Name: Ahmad Salihijo Ahmad
Organisation: Rural Electrification Agency (REA), Nigeria
Engr. Ahmad Salihijo Ahmad is the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of the Rural Electrification Agency (REA). With over 10 years of experience in the public and private sectors, Ahmad leads the agency of government facilitating the deployment of renewable energy and off-grid infrastructure to the unserved and underserved across Nigeria. He has professional experience in environmental sustainability, regulatory efficiency, strategy and planning, and Human Resource management. Since he resumed at the REA in 2019, Ahmad and his team have sustained the mandate of the Agency, facilitating the delivery of over 100 solar hybrid mini-grids and other innovative renewable energy solutions across Nigeria, while working with industry stakeholders across the world to deliver on human-centered energy access programs.
Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!
I hope Ahmad's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!
1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?
What I have found most challenging as a leader is meeting up with expectations. As a leader, I am in a position where there are lots of expectations from divergent groups.
In my case and with the virtue of the office that I superintend, I find myself constantly ensuring that I balance a lot of stakeholders, both internally within my family and work space and externally amongst the diverse stakeholders with diverse needs. I constantly find the need to create balance to be certain there are no stakeholders getting the short end of the stick.
Secondly, to navigate this challenge, I have an age-long resolve to consistently ensure fairness and equity in all my engagements and decision-making
As a leader, you cannot show that you have a preference for one party over another. So you have to be fair, selfless, and trustworthy. This is why great leaders, even though burdened with their own needs, always put others ahead of themselves. In my journey as a leader, I continue to employ the best measures to manage people while working a set growth path for myself and my organisation.
2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?
I had to sort of rise to the occasion of becoming a leader. At the age of 16, I lost my dad. With 7 siblings and a mother to care for, I was immediately saddled with the responsibility to take action and lead.
For example, after my dad’s passing, I was saddled with the responsibility of coordinating the home while ensuring that my siblings and I went through school, taking on the opportunity to shape our lives and generally live responsibly without feeling the impact of a father's absence.
So, leadership fell onto my lap very, very early in my life. I've been able to take it in stride. This has impacted me in so many ways as I continue to navigate through life with the consciousness of leading by example while maintaining a set legacy for others to follow.
My history of leadership has equally reflected in my growth path, for example in elementary school I was picked for the role of “Head Boy” due to the trust people around me had in me. These early examples of leadership have helped me through my professional life so far. So yes, while the journey has been tough and long, it has greatly molded me.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
I wake up very early. Immediately after my morning prayers, I typically start my day around 5.30am or earlier on most days. What I try to do is to optimize my time the best way possible, every new day. So, I start off by doing administrative work; attending to files and correspondences I have brought home from the office the previous day.
I also optimize those early hours to make a few critical phone calls, mostly with strategic partners and close associates. These early interactions enable me to organize my thoughts around critical issues and tasks, while primarily ensuring that I am able to eliminate gaps in the work that I do. Of course, during this timeline as well, I spare the time to exercise before heading to work for the business day.
I typically optimize my office hours for meetings, correspondences, and strategic alignment with my colleagues on my work and the Agency’s objectives. After work hours, I often find myself having meetings that typically might have not been possible during the day. Those are usually my final activities before I retire back home for the day.
I am equally conscious of the need to rest. So I try to go to bed before midnight every day. My weekends are usually optimized for more social engagement. Between Friday and Sunday, I try my best to spend more time with my family, both indoors and outdoors. It is tough creating this balance but it is very important to do so in the best way possible.
4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?
Leadership comes with a lot of scrutiny and this is something that I have learned recently. However, as a leader, you cannot allow distractions to bring you down or derail your growth path.
One must realize that any time one is doing the right thing, it is expected that some people will have their own opinions, interests or divergent views. The skill I have picked up here is to keep doing what I need to do and to continue on the right path, no matter what. It is counterproductive to allow unnecessary noise to distract you from the work that you have to do.
One’s conviction is therefore paramount. As long as you stay true to yourself and are certain that what you are doing is right, you stick to it and you remain consistent, putting in the right level of commitment and energy to reach your goals and your targets.
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
My approach to knowledge and thought acquisition is quite different. I read a lot of books, but I find myself reading around what is important to me at a particular time. I know, typically, people create a buzz around certain literature or a certain body of work but, to be honest, things like practical knowledge and the application of certain approaches to solve problems in my leadership journey often come to me naturally. I do not fall back on books.
I remember there was a time I was telling a friend about a work strategy that I had put together and the friend suddenly asked if I had read a book titled “48 Laws of Power” I told him, NO; since I certainly have never read it before.
This friend went ahead and quoted a certain section of the book, comparing it to a strategy I had actually intuitively come up with. It further shows how much we underestimate our ability to form practical and globally tenable thoughts to solve real problems within our space.
I see myself more as a doer as I assess the state of things, bringing forth my intuitive knowledge to solve specific problems, per time. I ask the right questions, I take the right actions and, most importantly, I learn from my mistakes as I journey through my leadership path
Another key thought of mine on this is that while I appreciate the immeasurable impact of the knowledge deposits thought leaders and authors continue to bring forth, you find that most readers struggle with the application of knowledge to their present environment. I find that this is often easily corrected through practicability and a belief in one’s ability to proffer logical solutions to problems.
6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?
There are really no shortcuts! To be a true leader who can stand the test of time, you need to put in the work. You just need to hold on tight to your beliefs, stay true to yourself but, most importantly, put in the work. It all pays off in the end.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?
I think what I would say comes to mind is how I became the MD/CEO of the Rural Electrification Agency (REA), Nigeria. This is the first time I will be telling this story. It will interest you to know that my name wasn't on the memo tabled to the nation’s leadership at the time. I was not on the list of candidates being referenced.
The leadership at the time decided to reach out to me for that particular role because, from my history of work and the insight that I had in the sector, they knew I fit into the position. They could see the potential and what I was able to bring to the table, so they reached out to me.
This story brings me back to the undeniable importance of staying true to one’s path and putting in the work. People are watching from all corners. Most budding leaders do not know this, but people are watching. I am a living example of this. In my career path, I put in the work, tirelessly, while consuming as much knowledge as I could along the way.
At the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission, I put in the work. At the Ministry of Finance, I put in the work. At the Ministry of Environment, I put in the work. With all these efforts, however, never did I think for one day that I was going to become the MD of REA. Expectations are good but I have learnt that whatever is meant for you will come to you.
For the most part, it is not the pushing and shoving and lobbying that gets one, leadership roles. It is more about having a clean, healthy mind and staying true to your purpose, whatever it is you have chosen it to be.