True Leadership: Its Form and Function

The world has been awakened to a true leader, at present, the only one in her class.  Her name is Mia Mottley, the Prime Minister of Barbados.  While there have been other great world leaders and while there are others who are doing a decent job in running their countries and companies, Prime Minister Mia Mottley stands out above them all. 

Mottley is the epitome of whom I would describe as a reimaginative leader.  In my continued research on leadership, I have evolved my leadership philosophy to what I now call reimaginative leadership.  The word ‘reimaginative’ has not yet made it in any dictionary, so if you typed it in a regular word document you will see a red mark under it, indicating that it is a mis-spelt word.  But this is the word I intend, reimaginative.

Definition of reimaginative leadership

In my upcoming book, Reimaginative Leadership: Principles and Paradigms for 21st Century Leaders, I define reimaginative leadership as follows:

“Reimaginative leadership as a way of seeing the world is discursive, inquisitive, incisive, disruptive, bold, unsettled, unsettling, explorative, and prone to regard the current state of affairs as incomplete, imperfect, and a mere iteration that is to be replaced by the next as new knowledge and new insights become available.  Reimagination then, which is the embodiment and expression of reimaginative leadership, strives for higher and better ways of leading based on a belief that the status quo, however admirable and desirable it is, is not the inevitable or only form of existence”.

Mia Mottley is an epitome of all those qualities.  Let us randomly take a few of those adjectives and look at synonyms for them.  Discursive means broad and expansive, conversational, informal, and musing.  Recall her speech at the last UN General Assembly.  She abandoned her prepared text and held an expansive and informal conversation with world leaders as she mused on some deep issues facing the world.  She left them contemplating alternatives.

Reimaginative leadership is also inquisitive.  To be inquisitive means to be intrusive and probing.  Again, consider that UN speech in which she challenged world leaders to ponder what they have done to address world hunger and poverty, as she incisively (that is, sharply and forcefully) highlighted the data which supported her position.

Finally let us take the word ‘disruptive’.  To be disruptive means disturbing and unsettling the status quo, making trouble and persist in pursuing a path that is contrary to others’ comfort zones.  Her latest display of this occurred days apart.  First there was her bold speech to a conference in her home country in which she challenged banks to get out of the business of being merely security firms for people’s money and charging them a fee and get back to the business of intervention by using the resources of depositors for advancing the wealth of the many.  She also challenged the banks to consider and revisit the rates they paid on deposits versus what they charged on loans and credit cards and called for a review of fee income policy.

The second act of disruptive thinking was Mottley’s well-watched speech at the Climate Conference in Glasgow.  It that speech she highlighted the fact that in the last thirteen years, Central Banks of the world’s richest countries engaged in $25T (trillion) of quantitative easing, $9T of which was in the last eighteen months (the COVID-19 era)

Quantitative easing is strategy used by central banks to pump more money into economies to force the lowering of interest rates and thereby simulating economic activity.  This strategy is used when there is an economic crisis and to halt the impact of that crisis, governments borrow, tap into reserves, and buy bonds and stocks to increase money flowing in the economy.  This move helps businesses get back into operation early.  Prime Minister Mottley’s point was that in the same way rich countries could have engaged in quantitative easing in response to various global crises in the last thirteen years, with one third of the funds in the last year and a half (COVID-19), they could have done similarly to address the global climate crisis.

Reimaginative leaders take a stance, produce action, and change lives

The reimaginative acts of being discursive, inquisitive, incisive, disruptive, bold, and unsettling are not ends in themselves, they are means to ends and represent taking a stance for something.  The positions taken by reimaginative leaders are intended to stimulate action towards a larger good, and they are prepared to do so at whatever political costs they incur. Again, as one listened to Mottley, one is captivated by her call to action and willingness to stand out from the crowd in what she is arguing, with a fearlessness in facial expressions and words, undaunted by whatever adverse consequences may flow her way.

Mottley’s reimaginative characteristics remind me of Michael Manley, former Prime Minister of Jamaica, who, between 1972 and 1978, the first six years of his time in office (1972 – 1980) shocked the world with his rhetoric, his call to action, and his bold stance on issues of injustice and inequality at home and abroad.  Manley introduced life-changing legislations such as:

  • The 1973 amendment to the 1944 Rent Act, to create the Rent Restriction Act which protected tenants from cruel and greedy landlords;
  • The 1974 Minimum Wage Act which repealed the 1938 Act and provided greater protection to workers;
  • The 1975 Equal Pay Act which guaranteed a woman the same pay as a man who did the same job.  Prior to that, women were paid less than men;
  • The 1976 Status of Children Act which made all children equal under law whether born in wedlock or not. Prior to that, children born to people who not married were called bastards. 
  • The 1979 Maternity Leave Act, which was designed to protect family life by giving nursing mothers paid leave to care for their young babies;
  • The establishment of the National Housing Trust in 1976, and the creation of the National Housing Trust Act in 1979, which guaranteed every worker a right to a benefit. 

But Manley was not just an advocate for Jamaica, he was the leader of the non-aligned movement and one of the strongest fighters against apartheid in South Africa.  So stella was his contribution to the struggle of blacks in South Africa that the first country Mandela visited after his release from prison was Jamaica.

My reflections on reimaginative leaders also remind me of Martin Luther King whose discursive, inquisitive, incisive, disruptive, bold, and unsettling engagements saw him fighting not only against the racist State and Federal government establishments of the United States, but also against a complicit and / or coward church leadership. 

King’s April 16, 1963, famous letter from Birmingham jail was a treatise in reimaginative leadership in which he defended the just cause of civil disobedience.  King wrote this letter to eight bishops of various denominations who had suggested that a better approach was to “wait” and allow things to “take their course”.  King’s argument, as was the ethic of Manley in the 1970’s, was that the time for action had come, and they could no longer wait.  This urgency of the now, was the essence of Mottley’s arguments at the UN General Assembly earlier this year and most recently at the Glasgow Climate Summit.

The elements of reimaginative leadership

In my upcoming book, Reimaginative Leadership: Principles and Paradigms for 21st Century Leaders, I examine nine qualities of the reimaginative leader.  The ninth quality is trust and the first quality is alternatives-thinking. 

A leader’s effectiveness is ultimately rooted in how credible or trustworthy he or she is.  If people do not trust you, as a leader, you cannot get very far with them.  In fact, when people do not trust a leader, they stay far from that leader.  Given that the reimaginative leader’s mode of operating is disruptive and incisive discourse in a bold and unsettling manner, with a view to advancing the well-being of others, the path along which the reimaginative leader seeks to take others is an alternative to what obtains.  Because the reimaginative leader is pursuing an alternative path, trust is fundamental.

Consequence of taking a stance

One of Martin Luther King’s favourite quotes was “if we do not stand for something, we will fall for anything”.  One of the lessons I have drawn from King’s life is that those who defend the status quo are easily forgotten but those who dare to challenge it, regardless of the pain they must endure, become the beacons of history.  Who remembers the name of the white, racist, police chief of Alabama who imprisoned King?  Who remembers what status quo defenders at the Glasgow Climate Summit have said? 

If we would engage in true leadership, we must be willing to boldly reimagine, disrupt, inquire, and propose alternatives to the status quo. If we are to succeed in this endeavor, we must be truthful which brings trustworthiness.

Canute Thompson

5 thoughts on “True Leadership: Its Form and Function”

  1. This reading is so inspiring. One feels to “try again” despite being so repeatedly discouraged. Thank you Dr. Canute Thompson.

  2. Delores Forsythe

    Mia Mottley is a true leader. This goes to show that women have good leadership qualities and should not be brushed aside and seen as underdogs. We are strong and fearless and are willing to defend our people like the hens defending her chicks.

  3. Remarkable and refreshing. Dr Thompson’s writing speaks to a new kind of leader and leadership. The kind that Improve, Impact, Inspire, Influence. A leadership style and approach the demonstrates fortitude

  4. Dr Thompson , I must say this is deliberate, far reaching and clear cut discourse. The mode of critical dynamics and writing edge speaks to the qualities manifested in the work of current day female leader Prime Mia Mottley of the/ our neighbouring state, Barbados… It is commendable how you place her as a reimaginative world leader ; given the confines of her geo-political space ….

    I laude the virtue of Prime Mottley as she represents
    and ignite ‘mountain fire’ so that other world leaders can see that we are in trouble and our world is depleting.

    You even made mention of other political stalwarts who would have blaze the trail of excellence in representing the world and their people …

    Dr Thompson ,Job well done you are an academic van -gaurd..

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