Jamaica's crisis of leadership

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

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There is a very serious crisis of leadership in Jamaica today at all levels of the society. However, this glaring deficiency continues to be exhibited primarily by whoever runs this country from the hallowed halls of Jamaica House. Since the attainment of political independence in 1962, successive political parties, namely the People's National Party (PNP) and the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), have in their own respective ways perfected the art of winning elections — which is fast becoming a science. Regrettably, they have both failed, so far, to provide effective governance.

Indeed, if we are to use the litmus test established by then PNP president and former Premier Norman Washington Manley in his farewell speech in 1969, at that party's annual conference, when he declared that the mission of his generation, namely the acquisition of political independence, having been accomplished, it was thereafter the mission of succeeding generations to attain economic independence, then it is fair to say that the unanimous verdict is an 'F' for failure.

Sadly, no prime minister or party so far has been able to say with certitude and pride, “Mission accomplished.”

As a result of this continuing failure, there have been the resultant recurring problems of persistent poverty, particularly among the lower class which mostly comprises citizens of African descent whose foreparents were slaves, the attendant high levels of crime, indiscipline, corruption, and increasingly a general sense of hopelessness.

Out of the cauldron of the 1938 labour protests emerged the two main political parties, the PNP led by Norman Manley and the JLP led by Alexander Bustamante — both cousins — that were to create a permanent divide, which would later be described as two warring tribes fighting over scarce benefits and spoils. Despite a marked decrease in political violence over the years, there still remain two Jamaicas — one for Comrades and the other for Labourites. This, in real terms, means that in order to “eat a food”, one's party has to be in power, otherwise “dog nyam you supper” or, as one seasoned politician puts it, “suck salt from a wooden spoon”.

In this context, our political leadership has tended to be transactional, rather than transformational. According to Wikipedia, transactional leadership, also known as managerial leadership, focuses on supervision, organisation, and performance. Transactional leadership is a style of leadership in which leaders promote compliance by followers, through both rewards and punishments. Unlike transformational leaders, those using the transactional approach are not looking to change the future, they aim to keep things the same. This type of leadership is effective in crisis and emergency situations, as well as for projects that need to be carried out in a specific way. However, this calls for a fixity of purpose, vision and discipline — qualities that are, for the most part, not endemic to Jamaica's political culture.

The marked difference with transformational leadership is that such leaders lead by example. Their style tends to use rapport, inspiration, or empathy to engage followers. They are known to possess courage, confidence, and the willingness to make sacrifices for the greater good. They possess a single-minded need to streamline or change things that no longer work. The transformational leader motivates workers and understands how to form them into integral units that work well with others.

Transformational leaders work to change the system, maximising their teams' capability and capacity, while transactional leaders prefer to work within the system. The term “transformational leadership” was coined by sociologist James V Downton in 1973. Leadership expert James Burns defined transformational leaders as those who seek to change existing thoughts, techniques and goals for better results and the greater good. Burns also described transformational leaders as those who focus on the essential needs of the followers. It is my view that if our leaders in the body politic were to use this corporate template, then Jamaica would be on the road to being a truly prosperous nation, not one that is embedded in a culture of dependency and clientelism.

Peter Drucker, a renowned professor and management consultant, espoused balanced management, which called for a balance between short-term needs and long-term plans, as well as profitability and other elements of business, meshing innovation and entrepreneurship. He saw high-tech as a vehicle for change, in attitude, values, and behaviour.

Transformational leaders are excellent at communicating new ideas, good at balancing short-term and long-term goals, are adept at building strong coalitions, and establishing mutual trust. Most importantly, they must have integrity and high emotional intelligence (empathy with others).

The current way in which the Andrew Holness-led Administration is handling the public sector wage issue is a prime example of how not to govern for the greater good. Something has to be desperately wrong in a country where banks make such whopping profits while the working poor have to sell their souls to the company store, and where so many politicians end up being rotten rich while their followers have to be satisfied with crumbs that fall off the table at Jamaica House. The Jamaican people are seeing through all of this and want a change.

Our current leaders should revisit the life and work of National Hero Norman Washington Manley regardless of their partisan ilk, because in real terms he was in many ways transformational in his leadership, hence his admonition to us to achieve economic independence. The return to the Vale Royal Talks should help set the stage for such a paradigm shift. Prime Minister Holness, as a millennial leader, must come out of the mould of the old-time politics and dare to be transformational.

In the meantime, Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips must fully embrace the principles and objectives as prescribed by Norman Manley, while embracing the tenets of modern-day transformational leadership. For too long Jamaica's economy has been like a painted ship on a painted ocean. If the economy is to take a quantum leap, then the way in which we behave, do business, and conduct our politics must change. In other words, it is time that the Jamaican culture be detoxified, and this process must start at the top. Our leaders must lead and not be led.

Lloyd B Smith is a veteran newspaper editor and publisher who has resided in Montego Bay for most of his life where he is popularly known as “The Governor”. Send comments to the Observer or




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