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Leadership in today's Jamaica

LLOYD B SMITH

Tuesday, November 13, 2012    

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DID you know that some fishermen cannot swim yet they go way out to sea in order to eke out a living? Then there are those individuals who always sit in the gallery ranting and raving over what the players should do on the field, but should they be placed there they would not know "A from bull foot!" Then there are some chefs who never eat what they prepare for customers. And there is a saying that he who can, does; he who cannot, teaches, or perhaps becomes a talk show host or a politician? Or a newspaper columnist? LOL!

These ruminations form the backdrop for the question: what type of leadership does Jamaica need at this time? Since the attainment of political independence, the issue of leadership has remained on the front burner of nation building. Repeatedly, the electorate has, in almost a cat and mouse fashion, accepted and rejected our leaders and political parties in a desperate bid to find the right formula for economic success.

Interestingly, after utilising the "room for rent, apply within, when I come out, you run in" approach for five decades, the Jamaican voter has slowly but surely come to the conclusion that it is indeed a case of "no better herring, no better barrel". A plague on both your houses!

The overwhelming mandate that the Portia Simpson Miller-led PNP got on December 29, 2011 was a last-ditch effort to see if the beloved and trusted Mama P could deliver the goods. And if she fails? Is going back to the Andrew Holness-led JLP the only alternative? Is a revolution the only solution? What kind of revolution? Mental, physical, military?

This perplexing dilemma that faces the Jamaican people has brought into sharp focus the question of leadership in today's Jamaica. Bestselling author Steven R Covey in his blockbuster book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, states that "The basic task of leadership is to increase the standard of living and quality of life for all stakeholders." Have our political and private sector leaders attained this goal in today's Jamaica? The jury is out! Suffice it to say, many have been weighed in the balance and found wanting.

Surveys done primarily in the metropolitan countries have consistently revealed that the most distrusted people in the world are used-car salesmen, politicians and journalists. Yet in a strange way, the people depend on the latter two for Truth and Justice. What a bitter-sweet irony! Perhaps that is why most journalists are would-be politicians and many politicians want to manipulate the media. Truth be told, this love/hate relationship is vital for the maintenance of a vibrant democracy. In the Jamaican scenario, the media, both in terms of owners and practitioners, have constantly berated our politicians for exhibiting weak and ineffective leadership. In the meantime, it has for the most part ignored the wishy-washy and self-serving leadership that comes from the private sector and the ineffectual, helter-skelter leadership that characterise civil society, too often influenced by personal agendas and narrow sectoral interests.

Leadership should be emboldened by two major principles: character and caring. Emanating from these two distinct characteristics are such necessary attributes as trust, accountability, transparency and integrity. But in the current Jamaican situation, the one attribute that is most absent is that of being proactive. As Covey postulates, "And the stronger you are - the more genuine your character, the higher your level of pro-activity, the more committed you are to Win/Win - the more powerful your influence will be with that other person. This is the real test of interpersonal relationship. It goes beyond transactional leadership into transformational leadership, transforming the individuals involved as well as the relationship." In the final analysis, politics is about interpersonal relationships.

Every time a new leader is elected in Jamaica, it is done on a transactional basis.Votes are bought through handouts and cash, promises are made. This is a bad transaction that leads to corruption, ineffectiveness and hopelessness. What Jamaica needs is transformational leaders, leadership that is therefore proactive, not reactive. Almost every day in this country we see our leaders being reactive which is akin to treading water. For too long, leaders have been afraid to do the right thing, not just say the right thing. To begin with, leaders must infuse all those desirable traits of good leadership in their follower-ship. In such a context, everyone becomes a leader. Taking responsibility for oneself, being honest and truthful, being trustworthy, tolerant and caring are important ingredients to sustain those values and attitudes that are so important in the creation of a kinder, gentler society.

A productive and economically prosperous Jamaican society will only emerge when our leaders are prepared to think out of the box. Jamaicans are tired of the same-old, same-old. Transformational leadership must begin now and it must begin at Jamaica House.

Lloyd B Smith is a member of parliament and deputy speaker of the House of Representatives. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the People's National Party or the Government of Jamaica.

lloydbsmith@hotmail.com

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