Home / I CARE INTERVIEW / How I Managed Fears, Disadvantage To Advantage To Break Barriers  – Hadiza

How I Managed Fears, Disadvantage To Advantage To Break Barriers  – Hadiza


How I Managed Fears, Disadvantage To Advantage To Break Barriers  – Hadiza

Managing Director of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) Ms. Hadiza Bala-Usman

Woman!  To be a complete woman is not an easy task. But who, indeed, is a complete woman? Hadiza Bala-Usman has the answer,I guess and has graciously availed us. Well, what resonates in every working woman’s mind,especially mothers, is how to strike a good balance between work and home management. This is one of the many fears that limit women’s dream actualization. Many tend to handle this in their strides,with equanimity, others have applied the opportunity cost of either sacrificing the job or the marriage. But it is interesting however to note that many successful women are able to strike a comfortable balance and still maintain leading positions in their career. Mrs. Funke Agbor, SAN, who is a successful mother, lawyer, avid reader and good manager of her husband and home as well as numerous professional concerns had once said to MMS Plus, thus: “…I have decided that I cannot get everything right. But I can strike a balance. You cannot be a super-lawyer, super-mother or a super- wife. You will just do the best you can.”

Funke’s submission validates Hadiza Bala-Usman’s statement that,”Balance is an integral part of who we are  and we(women) have to work on it.” Bala –Usman is the Managing Director of Nigerian Ports Authority(NPA). She spoke on the topic:“Freeing Yourself From Fear”as a guest speaker at a recent  Abuja  Roundtable Lunch organized by Women in Management and Business(WIMBIZ). Mr. Kingsley Anaroke, our Editor-in-Chief, was there as a He4She.

She identified various types of fears associated with women and their  limiting effects. However, she churned out panacea for them, with revealing personal experiences on the political turf that created incredible mileages which broke all barriers for her to get to the top. It was a super-mentoring session especially for the young ladies from the north, believed to be heavily disadvantaged. The event took place at BON Hotel, Asokoro, Abuja, and MMS Plus was there. For women, this is all you need to arrest your fears and hit your dreams.             


Overcoming your fears

Fear is a powerful emotion which protects us and keeps us from the things that will destroy us. It is also an emotion that paralysis us from taking bold step or prevents us from what we want to achieve as our destiny. We will be deceiving ourselves if we say that fear is not real or isn’t justified. It comes out in all of us in very different ways. Some people are so afraid of failure that they will never venture out.

Some others are afraid to say no, some are afraid of rejection and that is why they will never ask for help.  However, the real damage to our breakthrough is our inability to look fear in the face and call it a problem.

Sometimes, when you want something, you have the intention to ask but you will be bothered about what the person will say. If the person says no, I’ll always feel it’s just a no and then I will move on to look for another person. The “no” can’t pull me down or make me feel bad.

So let’s try to push more and resist the temptation. Know that for every yes you have, you probably have  seven ‘nos’. Know that everything is not always,’ yes’, all the time. There are so many ‘nos’ around your way but the ‘nos’ should not prevent you from achieving your purpose. When you see someone that is succeeding, he has had so many ‘nos’, rejections and so many people that said he couldn’t do it. So, it shouldn’t matter so much. Having several experiences of ‘nos’ in your life makes you thick-skinned, if you say no to me, someone else will say yes. Taking that decision itself and being able to confront a no is a very important thing.

The truth is that everyone will find a place to be strong and push through to where they will find success and greatness on the other side. Every time you have the skill to fight the good fight and conquer the fear, you will find happiness and attainment waiting for you on the other side.

Preparation  meets opportunity

One of the most important things for me is being prepared. Hard work and diligence as well as the ability to understand that your responsibility goes beyond your daily task, are very key.  Knowing that being a woman already puts you on the weaker side, there’s a lot of expectations. So, being prepared is an important part of success. You must have the ability to know that you have to work extra hard. For the number of hours that a male put in, you have to put in double.

When you get home, your supervisors and bosses might think that they recommended someone that will fail; you have to work hard to correct that notion. You have to work that extra mile and put in the extra hours and effort to take on any responsibility given to you. You must study and know that you are beyond everyone else. Don’t allow people to say, “oh, we put a woman here and she is not getting it right”.

The election fear crushed

I’ll like to cite some examples. I contested for House of Representatives in 2011 and when I did, it was something that came with fear because I was going into an environment that I was not familiar with, at all. I was contesting on the platform of an opposition   party and I’m from the Northern part of the country, precisely, Katsina State. They couldn’t understand why a woman would want to run for that position. My family members were not comfortable with it. My mum wasn’t even supportive because I was five months pregnant and she thought it was a wrong time. There was that fear that I was going to fail and my people will reject me. I thought within myself that I was going to do this even if I did not win.

Despite the fact that I was pregnant, I ran the campaign and so many people discouraged me but I told them that being pregnant doesn’t mean you are an invalid. I was actually okay to take some of these steps to do those things. I didn’t do it thinking that I was doing anything different, I just thought that we can’t keep making comments about the political elites if we don’t get in there ourselves. If we are making the comments at home, it’s good enough. However, if we have the opportunity to step out, become part of the decision makers and make a change, then it will better.

During  the campaign, I had my baby. I had my posters with my son at my back and people were surprised at the way I did the campaign. That was an interesting thing: To use your disadvantage to advantage and that really propelled my campaign. I didn’t win the election but I learned about what politics entailed.

However, if I hadn’t addressed that fear, then I wouldn’t have learnt these things. The worst that can happen is the status quo and the status quo is where you were before you took that bold step.  You will just have to go back to where you were before, which isn’t a bad place. Look at these things and make a decision.

We also have the fear of moving. For example, we all have the security of being employed. We all want to be pensionable. We are all scared that if we leave the job, then life ends. I worked at the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) in 2004, I was going to be dormant and I didn’t want that. I kept asking for leave of absence. My father was alive then, so I asked him if he knew anyone who could grant me a leave of absence. I told him I wanted to go and work elsewhere where I would be challenged. My father didn’t know anyone but he asked me why I was holding on to the job. I told him that it was a federal government job and so there is security.

“Are you tying yourself to that pension? Is it that government pension that is holding you back from actualizing your goals?” He said.

Escape from pensionable grip

A week later, I resigned from BPE and I moved to the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). I told myself that I won’t be tied down to that job because I didn’t want to close from work unsatisfied. Security is one thing that keeps us. We want to be safe. For about  nine months, we were working with the FCT and we were not paid. The UN hadn’t concluded our inventory contract but it was so exciting and I didn’t feel that huge bite that I hadn’t been paid. Later, we were paid but taking that risk has made me not to be afraid of moving.

Of course, some of these decisions could be that you don’t have much responsibility as that then. I didn’t have children and I was by myself so I had the freedom to make choices. Depriving yourself of your dreams because you don’t want to step out of your comfort zone is not a good idea.

When I was appointed the first Chief of Staff at Kaduna, the job wasn’t a job for women. It was quite an interesting thing when you have people pushing back on a daily basis on your own. Having  known that, I was not afraid of any of them. I did what I was supposed to do. It doesn’t matter what my gender is, this is what I am here to do. After a while, they will stop seeing you as that female and see you as the boss. The society we live in has a pushback on women and they act like you shouldn’t be doing some stuff or be in certain places. You have to develop that thick skin to show that you don’t care about all that opposition. If you allow others to think that they have succeeded and penetrated your armour, it affects your confidence. After some time, you see people melting away because they are acknowledging you for who you are.

Wearing the head- gear of men

When I was the Chief of Staff, Amina  Sijuwade was my neighbor and she was the Attorney General of Kaduna State and it was always so interesting. I don’t think that Kaduna State ever had women occupy those positions. While we were doing our work in the State Council, we were also lenient. We want to talk about meals, the tailors and the governor would turn back and look at us like we were saying something serious and we will just have that serious face.

No matter where you are, for you to succeed, you have to lose your feminine side. Also, when you find yourself in that situation, you need to retain who you are.

When you do something in the first instance and you didn’t win or succeed, there are benefits, values that you will get from it which will be useful for you later in the future. If I wasn’t female, they wouldn’t have questioned my role.

Government has a lot to do with support from whoever it is that women work with, encouraging them to believe in their values and believe in themselves.  There is the need to remind yourself of your capability on daily basis, you need to know how much value you are adding to the society where you find yourself.

If we look at people that we have worked with that have help us become a better persons, we would know that it was not easy.

My boss made me cry

While I was at the BPE, I had a boss that made me cry so many times. There were difficulties here and there. We need to make use of challenging situations and make the best out of them. At an early age, I had built myself and I was prepared. When you prepare yourself well, you will be able to make use of any opportunity given to you and you beat their imaginations.

Sometimes when I advocate with “Bring Back Our Girls”, it is not about us; it’s about advocacy and the people that we want to help. Also the Chibok girls who were abducted while they were writing exams in school represent a symbol of every woman that has been abducted. They are spotlight to the insurgency and the challenges in the North East. The key thing is knowing who you are and keeping true to yourself. I am a person that has beliefs and values and those beliefs and values transcend into every aspect of my life.

I find political office as temporary and short term positions. You shouldn’t define yourself around that. It’s just a job that you do. Who you are and what you do is your person and not your job. I am not afraid to speak about what I have conviction over.

There is also that need to conform. All of us want to conform to who we are supposed to be. Forget about the fear of rejection, you need to retain who you are. You must have sincerity. If you don’t have sincerity, you won’t be able to drive it on a long run. Have sincerity of purpose and conviction and you will be able to have that long time commitment and support. Work towards what you want to achieve without that fear holding you back. Your friend or your family may not want that thing that you want to do, so get used to working alone. So you are not going to spend time convincing others to see what you want to do. If you get pushed down, have that confidence that you will stand up and try again.

Lesson from my dad

I will always give tribute to my dad. He encouraged me to be confident, he made me understand that you shouldn’t allow yourself to be limited to a space just because of the financial gains or anything. My mum is super supportive. She encourages us to break barriers. The President also has been very supportive of women and of me particularly. He used me as a young modern woman that has broken barriers for women. In taking up any responsibility, you have to realize that you are carrying the weight of others. I didn’t even feel that or realize that when I started work or when I was the Chief of Staff, but the more I continued to work, the more I realized that I was breaking grounds for other women. Every time you do the wrong thing, it’s not just about you. Remember, you are doing that for many other people.

Amaechi’s  love for women

The Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi has been tremendously supportive. He encourages me and other women and he is very gracious. There was a day I had a meeting, one morning and my son had a play in school around the same time and I had to go. So I told the Minister that I was going to be late, and he gave me the permission to go. He waited for me in my office for about 45 minutes while I had to attend my son’s play in school and that really touched me. I pay tribute to everyone who has played an important role in my life and in what I have been able to achieve.

Consider yourself a role model because someone is watching you. Someone is imbibing what you are doing and you are also setting the path for other women to come along behind you and do what you have done before better.

The need for balance

Balance is a very important thing for us women. You have a home with your husband and your children. You have to know when to draw the line once you are out of work. Once I get home by 6pm, I don’t do anything related to work. Another important thing is that I don’t let the work people come to my home. Although it’s a very difficult thing to do when you occupy such a big position but you have to do it. When I am home, I spend quality time with my kids, so I suspend any office related matters. Anything you want to discuss with me, you can do such during working hours.

You have to draw a line between your work and your home. Once you are home, it’s family time, your husband and your kids want you to spend time with them. Don’t allow that continuous interference into your home. My son once made a statement that really broke my heart. He said,” I don’t want to work when I grow up because you go to work and you leave us”. So I had to make him come to my office whenever he was done with school. By doing that, they will have to spend time with me and they will also understand what my job is like. You have to create that time and balance. I have a work zone and I have a private zone. Our family is very important and shouldn’t be ignored because of work. As a woman, you should also create a time to relax. Balance is an integral part of who we are and we have to work on it.

If you are successful, you have to be humble and confident. Humility is key so that you do not change from that good person that people knew you to be. Creating a balance between who you are and your work might be a bit challenging but you must do it.

When you are invited for events or programs, be careful not to say personal things about your organization at personal events. Know when to speak and what to speak about.

People are going to judge you because you are successful and young but you must do the best that you can because you are charting the path for others. When you are given an opportunity in a place, you should excel when you get there.

Women must know that any opportunity given to them is an opportunity for them to represent others. Be that professional woman and ignore frivolities. Dress properly, be confident. Don’t allow people to say you can’t do it because you are a woman. Wherever you go, be an example and contribute positively. Let your presence be felt amongst others, make impact, and touch lives. Hard work is the path to success. Don’t say you are aiming for the best thing from a man.

Have a purpose to achieve every day. Having a sense of purpose is what drives me every day. I feel fulfilled knowing that I can add value. Interacting and having that mentorship balance between men and women is very important.

Mentorship  from male bosses

 The challenges you have as a woman, the man doesn’t even know it.  This is why about half of the things that he is mentoring you about are not the things that you have experienced. This is why some of the mentoring issues are completely different. The man is important in realizing the value of a woman. They must know that the woman is an integral part of any successful journey. We should show the world that we are women.

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