The public servant is a transformational leader
Suffice to say some past leaders were far-sighted, competent and exhibited a considerable measure of understanding of how to manage change.
These well-tested frameworks can be applied to the Nigerian condition but it is important to address our minds to the more important question of why change oriented policies in Nigeria witness perpetual transition and arrested development.
It is a familiar narrative that Nigeria is not short of vision, development plans and ideas, but that the devil resides in the details of execution. This means that some of our past leaders have implemented policies and programmes that created varying levels of changes that unfortunately get trapped in their transition phases. Suffice to say some past leaders were far-sighted, competent and exhibited a considerable measure of understanding of how to manage change.
However, most of these change initiatives are often mired in perpetual transitions, and they struggled to overcome structural limitations in achieving the desired transformation owing to reasons of poor programme design, poor resource allocation, unstable macroeconomic climate, lack of disciplined execution, policy and project discontinuity, capacity deficit, political interference and Nigerian Factor, no name just a few.
Transformation, on the other hand, requires decisive transitions with multiple programmes and projects delivering significant outcomes capable of adding up to ignite massive multiplier effect to drive the national economy towards an envisioned new future state. Different from changes and transitions, transformation is unpredictable, iterative and experimental, requiring a level of risk taking and strategic policy intelligence, passion and commitment different from the traditional transactional leadership approaches for which public service is renowned. It also requires a transformational leadership model with capacity to take strategies and implementation actions through continuous adaptation to overcome obstacles and exploit opportunities
In other words, it takes a transformational leader to identify the missing connection between existing public service mission, management culture and the public interest. This is actualized through a commitment to building a public service that embodies the aspiration of the people and the underlying values of the nation as espoused in the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policies as enshrined in chapter 11 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria
A public service propelled by a transformational leadership model will promote a change agenda that ensures that public service values and democratic governance codes guide the actions of government and public officials throughout the system. It will produce leadership sensitivity that promotes institutional adaptations in the public interest, in measures that enhance management capacity and organizational performance required to ignite national structural transformation. The ensuing change will identify assets, empower the workforce and recalibrate the culture of public institutions to deliver improved outcomes. With these would come high expectations and investments in continuous learning and incremental system improvement as it understands the nuance of context including the diversity, thought patterns, strengths and weaknesses and, leverages the knowledge to initiate interventions to support all and sundry to fulfill their respective aspirations and potentials.
Transformational leaders are public spirited with servant leadership spirit and therefore put the needs of others before their own, and creates opportunities for others to lead. Such leadership to be effective is collaborative, facilitative and supportive in interpersonal relationship and lives by example so as to be able to build trust
Turning the Nigerian public servant into a transformational leader requires the development of distinctive competence of adapting existing public managers to the challenges posed by the imperative of development complexities and the ever changing policy environment rather than focusing unreflectively on the mechanisms of rules interpretation and application.
The new public service would be armed with new philosophical and values foundation managed with competences underpinned by new intellectual concepts and paradigm shift covering the processes of the governance framework, manpower planning, recruitment, training, skills set, career management, capacity utilization, performance management system as well as organizational values and culture. This new orientation would entail the development of a public service leadership model that reflects methodology for the envisioned change, and such a model would evolve from a definition of a competence profile for future leaders.
Furthermore, this will be enhanced by the deployment of predictive tools of future research based on concepts of what form the future public sector will take and possible challenges. New parameter for the identification, selection, training and mentoring of the best and brightest would be developed and reinforced with the development of new parameters for identifying, selecting, mentoring and training the ‘best and the brightest’ and then link incentives with performance for better leadership and management development programme.
This would be followed by the second step which usually involves the setting up of new institution or system for identifying, developing and pipelining potential leaders in the public service like the Senior Executive Service (SES) as in the United Kingdom, Singapore, USA and Australia while management training would be linked with professional development programmes to encompass leadership development.
Turning the Nigerian public servant into a transformation leader requires the development of distinctive administrative leadership competence to reinvent the civil service into a self-motivated category with muscle to operate the administrative system so that every functional ‘joint’ is aligned to the Service’s mission and with a transformation focus.
The public service that would function in this new light would initiate and maintain deep rooted culture change and would prepare, motivate and propel others to cope with, and adapt to, changes and give strategic shape and content to policies that can transform the society at every level
The tendency is to lionize the decisive and inspiration leaders like Singapore Lee Kwan Yew. But the reality is that although the individual at the top does matter enormously, the essential transformation dynamic involves creating the context where leadership can be exercised at all levels. Many of Nigeria’s past leaders in the public policy space have implemented series of change initiatives that were trapped in transitions that struggled perpetually with transformation and sustainable development. The reasons are not far-fetched. Our take is that transformation approaches offer a much greater challenge than the typical change management programmes that we are familiar with and have seen.