During the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, the world was eager and ready for a revival in Neoliberal productivity and Stephen Covey was just man for the job. He wrote a book and became a celebrated consultant by espousing the value of personal and leadership habits.
One of the most compelling books ever written, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People®, has empowered and inspired readers for over 25 years and played a part in the transformation of millions of lives, across all age groups and professions.
However, now that the Mexican wall is falling, we find that the book was wrong all along. In other words, millions of lives were transformed into the wrong direction. But before we think habits by itself is wrong, consider the habits of safety cultures.
Finally, safe companies stand out for what they don’t do. They don’t leave EHS management up to a single individual.
Here we notice that the habits and culture of the group is more effective than the habits and culture of the individual. Using a personal system to establish an organization-wide culture can never perform as well as a group system perpetuating a group culture that stands at arm’s length away from the bottom line. It is well known that individuals will tend to change their personal systems to benefit their bonusses.
It can be compared to airline pilots flying aircraft competitively, despite the first priority always being passenger safety. In other words, an airline pilot has the authority to give his boss the no treatment. The same goes for fighter pilots and ship’s captains (but unfortunately not drone pilots).
Just as habits aided and represented Neoliberal design and growth, we now need to develop different habits to help us during the Neoliberal fall (which is expected to take longer than its rise). The reason is that we have passed the maintenance phase of this society, otherwise we could have used maintenance type habits.
Uganda is not being held back by a lack of resources (let it financial, physical or human resources). No. Uganda is being let down by poor, indiscipline and unaccountable leaders. Ours is largely a governance and institutional problem.
Uganda’s problems do not need more expenditure to be solved. Our problems need more execution discipline. To get execution discipline, Mr. President, you need to put in place a smart government. To craft a smart government, you need to reduce the amount that politics contributes to your decision making process.
Covey wrote about what habits succeed in a rising civilization, but now we are in a withering one, and need to develop different habits:
What needs to be done is to develop habits knowing that infrastructure maintenance will not happen (or any other maintenance). South African experience first and foremost points to a failure of third level government as a reliable indicator of the decline of society and can be used to develop habits by working around those failures.
This is the first time in South Africa’s democratic history that citizens have been able to argue successfully in court that local government is not living up to its constitutional obligations. The ruling effectively opens the door for others to challenge poor service delivery due to incompetent and dysfunctional governance.
In other words, instead of fixing your local communities so that they can be used as resource “batteries” by federal government, make your local communities a high cost to federal government until it fixes its institutional problem, namely politics taking place of realistic policy.
Our habits determine our future, and in government, the biggest habit consists of the cultural tenor of the organization. If based on politics, kleptocracy and corruption rule the day; if realist, the good get ahead and the bad get demoted.
By working toward that type of flip of authority, from centralized to local, and draining money and power from the political process, we can not just survive 2021 but reverse its state of dysfunctional leadership.