Sun | Jul 5, 2020

Transformational leadership

Published:Sunday | November 7, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Delano Seiveright, Contributor

David Cameron's administration recently explained to the people of Britain specifics of the whopping £83 billion (US$130 billion) in public-spending cuts through to 2015, in addition to a series of tax increases. The aim of this five-year austerity plan - Britain's biggest cuts of public spending since World War II - is to eliminate a spending deficit that last year reached a high of £156 billion (US$244 billion).

While still one of the world's wealthiest countries, Britain has for years been saddled with very high levels of public debt (averaging £43 billion - US$67 billion - a year in debt interest), and a budget deficit of 11.1 per cent of gross domestic product, the highest in the G7. The global economic meltdown exacerbated an already dicey situation. The chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne, pointed out that action was necessary to avoid a Greek-style fiscal meltdown. Essentially, the aim is to save Britain from bankruptcy.

My last contribution pointed to the rise of Generation X in political leadership. Generation X generally refers to people born between 1961 and 1981. This is particularly evident in Great Britain and other European countries. In the case of Jamaica, where our political system is jammed tight with the outdated political past, I pointed to the need for our elder political leaders to work at correcting the wrongs of the past, and sooner, rather than later, honourably leave the front rows of the political field and allow Generation X to continue the game-changing initiatives. There is no doubt that this and younger generations have an endless supply of ideas, energy, and pragmatism. Even more so, many of them are free of the heavy weight of 'baggage that many of our respected elders carry around.

Britain has become a highly notable case in point, as its highest political offices are filled by (in relative terms) youthful leadership. The ages of its prime minister, deputy prime minister, chancellor of the exchequer, and opposition leader range from 38 to 43 years. The new government, faced with serious economic problems, didn't hesitate in inducing the bitter pill required to stymie the bleeding economy and heal the wound over time. Sadly, as many as 500,000 public-sector jobs will be cut, in addition to greatly reduced welfare payments, and the shutting down of scheduled government programmes. The effects will, no doubt, be challenging to Britons, yet any attempt to delay the inevitable would very likely spell even more serious consequences.

Strong, decisive leadership

It takes tremendous courage on the part of any government to effect reforms of this nature to its people, more so a new one tied into an uncomfortable coalition. It is a clear depiction of strong and decisive leadership. This is where Jamaica has failed miserably on too many occasions. While we must be proud of some of our achievements as a nation, we cannot stick our heads in the sand and ignore the malaise in which we have existed for far too long. Many of our leaders are guilty of not effectively addressing our most critical dilemmas, due in part to political expediency. One must seriously question whether there has been any holistically positive impact of the political leadership class on Jamaica's development.

Leadership, in a rough sense, is the process of social influence whereby an individual can bring about the support of other individuals to achieve tasks or objectives. While Jamaica is filled with leaders, it has suffered from a severe paucity of transformational leadership. Transformational leadership usually involves a charismatic individual who is able inspire others to perform beyond their usual selves. Academic literature on leadership points to a range of traits and skills that are linked to successful leaders worldwide.

Included in these traits are being adaptable to situations, alert to one's social environment, ambitious and achievement-oriented, assertive, cooperative, decisive, dependable, dominant (influence others), energetic, persistent, self-confident, tolerant of stress, and willing to assume responsibility.

As it relates to skills, this includes being clever (intelligent), conceptually skilled, creative, diplomatic, fluent in speaking, persuasive, socially-skilled, knowledgeable about group task and well-organised.

Whilst every prime minister will make much of their 'achievements, this counts for nothing in the overall scheme of things. As I said in my last contribution, the 1970s marked a critical turning point in our country's history and must never be forgotten. This period was characterised by political, social and economic tremors, the effects of which linger on today. Some would argue that Michael Manley was possibly Jamaica's most transformational leader. Increased consciousness, critical-social reforms and other nation-building initiatives promulgated by him cannot be ignored. Likewise, the disaster brought on the economy and the ruining of the nation's social fabric is well-documented. Interestingly too, the violent and patronage-based political culture that mushroomed then must not be forgotten.

Momentous opportunity

Edward Seaga swept into power in 1980. With a huge parliamentary majority and enormous goodwill, he had a momentous opportunity to be a truly transformational leader. Despite major successes on the economic front and gains in other areas of the society, he was unable to inspire enough to hold on to victory in 1989, and every other election whilst he led the Jamaica Labour Party in Opposition. PJ Patterson's leadership from 1993 to 2006 as prime minister is the most disappointing since the 1970s. He too had an opportunity to be a transformational leader. With, for the most part, huge parliamentary majorities, back-to-back electoral wins, an obviously weak Opposition, and a buoyant world economy, he had a marvellous opportunity to transform Jamaica into a true gem.

Strides were made in developing the aspects of the country's road network, increasing access to education, broadening telecommunications access, among other things. Unfortunately, however, escalating self-inflicted crises, corruption, mismanagement, cronyism, unaccountability, lawlessness and economic and social decay became the order of the day.

Portia Simpson Miller's very short tenure as prime minister makes it very difficult to ascribe any definitive positions on her leadership style. What we are fully cognisant, of though, is that she too had a marvellous opportunity to be a truly transformational leader. At the time of her inauguration in March 2006, her popularity ratings were in excess of 75 per cent. She is a very likeable person and has immense grassroots appeal. However, on the face of it, she more than any other leader, has deficiencies in some of the essential traits and skills that make successful leaders.

Bruce Golding, now three years in the job of prime minister, is an enigma. Whether he is a transformational leader or not is open for healthy debate. It may be that it is difficult to assess in this vein, a prime minister when he or she is still in office; hindsight they say is 20/20 vision. What we do know however, is that he inherited a country in a state of economic and social crisis. Additionally, the international food, oil and economic crises coupled with dual-citizenship battles, frequently bad weather events, the extradition saga and a litany of other dilemmas has inarguably put him in the unfortunate position of governing in the most difficult time the nation has faced for decades.

On the flip side, however, despite these crises and dilemmas, unprecedented and game-changing strides have been made on the economic and crime fronts. This comes in addition to big pluses in education, tourism, agriculture, energy and governance reforms. Jamaica will certainly turn for the better in this regard, as some of the developments can certainly be deemed transformational.

Frankly, as to whether Bruce Golding will go down in the history as the Jamaica's truly transformational leader depends heavily on Bruce Golding himself.

Delano Seiveright is president of Generation 2000 (G2K), the young professional affiliate of the Jamaica Labour Party. Feedback may be sent to