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GET REAL: Finger-waving style leaders

Adrian Green

GET REAL: Finger-waving style leaders

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“Be alert!” the police have warned. Dey comin! Open yuh eyes! Lock yuh doors! This is the advice from those paid to protect the nation from crime, “Protect yuhself!” Good advice right? But is it good enough? In the face of a series of violent muggings and home invasions, should we expect more?

Have you ever noticed that when there is a national issue, the response from persons whose job it is to address the issue is often to place the responsibility back on the public to do better. In reality we do need to do better. But do we need to pay someone just to remind us to do better?

Imagine if the only thing Obadele Thompson’s coaches ever had to say to him was “run faster”.

Nia, a commenter on says when “cash for gold” had people getting chains popped from their necks left, right and centre it was “well, don’’t wear gold chains”. Now the criminals have upped the ante and are invading people’s homes left, right and centre what will you tell us next? “Don’t leave your home???”

After an episode of flooding in 2011, the Department of Emergency Management was criticised for its relief efforts. In an interview with The NATION newspaper, department head Judy Thomas defended the agency saying, “My job is to tell people about the threats. My job is to tell people what the impacts are likely to be and what the possibilities are, and to give them some notion of what they should be doing to mitigate the circumstances and prepare themselves. That is my job, and I don’t think I do it badly.”

She was asked, “Would you like to see more resources at your disposal – finance, people, equipment, whatever?” to which Thomas replied, “No! I would like to see people taking more responsibility for themselves and their families, and communities being more responsive to initiate that emergency response.” The head of disaster management missed a major role of management which is to empower those you manage.

Good leadership does more than just tell; more than wave a finger and chastise. 

Telling and hoping the person you are telling will listen is convenient for the teller. It does not call for much effort or commitment on their part. If the person does not comply, you can blame them for having hard ears. While you are asking for more responsibility on their part, you yourself are refusing to take responsibility for the effectiveness of your leadership. As Ms Thomas said, telling is her job and she does it well. 

Finger waving is Barbadian’s preferred style of leadership communication. Once in a position of authority we tend to rule by decree. Parents take the position, “Do what I say, because I say it.” Once the child starts exercising its independence it becomes, “How many times I tell you? When yuh buss yuh head doan call me.” 

Listen to some officials carefully and you will almost hear your grandmother’s voice. Sometimes they will actually be waving their finger.

The finger waving style of leadership begins in the home, travels throughout the education system and goes right to the top of the leadership chain. 

If the public’s ears are hard, the leader’s eyes must be filled in with concrete. They cannot see that they need to change tactics to get the desired result. They cannot see that a change in behaviour will not happen just by ordering it. 

Imagine a swimming instructor using this method. “Swim, I tell you, swim!” Some will get back to shore safely; the rest are in trouble. A swim instructor must have a progressive programme to develop the skills and behaviour required to survive the sea. If left to figure it out for themselves, some will learn to swim, but inefficiently. Many just drown. Most just avoid the water. Finger waving breeds the exact opposite of what is intended. It breeds irresponsibility. 

At best, this attitude is a feeble call for increased responsibility, which is fair enough.  But all de time so? If I am a parent and I have an irresponsible child, it is my job to find ways to help develop a sense of responsibility in my child. Otherwise I am an irresponsible parent. Saying, “I tell he to be responsible”, does not cut it. Telling is only part of the programme. We must show and facilitate. 

Finger waving is an indication that the finger waver is powerless; an admission that he cannot do much to help you and you are on your own. The finger waver may be knowledgeable and competent but the inability to communicate handicaps them.

If the NHC imposters reach your door, yes, you better be alert. We must all be alert and pay attention to what is going on around us in order to stay safe. Let’s also be alert to how decreasing access to education may increase criminal activity. Be alert to how rising cost of living and declining employment is linked to crime. Be alert to the educational system failing our young people. Be alert to ways the business community can give back in order to protect the stability of the island and hence their own businesses. Be alert to the fact that the big-up criminals don’t get caught.

Once crime is at your doorstep there is little the police can do. They can only investigate after you’ve already been robbed. The overlooked word in crime prevention is “prevention.” Are we alert enough to the factors that cause criminal behaviour in the first place? This is where the police really need help. This is where all of us have a responsibility.

It may take time and effort to break the habit but the improved effectiveness will be worth it. Instead of shaking off your finger at somebody else, raise your hand and tell them what you plan to do or are already doing. Better still, involve them in the process.

Adrian Green is a communications specialist and a reformed finger waver. [email protected]

They cannot see that a change in behaviour will not happen just by ordering it.