Definitions aside, you might be wondering how easy it must be to sit down and write about the complexities in the country and suggest ways to chart them down, but how does this translate into actively tackling the complexities within Nigeria? Please bear with me. The first step in every task is to understand it, identify the challenges, and identify their causes, the effects and the linkages between the challenges, if there are any. There usually are. This identification process is a time-consuming and arduous process. However it is necessary. Otherwise one takes the risk of attempting to solve the wrong issue and no matter how creatively the attempt at resolving these issues is, the original issue remains unresolved.
How then does this relate to “leadership”, the title of this article? How does this relate to moving “from thought, to action?” Once the complexities are identified, decisions have to be made on the best course of action to take to resolve the issues. Some issues can be resolved immediately. Others can take about 3-5 years, and some others are more long-term and can take anything from 5 years to 20 years. This means that the complexities need to be understood and sustainable strategies decided upon to ensure that issues are satisfactorily resolved, as best as they can be.
What this means is that there is a need for clear and distinct leadership. Leadership that is able to decide on the right strategy to take, leadership that is able to correctly prioritize the courses of actions to take. Note that I use the phrase “able to decide on the right strategy to take”. It does not mean that leaders know it all, rather, it means that they are able to maximize the resources available to them, so as to ensure that the right information about the complexities are gathered. Then the leaders decide.
It is perhaps useful at this point to define what is meant by leadership. Leadership means, at the most basic level the ability to influence other people. “Other people” here include any number of persons. So, an individual can influence one person, or a person can have a position of influence over others in their family, in their place of worship, at work, school, community and club.
Initially leadership was assumed to be a factor of trait alone, where the tall, fit and well-spoken man was assumed to be a proprietor of good leadership. This concept of leadership has its obvious shortcomings, with particular attention based to the superficial qualities of a person and the significant gender bias. More recently, leadership is considered to be a recipe of intelligence, traits, manners, empathy, analytical skills, creativity, spirituality, morality and social intelligence.
The word leadership has been bashed around so many times that it has become nebulous. Yet, the same popular use of the word in every conversation that relates to developing economies highlights its importance, and dare I say, our folly if we choose to ignore what it is, what it stands for and what it can achieve, when utilized effectively. Effective leadership means being able to influence other people to undertake a course of action that will result in a positive outcome.
Being in a senior position alone does not automatically mean that one is an effective leader, although it can point to the responsibilities for leadership that the position might have. Effective leadership is one that exhibits characteristics of strategic thinking and the ability to strategically appraise complex situations while working with others, motivating them, encouraging them and criticizing them when and if the need arises.
The key point here is that leadership is important, and its importance cannot be over-emphasized. However, the concept of leadership needs to be understood contextually.
What then does leadership mean for Nigeria?
As mentioned earlier, leadership is effective if it is able to influence people towards a positive outcome that is the attainment of goals. In the case of Nigeria, this goal is development. Development is not strictly economic. Economic development is important, however development comprises of political, social, cultural and legal aspects too. If development is not tackled with an understanding of the different aspects that comprise it, then while the country might report a high level of economic growth, there would remain a high level of inequality and social under-development, as is the case between rural and urban China. The point here is that development has to be seen more holistically, where the sum of its parts is greater than the whole. Appraising development through economic lenses alone will not result in a sustainably developed nation.
If the goal is development, the questions are development for whom? Development for what? Development, how? All these questions point to the need for leadership. Leadership that is able to think through the various strands of developmental issues, leadership that is able to analyze, prioritize and act.
For this to happen, there is an imperative need to ensure the right information is gathered. That is, the issues are accurately and comprehensively charted. It involves the collective and contributory working together of different government parastatals, non-governmental organizations, private councils, and private business and industry groups to ensure results for the collective good of the nation. This might sound like utopia, but leadership cannot happen in a vacuum. Rather it is an iterative process that involves the decision makers as well as other people within the organization, be it a public or private organization.
It also means that the solutions proposed to issues are directly applicable to the issues at hand. An approach that was successfully used to resolve an issue in the past might also not be applicable anymore. That is to say, there can be no “one size fits all” approach to resolving complexities. What has worked in the United States might not work in Nigeria, even though the United States like Nigeria is a Federalist country. What has worked in Brazil might not work in Nigeria. What has worked for India might not work for Nigeria. Even closer to home, what has worked in Ghana, might not work in Nigeria. It does not mean that we cannot learn from the developmental processes in these countries, it simply means that we should be aware of the uniqueness of the complexities within Nigeria and strategies to resolve them should be context-specific.
The courses of action that are to be taken at any point in time need to be continually revised, redrafted, widely communicated to relevant parties and cohesively done. Now this is a challenge! The challenge is how to identify the complexities and also how to resolve them effectively.
This takes me back to the beginning of this essay. At this point I concede that there is a problem in Nigeria. Not with Nigeria, but in Nigeria. The problem in Nigeria is the disjointed, randomized and ill-planned approaches that are taken in an attempt to resolve issues. There does not appear to be a thought-out process; rather it is very akin to learning to swim while drowning. We have also focused on political leadership as the only path to development.
This was published in ThisDay Newspaper on 31 July 2013.