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Courageous leadership needed in an era of cowardism — Part 2

Canute
Thompson

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

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In Part 1 of this series, published on October 31, 2017, I argued that cowardism has become a new normal in our time. I cited instances in which people who ought to have had the courage to do the right thing yielded to their lesser selves and failed to do the right thing, the consequences of which have been worsening social order in Jamaica. The cowardice of our leaders, which cowardice exists at the very top, is disheartening as it is damaging because our leaders promised us something better and the country is worse off.

“We needed the seat badly.” OK, but to do what?

So the highly contested by-elections of all by-elections has come and gone and the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) has got the seat which the party “needed badly”. Those were the words of one of the many understandably proud JLP spokespersons, Minister Delroy Chuck, who spoke on one of the media outlets on Monday night.

But why does the Government need the seat so badly? Apart from the bland explanation of needing the seat to give it more breathing space in Parliament so that when Bills are to be passed the Government would not have to coordinate the overseas trips of ministers so awkwardly in order to secure the votes, there is a more deceptive and downright dishonest explanation that has been advanced by the Andrew Holness apologists that will now be put to the test.

According to this logic, the prime minister is unable to take action against errant ministers, as such one could cross the floor and turn Holness out of Jamaica House. There are many who claim that the prime minister was led to appoint the fiery and often disrespectful Everald Warmington to the Executive to diminish any threat of him deciding to become an independent Member of Parliament and flip the power balance. There are also those who suggest that the $8.5-million phone bill of Finance Minister Audley Shaw was a major source of embarrassment to the prime minister. Sources even claim that there were hopes that the minister would have resigned, but when he did not the prime minister could do nothing, as his hands were tied by his circumstances. I suspect that it could be the same with the inaction of the prime minister on the damning Office of the Contractor General (OCG) report into the de-bushing scandal. Now that the prime minister has the space he needs, let us see if he will find the courage to do the right thing.

But I will not hold my breath. I do not expect the prime minister to attempt to pressure Audley Shaw to resign, or to rebuke Everald Warmington for his utterances, or to publicly censure Daryl Vaz for his inflammatory utterances (calling Peter Philips 'bad mind', although he seemed to have avoided being on the stage when Vaz made those utterances). Neither do I expect the prime minister to take any action against the three ministers named in the de-bushing report whom the OCG found had acted improperly. The inaction of the prime minister and his non-responsiveness to calls for even a response to the OCG report could well just be nothing short of arrogance, which runs counter to his promise to the contrary made on October 3, 2017 at a campaign rally in Annotto Bay. As well, it could simply be cowardice!

The courageous Warmington

Minister Everald Warmington is an example of a warped kind of courage, but courage nonetheless. He may be described as both fearless and factual and willing to stand up to anyone. We need people like him to be courageous for a good cause and to speak truth in furtherance of what is right and good. If his recent truth-telling that an Opposition Member of Parliament cannot get anything done were an assault on a corrupt political system, that would have been a new day in Jamaica. But that kind of truth-telling can never come from Warmington, who had stated during the 2016 election campaign that any person who did not vote (and perhaps he meant vote for him) should not come to his office seeking help.

In search of a courageous prime minister

Warmington's disclosure is a firm and flagrant rebuttal of what the prime minister has said repeatedly, and most recently during the St Mary South Eastern by-election campaign. At the same October 3 rally, Holness, according to a report in the Jamaica Observer, said:

“I personally have made a commitment to pursuing a politics for partnership; that is, working with everybody in Jamaica for the benefit of Jamaica. I don't believe in divide and tear-down politics. I believe in a constructive politics, and I am working with my team to ensure that we build Jamaica with the people of Jamaica for the people of Jamaica...”

Warmington's truth-telling makes a public mockery of all the things for which the prime minister says he stands. The prime minister must not only repudiate what Warmington has said, and call on him to retract his comments, but most importantly must now, by his actions, show that what Warmington has said is not consistent with the philosophy and ethic of the Government he leads. Will Holness rise to the occasion?

Recent profiles in courage

Three former public servants whose courage stands as examples of the type of professionalism and grit that will be needed to realise the turnaround of, and transformation in, our public service, passed away recently, almost without notice or national mourning. They are Gordon Wells, Herbert Walker and, most recently, Colin Bullock. These men understood what it meant to act honourably and with integrity. They knew how to stand up to the political directorate. They placed country above self and made a lasting impact in the areas in which they served.

Despite their record of quality public service they are not celebrated, except by a handful of close friends. And, the examples they have set are not placed before the country as the way we should be. In their place we have placed skilful deflection, public relations, form without substance, and the positioning of parrots to trade in tearing down others in a bid to rewrite history or form the make-belief that only those who believe what we believe have made a contribution to progress. The shouting and bad-mouthing that seek to destroy others is perhaps the most classical form of cowardism, namely bullyism.

Traits of courageous leaders

Susan Tardanico, in a 2013 Forbes magazine article, discussed 10 traits of courageous leadership, all of which are applicable to the reality of cowardism facing Jamaica. Among them were:

(1) The willingness to seek feedback and listen: It remains the case that one of the most important soft attributes of a courageous leader is the willingness to expose his or her views to scrutiny and analysis and to engage feedback on same. In doing so, the leader is saying, by behaviour, that he or she is open to criticism and correction and is willing to change his or her mind in the face of compelling wisdom articulated by others.

(2) The capacity to say what needs to be said: A leader shows he is fearless and willing to sacrifice him/herself when he or she is capable of expressing what needs to be said. In this regard it is helpful to recognise that leadership is not a position, it is a behaviour; thus the person exercising the courage to speak what needs to be spoken is often not the chair or the head, but another from down below who is undaunted by the prospect of being sidelined for having spoken.

(3) Taking action on performance issues: A large part of the problem with the public service in Jamaica is that few face consequences for underperformance, and when it does happen that an underperformer faces consequences it is more often than not for reasons unrelated to performance, but the issue of underperformance serves as a convenient cover.

(4) Giving credit to others: Courageous leaders know that they are not omnipotent or omniscient, and thus they are not fazed by the idea that others (including their opponents or predecessors in office) may be better at some things than they are or may know more about some things than they do. But, more importantly, they know that they can benefit from the ideas of others. It is a coward and insecure leader who is unable to praise members of his or her team or the contribution of his or her opponents.

(5) Holding others and oneself accountable: A leader must, if he or she is to have a meaningful impact, hold others accountable. But the moral authority to hold others accountable rests, not in the power of office but the profile of personal accountability. A prime minister, president, or CEO who is not personally accountable does not have the moral authority to hold even the bearer accountable.

Dr Canute Thompson is head of the Caribbean Centre for Educational Planning, lecturer in the School of Education, and co-founder and chief consultant for the Caribbean Leadership Re-Imagination Initiative, at The University of the West Indies, Mona. He is also author of three books and several articles on leadership. Send comments to the Observer or canutethompson1@gmail.com.

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