thinGS THAT MATTER
Leader – Definitions: The person who leads or commands a group, organisation, activity or country (Oxford Dictionary). The person who is in control or in charge of an organisation. The leader at a particular point in a race or competition is the person who is winning at that point (Collins Dictionary). A person who influences a group of people towards the achievement of a goal – who goes first and leads by example, so that others are motivated to follow (Susan Heathfield, Human Resource (HR) management guru).
In last Sunday’s column I began a discussion on leadership. To provide context I gave a pocket summary of the miracle of Singapore, where unique and unprecedented development of both the economy and the society has occurred, primarily due to the extraordinary leadership of Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. He is not often included in lists of top leaders because he had no huge impact on the world stage, but what he achieved in Singapore is unsurpassed anywhere in the world, in marked contrast to Barbados and the rest of the former colonial Caribbean countries, which are all in decline. And so I asked “What are the qualities needed for a good leader?”
A search on the web reveals many views of the world’s greatest leaders – even more than the varied views of the West Indies cricket selectors and public opinion! The four who appear at the top of most lists are Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Mother Teresa. Others who appear most frequently in the top ten or top twenty-five are Christ, Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, Sir Winston Churchill, Horatio Nelson, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Clearly this list includes military leaders, political leaders, resistance leaders and spiritual leaders – all functioning in different eras, with different goals. So what are the common characteristics of a leader, and particularly of a good leader?
The matter of trust is key. Sometimes, of course, it’s blind trust – an emotional trust related to primordial instincts and prejudices, a blend of fear and faith. This explains the blind following of Hitler, and we can readily think of modern leaders appealing to a similar lowest common denominator of prejudice and fear. Susan Heathfield lists the following elements of good leadership: Be the person others choose to follow; Provide vision for the future; Provide inspiration; Make other people feel important and appreciated (Catch people doing something right and praise them – Ken Blanchard); Live your values. Behave ethically (Integrity). This produces trust; Set the pace through your example; Establish an environment of continuous improvement; Provide opportunities for people to grow, personally and professionally; and Care and act with compassion.
Not a day goes by in Barbados without discussion in the press, social media and call-in programmes about leadership – good, bad, ugly or indifferent. Sir David Simmons, giving the feature address last week at the Rotary club of Barbados south’s 32nd Annual Anniversary Charter Night and Vocational Service Awards, pointed out that all officials elected to public office must be transparent and act solely in the interests of the people. He listed seven qualities vital in those seeking public office: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership. These qualities of selflessness, honesty and integrity certainly characteristic Nelson Mandela et al. And Sir David emphasised, with examples, the kinds of conflicts of interest that elected officials should not expose themselves to. Sir David had also, in a recent public lecture, recalled the horrendous scandals of bribery and corruption in the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Similarly, Charmaine Worrell, Assistant Director of Nursing at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, speaking at the Barbados Nurses Association 81st Annual General Meeting, emphasised the importance of good leadership and the need for nurse leaders to have a knowledge of their own strengths and weaknesses; to be competent and persistent, to have a vision, to strive for excellence and to inspire the team. And with my forty plus years of working with dedicated nurses following those behaviours, I would add compassion and setting the example.
In the Caribbean we have often been constrained by fear of “the boss”, of criticism, of public opinion, of victimisation or some other mysterious enemy in the woodwork. There is a degree of paranoia in most of us that prevents us from stepping out, addressing the truth or becoming leaders. We don’t want to appear too forward, too ambitious perhaps. In my own attempts to make a difference for good for the country, throughout my career, I have often heard the comments or received the feedback “Who he think he is?” This is very much part of the issue that Assistant Nursing Director Charmaine Worrell was discussing. People should not be afraid to step out and take a lead … to be a leader.
Unfortunately, in the Caribbean our sitting back allows over-ambitious, greedy and often very greedy and wicked people to take the lead, to capture the support of the people through their charisma, and to entrench themselves in positions of power, supported by constitutions reputedly modelled on the Westminster model, but by no means practising by the ethical traditions of that model. We need only think of Dictator Forbes Burnham and Despot Eric Gairy, who ruled by power, fear and scandal, and not even our own National Hero the Right Excellent Errol Barrow or the even more charismatic Michael Manley (his contemporaries and reputed friends) could influence or amend Burnham’s regime. Both of these dictator/despots were fully tolerated by CARICOM heads of government as if they were honourable men. And across the Caribbean infelicities which would have led to resignations at Westminster are simply shrugged off.
Similarly, many, many behaviours of those in high places across the entire Caribbean have become accepted. Corruption is exposed, understood and tolerated because power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, while those who lead do not lead, and the led are afraid to speak out.
As Martin Niemoller said in his often quoted words:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.
Niemoller was a pastor who was a courageous and outspoken critic of Hitler and spent seven years in concentration camps, so he knew that of which he spoke. A topic for public discussion in today’s Caribbean world could be “The thin edge of the wedge”. For example, election canvassing through rum shop socialising with corned beef and biscuits has escalated to the distribution of vote buying with Grantleys (hundred dollar bills). Promises to deal with this disturbing, dishonest and disgraceful evolution of our society have simply not been kept, and rumours of gifts of electronic equipment are now raising their heads. The bad examples set by some leaders are inspiring deviant behaviour at all levels. Where is our society heading without integrity, trust and inspiring leadership?
Sympathy: To Angela, the wife of the late John B. Simpson, and family, deepest sympathy. John B, as every one knew him, lived to serve. His mottos were: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and “It is better to give than to receive”. He lived them.
(Professor Fraser is Past Dean of Medical Sciences, UWI and Professor Emeritus of Medicine and Clinical Pharmacology. Website: profhenry fraser.com)