By Kenneth Jukpor
During the 2017 annual conference of Port Management Association of West & Central Africa (PMAWCA) which held in Lagos last week, the Managing Director of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) Ms. Hadiza Bala-Usman chaired a technical session, titled; “Women in Executive Leadership- Challenges and Successes: Personal Experiences from West and Central Africa” and she shared her experience on several pertinent issues. Enjoy it:
Gender equality is something that comes up at the Nigerian Ports Authority as we aim towards improving the gender balance at the authority. We are improving the gender balance by prioritizing excellence in women and giving them certain positions. Every time we have examinations, I always ask for the top females in all categories and those females would be considered for international trainings and every other perk that comes with the job.
I believe that with this gender equality in place, we would be able to identify the talent in young girls and we would provide them the opportunity of mentorship. I have two mentees at NPA, in mentoring what do I do? I have to be briefed in clear terms of what I have to do. However, as professional women, we need to look at ourselves as role models. Even if you are not mentoring anyone, you have to realize that people are watching your actions and they would learn from the examples you set.
I am from the northern part of the country where a lot of northern girls are uneducated. Only few get education and significant employment or appointment afterwards. Nevertheless, you find out that a lot of these women leave before they reach the peak of their careers. They either resign or leave the service because of other priorities. So, I have the responsibility to be a role model to young girls, especially those from the north. When they see me they can be encouraged and say, “If she can do this and she is from the north, then I can do it” especially coming into the maritime industry when the north doesn’t have any waters or seas. We are not familiar with maritime but as we do things our activities become part of mentorship to others. Those of us that find ourselves in leadership positions need to be mindful of our actions and conducts because people are watching us. What we do is been observed and people would emulate you whether your conduct is good or bad.
Qualities that got me the NPA job:
I have been very diligent in all assignments and tasks that I have been given. I have demonstrated and maintained the ability to be focused and hardworking. It is one thing to know what your tasks are and another issue to be focused on achieving them. I worked relatively close with the President during the last elections and he made certain observation about the fact that I was hardworking and intelligent.
One of the things I think brought me forward as the candidate for NPA job was my ability to question and challenge the status quo and my courage to stand for what I believe is in the best interest of the nation. So, I encourage women to have the courage to challenge status quo and stand for what is right. Women should be hardworking, upright and committed to excel in any capacity or job description they find themselves.
One of the advantages that I also noted when I was coming into the industry was the fact that we didn’t have any historic prejudice or any historic relationship. I came in on a blank state; studying, reading, understanding, asking questions to understand the objectives. This also means that I could take decisions devoid of any prejudice; only based on what is in the best interest of the country.
Balancing responsibilities at home and work:
It is critical to have a balance between family and work. There is a need to balance the home responsibilities with the office. I have two young sons. My kids are 5 and 7 years old, so I have to do home work. I drive them to school before going to work and endeavour to be home by 6pm because they return from their Islamic lessons at 6pm. I help them with their home work and I play my role at home. As I said earlier, a woman has to be well grounded to strike the balance between work and the home. Remember that family is key because they would always be there to support you. I encourage everyone to understand and value the role of the family.
I encourage my colleagues at NPA to go for their annual leave within the year. No one is indispensable because when you die the work would still go on. So, there is a need to have a balance in life. I would always advocate for everyone to have this balance. Anytime my colleagues come to me to say, “I’m going for my son’s graduation ” I always insist that they must go for their children’s graduation or that special event with the family.
How I received the news of my appointment:
When I was appointed the Managing Director of NPA; it came as a shock to me. I had a good job in Kaduna and NPA was this huge entity. NPA was seen to be the cash cow for political elements in Nigeria. I had a huge task to change the narrative of the NPA. How would I stand firm for what I believe in and do my job? What amount of resistance was I going to get? How would I start the legitimate reforms that I believed in? These were the thoughts that clouded me initially and I recall telling my boss, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, then that I didn’t think I could handle this but he encouraged me not to feel overwhelmed. He said he believed I could handle the responsibility. I recall that the President said he knew that I was intelligent enough to read and study the sector and he believed that I could perform. I was also encouraged by the fact that the President is keen on genuine reforms, change and anti-corruption. I was a member of the National Advisory Council on Anti-corruption, so I knew that I would have the President’s backing in any tough reforms that I would introduce at the Authority.
What President Buhari told me:
The President said to me: “Go on Hadiza, I know you have the ability and I believe that you can do this. So go on and do everything” and he meant it.
One year after my appointment I went to meet the President to brief him on the activities at NPA and the ports and this was a period after his first return when he was ill. He looked quite pale then but he said “Hadiza, I know what you have done. I have been watching you on the television and I want you to know that you have done a good job so far. Before I appointed you people said that you are a woman so you can’t do this job. They also said that you are from the north and they believed that Northern women can’t do this job. So I am very happy with what you have done. Keep it up and I’m here to urge and support you.”
I was very touched because he was ill and looking frail but he also added, “Hadiza, you have lost weight. I want you to look after yourself.”
This was someone who had just returned from a medical trip and he had lost weight but he was more concerned about me. He also added that I am young so it is the right time for me to work. He said “Work as hard as you can now that you are young but make sure you look after yourself”
So, I know that no one can intimidate or bully me because I would stand firm for whatever I believe in. I also have the ability to challenge anything because I have authority. You can’t tell me the President said because I would go and see him and he would say he didn’t say so.
Managing more experienced/older subordinates:
I think a large number of the staff of NPA are older than I am. I understand the need to respect not just their age but also their experience in the industry. They have historic knowledge of the industry and expertise on their jobs. I also have to appreciate the fact that a lot of them have put in more than 10 years in this industry and have more experience than I have. So, I ask why is this like this or why did you do that? I also have to note the fact that in age they are older than me so I give them the due respect. They also appreciate that while I might be young; I am also the Chief Executive. So we need to recognize our roles, age as well as our capacity.
These are some of the reasons I ask more questions to know why certain decisions were taken in the past. What informed those decisions? Where certain files or documents are located? I am also not shy to say I don’t understand or to ask for something to be explained again because I still didn’t get it when I read the memo.
Just because I’m the Chief Executive doesn’t mean I am the lord over them. I still respect their opinions, decisions and values. I also create room for us to disagree to agree. As a CEO, you should be able to allow your colleagues express their views on certain issues even if they are in conflict with your views. It is very important to allow a dialogue rather than push through your views. You should be able to understand why certain people are saying no.
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