I have had the distinct privilege of leading teams throughout my career. From the time I left The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst to join the British Army, to stepping out onto a rugby field with teammates, to the blue-chip corporate life in the capital cities around the world, through to the deserts of post-conflict environments in North Africa. The journey of leadership has been an evolving experience where everyday lessons are learned, new styles assimilated, personal growth is sought, and best practice deployed. All in a spirit of building high performing teams, inspiring vision, enabling others, modelling the way, and building on core values.
Over the last 16 months my career has (temporarily) pivoted and taken me to Libya where I have been leading on a strategically important capability and capacity building programme. The last 16 months have been the most challenging of my leadership journey and one where arguably the most learning and growth has taken place.
This has been due in the main to the fantastic men and women I worked with and worked for. Each one of them a standout professional and leader in their own respective field. It has truly been an adventure of leadership learning that has forced adaptation, challenging of norms and self-reflection to enable change.
It’s with that reflection and as I draw breath from the last year that I consider the challenges of leading in post-conflict environments, especially in a country like Libya where leadership is so desperately needed for it to emerge from years of turmoil.
I would like to add that, to a man and woman, the Libyans I worked with were outstandingly talented people; a zest for life, a will to learn, full of hope for the future, immensely proud, and they are all so desperate for the country to move on and realise its true potential.
The challenges to post-conflict leadership in countries like Libya highlights the need for democratic capacity building, with a clear participatory process involving communities and the development of leadership as a necessary condition to mitigate new or resurrected conflicts. The Security Sector Reform (SSR) programme I have led was a first; a business to government project that sought to deliver capacity and capability, deliver fit for purpose processes and framework based on agreed strategies and create the future leaders, men and women, for the country. Diversity was key to the success of the programme.
Both the team and I had the benefit of working directly to ministerial level. A minister who himself was a strategically focussed, charismatic and visionary leader. These qualities were evident daily, and they inspired not only the members of the MoI, the 25 plus Libyans who worked with us but the 70 plus expatriates who worked tirelessly to deliver on his vision and work in a collegiate and collaborative way with our Libyan counterparts.
Post-conflict countries demand strong leadership. It is required to ensure an equitable distribution of the country’s natural wealth, which for Libya it is their extensive oil and gas reserves and tourism potential. Leadership is required to root out corruption within national institutions and restore trust among international businesses that it is safe to return to the country. Leadership is vitally important in the process of building a modern, inclusive society, a society that recognises the rights of all Libyans.
In Libya, the importance of leadership could not be more important than in the process of delivering on reconciliation through justice, political reforms including that of decentralisation, and vitally women’s empowerment.
There are many types of leadership styles that I have experienced during my career. There is the classic transactional model where a leader engages in an exchange process where there is an exchange of valued things. This leadership process is essentially deal-making guided by the satisfaction of mutual interests through distributive gains. The second model of leadership is transformational leadership. This is where leaders (plural) raise one another to higher levels of motivation, inspiring innovation, change, growth, and empowerment of self and others.
The future leaders of Libya will require resolute leadership and the willingness to share and accommodate divergent interests and aspirations. The surest way to establish a society based on globally recognised rule of law is for leaders to act virtuously, exercising discipline in their personal conduct and behaviour, rather than using power and force to strengthen their position.
There are several other attributes to the success of leading through a post-conflict environment;
- The first quality is the leaders’ commitment to the national interest, identity and unity. In post conflict countries, personal rivalry and animosity are the main causes of armed conflict and struggle. It is critical that leaders exercise self-discipline and place national interests and unity above their personal agendas.
- The second attribute is their ability to integrate universal ideals and principles of governance into local community values and customs.
- Thirdly, their leadership is characterized by empathy, courage, compassion, and the ability to communicate and persuade their followers and the nation at large of the efficacy of pursuing universal visions and adapting all-inclusive ideals to local ethical norms.
- The fourth leadership attribute is the ability to balance the need to act on injustices and crimes committed in the past with the merit of pursuing the future (the Northern Ireland peace process – The Good Friday Agreement – is a recent example of this), and
- The final and most important attribute is the ability to transform the mindset and mentality of the people in order to achieve sustainable peace and development.
Working with members of the Ministery of Interior my team experienced many of the identified attributes above, exercised through the transformational style of many of the leaders we worked with. Seeking to not accept the status quo, the men and women of the Ministry sought to enable others around them, with the Minister himself setting a clear vision, putting diversity, empowerment and change at the centre of his vision. It was the values of the Minister and the qualities of his team that enabled the success of the SSR programme he envisioned. I had a team of 70 plus leaders who every day acted with integrity and professionalism, building on the Ministers leadership and they ensured we executed on our commitment to deliver a world-class reform programme.
The former Minister has himself recently written in a compelling article in the Financial Times where he calls for leadership within his own country to be held to account and identifies the need for key countries to play their role in leading Libya through this key transitional period through to free and democratic elections.
What a 16-month experience I have personally had! I credit the fantastic team I have worked with (internationals and Libyans alike) and the institutions and their leadership we have worked with. How does the saying go? ‘Every day is a school day’ – well it’s been great to be back in class for the last year learning from inspirational people, and dispensing my evolving leadership and learning experience on this strategically important project for the Libyan people.