Is leadership in the Caribbean missing?
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by Cdr. Bud Slabbaert
Or is it not? Many say it is! The very essence of leadership is having a vision. Do you know of any of the self-proclaimed or elected leaders in the region who has a vision in the broader sense of the word? It means creating a vision, articulating the vision, passionately promoting the vision, and relentlessly driving it to completion. Especially the latter is crucial. Vision is the secret to leadership success. Beware of those who tell fairytales as a surrogate for a vision or take a short-cut version saying that all will be better than before and enhance it with the trendy word “resilience” to add some magic. It appears that some leaders who claim to have the desired foresight, may need to go an eye doctor to get prescription eyeglasses with photochromic progressive no-line bifocals to be able to see the distinction between fiction and nonfiction.
Let’s skip the common leadership definitions. Everyone has its own view on it anyway. For one it’s the singer in the group who stands in front and does the yodeling while the others behind him are humming the chorus, for others it’s the guy who beats the drum for the rowers on a galley. Some leaders believe it’s being the protector of the industry shrine, or just being voted in office. Leadership should lead to…? The vision! And what is the vision in the region? Let’s just bluntly state that there is little to no leadership in the region due to a lack of vision. Absence of vision may cause dissatisfaction and discouragement. Not a good thing, especially when commoners keep asking for change! In some instances, by absence of leadership, one might wish for a savior instead as the ultimate solution.
One of the reasons for the lack of strong vision statements is the fear of failure or public ridicule. It takes courage to make a blunt statement of vision. There are very few who are willing to take that risk and are rather more worried to either sound absurd, to not be able get the show on the road, or to lose friends. And so, most prefer to diddle-daddle about what was achieved in the past and what the mission could be if the sun keeps shining. And then there are those who speak up and are able to say nothing like no one else, and turn the vision into a mystery like the big rock candy mountain where there’re lemonade springs and the bluebird sings.
A scientific explanation for lacking vision is how the human brain works. The brain tries to maximize its efficiency by taking shortcuts in processing information. That’s why, the more often we do a certain task, the easier it becomes. For the same reason, we get comfortable in our own surroundings and lose the ability to think beyond it, or thinking outside the box. It’s no joke that the brain’s neural circuits of a visionary are more active.
Tremendous research has been done in Neuroscience and Neuroeconomics. The brain’s need for energy efficiency works against imagination, since imagination involves stronger neural connections and more focused attention to create deeply imprinted and detailed visualizations. One of the important attributes for better perception is having a broader view on various developments inside and outside the political or industrial environment and seeing in ways most people cannot; a panoramic or even a three-dimensional view. So, having a vision is not quite what one would popularly call a ‘No-Brainer’.
Who are the visionaries in the Caribbean? One who has the courage to air a vision and having created a sizeable process or operation that is prove of making a lot happening. One who doesn’t let a stone unturned to come up with novelties and innovation in leadership in the region that leads to progress and prosperity. Where is the leader who actually has proven to make unemployment rates go down, especially youth unemployment? Talking about youth, where is the leader who is willing to separate from “old-boys-networks” that care about a comfortable retirement, and rather empower members of the new generation who care about the future for their own young children? If there is such a leader, let’s start collecting some money to erect a statue.
Let the leader stand up who has the capacity to translate vision into reality by mobilizing all resources, be it existing or newly found ones. What segment of the society that leader comes from is not nearly as important as to where the community will be guided. It is better to have just one leader of thought on board, who has ideas and sees opportunities long before they become obvious in a boardroom or a parliament, than three individuals who carry the title of CEO or Minister. However, just having a visionary on board of a vessel may determine the course but it still doesn’t make the engine run. That’s where the additional talent of a mover comes into action.
Having a leader of thought on board may already be useful. Here is how Antoine de Saint Exupéry, a French author, journalist and pioneering aviator described what vision is all about: “If you want to build a ship, don’t herd people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” A sure thing is that without a vision, one just keeps doing what everyone else does and what has been done before.
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