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WHAT MATTERS MOST: Harmonious leadership

DR CLYDE MASCOLL, [email protected]

WHAT MATTERS MOST: Harmonious leadership

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SOME YEARS AGO, it was wonderfully observed by Carl Moore that leadership cannot be outsourced. The observation was made with direct reference to political leadership. There is no doubt that leadership has its complexities and its rewards. However, if done effectively it provides harmony and balance. In this sense, the leadership provided by the conductor of an orchestra is perhaps the most appropriate for illustrative purposes.

If it is a given that the musicians qualified for their respective positions in the orchestra on the basis of their talents, then their performances are predominantly based on preparation. This preparation comes in the form of individual practice and group practice. Obviously, the former is the responsibility of the individual, while the latter is led by the conductor.

The typical symphony orchestra consists of four groups; woodwinds, brass, percussion and strings. The task of the conductor is to create harmony; know which group to emphasize, when and where; ensure that there is rhythm and sustain balance in the orchestra throughout its performances. These tasks are done regardless of the size and scale of the orchestra.

The brass and percussion sections keep the beat that is provide the rhythm and emphasis. The strings and woodwinds add colour and flavour to the music, through harmony and balance. Of course, the classification here is deliberate, since the sum of the parts is truly the whole in music. It is impossible to outsource the leadership of the orchestra. The conductor therefore has ultimate responsibility for the quality of the music and the standards of performance. The baton stops there!

It is only when a leader does not take full responsibility that attempts at outsourcing are considered. This ought not to be the case, except where accountability can be muddled through public relations as is the wont of political leadership.

Let the brass and percussion sections represent the economy; the strings and woodwinds constitute the society and the conductor is the collective political directorate represented by the prime minister. He therefore has ultimate responsibility for the quality of life of Barbadians and by extension the standards of performance in the economy and society. He does so by being responsible for government’s policies and programmes.

The notion that any part of the leadership can be outsourced is inconsistent with being the conductor/ prime minister of the orchestra/country. So if the brass and percussion sections are playing the wrong notes, then it is the conductor’s duty to make sure that it is corrected. He must take note that every musician/technocrat in his orchestra/government is accountable to him and must bank on the fact that central to the orchestra’s/country’s quality of music/life is the sharing and interpretation of notes/information.

No one musician should be allowed to play discordant notes under the assumption that he is a “one-man” band or orchestra. Such thinking alone, not just playing, offsets the rhythm, harmony and balance in the orchestra. If the conductor/prime minister is not held accountable, then the quality of music/life suffers. Persistent underperformance comes at significant costs that are not always measurable in dollars and cents or wrong notes.

The society, as represented by the woodwinds and strings sections in the orchestra, must be able to determine when it is being asked to play ‘hot wind/air’ and pull the necessary strings to make the conductor accountable for the wrong notes. The implications of condoning poor performances are too severe for silence to prevail. The silence puts off the brass and percussion sections/economy and the balance and harmony in the woodwinds and strings sections/society from which it emanated in the first place. There is a prolonged price for silence.

The orchestra’s sections cannot be separated in the production of quality music. By extension, a society cannot be separated from an economy in the pursuit of improving the quality of life of its people. The attainment of harmony and balance between the two critical sectors/sections must rest squarely with the leadership.

The use of the orchestra as a metaphor for the larger social system that includes the economy reveals the importance of the truly critical things in life, such as balance and harmony that cannot be measured in dollars and cents. When the performance of the orchestra is fully evaluated, the intangibles will matter most.

Sustained underperformance of the orchestra/social system is not blamed on the musicians/change-agents but rather on the conductor/prime minister who does untold damage to their pride and industry and ultimately their self-confidence with the passage of time.

Dr Clyde Mascoll is an economist  and Opposition Barbados Labour Party adviser on the economy. Email: [email protected]