The curious leader who is intent on deepening wisdom, strengthening leadership effectiveness, and improving the quality of the service he or she offers, will likely look for lessons from most, experiences. Sometimes these mental processes work naturally and involuntarily, while at other times they must be engaged consciously and deliberately. I would like to invite the attention of curious leaders to some lessons I am discerning, as I reflect on some of the current dynamics in Jamaica’s politics.
Naturally these insights are subjective reflections based on a chosen propensity and ideological /philosophical disposition to interpret phenomena through the lenses of leadership. I should also remind readers of the inherent truth that any meanings made by readers of the ideas shared here, are individualized choices and, of course, disagreements and debates are welcome.
Latest Opinion Polls on Party Standings
The latest opinion polls on the standing of the two main political parties in Jamaica, provide, in my view, some important lessons for leaders. It is readily acknowledged that polls are snapshots in time, the findings are fleeting and are not always reliable indicators of the future. Sometimes they are and sometimes not. But using the findings from a couple or several polls over time, may provide some insights which could inform principles and practices over the long term.
Six months ago, an opinion poll found that the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) was leading the opposition People’s National Party (PNP) by thirteen percentage points (13%) with the JLP at 31% and the PNP at 18% in terms of their respective popularity rankings among a sample of about 1,000 registered voters. That was six months ago.
The latest survey, conducted in February 2023, (by the same polling organization, using the same methodology) has found that the JLP is now at 27.9% (a drop of 3.1 percentage points), while the PNP is at 28.1%, (a jump of 10.1 percentage points). The respective performances are, however, best expressed in percent terms. Expressed thus, the PNP’s performance represents a 55% improvement, and the JLP’s a 10% deterioration.
Despite being a supporter of the PNP, there are some lessons which I submit that any leader may learn which I would like to share concerning the probable explanations for the change in the fortunes of both parties. I submit that if these lessons are considered, both parties could probably see improved performance in the electorate’s perception of them.
If both parties were to consider these insights and the public’s perception of them improves, then the further probability is that more people may vote and that would be good for democracy in Jamaica. In this regard it is to be recalled that in the last general elections, a mere 37% of eligible voters voted, a historic record low in a contested election. While the recent polls also found that 45% of registered electors have said they would vote, the number, while an improvement, is still very low and as such, finding strategies to improve the willingness to vote is vital. Those strategies should include leadership behaviour.
In my assessment, there are at least seven reasons for the PNP’s improved performance, and thus probably seven lessons which the leadership of both parties may learn. I discuss these seven lessons in a two-part series. In this first part I examine the first three. These are:
- Honest engagement with reality. The current leader of the PNP assumed the reins of the presidency in November 2020, after the PNP was edged out at polls in general elections in 2016, battered in 2020, and endured a bruising leadership contest in November 2020. The party was bitterly divided, and the leadership saw as its first and most important task, the healing of wounds and rebuilding of trust.
I make no comment on how well that process has gone, time will tell. The lesson I wish to highlight is that the leadership did not attempt to sweep divisions under the carpet, even if it may have missed some divisions which existed. The main lesson is that it contended with the harsh reality that it was a broken party.
I have often said, from the context of my work as a pastor, counsellor, and management consultant, that the best form of therapy and the starting point for meaningful growth and recovery is a dose of reality. Living in a fool’s paradise and pretending that what is, is not, while sometimes psychologically necessary for the briefest moment, to ease the sharpness of pain, is never ultimately useful.
2. Principle over popularity. Politics is ultimately a popularity context. It is about who will have the larger or largest share of support and votes. In the process of seeking that larger, or the largest slice, political parties have often sacrificed principle for popularity.
Over the last two years, as the governing JLP pushed the use of States of Emergency (SOEs) as a routine crime-fighting tool, the PNP opposed its use and voted accordingly when the Bills or their extension were presented in parliament. Several polls showed that citizens were in favour of the ongoing use of SOEs and many political pundits and party supporters of the JLP told the PNP that they would pay dearly for not supporting the extensions. The latest polls appear to upend those predictions.
Similarly, while crime has been routinely made a “political football” and parties in opposition have historically claimed to have all the answers. The PNP has stayed away from pontificating on crime or claiming to have a magic wand, obviously showing mindfulness that the crime problem facing Jamaica, as it learnt while in office, is a complex one.
As many public commentators have said, the Jamaican electorate is “coming of age”, most electors are cynical and mistrustful of politics, politicians, and the political process. Lack of trust is the single largest challenge facing our politics. One cure for that is principle-centred leadership which eschews putrid populism and displays honest regard for facts, and engages in credible analysis of issues.
3. Humility. I have felt the need to discuss the issue of humility in previous articles. In my December 22, 2022, posting, in which I discussed the approach of the government to implementing the new compensation system, I wrote:
Humility is not, as is often believed, a sign of weakness, rather it is a sign of wisdom and strength. Humility is, among other things, a state of mind which affirms the fallibility and finitude of one’s capacity, despite one’s giftedness, and places confidence in the contribution of others to get things done. Humility in leadership is not the opposite of being proud of one’s achievements and capacities, rather it is the opposite of the mode thinking which professes inherent completeness of the self.
One of the things for which the PNP generally, and Mark Golding, particularly deserve commendations, is the deliberate rejection of a messianic approach to leadership in which the leader is framed as a demi-god and whose coat-tail and presence are deemed essential for the functioning of the organization. From as far back as 2009, in my first book, Towards solutions: Fundamentals of transformational leadership in a postmodern era, I argued that the days of messianic and paternal /maternal leadership were past and that political parties, and other organizations which built their self-marketing and systems around this lone leader approach would not survive for long.
The JLP has made its leaders (particularly its founder Alexander Bustamante, Edward Seaga who claimed he was the “One Don”, and Andrew Holness who was sold as very popular – but in fact was not having secured a smaller share of the popular vote in 2020 than in 2016) messiahs. The PNP did so with Manley, but the PNP’s longest-serving Prime Minister, Percival James Patterson never portrayed himself as a messiah, and was never so portrayed by his supporters.
Humility in leadership is strongly incompatible with self-portrayals of having messianic qualities. History has shown that strong and sustainable organizations develop and maintain a philosophy of treating the chief executive officer (CEO), president, party leader, or managing director as one leader among many.
I suggest that if Jamaica’s politics are to become attractive to more people, the leadership consciousness of humility is an essential. When a leader is humble, that disposition lays the foundation for a range of other valuable leadership behaviours. These other leadership behaviours will be the subject of Part 2.
Professor Canute Thompson is Professor of Educational Policy, Planning, and Leadership at the School of Education, The University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, and Head of the Caribbean Centre for Educational Planning. He is author of two award-winning books and articles, among his collection of eight books and over a dozen journal articles, and the operator of leadershipreimagination.com website