GET REAL: Leaders with the right ambition
RECENT TALK HAS been about struggles for leadership within and among the political parties. I ain’t so sure. I mostly see power struggles and management tussles. I hear talk of strategies and tactics, but to take us where? To keep the dollar afloat? That is management talk. Very important, yes. But what is the overall vision for Barbados? Or is Barbados an exchange rate?
Sometimes, I do hear the hints of a vision coming through. What I hear often disturbs me, though. It sounds like a vision Tennyson Joseph would call neo- Liberal or Donald Trump would call good business.
If that is the talk, then the slogan could be: “Make Barbados great again like before 1937.” A former leader used to talk about making Barbados a so-called first world nation. We still pun dah, or dah talk done? What is the vision now?
Somebody talk up loud, like a leader, nuh! Will a true leader please stand and put the past, present and future in realistic perspective for the people, please? But please don’t go too far to the other side either. We’d like to keep the global trend towards authoritarian, ideologue leaders out of Barbados.
An elder said to me once: “Dese Caribbean leaders? Dem is petty thieves. Dem leaders in Africa? Dem is real crooks.” I said: “Well, God help us if our leaders get some ambition then.”
I was joking. That would not be ambition. Real ambition is something different. Greed is about the accumulation of things. Real ambition is about realisation of a vision. Leadership is ambition towards a collective vision. Petty ambitions to personal power will not make you a leader, just someone holding a leadership position.
I think the elder was unfair to Caribbean and African leaders, though. There are big time crooks and petty thieves in leadership positions all over the world. Why cite only Caribbean and African leaders? I can only think of two good reasons: either you’ve bought the stereotypical image of our leaders that is pushed by the Western media or you realise that even if the stereotype is not always true, we can least afford it when it is.
Petty ambition among would-be leaders is a killer for us. The kind of ambition symbolised by Wall Street is not for all there is. This is no chest-thumping, ego- driven, high-life living ambition that we desperately need.
That has a place too, but we also need the ambition of the artist, too ambitious about the beauty of his work to settle for the wrong shade of blue, the ambition of the academic, pouring through years of studies and experiments, too ambitious to settle for less than the most verifiable truth available, the ambition of the single mother of 12, too ambitious to not go after him when her last child starts going astray, the ambition of the priest, too ambitious for God to lose faith even when he accepts facts that contradict dogma.
Ambitious leadership often looks crazy. It often is and horribly so. See Hitler and King Leopold of Belgium. But it has to be a little crazy when the old way won’t do. Ambitious leaders can also look heroic like Castro and Garvey. Even in a crisis most people will prefer the comfort of the familiar. Leaders are the ones crazy enough to try something new… in public and push it.
Again, let’s not get carried away. A gasification plant would have been new too.
The nation’s problems are economic. We get that. Dig a little deeper. An economy doesn’t manage itself. These are also management problems. And they are only seen as problems when a leader says so and decides to direct resources towards solving them. Some leaders see poverty, crime and potholes not as problems but as facts of life… for others at least.
Managers need leaders to decide what and how to manage. Management scholar Peter Drucker says: “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”
Author Steven Covey writes about the difference between leadership and management.
“You can quickly grasp the important difference between the two if you envision a group of producers cutting their way through the jungle with machetes. They’re the producers, the problem solvers. They’re cutting through the undergrowth, clearing it out.
The managers are behind them, sharpening their machetes, writing policy and procedure manuals, holding muscle development programmes, bringing in improved technologies, and setting up working schedules and compensation programmes for machete wielders.
The leader is the one who climbs the tallest tree, surveys the entire situation, and yells: ‘Wrong jungle!’ But how do the busy, efficient producers and managers often respond? ‘Shut up! We’re making progress’.”
Governments boast of meeting goals and doing things. Whether the thing was done well or not is often up for debate. But either way, the question of whether what was done was the right thing to do will always float in the air if there is no clear vision or guiding philosophy.
A leadership problem will not be solved by managing economic activity or increasing productivity. On the other hand, economic and productivity problems need to be addressed by leaders before managers can really get to work.
When you hear a lot of talk about managing the economy, the value of particular projects and the need for productivity this is important management talk. But if there is little word on the larger vision, we could very well be chopping through the wrong jungle.
Adrian Green is a creative communications specialist. Email [email protected]