Jamaican political leadership: the sound of silence

Jamaica truly has a leadership vacuum. Why would I say that when the country has a clear political leader? Actions, my dear Watson, actions.

Peter Drucker, a famous management guru, is quoted as saying: “management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”

Doing the right thing means having a good feel for what people want and need, as well as what your organisation needs. But, it also means being seen to do the right things.

Many leadership styles exist. Some work, some don’t. Good leaders are able to assess how they do things and change in order for things to be better.

Jamaica’s current leader seems to be missing out on showing what leadership really is. The phrase ‘working, working, working’ has had it’s time in the sunlight and many see it as a diversion to the issue of leading, leading, leading.

The one thing that seems stunningly clear is that the leader’s priorities are not clear. If anyone can show me words and actions to contradict, then I would gladly retract without hesitation.

Obviously, a national leader does not want to be jumping up and talking or reacting to every little thing that goes on within national borders or that bears the country’s name. But, things that come from the actions of government often need that leadership stamp of approval or disapproval.

The vacuum exists when direction is needed and none seems to be coming. Words such as “My ministers must…” followed by a clear set of instructions, can give many people comfort. Partisans followers need not get involved, because they will gobble up the words without; partisan opponents, likewise, will spit out the words. But, those who are neutral like to hear such things.

So, the begging bowl for signs of leadership is out there, but still sits empty.

The UK is not the centre of the Universe. However, British politics is very different from Jamaican politics. The PMs are not afraid of criticism of their Cabinet members. That does not mean they they tend to sack them after such criticisms, but it puts the leaders squarely in charge and tells the population what they feel about how a government member has acted. It’s really good management–let’s call it ‘feedback’. Listen to PM David Cameron making clear that he dislikes positions taken by his Education and Defence Ministers.

Conversely, British ministers are not afraid of walking away from posts, and resigning: one Home Office minister just did that today, after disagreements with his boss. Admittedly, things are not so cozy in the UK, where a coalition government is in power. However, the points is that principles are strong and people act in accordance with them. That includes walking away when principles are compromised.

So, simple lapses in government management of resources–like use of phones that seems to be uncontrolled–are leadership moments.

Flippant remarks by government ministers on sensitive matters, such as rape, especially when done in the legislative assembly, which is treated as hallowed space, offer more leadership moments. Why leave the world, especially that part which has suffered from the horrible abuse of rape, to guess how a leader feels on the matter? What is to fear, even if the view is said to be a personal, rather than a governmental one. Listen to President Obama reacting to some of the heinous crimes committed on black youths.

When leadership comes in the form of silence, the natural conclusion is that it doesn’t exist.