Many of us will remember from our primary school history classes that Sir Geoffrey Colby was a British colonial administrator who was governor of the protectorate of Nyasaland between 1948 and 1956.
In fact, Sir Geoffrey Colby was, in my view, a good administrator and manager. Today, we want to highlight two of the key lessons that we can learn from his illustrious management style.
It is recorded that Sir Colby was greatly opposed to the creation of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. He advised the Colonial Office to exclude Nyasaland from the federation that was being planned.
His basis was that he was convinced that there was no goodwill “towards us or understanding of our problem in Salisbury [Federation Headquarters in Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe)].”
In the end, the Colonial Office completely ignored Sir Colby’s advice and they went on to create the federation. Sir Colby demonstrated great leadership in embracing the change and accepting that during the planning, he had a chance to express his views and advice but that once the final decision was made, he needed to tow in the direction of the policy and decision.
Sir Colby completely changed his approach and started to support the federation and offered good insights on what needed to be done to make the federation a success.
Sir Colby is on the record to have said: “Our job and primary objective in the next few years must be to allay African fears and to convince the African population that Federation is in their best interests and indeed is in the interest of all communities in this territory.”
He went on to recommend that Africans be given greater say in government. He offered more civil service jobs to Africans who were qualified.
In fact, in July 1955, Colby made a radical change that would completely transform the structure of the legislative council with effect from 1956.
To this effect, in 1956, the new council had eleven colonial officials and 11 elected representatives— which now included some five Africans.
A good manager, a good administrator makes sure that the structure of management serves the interests of the people they manage and that it gives people a fair chance for say in the affairs of management and administration.
The second big lesson that we get from Sir Colby is that sometime in the 1950s, he decreed that all district officers must travel around their district at least 14 days a month.
This decree applied to district commissioners, agriculture officers and other departmental officers. He did this so that all district officers should know what was going round and to know the problems in their field of jurisdiction. Every good manager or administrator needs to practice Sir Colby’s decree.
If you are a manager responsible for operations at the headquarters of a bank, then you need to periodically visit distant branches to understand your operations better and to gain first hand understanding of the problems and issues there.
If you are a production manager, you need to periodically inspect the production plant and talk to the machine operatives. If you are an information technology manager, you need to visit your support teams and installation teams as well as the data centre to understand “your game” and the issues on the ground. The same requirements apply to all managers and administrators.
Today, we have reviewed some of the key management strategies that made Sir Geoffrey Colby a successful governor of Nyasaland Protectorate in the 1950s.
If you apply these strategies to your field of work, you are bound to excel in your role as manager or leader.
Good luck as you rise and shine on the shoulders of Sir Geoffrey Colby!