MY JOURNEY TO
Four factors or forces have shaped me, all of which account for my interest in leadership issues and the perspective from which I approached the research that forms the material from which this book is drawn. These forces I have described as my birth order and personality disposition, professional and parenting experiences, struggles with the leadership of the church role in facilitating leadership transformation.
I am the last son in an unbroken line of seven sons. I often joke that I suspect that when my mother was pregnant with me she was hoping I would be born a girl, and that at my delivery when the mid-wife told her “it’s a boy” she responded, “bway (meaning ‘boy’) again”. My parents’ first daughter (and the only one for six years) was born less than two years after I was born. Any cuteness I had as the last child would have been eclipsed, not only by the fact that I was no longer the last but more importantly, by the fact that my “natural” competitor was the only one of her kind!
Growing up as a young teen, and in early adulthood, I was often uncomfortable with people who believe that their views or ways of doing things were right, simply because they had the power to say so! Naturally my sibling rivalries were most times with my sister (the only girl!) and the brother who immediately preceded me. In my fights with my sister I was most times pronounced wrong, even if I were right. Soon I found myself making the error of taking on one of my brothers in the hope that since being right seemed to go with being younger, I would be right. I was to discover that even though I was ‘given’ right, it did not help much since I had already received some blows – physical and emotional.
I am, by nature, a non-conformist and attribute that natural ‘non-conforming’ orientation to my place in the birth order. In addition to being a non-conformist, I consider myself to be a maverick. I believe in challenging the establishment, to ask questions others are afraid to ask and to propose approaches that call for creativity and open-mindedness. I have no difficulty overturning the apple cart, turning issues on their heads or taking on sacred cows. In most situations I assume these roles as part of interest in the concerns of those who either have been denied a voice or who feel voiceless. In my socio-political orientation my default setting is that of support for the oppressed, the voiceless and the “underdog”.
Although my parents were caring, I grew up as an underdog within the scheme of family politics, at least in my formative years (up to age 7), but what else could one expect as the last and not the only one of your kind. (By age 10, however, I was quite self-assured and demanded my rights!) Deep within me would have been, as I came to discover, the will to be a winner, since in the politics of the family I often came out loser; deep within me was the will to succeed and the will to help other underdogs succeed. I grew up embracing the philosophy that the best revenge is massive success. Deep within me was the conviction, as I have come to understand me, that something is not necessarily right because someone in authority said it was. Somewhere in my subconscious was a desire to prove that people with power are not always right, despite their claims, and that people without power can also articulate truth correctly, present versions of reality that are credible and offer approaches to solving problems that are workable.
My training and work have included extensive engagements in the fields of organizational development and change while working as a part-time teacher in the secondary school system, intermittently. I have also served as a Guidance Counsellor in a secondary school and part-time lecturer at various tertiary institutions. The largest block of students in the tertiary programmes in which I have taught, have been teachers. In my interactions with teachers in secondary schools, I am often amazed at how callous some teachers are towards students. There were occasions on which I was asked, as Counsellor, to see students because of alleged inappropriate behaviour. On some of those occasions I discovered that what was being described as “bad” behaviour was simply the expression of the expectation to be respected and on other occasions the response of a person who felt humiliated. I have come to the view that many teachers do not see students as people who are entitled to respect and to whom they are accountable.
As a parent I have had to contend with situations similar to those I have described in my work as a Counsellor. One of my daughters told me that she is amazed at how teachers at her school treat students like “dogs” and the students “just take it”. My other daughter reported that her teacher threw down a project on which she worked extensively without making a single positive comment. My daughter was deflated and disappointed. I deemed what I was told to be inappropriate conduct on the part of the teacher. I reported the matter to the principal who rhetorically asked the name of the teacher, adding that she (the principal) had received similar reports before. Unsurprisingly the principal never got back to me and no evidence surfaced suggesting that she did anything about the reports.
My son has strong views on issues and debates them intensely with his peers, but has succeeded in not appearing as a challenge to the status quo and has thus had a different set of experiences with the “system”. He has understood, it seems, how to get by in a system in which there are wide differences in levels of power.
My elder daughter related two other incidents (one that occurred at her previous high school from which she was transferred) in which she answered a question on an internal exam using information she had gathered outside of the class. Her answer was factually accurate (based on my knowledge of the subject matter). The teacher marked it “wrong”. When she protested the teacher told her she “did not teach her that”. The other incident occurred in studying one of Shakespeare’s works. There was an apparent “standard” interpretation of a particular character and my daughter had a different interpretation which seemed quite plausible. She reported that she tried to advance that view during class discussions but was told by the teacher that her views were incorrect. She was uncomfortable with this and based on her previous experience feared that if she advanced that view in an exam it would be marked incorrect. I suggested that she try a one-on-one discussion with the teacher after class to develop on her position. This she did but the teacher insisted that that view, which deviated from the traditional and standard views, was wrong without even saying, “Let’s examine it together.”
The foregoing approaches to pedagogical leadership mirror the pre-modern notions that learning involves the discovery or telling of pre-existing truths. This approach brackets out and refuses to take account of mini-narratives and perspectives from below.
I began my adult and professional life in the Christian Ministry of the Moravian Church, but served only about two years as a full-time Minister of the church. I resigned after my first year in order to undertake graduate studies. Upon my return from graduate studies I resigned again after serving one year’s service in the face of intense political (power) struggles. The root of these struggles could be reduced to one thing, I asked questions.
At the Synod of 1986 I moved or seconded a number of proposal / motions that if adopted would see the minister having a less significant stature vis-à-vis the laity. One proposal called for non-ordained persons to be permitted to administer sacraments. In my practical mind no technical training was required to distribute wine and bread. After the plenary session in which the motions were tabled, two members of the leadership took me aside and asked me how I could dare to be part of such proposals. At the time of the tabling there was an immediate dismissive response from the leadership and I rose to invite debate on the issue as it was not merely an academic one. This the two members who had taken me aside found most offensive, arguing that I was frowning on the authority of the church by insisting on a debate.
My position that there be a review of how the sacraments are administered, grew out of two experiences in which I had to cancel the planned sacraments because the minister who was supervising me did not show up. We had had the regular service having waited for about an hour for the ordained minister to come to administer the sacraments and not seeing him we left. That minister was responsible for five churches and it was my view that the business of administering the sacraments could be more efficiently organized, thus my proposals. But the problem was not so much the proposals but that I was a probationer whose interest in proposing these changes was deemed to be self-serving and a somewhat indirect way of getting out from under the yoke of probationership.
In the Moravian Church one’s rank (status) as a Minister immediately after leaving Theological College, is that of Probationer. In the culture of the church this title is borne with humiliation by those who must do so. The title probationer is the quintessential evidence of one’s place in the pecking order. Probationers not only do not have the power to perform the sacraments of the church (as though any of those required special training and skill) they are not expected to think independently and are perceived as being ‘good’ probationers when they act with unquestioning obedience. Probationers are regarded as being so simple and immature that they have to seek, and be given permission, in writing, before they may get married. One disobeys that rule at great cost to one’s chances of remaining in the employment of the church. I got married while I was still a probationer and the humiliation of being examined before permission was conditionally granted conveyed a sense that I was a first grader. Permission was in my view grudgingly given. One of the conditions was that my wife, who was Methodist, be formally admitted to the Moravian Church before the date of the wedding!! I complied.
But my apparent path of creating discomfiture for the leadership preceded my probationership. While I was in my final year at theological college, I applied for and received a scholarship from Princeton Seminary. The scholarship was offered subject to the Church providing an ecclesiastical endorsement. This was a statement from the head of the church stating that it approves my receipt of the scholarship and that my course of study was designed to prepare me for a specific role in the church upon completion. I wrote to the then head of the Church requesting such an endorsement. He took the matter to the executive but was unsuccessful in getting approval. Having been down the same path himself, and not willing to stand in my way, so to speak, he wrote a statement but couched his words in a manner so as not to commit his colleagues against their will. Princeton responded to advise that the endorsement was not specific enough so I was not allowed to take up the scholarship.
Two year later, having determined to find a seminary that did not require an ecclesiastical endorsement, I was successful in obtaining an attractive scholarship from Eden Seminary which would be effective in September 1986. I approached the leadership of the church and asked for permission to take up the offer. Permission was denied. I wrote and asked Eden if they would hold the scholarship for a few years, but they advised that they could only hold for one year to 1987. I presented the matter to the leadership again and pleaded for an assurance that I would be allowed to take up the scholarship in 1987 since Eden would hold for only one year. The leadership scoffed at my request saying scholarships were always available.
Sometime in June 1986 the executive wrote and asked me what was my position in relation to their denial of permission. I advised that I was thinking about the matter. Compliance, not independent thinking, it must be remembered, was the hallmark of a good probationer. A few days later I received a letter from the executive advising that they were happy to advise that the new date was set for my ordination, which was originally scheduled for July 10, was now September 28. I had expressed no difficulty with the date. Ordination would be the sign that the curse of probationership has been lifted. The leadership would have none of that. In my mind I was being required to choose between the scholarship (further development) and ordination. I resigned and went to Eden.
Upon completing my course of study, I wrote to the leadership and asked to be readmitted. I was denied. I had written earlier at the beginning of my second year and was told that my application was unacceptable. I returned to Jamaica and entered the civil service after a brief stint in teaching at a high school but continued to lobby for readmission to the Ministry of the Church. I was eventually readmitted but under strict conditions. One of those conditions of which I was not aware was that I was not to be engaged in part-time (what the church called ‘secular’) work. Having resigned my job in the civil service I had secured a part-time teaching job so as to be able to pay for a piece of land I had acquired and on which I was paying a mortgage.
On the first day of the new school year the Bishop of the Church conducted devotions. We spoke after devotions and I told him all I was doing and how I would be at the school two days each week. He received what I was sharing with great interest. He was not a member of the executive.
The following day I received a letter, hand-delivered to my home (pushed under the door). It was from the leadership of the church. In the letter they advised that they “had received reliable information” that I was in a part-time job in violation of the conditions that govern probationers (i.e. ministers not yet ordained) and that I was to quit the job with immediate effect. This would prove to be a problem as I had a mortgage and my stipend from the church was $1,080.00 per month. I refused to quit and sought to enter negotiations. The leadership refused to alter its position and withheld my salary for the month of September. This I learnt about after calling the President who advised that he was not at liberty to release my salary “until I had complied” with the terms of my readmission.
I decided to expose the matter for debate. At a regularly convened Ministers’ meeting I drew attention to my situation including the fact that my salary (stipend) and rental for the house I occupied were withheld. The President was livid. The meeting recommended that the leadership meet with me to resolve the matter.
At the meeting where I was to make my case I was reprimanded for raising my concerns in the presence of other ministers on the grounds that I was “asking the ministers to pass judgment on the leadership.” The meeting was a humiliating experience. When I could not get anywhere with trying to prove that I had to raise supplemental income, I asked excuse from the meeting, went to my car for my budget. The numbers showed that given what the church was paying I could not meet my non-negotiable demands, including the mortgage payments without additional income. Permission was then granted for me to continue working but with the condition that I worked at a school “within my pastoral charge.” I wrote to all the principals in the defined pastoral area copying each application to the leadership. There were no vacancies. The leadership insisted that I either left the job or find one in my pastoral charge, one way or the other. The matter was now a stalemate.
I met a member of the executive at a garage some weeks later. He seemed to have been uncomfortable with the actions of his colleagues and was apparently concerned. He advised me that the leadership intended to dismiss me and that he was suggesting that to preserve my reputation and have a better chance of fighting the issue I should resign my position at the school. I resigned in March 1990.
The objections of the leadership to my doing part-time work were not based on a general prohibition against part-time work but a prohibition exclusive to probationers. Non-probationers were allowed to do part-time work to a maximum of twelve hours per week, though most who did were in full-time positions. Few, if any encountered opposition from the leadership. These men were also known for their deference towards the leadership and they hardly challenged the leadership by asking tough questions.
My strategy was that having resigned, I would ride out the few months around the mortgage payments, obtain my ordination then resume my part-time work. One of the known conditions in my re-admission was that I would be expected to serve a (second) probationary period to expire in June 1990. In late May I called the President and inquired about the plans for ordination. He told me I had no basis to ask such a question as for months I defied the leadership by refusing to resign from the school after I had been instructed. We had a heated exchange. A few days later I received a letter advising that my ordination was postponed indefinitely and that I must not dare to ask questions about it again. With that I tendered my resignation from the employment of the church.
The conditions imposed on me in relation to getting married and the challenges I encountered in pursuit of some measure of economic independence, mirror, in my view, a leadership that lacked vision, compassion and the capacity to embrace otherness. My struggles with the leadership of the church were based on what I perceived to be its insularity, its opposition to new ideas and approaches, its refusal to be governed by logic, almost blind insistence on tradition and its over-reliance on power as a means of solving interpersonal conflicts. I had come to this view from early in my first year (1986) but thought that I could contribute to changing the culture, thus my return after completing studies at Eden. Efforts towards that change were frustrating. I came to the view that I could not intellectually and morally survive in an institution to which I was expected to show allegiance even when decisions and the process of decision-making were more often than not based on the one-sided view of those who wielded power.
After continuing to serve the church in various voluntary capacities, I was offered ordination in 2004, by which time it was really neither here nor there as far as my sense of call was concerned. I negotiated the conditions for acceptance!! I currently serve as an independent unpaid staff member (Supplementary Minister), and with the freedom I now enjoy of not having to endure illogical dictates of orthodoxy I assume the role of critic, continually inviting the leadership to explore new ideas and approaches. People who are ‘trapped’ within the system criticize it at their own risk.
My struggles with the leadership of the church were not unique. Within a five-year period between 1986 and 1991 the church lost almost a third of its Ministers who resigned for various reasons, but in almost every case the reason was related to some unresolved conflict with the leadership.
In December 2007, the Board of Management of an educational institution owned by the Church (and funded by the Government) took disciplinary action against the principal. The facts available to me between December 2007 and March 2008 suggested that the Board had breached procedure in its handling of the matter. Since I could not have been definitive and given my penchant for fair dealings, I pursued discussions with the Chair and Vice-Chair of the board with a view to averting a legal battle on the matter which if it were not resolved could cost the church and the institution dearly.
By March 2008 I was in possession of further facts and I advised the two ranking members of the Board that based on my understanding there was indeed a breach of procedure and that amends needed to be made as a matter of urgency. The two members were for the most part cordial and, in one case, even supportive of my concerns and recommendations but nothing was done. The matter was heading towards a stalemate but I was relentless in my thrust for a resolution. The matter became one for the church to deal with in terms of the status of the former principal in the church who himself was a minister of the church and was on secondment to the institution. Because of my relentless advocacy the leadership of the church terminated my services as a minister citing continued attack on the leadership and my expressed loss of confidence in them as grounds for their action.
I challenged the action of the leadership of the church at the Synod and the decision of the church was set aside. (A fuller treatment of this matter as an employment dispute is provided in Grounds for Appeal: Understanding the Limits of Executive Authority).
One of the lessons that my struggles with the leadership of the Moravian Church has shown is how entrenched, archaic and almost oppressive some forms of transactional leadership can be. The reimaginative leader makes his or her mark by engaging others, thus discussions, debates and exploratory conversations are welcome. The transactional leader on the other hand is driven by the need to dictate, instruct, dominate and direct the thoughts and actions of others thus there is little or no room for even-handed, not-taking-charge, round-table conversations as part of a collective search for new levels of performance and excellence. There is also hostility to accountability. Accountability is a one-way street, in the mind of the transactional leader, “I hold you to account”, not the more risky, tipping edge “we hold each other accountable”.
In placing myself in the ‘fight’ for a more reimaginative approach to the leadership of the church, one of the challenges to be met is that of selling the vision of the value of mutual accountability to a sufficiently large number of clergy and laity so as to propel the church to a tipping point, for change only comes when enough people feel that enough is enough. Under transactional leadership, where accountability is a one-way street, the philosophy that “might is right” holds sway and thus there is always the specter of the leadership abusing its power in relation to those who are deemed to be weak, either because they do not have the personal strength of character or lack a sufficiently conscious and active support base among peers. Persons in such positions are underdogs in the broadest meaning of the word and are at the mercy of the leadership.
The foregoing experiences constitute a major part of the explanation for my interest in studying leadership and to do so from the perspective of the ‘underdog.’ I have chosen the context of the educational system for undertaking this study since much of my professional engagements have been in that arena and so little research seems to have been done on the specific trajectory I have chosen, but the insights that the study offers are by no means limited to the school system.
After my second departure from the full-time ministry of the church, I worked in a number of fields in the government and private sector while undertaking further study completing a postgraduate diploma in management studies and starting work towards a graduate degree in organizational psychology. After a two year stint with the government’s social development agency, I began another two year sojourn, in 2000, with a Regional Health Authority and was appointed CEO of a medium-sized hospital with a patient capacity of just under 200 beds.
My experience in that setting was to prove to be another invaluable lesson in the challenges that confront attempts at reimagining leadership in the public health systems.
The establishment of Regional Health Authorities (RHAs) was an initiative that was undertaken by the government in the late 1990’s. Prior to the advent of the RHAs the delivery of health service was centralized but more importantly the administration and management of health facilities were in the hands of senior nurses and doctors. Thus a hospital was run, for all intents and purposes, by the Senior Medical Officer (SMO) with nursing support led by the Matron. There was an administrator who had responsibility for ancillary and human support services. SMOs exercised extensive authority over resources allocated to their respective hospitals and were practically answerable to themselves.
With the advent of the RHAs, hospitals were headed by a CEO. These CEOs were career management specialists but invariably did not have technical training in medicine or nursing – not as though these were, or should have been, required. Structurally both the SMO and the Matron reported to the CEO. This change was the source of unending grief for many SMOs, many of whom had ran their own shows for decades. They were now placed in a situation where they were to report to a non-doctor who in most cases was someone younger.
The default thinking in the health service, at least among the majority of senior doctors, was that non-doctors could not lead them and as such in many hospitals there were constant struggles (both covert and overt) between the CEO and the SMO. That was the case at the hospital where I served as CEO.
As a person with a propensity to push the envelope and to ask questions others would be unwilling to ask, I was forced once again to reckon with an existing mindset that what was right was not so much what was logical and reasonable but what suited the whims or other idiosyncrasies of certain individuals who were either politically connected or had the means to orchestrate seeming opposition. I learnt also that even if an overwhelming majority agreed to a position, if that position were not suitable or convenient for those who were connected, then that position would not stand and attempts to implement would be resisted by any means possible. Given my natural fondness for debate and the canvassing of opinions, I ran into early trouble by daring to seek to subject the opinions of a certain senior doctor to the perspectives of others, including some of his peers and other professionals who though subordinate in rank were experts in their respective fields and even if not so recognized were capable of offering helpful suggestions. I attempted to introduce a scheme used in total quality management which would see employees receiving rewards for generating suggestions that resulted in revenue enhancement or cost savings. This scheme was called EGGS – an acronym for Employees Generating Great Suggestions. The thinking behind EGGS was that it symbolized life and thus the act of offering suggestions was an attempt to offer a life-line to a system that was bending under high costs, high demand and limited resources.
While I was mindful that the medical and nursing professions had a stern pecking order, I was equally of the view that improvements in customer service, employee morale, cost-containment and overall organizational health depended to a significant degree on cultivating a culture of participatory management. In such a culture, shared decision-making, consultation, debate and accommodation of contrastive opinions would be explicit features and enthusiasm for considering multiple perspectives, emphasis on respect for others and an embrace of mutual accountability would become normative. These principles were not, however, welcome and many employees who would voice opinions in one direction would go the opposite route when a certain individual entered the room.
The asking of questions about what obtained, with a view to exploring new approaches was also anathema. I recall a meeting with the consultants in which we were discussing the number of patients seen at clinics. One consultant pointed out that at his weekly clinic he sees about thirty (30) patients. Another consultant, the SMO, said he routinely saw six (6). I asked the obvious question, “what factors account for the difference between the two disciplines?” That question shattered the meeting. The meeting had a premature end as not only was an answer not given but the SMO took so much offense that it was difficult to reconstruct the meeting that day.
It struck me as being exceedingly strange that in the year 2000, there could have been such hostility to shared decision-making, consultation, debate, accommodation of contrastive opinions and basic accountability. Clearly the health system had not been influenced by the cataclysmic changes that had been taking place in the leadership landscape.
In the end those who opposed the changes I was seeking to implement were successful in fomenting a staff riot, of sorts, resulting in a public spectacle that was used as a basis for calling on the government to order a management review of the operations of the facility. One of the recommendations of the review panel was that I should be reassigned (note, not resigned but re-assigned – though they amounted to the same thing as I was asked to resign!). The reason given for this was that I was not able to ‘get along’ with the senior doctor and it was better for the future of the hospital that I be re-assigned. What was strange about this recommendation is that I had ceased to have day-to-day responsibility for the running of the hospital six months before having been promoted and was now supervising the acting CEO.
While there have been changes in the leadership landscape, generally, there are some sectors of society that seem to be relatively unaffected by those changes. Among them are the church, the secondary school system and the health services.
The dominant leadership practices in many churches, schools, hospitals and other organizations seem, to a significant degree, to operate on outdated modes which seem hostile to notions of consultation, affirmation of diverse sources of knowledge, the constructed nature of reality and the dispersion of wisdom. But there are some churches and other educational institutions, (particularly at the tertiary level) as well as other organizations in which there are deliberate attempts to make the learning and working environments more engaging, democratic and responsive to the needs, realities and expectations of students, workers and customers.
In relation to the education sector, over the last decade many tertiary institutions have been developing programmes and teaching courses that directly respond to the issues facing their societies and structure their processes to allow for student (customer) input in design and delivery methods. The persons who lead the learning enterprise in these institutions are becoming known as facilitators as the label “lecturers” (which traditionally implies an all-knowing expert) becomes less acceptable. The learning culture being fostered in many of these institutions emphasizes egalitarianism between facilitator and learner. While these changes have been taking place at the tertiary education level, the secondary school system is hardly showing any such change in this direction. This resistance to change is evident in other organizations, such as the local health service, as I have outlined above.
Alongside this unresponsiveness to the new directions in learning and leading, many secondary schools across the globe have been faced with high levels of student misconduct. There has been a plethora of reports of fights, gang violence, teacher-student altercations and other forms of unacceptable behaviours which have given rise to grave concern among all stakeholders. Coupled with the appalling levels of indiscipline have been unacceptable levels of academic performance in many countries both in developed as well as developing countries.