Seven lessons in public leadership

Madu Ibrahim, an officer in the Nigerian navy, reflects on his time on the AIG Public Leaders Programme.

Estimated reading time: 3 Minutes
Madu Ibrahim with his AIG certificate

As a naval officer, I have keenly observed how some of the changes in the 21st century have led to a volatile, complex, and ambiguous environment globally. These changes have led to events and threats largely caused by non–state actors in the maritime environment.

As we confront new and emerging security threats which affect the fundamentals of security and national development, there is a need for an integrated approach to enhancing maritime security, requiring purposeful and passionate leadership at every level.

Recognising that different types of problems and challenges require a variety of leadership skills, I joined the recent Public Leaders Programme led by the Aig – Imoukhuede Foundation and the Blavatnik School of Government.

Here’s what I learned.

Partnerships and collaborations are essential

Finding solutions to complex, and dynamic challenges as well as maintaining effective public service delivery often require partnerships and collaborations between government organisations, teams within an organisation and public and private organisations. While this improves transparency in providing best fit solutions, some of these partnerships can lead to unhealthy rivalries and even litigation. Partners must agree upon risk distribution, shared objectives, and unifying values to ensure the longevity and quality of these partnerships and collaborations.

Develop soft skills and promote positive informal behaviours

Most government organisations like the military are hierarchical in nature and thrive on formal structures which prescribe the basis of relationships between employees. This reflects the industrial age playbook which tended to result in employees who lacked ingenuity and / or enthusiasm in the discharge of their duties.

I was enthused by the effective communication skills, work ethic, time management and organisation shown by the members of the Blavatnik faculty and the Aig–Imoukhuede Foundation team who played a fundamental role in the active engagement of participants at the programme. This reiterated that fostering soft skills and promoting positive informal behaviours which focus on people and their relationships can drive innovation, increase employee engagement, create a positive working environment, and boost productivity.

My role is not just to lead the way but to embody the values and behaviours I wish others to aspire to.

Be a force multiplier

As a young officer in the Navy, I thought leadership was about asserting authority and dominance. But growing through the ranks and attending this Public Leaders Programme, I have realised that leadership is not just about me or about being a force. It is also not about being the best in the team or having the solution to all the problems. Rather it is about how best the team performs when I am there. It is about us, as a team and an organisation. My role is not just to lead the way but to embody the values and behaviours I wish others to aspire to . It also requires mentorship, training, creating a supportive environment, inspiring, and empowering emerging leaders to flourish alongside me.

Inclusive decision making is paramount

In this fast-paced, intricate, and ever–evolving modern landscape, with its associated challenges, junior employees should be involved in the decision-making process. This helps to clearly communicate the vision, mission, and strategy of the organisation for effective implementation. Sir William Francis Butler in his book, "Charles George Gordon" wrote: “The nation that will insist upon drawing a broad line of demarcation between the fighting man and the thinking man is liable to find its fighting done by fools and its thinking by cowards.”

The beauty of diversity  

The Public Leaders Programme brought together public leaders from diverse background with various levels of experience. I was inspired by the enthusiasm and dedication displayed by the participants during discussions and problem–solving sessions. Regardless of our different specialties and uniqueness, we share a common goal and desire, to improve the efficiency of the various organisations we represent for enhanced public service delivery.

It is not about advancement but about efficiency

Public organisations in the 21st century use technological advancement to enhance efficiency and effectiveness. But as Rear Admiral Monty Khana (rtd) of the Indian Navy once said Enhancing organisational structure through harnessing digital technology, without corresponding development of the human resource will result in an expensive organisation. While, developing the human resource without enhancing the organisational structure will lead to an inefficient organisation.Technological advancements must be balanced with human resource development to enhance efficiency in service delivery, ensuring a harmonious organisational structure.

My experience attending the programme was enlightening, equipping me with necessary tools, varied perspectives, and increased confidence for effective leadership. It enhanced my decision making, problem solving, conflict resolution and strategic thinking skills, and interacting with individuals from diverse backgrounds and various sectors helped broaden my understanding of leadership and public service delivery, enabling me address challenges with tailored solutions.