Courageous leadership an absolute imperative

Courageous leadership an absolute imperative

Chris Burns

Monday, May 14, 2012

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THERE is no standard definition that I am aware of that says exactly what constitutes courageous leadership, or what defines a courageous leader. However, if one applies the simple definition of courage, it effectively speaks to someone possessing "mental or moral strength to persevere and withstand challenges, dangers and difficulties".

It should follow naturally therefore, that courageous leaders are resolute, patient and strong in their convictions. This leads me to a recent development in the United States where President Obama took a personal position that has subsequently set off a firestorm among sectarian and non-sectarian groups worldwide.

Understandably, Christian fundamentalists and moralists are "up in arms" over Mr Obama's final evolution and his declaration in support of same-sex marriage. Undoubtedly, these Christians and moralists are entitled to their views and they should defend them with unremitting vigour; so too should the president. He, too, has a view.

Nevertheless, I think Obama's position confirms what Alex Karras once said: "It takes more courage to reveal insecurities than to hide them, more strength to relate to people than to dominate them, more 'manhood' to abide by thought-out principles rather than blind reflex; because toughness is in the soul and spirit, not in muscles and an immature mind."

But, as incendiary as the president's utterances have been, his personal position is neither new nor unique, because many leaders before him, including Vice-President Joe Biden, have made their positions abundantly clear. In fact, several states within the United States (New York, for instance, recently passed legislation to allow gay marriages) and many countries, including South Africa, have laws permitting same-sex marriages. It is a popular view here — in the "Big Apple" — that some advocates of comprehensive immigration reform are stealthily pushing for same-sex couples to be able to file immigration petitions on behalf of their spouses.

And while this article is more about courageous leadership and less about same-sex marriage, the position taken by Obama is indeed reflective of bold and courageous leadership — the type Jamaica could do well with, given current socio-cultural and economic conditions. At the same time, I am not suggesting in any way, shape or form that Jamaican leaders copy Obama by proposing same-sex marriage legislation; not at all.

They would not be that courageous anyway. So far, except for Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller's meek suggestion that "the buggery laws should be reviewed", no other Jamaican politician has been brave enough to even entertain a dispassionate discussion on the subject, let alone to speak on comprehensive citizens' rights and freedoms.

That said, courageous leadership is an absolute imperative in tackling Jamaica's current socio-economic woes and, as such, leadership should anticipate that whatever course the leader decides upon, there is always going to be someone to say it's the wrong course. There are always going to be difficulties arising which tempt the leader to believe that the critics are right, but to map out a course of action and to follow it to an end requires courage, and that is what we must insist upon in the current dispensation.

After all, courageous and effective leaders are made, not born, and they must learn from trial and error and from experience. Put simply, when something fails, a true leader learns from the experience, puts it behind him and moves on instead of wallowing in self-pity or succumbing to the cushiness of "blame games".

Last Thursday, Governor General Sir Patrick Allen delivered the Throne Speech which summarised the Government's policies and programmes for fiscal year 2012/2013. It was followed by the tabling of the Estimates of Expenditure by Finance Minister Dr Peter Philips, who will open the Budget Debate on May 24, 2012.

The expenditures reveal that the Government plans to spend approximately $612 billion, with the lion's share, or 54 per cent, going toward debt-servicing and with several ministries, including health, education and national security receiving less funding than a year ago.

It will be interesting to see how the 2012/2013 Budget will be funded, especially within the context of an already over-taxed public and within an economic reality where interest payments equate to approximately 10 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2011 or almost three times the amount spent on Capital programmes.

We also know that the almost $1.7-trillion debt represents a staggering 130 per cent of GDP; the Jamaica Debt Exchange (JDX) notwithstanding. There will be contractions in economic activities as well as in economic growth, as the amount allocated for Capital projects is smaller. There has been no talk recently about reducing the size of the public sector; this accounts for a huge part of the budget that the country cannot afford from strict tax revenues.

We already know of several proposals on tax and pension reforms; some induced by the local private sector, others by the International Monetary Fund and other multilaterals. However, implementation of as many of these reforms will undoubtedly require bold and courageous leadership.

Supplemental to the definition above, there are a few qualities that, I believe, define a courageous leader; that kind of leader and leadership we need at the helm at this "psychological moment", just to quote former Mayor Noel Walker. Courageous leadership requires: "stick-to-itiveness"; it must be assertively demanding of itself and its followers; it takes risks -- calculated risks; it leads by example; it trusts the instincts and intellect of others; it articulates a clear vision of its mission and purpose; and finally, it executes.

The time has come for our political leaders to show political will and courage by implementing the requisite reforms, by telling the people as it is, and by steering the ship towards a better harbour.

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