Sun | Apr 22, 2018

Transforming Jamaica's leadership

Published:Friday | December 28, 2012 | 12:00 AM
Opposition Leader Andrew Holness.
Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller.
These two men greet each other during a leadership retreat in Kendal, Manchester. - PHOTO BY RAMESH NEWELL
Robert Wynter, Contributor

By Robert Wynter, Contributor

AS WE reflect on our first 50 years as a nation, there are differing viewpoints on our national-performance scorecard. What cannot be disputed is that Jamaica has done extremely well in areas such as athletics and the performing arts.

Neither can it be disputed that we have fallen short in many areas where we ought not to have fallen short. The first decade after Independence saw us falling behind in social equity as the gap between the haves and the have-nots became wider. The second decade, in what I would call a failed attempt to redress the social inequality, saw us fall way behind in economic prosperity. Since 1982, we have been trying to play catch-up as a nation, with the articulation of Vision 2030 emphasising how far behind we are.

I contend that the dearth of leadership over the last five years - since we articulated Vision 2030 as Jamaica is the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business - has been the number-one reason why we have made, and continue to make, very little progress towards achieving that vision.

How can good leadership reverse our national fortunes over the next 50 years? I will try to answer that question by describing the role and purpose of leadership in the typical organisation, then transposing the principles to key national-leadership areas.

four basic functions

There are four basic functions in any organisation centred on the organisation-customer interface where goods and services demanded by customers are supplied:

1. Customer service delivery functions across the organisation-customer interface such as found in sales, customer service, and delivery.

2. Support functions, which ensure the organisation-customer interface has all the resources to be effective and efficient, such as those in the human resources, finance, IT, marketing, production, maintenance, quality, safety, security, audit, risk, compliance, and legal sectors.

3. Management function, which ensures that all resources are mobilised, marshalled, and synergised to maintain the effective and efficient flow across the organisation-customer interface. Those involved include supervisors, team leaders, and middle managers.

4. Leadership function provides the strategic direction and transformational support to ensure paradigm shifts in individual and organisational behaviour and systems, resulting in quantum-leap improvements in the performance of the entire organisation and, consequently, the organisation-customer interface.

Customer delivery, support services, and management keep an organisation functioning. They are considered vital in the short term, but not strategic in the long term. Leadership, on the other hand, while not vital in the short term, is very strategic in the long term, driving transformation and quantum growth.

The fundamental challenge with leadership over the past 50 years, particularly over the last 30, has been its failure to apply visioning, strategic thinking, and execution support to enable transformation and growth.

Vision 2030 suggests that we more than triple our per capita output by 2030. This will require an approximate 7 per cent growth each year for the next 18 years. When compared with the less than 1 per cent average over the past 30 years, it seems unlikely without a quantum change.

Economic prosperity is only one of four pillars of Vision 2030. The others are safety and security, social transformation and protection, and environmental sustainability. I would argue that improvements in quantum-leap proportions are required in all areas. For example, education performance needs to be ramped up from <15% to >60% of our Grade 11 cohort passing five subjects, including mathematics and English.

articulate a vision

The very first step in being transformational is for our leaders to articulate a vision and strategy. They must then believe in the vision and strategy, They then must get everyone to buy into the vision and strategy. According to Theodore M. Hesburgh, "The very essence of leadership is that you have to have vision. You can't blow an uncertain trumpet."

Shortly after the 1994 football World Cup final in the United States of America, Captain Horace Burrell took over the reins of leadership of the Jamaica Football Federation. He immediately shared his four-year vision of taking Jamaica to the 1998 World Cup final in France.

The captain articulated his transformation strategy, and with fixity of purpose, he executed that strategy. During that execution, he was forced to make many changes and to take tough decisions, always with the vision in mind. The rest is history, as Jamaica qualified for the final in November 1997 and played with the big boys in France the following year.

The important lesson is that the captain believed, really believed, that Jamaica could make the 1998 final, and he did whatever was necessary to execute the strategy in order to achieve the vision. Of equal importance is that he got many others to believe in that vision. On the other hand, while our last three prime ministers have signed the Vision 2030 document, there is little evidence that they have really believed in it.

The second step in being transformational is to dispense with the business-as-usual attitude. Any new strategy with a hope of success must be accompanied by organisational alignment to that strategy. Government technocrats have developed several strategies - policies - over many years, most notable among them the National Industrial Policy, the National Export Strategy, the Task Force Report on Education Reform, and the Vision 2030 National Development Plan. Much time, effort, and resources were spent on these and many others; however, the failure to effect organisation realignment has made all these policies and strategies insignificant.

The third step is to build a strong team, empower its members, and hold them accountable. According to Theodore Roosevelt, "The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good people to do what he wants done and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it."

Our leaders have a penchant to hold on to power. They do not grasp that empowerment of others comes with disempowerment of self. Members of Parliament toe the party line consistently; permanent secretaries, for the most part, take instructions from the political directorate, whether or not it is in the best interests of the country; public-sector board members, who have statutory obligations under the Companies Act, operate at the behest of the respective minister. Parliamentarians, permanent secretaries, and board members are not usually held accountable for performance, as measurements are never done. The fourth step is that our leaders must model core behaviours such as integrity and transparency and be able to accept criticism and feedback. Examining oneself and making changes for the better augur well for a better society. Norman Vincent Peale said, "Never react emotionally to criticism. Analyse yourself to determine whether it is justified. If it is, correct yourself. Otherwise, go on about your business."

emotional intelligence

The fifth step is to develop and demonstrate emotional intelligence. In dealing with oneself, a good leader must be self-aware, this means having the ability to recognise and understand one's moods and emotions, and their effect on others. The good leader must also possess self-management skills. This is the ability to control or redirect disruptive impulses and moods, and the propensity to suspend judgement, and to think before acting. In dealing with others, a good leader must have social awareness, which is the ability to understand the emotional make-up of other people and the skill to treat people according to their emotional state. Relationship management - proficiency in managing relationships and building networks and the ability to find common ground and build rapport - is another must-have quality.

According to Elaine Agather, "The leadership instinct you are born with is the backbone. You develop the funny bone and the wishbone that go with it."

Finally, a good leader must take care of and balance his or her physical, mental, social, and spiritual needs to better serve those whom he or she leads. Ecclesiastes 3:1 tells us, "To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven," while Lao Tzu reminds us that "nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished".

Robert Wynter is the managing director of Strategic Alignment Limited, which facilitates visioning, strategy articulation, organisational transformation, core values alignment, and leadership development, to enable flawless execution.