By Vincent Bagire, PhD
I am writing this paper shortly after the 11th Parliament approved the nomination of the new cabinet appointees. The greater surprise as the public has opined was the nomination of the Kakumiro district Woman member of Parliament to the revered position of Prime Minister and Leader of Government Business. The Rt. Honorable Robinah Nabbanja has hitherto been the junior minister of Health. Nostalgic of her appointment to my knowledge of her past leadership at district level, as former member of Parliament for Kibaale, I have reflected on the many press writeups on her abilities to that high office. On social media, posters were in cut-throat flow assessing her abilities. On one of them, shrouded in home-girl concept, members agreed to support her, right or left to ensure she beats pessimists. I wish to look at her ascendance to that office as a student of management.
As Rt. Hon. Nabbanja takes the reigns of that office, my attention as an academic is on the system of succession rivetted in structures and systems. Individuals will always come and run the institution and leave. They make their contribution and mark. The size, magnitude and impact definitely differ. But in human nature we quickly lament how the outgoing had left “big shoes” for the new person. I find this not a scholarly assertion. It infers that the new person is somewhat wanting. For me therefore, as Rt. Hon. Nabbanja takes the PM office, her slogan should be: “I will come in with my own shoes”. Period.
The issue of succession is delicate particularly in high level public offices. It has eluded us and many institutions have struggled with it. Succession management is one concept we hardly teach students in university, but a critical one in public administration. So, the exclamation that the ‘shoes are too big’ being very common is down playing transition. Indeed, some newly appointed officers when taking over offices reaffirm the fear in their acceptance speeches. What a self-mockery! less do we think of the damage caused. Normally, no public office should have ‘shoes too big’ to be fitted by a well-chosen successor.
I was dismayed on September 12, 2018 by a cartoon in Sunday Monitor of the then newly appointed leader of the opposition depicted in front of very huge shoes; it meant that she was wanting for that job and would probably not cope. Down the road, has she not handed over the office to another person? Can we have a similar cartoon showing the newly appointed LOP in front of ‘very small shoes?’ I have keenly taught my postgraduate students on systems as a key element of easing transition into managerial identity. Systems border the authenticity paradox which is associated with sincerity, honesty and integrity. It is true that authenticity is an innate quality and is largely built-in what Rt. Hon. Nabbanja will do as Prime minister, not what her successors did.
As such, she will, to a great extent, control it and fit in any shoes. She should choose to remain true to her current self, be authentic in the short-term, but growing and changing as integral aspects of leadership, aware that these do not compromise her authenticity credentials. Whoever leaves the ‘big shoes’ probably also started on a similar perception. The extra-ordinaries that enabled the predecessor to cope, are still a resource to whoever will be posted into that office. Be it that systems are in place and the only debate is the persona of Rt. Honorable Nabbanja, then the option is one and simple, ‘I will come in with my own shoes’ so the claim that she will not fit the big shoes left by the predecessor is put to rest. It is a simple management principle and hundreds of my former students know it; desisting from too much introspection, lest we inadvertently reinforce old ways of seeing the managerial world.
The author of this article is an Associate Professor of Management at MUBSEmail: email@example.com