewhere or frankly embarrassed. My daughters discuss these questions and rehearse their answers based on what they believe the interviewer wants to hear. What a waste of time. Everyone is trying to think of some really exciting conflict in the workplace where they saved the day by bringing all the parties together and conducting peace talks. You give them the job and the next day they are selling shoes for you. Come on, what a waste of time. Your approach, “tell me about you” is perfect. I am much more fascinated by the character of a person, what they do outside of work, family, hobbies, community. And then when the time comes we can welcome the real them, the authentic them to work with us.



  2. Thank you for sharing your very common sense idea we too often forget and so well expressed by your statement “people don’t buy into what you do but why you do it”. Really great. I am going to use your quote for my next newsletter. It is indeed the missing link in leadership we must refer to more in leadership development programs.

    Thank you once again for this post right from the heart.

    Warm regards,


  3. Hi Kimunya

    Nice article. We are human beings rather than human doings, in my experience it takes most people a long time to work this out!

    Warm wishes


  4. I’ve been on a personal journey for last year and half essentially #gettingpersonalwithbusiness. We’re in a social age when authenticity prevails. Hiring managers should be less concerned about what looks good on paper; given so many unemployed have felt obligated to obtain advanced degrees or certifications. Team synergy is becoming increasingly important. We need to allow the person’s quality of work, behavior patterns and relationship skills speak for themselves.

    • Thanks. I think we need to go back to the basics. We are human beings that exist in a context of community and not just inventory that needs to be ‘updated’.

  5. Hi Kimunya. I enjoyed your post. I agree – it is all about who we are. Your statement – “Remember, people don’t buy into what you do but why you do it …” This statement expresses the true definition of leadership. We can list many attributes/characteristics/behaviors of leadership … but these are only effective if one is centered on the “why.” Thank you for prompting all of us to focus on the who and the why … not the what. Excellent!

    • I find the ‘why’ to be a very powerful motivator in my life. It keeps me firmly grounded and helps me to remain true to my calling. Thank you very much for your wonderful comment.

  6. “Are you looking for “what” rather than “who”?” and when can you say who you are… — brilliant questions and a magnificent article on bridging the gap between what we do and who we are Kimunya.

    On the subject of when can you say who you are, I see so many people afraid to say who they are in a world that seems to only care about what they can do. In organizational cultures where this is a challenge I have often joked with clients that instead of having a bring your kids to work day there should be a bring themselves to work day. At some point they realize I am not really joking about that and that bring yourself to work day could actually be everyday.

    • Awesome… “Bring yourself to work day”. Sometimes we can get lost by creating complex ‘spaghetti’ mazes while all we need to do is look deep within ourselves. Thank you for your insights Susan.

  7. Given the ongoing debate about work/life balance and family focus, this is a very timely and telling post Kimunya.

    The boldness in your statements communicates the calmness of your conviction. I wonder if all could embrace this would we finally start to change the industrialized culture of workers work and stay at home parents stay at home.

    Fantastic provocative post which I will share on my social streams.

    Kudos and thanks,

    • Thanks Kate, and as if on cue, your Tweet has just beeped on my cell 🙂

      Yes it is tricky balance but doable. I just have to take a look at my kids and their faces are testament enough that I am on the right track. “Be who are supposed to be, not what others think you should be,” is the mantra I have to chant to myself throughout my day.

  8. Well said, and it’s important to know someone and personal motivations before making a hiring decision. At least in the US, one also needs to proceed with caution when delving into the personal because you can easily stray into unacceptable questions prohibited by law. It’s all too easy to jump into these questions and fall into an area you shouldn’t.

    • I so agree there, in the US it is hard and one must be careful not to cross that line. What I have found is that, as we know, people love to talk about themselves when they feel safe in their environment. When I create a safe environment, and ask them to tell me a little about themselves, and “What is important to you? What are your top three values?” not only do I learn much, but in the interest of time, I typically have to interrupt them by saying “Thank you for sharing.” Although I could listen forever, I like learning about others.

      • By asking questions about family and relationships (in the US) you get into legal issues. By asking about a spouse, you are ferreting out the candidate’s sexual preference and marital status — you might be trying to exclude people illegally, or hire them into your dating pool. So much is prone to litigation that you have to stay on strictly relevant, job-specific “what” kinds of questions or hypothetical judgment questions. Even those can contain an unintended cultural slant or sleight. It’s complicated.

        • It is complicated, but still sad that’s what it has come to. Maybe emotional quotient (EQ) could come into play here. I read a piece by BBC’s Business Reporter Laurence Knight on “The psychology of the rogue trader” [http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-19849147] and some of his comment grabbed my attention…
          “What I have observed is a big emphasis in banks on technical competence – high cognitive ability or IQ,” says Mr Curnier. “When it comes to EQ [Emotional Quotient], my sense is that people are not spending a lot of time focusing on that.”
          Michael Douglas Does the “high roller” image of Gordon Gekko attract the wrong kind of candidate? EQ is a measure of individuals’ ability to manage their emotions and their relations with others, developed by psychologist Daniel Goleman.

    • Very true Skip. And the same is happening this side of the Atlantic too. However, it then calls for great tact not to cross the line. As Susan points out, I also endeavor to create a safe environment where others feel secure enough to relax and be themselves. Then our engagement more often than not transforms into a conversation, and we get to know each other better.

  9. Brilliant. I have difficulty with the concept of a ‘work – life balance’ because it’s all about your life, the two are not separate. However the concept of leaders being self aware and honest with themselves and others is so important.

    Loved the tweet


    • Me too- I love my life and work so well, and they are entirely synergistic with each other. My work, my avocation, my life- entirely blessed.

    • Honesty is the best policy 🙂 When I am self-aware, I don’t have to run away from myself…and others too. Thanks Dave.

  10. Hello Kimunya Mugo
    What a beautiful piece! I couldn’t help laughing out loud at your statement : “My family is central to my life and work. If any of them squeaks, I jump. They are my first priority. You should have seen the baffled looks on their faces!” Indeed, family always comes first!

    Credentials alone do not make credible leaders. Most interviewers are after “what is written in papers” not “who we are at our core.”

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful piece!

    kind regards,
    Ogwo David

  11. Bless you for such a beautiful work of defining one important component of teams. Success in our work models comes with adding individuals that bring depth and meaning to what we do. I love what follows after you point out “When you can say who you are….” If ever you and I get a chance to work together to form great teams, that would be great! I love developing good leaders through developing good lives. I know you do as well. Thank you for sharing. Oh and that nurse I had breakfast with? She has been with me for a little over a month, and she is fabulous! Of course I already new that.

    • Very honored by you comment Susan. I have found out that when I have life-work balance, in-between lies the passion. Then living becomes a joy. Great to know the nurse is still working with you. A breakfast can be transformational, talk of creating a safe environment 🙂


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