In Part 1 of this discussion, published on March 12, 2023, I used findings from the latest opinion polls (conducted by Market Research Services Ltd), as a point of departure, for exploring some principles of leadership. While acknowledging that polling numbers are snapshots of a point in time and may fluctuate, I suggested that there were some enduring leadership lessons that may be drawn from the broader state of Jamaica’s politics, which were being partially described in the polling data.
In that first piece, I discussed three of seven leadership qualities I proposed to address. The qualities discussed were: ‘honest engagement with reality’, ‘principle over popularity’, and ‘humility’. The chief point of my argument was that when leaders display these qualities, they are likely to be more effective in attracting followers and I suggested that the respective polling numbers of the two major political parties may be evidence of this. I now further suggest that regardless of fluctuating fortunes in polling numbers, leadership which is enduring and effective, is characterized by qualities of honest engagement with reality, rooted in principle, and governed by humility.
In my work as a leadership coach, preacher, teacher of leadership, and public commentator, I have had to contend with both rejection of the idea that humility in leadership is necessary, as well as misunderstandings of what it is. My definition of humility is that it is 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.
A disposition to embrace humility as a way of living and leading, lays the foundation for the acquisition and display of the other four (of seven) qualities of leadership which I suggest the current state of Jamaica’s politics highlights.
Since that first poll, a second – (conducted by Bluedot Insights) has revealed even more startling findings which may further help in the analysis of the lessons on leadership. Among the findings are that:
- Fifty percent (50%, 1 in 2) of Jamaicans do not trust Prime Minister Andrew Holness and fifty-two percent (52%) do not trust the administration he leads.
- Popular support for the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) has plummeted by more than half between September 2020, when it was 52% (year of the last general elections) and February 2023 at 24%. The shifts since September 2020 show 37% in 2021 and 30% in 2022.
- Popular support for the opposition People’s National Party (PNP) has remained low and relatively steady, after a massive fall from 34% in 2020 to 22% in 2021, and 18% in 2022, and back to about the same level as in 2021, with 21% in 2023.
These findings suggest three main insights, in my view:
- Serious questions about the credibility of the government,
- Deepening rejection of what the government represents in terms of its posture and performance,
- Lukewarm or negligible embrace of the opposition.
Four leadership lessons
The four leadership lessons these polls and the general state of the politics in Jamaica suggest, arise from the first three. The first was “honest engagement with reality”. The juxtaposition of honest engagement with reality and trust versus mistrust is the fourth lesson.
Honest engagement with reality (truthfulness) produces trust.
It is almost trite logic to suggest that when there is honest engagement on facts related to any subject of mutual interest, it generates trust on the part of those affected by the facts. The converse is also the case. I submit, that the governing JLP has been less than forthcoming and honest with Jamaicans about relevant facts. An example will illustrate:
In 2022, to thunderous applause, the Prime Minister announced in parliament that the government was moving to demolish dwellings which were illegally built on lands in St. Catherine. The Prime Minister gave an extensive defense of what he said was a considered decision of the government. About thirty (30) houses were to be demolished. The ostensible reason was that the lands had been sold illegally by members of a criminal organization and the demolition was intended to have the police catch the criminals.
Within hours of the commencement of the demolition, it was halted, and the next day the Prime Minister was in the community commiserating with persons affected and promising to fix the situation. No further demolition has taken place but two persons have been arrested and charged in connection with the sale of lots. But what is more curious is that one of the women whose house was demolished was an invited guest of the Prime Minister in parliament in his budget presentation and that said lady is now featured in a government advertorial in which she speaks of the legitimacy of government action in the matter and the generosity of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister has also said he will assist her to get back her house, though the statement was unclear as to whether the Prime Minister was referring to his personal funds or state funds.
There are so many unanswered questions in this situation. Was the country told the truth about the reasons for the demolition? What could have accounted for the sudden halt of the demolition after such seemingly compelling reasons were given? What is the real motive for having invited one of the people affected to parliament? Can the country trust that the Prime Minister and the government acted in good faith? And finally, how many such similar situations have occurred in which the stated / claimed facts appear, or are, misaligned with the known facts and the action taken based on the alleged facts just do not make sense?
The percentage of those who do not trust the Prime Minister is similar to the percentage of those who do not support either party at 52%. The figure in 2022 was 49%. Thus, there is increasing apathy. Apathy is one result of deep and chronic mistrust. When leaders face a large trust deficit their capacity to provide moral leadership and inspire public confidence is severely undermined.
Trust produces integrity.
Leaders who are deemed as trustable and trustworthy are marked by congruence between what they say, what they say they believe, and what they do and how they lead. For example, a leader who possesses integrity and who proclaims belief in the rule of law will generally act lawfully. A leader who preaches equity will seek to pursue equity. There are countless scenarios which could be used to illustrate this.
I invite our political leaders to ask themselves whether the positions they say they hold and the things in which they believe are reflected in the decisions they make. In the immediate future, the motivation of citizens to engage in politics, whether by voting or public advocacy, or both, will be driven by one of two things, or both: (a) their conviction that leaders possess integrity (whether leaders of both or either party), and / or (b) the belief that leaders have their interests at heart.
Integrity produces accountability.
Leaders who possess integrity believe they are answerable to others. It is not merely the case that they will be willing to account if called upon, rather it is that they see being accountable as a way of living and leading. Being accountable means, among other things, that leaders hold that there are standards of conduct, including performance of duty, on which they must deliver, and thus are willing to open themselves to scrutiny with respect to their adherence to those standards.
Accountability leads to transparency.
The logical interlocking relationship among these leadership characteristics: trust which arises from honest engagement with reality, integrity which arises from trust, accountability which is produced from integrity, presents an amazing tapestry. When leaders embrace accountability as a way of being and leading, they have no difficulty being behaviourally translucent, which is called in political terms, transparent.
Both the Market Research and Bluedot polls suggest, in my view, that Jamaicans are looking for leaders whom they can trust, leaders whose lives are marked by integrity and who are accountable and transparent. Integrity cannot be faked for long, and accountability cannot be undertaken conveniently. Leaders who engage in convenient and occasional accountability end up producing mistrust and being perceived as lacking integrity. I interpret the political temperature in Jamaica as one in which people are yearning to see the bar raised on leadership and I predict that it is those leaders whose lives represent harmony with truth, whose conduct is characterized by an integration between what they say they believe and how they live and lead, and those who hold themselves as voluntarily accountable, who will win the respect of citizens.
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