Watch your words, leaders

Tuesday, June 10, 2014    

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Dear Editor,

Over the past few weeks, pronouncements made by some of our political leaders have brought into focus the very difficult road leaders generally have to travel when they open their mouths to speak. Not only are they often taken out of context, but also like most other human beings, they get carried away with the emotion of the moment.

Then they are also subjected to the very well set traps of journalists seeking sensational headline stories. Our leaders might find some resonance with the advice given by one of the twentieth century's outstanding military leaders, and a man of Jamaican heritage, General Colin Powell, when he spoke to the officer corps of the Jamaica Defence Force in 1992. He pointed out that his task as a leader was difficult whenever he had to answer questions in public, because he had to be mindful of the many audiences he was addressing and the sensibilities attached to each one.

Then they are also subjected to the very well set traps of journalists seeking sensational headline stories. Our leaders might find some resonance with the advice given by one of the twentieth century's outstanding military leaders, and a man of Jamaican heritage, General Colin Powell, when he spoke to the officer corps of the Jamaica Defence Force in 1992. He pointed out that his task as a leader was difficult whenever he had to answer questions in public, because he had to be mindful of the many audiences he was addressing and the sensibilities attached to each one.

As a military commander he had to be mindful of the troops he commanded, their families, his political masters and opponents, his military allies and his adversaries. Not an easy task at all, but one that has to be mastered if the message is to be effective and instil confidence in those who trust their leaders.

When Speaker of the House Michael Peart attended a funeral recently and made a comment that could be interpreted as advocating or supporting vigilante justice or extrajudicial killings, he obviously forgot the different audiences he was addressing. Although he may have been caught up in the emotion of the moment, he certainly forgot he is chairman of the Independent Commissions of Investigations (INDECOM).

Minister Crawford, on the other hand, forgot the era in which he was speaking when he made his "dutty Labourites" remark, and that there was a JLP audience, a non-partisan audience, and indeed the whole of Jamaica of which he is one of the leaders.

Whether it be military, political or any other form of leadership, the principles and time-tested qualities of a good leader are applicable. I have had the privilege of holding leadership positions in the military and outside, and careful thought has to be exercised. One careless answer to a question or act can have a devastating impact on those you lead. The silence of a leader who fails to comment on fundamental issues affecting the welfare of his followers is often interpreted as implicit consent or agreement. In this context, leaders should be careful not to boast that they do not read newspapers or listen to comments or criticisms, because that suggests they are not interested in the criticism of others. Such a leader, intolerant towards criticism of himself or disinterested in issues of individual or national importance, could well end up silencing the media.

Our leaders are often prone to engaging in hyperbolic language when they try to communicate their passion about a situation. This year alone we have declared 'war' on just about everything, from mosquitoes to praedial larceny, even throwing in a drone for good measure. Based on utterances and headlines, we are a nation totally at war on so many fronts. So let us use temperate language to describe our dedication when we confront issues, otherwise we may just overreact and apply inappropriate measures. In any event, if we use exaggerated words they become commonplace, and when they are really called for they are likely to be ineffective.

Colonel Allan Douglas

Kingston 10

alldouglas@aol.com

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