What makes a good leader? With John Ulanga, TradeMark East Africa


John Ulanga is the Country Director for TradeMark East Africa in Tanzania. TradeMark East Africa is a not-for-profit, multi-donor funded, Aid for Trade organisation established in 2010. Before joining TradeMark East Africa, John was the Vice President, External Affairs and Sustainability for BG East Africa and the Executive Director of the Foundation for Civil Society. He sits on a number of company boards in the country.

On the difference between leadership and management:

Can I be really honest with you, I am a leader not a manager. They are not the same thing.  I am not a manager because a manager is a custodian of principles, rules and regulations. The leader is a provider of vision, direction and hope. Visionaries are not necessarily actionaries, and actionaries are usually not visionaries. I spend most of the time visioning, giving people hope, giving people direction. Once you do that, you have people worthy for management.

On the importance of always learning:

There is something to learn from everything you see and something to learn from everybody you meet. Success is defined by the breadth of your knowledge, and not necessarily the depth of your knowledge. Because the higher you go, the less your technical skills are necessary. So, every day ask yourself, what have I learnt today? It could be about the weather. It could be about the economy.  It could be about many things. It could be about the need to flow. Every day learn something new from every person you meet, learn something from them, however stupid they might look.

On what he needs to change about his leadership style:

I think I’m a bit impatient. People have realised when I get bored. And as a leader you have to be attentive all the time because when you lead a team, you have a fast mover and a slow mover, and you need to be able to encourage all of them. The fast movers must not move so fast and the slow mover must learn to move past slow.

John spoke at a recent event in Dar es Salaam hosted by The Africa List

John spoke at a recent event in Dar es Salaam hosted by The Africa List

On being open and honest:

I think it’s the most difficult thing to know as a leader because once you reach that position, you can live in your own bubble.

How you can break out of it is to create a culture of ethical and honest conversation between you and the people that you lead, so that they can tell you when they are unhappy. It’s the most difficult thing to do in leadership because we take it as criticism. We take it as insubordination – we even coined that term as a result.

On what he thinks about as a leader:

I think about what our next big thing should be. As a leader you have to be ahead of the game. As a leader you have three roles and these roles are different from those performed by a manager. As I said before, the leader provides vision, direction and hope, while the manager is a custodian of rules, regulations and principles.

Now, because you are the one providing vision, vision is something out there.  So regularly you have to say, is our vision still relevant? Is the direction right? What do I need to do to give people hope, to keep on moving? As the leader you have to have that thought process every day.

On why people should be led by him:

For me I’m not a believer of titles. I don’t ask anybody to do anything or to be led by me because I’m some so and so. No. When you hear a leader saying, do you know I am so and so? There is a problem. Instead, you have to have the ability to provide the vision, to provide inspiration. People follow people because they are inspired by them. Because they want to emulate who they are. They want to be like them when they grow up. The world is not short of followers; the world is short of leaders.

The Africa List CDC Group