Leadership: Planning for the future
In the mid-1960s, phone carriers came up against a major difficulty – the existing copper lines they used could no longer bear the weight of information passing through them. Bill Armistead, then chief technical officer of Corning Incorporated, decided his company was going to provide a solution and approved a huge capital expenditure in optical technology. Not only was the project highly speculative, it was only going to yield results in the long-term. He assembled a team of scientists and set to work.
As expected, Armistead came under enormous pressure to deliver immediate results. But he stayed the course. Four years later, they hit a breakthrough in the development of optical fibre. Two decades later, it became mainstream. Today, more than two billion kilometres of optical fibre have been installed worldwide, and a single fibre can transmit the entire collection of the US Library of Congress from Florida to London in less than 25 seconds, because one man took the long view. It was the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist George Will, who said, “Leadership is, among other things, the ability to inflict pain and get away with it – short-term pain for long-term gain.”
Today, leaders face enormous pressure to get things done and get things done now. We live in societies that tune out everything else except short-term gain. Without a doubt, there are urgent issues that require immediate solutions, if society is to survive. But if history is clear on any one thing, it is the fact that significant and sustainable achievements often take time. The tough problems of our time, locally and globally, require sustained investments over a period in possible solutions.
Industrialisation in most developed countries followed strategic long-term planning. Investments in infrastructure were not randomly made and randomly discontinued. The Autobahn was conceived in 1922 and developed continually for 93 years. Today, it is one of the most intricate road networks in the world spanning 12,949 km. The Eisenhower conceived Interstate Highway System took over three decades to develop, standing, as at 2013, at 77,017km.
The truth is: To bequeath a safer world of opportunities to our children and grandchildren, today’s leaders will have to build strong foundations, and invest for the long term.
However, to do this, effective and continuous top-down communication is imperative. Allowing a vacuum in communication will not only breed the sort of tension that could threaten leadership commitment to strategic long-term plans, but could totally truncate the process of governance. Leadership must, therefore, be bold in communicating its vision to the people; using every medium and means necessary and its progress and challenges must be continually communicated to the people. Expectations are easier to manage this way. It is equally necessary to strike the balance between creating short-term value, while working toward long-term objectives and to also be flexible enough to adapt long-range plans to changing realities.
Since 1962, when the first National Development Plan was launched, Nigeria has had a slew of ambitious long-term development plans that have been discarded as quickly as they were imagined. What we have done in the last decades have been to sacrifice long-range plans for the short-term benefit of a few. And even where plans still exist, they are subverted by corruption. Houses have been built, where recreational centers, hospitals, railways, pipelines, airport extensions, right of ways or even roads should have existed because one individual was connected enough to have his way. It is this penchant for short-term maneuverings that benefit only a few, the current government seems to be confronting.
The truth is that sustainable infrastructure cannot be built over the long-term on a foundation of corruption and recklessness. These are systemic deficiencies and behavioral patterns that need to be reversed, if we are to fulfil our commitment to our children and grandchildren. This is why we must support any initiative to sanitise the system. There have been fits and starts no doubt, deficiencies in communication even, but we should not deny the positive efforts of the current administration. The birth pangs in the short-term will bring forth a stronger future for Nigeria if we stay the course and embrace the flexibility needed to adapt our plans to changing realities and shaky assumptions.
Nigeria Has A Great Future
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