Leadership Lucky Draw: Anthony Okereke

February 29, 2024  

Anthony Okereke is the leader of the Royal Borough of Greenwich. He is also the second participant in New Local’s Leadership Lucky Draw, answering questions on leadership style, what gets him through a tough working day, and how his upbringing shapes his approach.

Hi, everyone. My name’s Anthony Okereke, and I’m the leader of the Royal Borough of Greenwich. Greenwich is the place where time started, it’s got great history to it, and there’s a mix of different cultures and different people, a very diverse borough, all the way from Woolwich to Eltham to Thamesmead to Abbeywood to Kidbrook to Plumstead.

If you come to the borough, you can go and see the Royal Observatory, the Cutty Sark, the Greenwich Maritime Museum, and witness the story of Britain, all from Greenwich.

I’m going to pick a question now from the deck of cards that New Local has sent me. And the first one is:

What single thing would make your job better?

That’s a tough question. I would probably say, having people more open to thinking about change and different ways of doing things. I think change is really hard to deliver sometimes amongst the midst of culture, and therefore we need to think about how we change our culture quite regularly, actually, to help deliver new ways of working, especially around the new challenges that we have in society.

What gets you through a tough working day?

I would say, number one, making sure that I have my black coffee in the morning. Number two, I would say that it’s really important for me to know what I’m trying to achieve throughout the day. So if it’s a really packed out day, just having a clear defined plan about what one needs to achieve at each meeting that I’m going to, so that I’m not wasting time trying to work that out on the day.

What makes a community-powered leader? Are you one?

That’s a really great question. So I think what makes a community-powered leader is someone who is really focused on the outcomes of the community, but also thinks about the involvement of the community. I don’t think we always have the answers, but it is necessary to create positions and opportunities for the community to feed into the process. The way we do it in Greenwich is that we’re setting up a community engagement team that will help bring the community more on board to our policy discussion, decision making process.

What is the secret ingredient for good leadership that most people don’t know about?

There’s a couple. One is to always listen. Two is to be patient. And three, be interested in the other person’s self interest. If you haven’t worked out their self interest, then sometimes it can make leadership quite difficult because people come into the workplace to achieve things. People come into the workplace to gain value from the work that they do.

Leadership is about also understanding that, not just understanding where you want to get to, but understanding that all those on that journey that you need to help and work with get there, how you also make sure that they achieve their self interest.

Can you recommend a book podcast or film that inspires you in your work?

I would say a book that really inspired me, it’s called Going Public. It’s by Michael Gecan. And it’s just a great book on how to undertake community organising, I always find the stories in there really inspiring, but it also talks about the conflicts between government and communities, and how communities need to navigate bureaucracy.

But it’s a great book and I would encourage you, if you’re a leader, definitely read it.

Do you have a leadership style. What is it?

I think you’re going to have to ask other people this question. I do have a leadership style. I would say I’m very strategic. So the first question that always comes to mind is what’s the strategy? What are we trying to achieve? And who are the stakeholders that need to be helped deliver that?

So I am quite strategic in my approach but I do subscribe to something that we call vulnerable leadership, which I think is really important. It’s about not having all the answers sometimes and actually being very vulnerable and saying that and actually saying as a collective, how do we work together to deal with the challenges before us? Our job as leaders is to convene people around a problem. And I think that’s where vulnerable leadership can help.

What brings you happiness outside of work?

Oh, that’s a very good question. I would say, spending time with family and friends. I think work sometimes can be so overwhelming that you just need an out. And actually spending time with family and friends can be really helpful because it reminds you about your values.

We definitely celebrate birthdays and all come together and like dance a little bit, which is quite nice, go to the cinema together or go to activities or sometimes me and my sisters, I have three sisters, we all go to a music concert together. And one of us would just sort it out and everyone says, turn up here at this time and we’ll go and watch like Burna Boy or something like that, which is quite fun.

How did your upbringing shape where you are today?

I guess, my story is one of someone who grew up in the NHS, from having a disease called sickle cell disease. So I’ve always been out of the loop. I’ve always been, you know, had an issue. I was always told, you know, you wouldn’t succeed and you wouldn’t live long because of your sickle cell.

And I think having that disease has made me really resilient. It’s made me much more hungry to achieve and change lives. But more importantly, it makes me think about people who go, who are going through difficulty. When you’re going through problems, the last thing you want to hear is how impacted you will be the last thing you want to hear is being told that you might not be able to do this. Actually, what you want to hear is, how can we support you to achieve the things you want to achieve? And I think, when I come across people who have issues, I always take that same approach of my role is here to support them to achieve their hopes and dreams, and not make the system even harder for them, because the system is already hard. I think that’s the kind of values and principles that I bring to my job.

Thanks New Local for having me. It’s been great to see the work you’re doing, helping to encourage more discussion around leadership, especially at a time where we need to be finding new leaders, encouraging new leaders, and setting out the pathway to leadership.

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