Leading from the front lines
The recent directive from the Federal Government that requires oil companies operating in Nigeria to have their Head Offices situated in their major areas of operation in the Niger Delta – Warri, Uyo or Port Harcourt is perhaps one of the best policy choices that any Government in Nigeria could have made with regards to the state of the Niger Delta and the management of the oil companies. The directive aligns with the school of thought that leaders should lead from the front-line rather than from a distance, and teaches the rest of us some important lessons in leadership that we too can apply to our organizations and teams.
The concept of leading from the front-line is synonymous with wartime, when Kings and Generals in previous generations led their troops to the battle front, and actually were involved in fighting against their enemies. As depicted in the movies, once the General or King is killed, the troops are scattered in disarray, and victory is assured for the other side. In these days of conventional warfare, the Generals spend more time in Situation Rooms directing missiles and drones and catching the view of the war via camera, dealing with the more strategic issues, but at least trying to stay connected with the battle front through their communication devices that allow them give instructions to the troops on the ground and receive feedback from them.
In fact, earlier in the Buhari administration a similar instruction to relocate the headquarters of the military to Borno State made a difference in assuring what now looks like an almost complete victory over Boko Haram. Going by that example, there must be some significant merits to leading from the front-lines, that our petroleum industry will soon start to reap, and which other leaders and organisations can enjoy, if they take the bold step to lead from the front-lines.
Leading from the front-lines firstly requires you to be physically present–it means that you will show up at work, and ensure that you are on there on time like everyone else. If the rules require that you sign in and sign out at the end of the day, you will adhere to those rules like everyone else. You should be like the Chairman of a Nigerian Bank that I saw scold the security men for beckoning on him to “not worry” about having his private computer details logged in at the register like everyone else.
When you lead from the front-lines, you will be required to be engaging and involved – Leadership by Walking Around (LBWA). You will need to move from one office to the other, feel the pulse of the people, giving instructions to the people on the shop floor, and gaining a first-hand view of what is going on.
By being at the front-line you will be able to help employees clarify problems and challenges and move faster in overcoming these problems and challenges. Rather than allowing confusion and anxiety to overwhelm your people, your presence will help to ensure that problems do not linger and that solutions will be found and implemented faster.
When leaders lead from the front-lines they get the chance to share experiences and mentor their team members in a very direct and impactful manner, and ensure that the right culture becomes pervasive. The fallacy of cascades as captured in the Harvard Business Review article – “How to help employees get strategy” by Charles Galunic and Immanuel Hermreck will be avoided as your employees will hear things from the horse’s mouth, rather than be confused by the “Chinese whispers’ that come with long cascades.
In addition to avoiding the fallacy of cascades, leaders at the front-line get the chance to co-create the vision and the plans of the organization or team with their people. Co-created visions and plans ensure that execution is enhanced, and resistance to change is reduced. There is a higher level of ‘ownership” and it is more likely that the vision and strategy will be successful.
When leaders are present and involved they get the chance to feel the pains and sufferings of the people. When you have to use the same conveniences, kitchenettes and other facilities in the office, then you will be more proactive in ensuring that these facilities work and are of the highest standards. This came up in a conversation I had with a friend about the oil companies moving their Head Offices to the Niger Delta.
Now, the OPEC meetings, negotiations with big financiers and other events will start to take place over there – greater attention will be paid to security, roads and critical infrastructure beyond paying lip service, after all the ogas will all be in the trenches there with them. If some of these International Oil Companies did not have their head offices in places like Houston and Dallas, would those cities have developed to what they are today in comparison to New York and Washington?
Clearly, leading from the front-lines is a step in the right direction for any leader, and the executives of Nigeria’s oil industry who are now going to be spending more time at the front-lines because of the presidential directive should take consolation in the tremendous benefits that it holds for themselves as leaders and for their employees and the host communities, and work wholeheartedly to transform that very important, powerful, yet “sleeping” industry.
Omagbitse Barrow is a Strategy Consultant and teacher of values based Leadership with the Abuja based Learning Impact NG