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GET REAL: Managing change


GET REAL: Managing change

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CHANGE IS INEVITABLE. It will happen whether we like it or not. Change is like your breath. You can slow it down, speed it up or put it pun pause for a short while, but if you try to stop it, yuh dead.  

The best we can do is manage change. We want to guide change in a direction that does not lead into quicksand or a brick wall, but along a path that leads to greener pastures, hopefully with lots of Julie mangoes trees and golden apples.

Yet, we so often fear change. Our current situation doesn’t even have to be all that pleasant in order to keep us paralysed, holding on for dear life to how things are, in fear of how things could become. A man would endure standing in a field of cow-itch if he is afraid that by stepping out of that field, he will walk into bush filled with rattlesnakes.

Even with the most well thought out changes, success is not guaranteed.

Even if I accept that change as inevitable, stepping into unknown territory can be scary. Because no matter how bad things are, they can always get worse. I might prefer to stan part I is and let nature take its course. Let those cow itch fibres blow on my skin. I may prefer to scratch myself to death rather than risk a poisonous snakebite. Not necessarily because a snakebite is a more agonising death, but because there is something that we often fear more than simple change: blame.

The guilt of knowing that it was my decision that caused things to change for the worse can be worse than the change itself. Having the courage to actively participate in change means taking responsibility. Taking responsibility means sharing or possibly shouldering, the blame. 

This is leadership. It can be daunting when leading self. It gets even scarier when leading others.

In the story of Moses, it didn’t take long for his fellow Israelites to turn on him after he led them out of captivity, and into the wilderness. Likewise, today in Barbados, in the present climate of uncertainty, I’ve heard some wonder if things were not better before Independence from Britain. 

Professor Sir Hilary Beckles argues that the reason why “Father of Independence” Errol Barrow did not put the issue of independence before the public in a referendum is because he felt there was a high probability that it would have been rejected; that we would have preferred to loiter at the colonial doorstep rather than risk stepping out into the wilderness of independence.

True leaders are those who are willing to make the hard decisions and implement sometimes radical changes. Moses and Barrow get credit, because they had the courage to risk taking the blame.

The popular narrative is that former Prime Minister Sir Lloyd Erskine Sandiford gets credit for averting economic disaster in Barbados by implementing an eight per cent cut in salaries across the Public Service. Whether or not that is true, in the immediate aftermath of the decision, he took blame for the Democratic Labour Party losing power.

Cuban leader Fidel Castro made hard decisions. The result has been hardship for the Cuban people. Depending on who you speak to, the blame may be on Castro or the United States embargo. Castro has a famous speech where he says, “History will absolve me.” If the US attitude to Cuba continues to soften after the presidency of Barrack Obama, it very well might, the way history has seemingly absolved Lloyd Erskine Sandiford.

Sometimes leadership demands a choice be made between popularity and progress. Even a leader like Moses, who claimed a direct link to a supernatural power, was not exempt from the wrath of the masses when the changes he implemented did not seem to be working.

Change is just a question of “how” and “how fast”. It may be slow and incremental, guided by gentle forces of nature and time. It may be fast-tracked by a crisis and/or by human will. 

One change you may have noticed occurring in Barbados at varying rates, is a change in attitude to authority figures. Bajans seem less likely to defer to status and title. Politicians, police, teachers etc. are less likely to command respect just because dey name politician, police or teacher. People openly wonder why they should stand when the Governor General enters or leaves a room, when they can’t tell you what the GG does for a living.

You are increasingly asked to justify your authority.

Rumours of corruption and abuse of power, and a decreased gap between the poor and the privileged lead us in this direction. In the transition, we have to change to suit.

When in positions of authority and privilege, we will struggle to adapt. We will have to learn new skills of communication and relating to those who before would have given us unquestioned compliance. 

We will struggle to decipher who has legitimate authority over us. Respect is more than ever a matter of reasoned choice for the greater good, rather than a compulsion by force. This has to be taught and demonstrated from early life, and modelled by those in even the highest authority.

In this transitional moment there is a crisis of adjustment to the changes. Some who find themselves with more rights and breathing space than ever before will lash out at authority.  Some in authority will lash back with an even more authoritarian tone. Some will call for a return to the good-ole-days of cow itch rather than this modern field of rattlesnakes. 

And some, realising the precarious point, will seek to consolidate power rather than share it. In this state of mind, quick profit outweighs good service and winning an election becomes primary to the people’s progress. Necessary changes, if unpopular or inconvenient, may not be risked. Absolution from history be damned.

Change petrifies most of us, especially where privileged. 

Adrian Green is a creative communications specialist. Email [email protected]