A crisis of leadershipFriday, October 22, 2021
Some years ago Bruce Golding helped set the stage for the emergence of a young leader in the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). It was his view, and perhaps rightly so, that his generation and those before him should step aside and allow for a post-Independence “baby” to take up the mantle in order to ensure that Jamaica would be put on a path of enlightened and transformational leadership. That person turned out to be Andrew Michael Holness.
Initially, Holness had a rough rite of passage, as several elder politicians in the JLP sought to sideline him because they did not think he was “ready”. His last and most forceful challenger, Audley Shaw, was soundly defeated in the last such leadership race. Since then “Anju”, popularly dubbed Brogad, has been ruling the roost and is now the undisputed leader of the ruling JLP.
On September 3, 2020 Holness solidified his highly touted political invincibility by leading the victorious charge against the People's National Party (PNP), whose aging leader Dr Peter David Phillips was no match for the vim, vigour and vitality of a young Andrew Holness.
But has Jamaica really benefited so far from this outcome at the polls? Is he becoming the transformational, no-nonsense leader that was anticipated by all well-thinking Jamaicans?
Jamaica, at present, is falling apart and fast becoming a failed State. Against the backdrop of the debilitating novel coronavirus pandemic, crime, corruption, crass indiscipline, and a general sense of hopelessness are overwhelming the society while “young kid on the block” remains clueless.
The sad truth is that we have individually and collectively failed to fashion a Jamaican dream that our people can comfortably and willingly buy into. Politicians, private sector moguls, icons of academia, dons of the dancehall, media personalities, spiritual leaders, et al, have, whether — wittingly or unwittingly — churned out a Jamaica that the average young man or woman in this country finds distasteful and fruitless. If a survey were to be done now in which the question asked was “What do you as a young Jamaican desire most at this time,” unquestionably, the most frequent answer would be a United States green card — a most telling indictment on those of us who have dared to refer to those whom we have spawned as a generation of vipers.
The world-renowned Time magazine featuring Nelson Mandela when he celebrated his 90th birthday. The article 'The Secrets of Leadership', in that special section, the South African liberator extraordinaire was described as “the world's greatest moral leader”. Here is a quote from that landmark piece: “Mandela's rules are calibrated to cause the kind of trouble that forces us to ask how we can make the world a better place.”
The author, Richard Stengel, has Mandela reflect on a lifetime of service and what the rest of us can learn from it. I recommend this article to Holness; all those who are in leadership positions in this country, including PNP President Mark Jefferson Golding; or anyone aspiring towards such a goal in this country. After all, we do need to make Jamaica a better place — not just for us but for generations to come.
Mandela, based on his personal experiences, cited eight lessons of leadership.
1) Courage is not the absence of fear, it's inspiring others to move beyond it.
Too many of our leaders openly display panic in their demeanour and utterances whenever there is a national crisis. Instead of seeking to inspire, they instil an even greater level of trepidation, while pointing fingers and blaming everything and everyone except themselves. That is no way to inspire people.
2) Lead from the front, but don't leave your base behind.
Too often our politicians allow themselves to be led by pandering to the lowest common multiple. Their foot soldiers are only used to win the battle then they are left unguided and misguided. The alienation between the leadership and followership after an election race has ended is one of the most deleterious consequences of our two-party system, which does not encourage sufficient accountability to the base.
3) Lead from the back and let others believe they are in front.
“The trick of leadership is allowing yourself to be led too,” says Mandela, “It is wise to persuade people to do things and make them think it was their own idea.”
4) Know your enemy and learn about his favourite sport.
In essence, we here in Jamaica tend to isolate our enemies and so we end up knowing very little about them. We hurriedly condemn the “gunman” in our midst or the politician on the other side without taking time out to know who they really are or what makes them who they are. One of the reasons the criminal is ahead of the rest of us in this country is that he knows his enemy and he knows all our favourite sports!
5) Keep your friends close — and your rivals even closer.
This rule is ever so relevant to the current leadership in the PNP.
6) Appearances matter...and remember to smile.
Need I say more? One of the bittersweet ironies of the Jamaican socio-cultural landscape is that citizens are oftentimes urged to smile for the tourist while, for the most part, we frown (“screw face”) at each other.
7) Nothing is black or white.
The great deal of intolerance and bigotry in this country can be placed at the feet of how religion and politics are practised in this country. According to Stengel, Mandela's calculus was always, 'What is the end that I seek, and what is the most practical way to get there?'
Many times, when we listen to debates in Parliament and discussions among private sector leaders the Tower of Babel syndrome comes to the fore. The bottom line is that we speak in too many different tongues, all because of us putting individual, partisan, and sectoral interests above the national interest.
8) Quitting is leading too.
In the Jamaican context, this is hitting the nail on the head. Our leaders never seem to know when to quit; and what is even worse, they rarely ever put a succession train in place, oftentimes adopting the position of “after me, the deluge”.
Does either the JLP or the PNP have a succession plan in place? Do our Members of Parliament have understudies who can comfortably and competently take the baton from them, instead of allowing for the usual squabbles and internecine warfare that ensues when they decide to quit or are forced out?
We all stand condemned by history even as we continue to contemplate this crisis of leadership that plagues our beloved island home. In the words of Michael G Smith, we need “to build whilst time is burning, forward before it is too late.
Lloyd B Smith has been involved full-time in Jamaican media for the past 45 years. He has also served as a Member of Parliament and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives. He hails from western Jamaica, where he is popularly known as the governor. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.