Lessons from Lions and Lakes

My journey as a manager

Have you ever felt like no matter how much good you do, people only seem to notice and focus on the bad? I know I have, and it's a sentiment shared by some of my colleagues in our management team. But why is this the case? How did that come up? And why does it matter that managers recognise these situations?

In my journey and experience as a manager, I have come to the conclusion that the answer lies in our biological and perceptual makeup. As primates, our minds are wired to register negative things and warn us of potential threats. We tend to only notice, register, and privilege any dangers. As Shakespeare once wrote, "The good that men do is oft interred with their bones, but the evil lives on."

To illustrate this point, let me share an example. Imagine you're walking through a forest, and you come across a bush. Behind the bush could be two things - delicious fruits or a lurking lion. Your mind will register the lion as a threat and prioritize it over the fruits. The same goes for our perceptions in everyday life.

The second factor is the physics of how we perceive and interpret reality. To illustrate this, let me share a conversation I had with my colleagues Bernardin and Mireille on a boat in Mugesera. We were launching a biogas project, and as the boat slowly made its way across the lake, Bernardin asked if the boat was moving at all. All we could see around us was vast expanses of clear water. Relative to us, the water wasn't moving. Neither was the boat. Everything seemed stationary. But in reality, the boat was moving. Our brains only register movement relative to stationary objects, so without anything stationary to compare it to, our brain thought we weren't progressing.

The same happens in our professional life. When all is familiar, when there is monotony, our brains may not recognise the movements and shifts.

As managers, it's important to remember that we will be held to a higher standard, and people will only notice the little blemishes, even when we are largely or entirely successful. But we can't let this discourage us. Instead, we need to anticipate criticism, put it in context, and use it as a learning opportunity. We also need to surround ourselves with positive and supportive people who can encourage us and help us stay focused on our goals.

To make the point more personal, let me share some of the conversations I had with my colleagues. Bernardin said, "As managers, we must develop the resilience to move on after criticism." Mireille added, "Negativity can be contagious, so it's important to have a positive outlook and share that with your team."

Management can be very lonely, but we must stay focused on our goals and the positive impact we are making. Don't let the negativity of others bring you down. Remember that the good you do is not buried with you - it lives on, making a difference in the world.

Thank you for taking the time to read this story. Together, we can continue to make a difference, one positive action at a time.