Warm, Christian greetings to you all!
The letter of invitation which Bishop Dyer sent to me reminded me of the significant involvement of the Portmore Ministers’ Fraternal in the action of the municipality “to make Portmore the best place to live, worship, work and maintain families”. This proves that you have done more than simply buying into Vision 2030 for Jamaica. You have demonstrated your conviction that we shall attain that Vision through the combined efforts of citizens at the community level. You have also demonstrated that successful leadership requires that followers be motivated to believe in their potential and energized to achieve the vision.
In this hall, therefore, are leaders who are already being instruments for positive change. Some of you would have been exposed to training on the elements of good leadership. All of us would have learned through experience, sometimes by trial and error, the nature of good leadership and the pitfalls of poor leadership. Your focus this morning on “Leadership in the 21st Century” implies that you understand what leadership is all about, but you consider that there is or might be, substantial difference to leadership in this century as compared with those preceding. The consequential questions are: Why the difference and how does it impact on the nature of leadership? These are just two of the questions that I would like us to think about over the next twenty or so minutes.
Those of us who were trained in theology and perhaps, all regular church goers, would have been exposed to the superior leadership skills of Nehemiah. The good leader recognizes and commits to the mission with which he or she is charged. Nehemiah knew that his mission was to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and despite efforts to intimidate and undermine him and frustrate his plans by trickery and deceit, he remained focused. He refused to be intimidated or distracted by death threats, but for those whose faith was weaker, he developed and implemented a viable plan for the city’s security.
Nehemiah knew when to keep his plans quiet, but once the work began, at each step of the way, Nehemiah remained in communication with his people, motivating them to give of their best. We are told that “the people worked with all their heart” and the work was done in record time. Yet, living conditions in Jerusalem were dastardly poor. Thousands lived in shacks and food was scarce for many. However, they gave of their best because Nehemiah led by example.
Not only did Nehemiah motivate the people to believe that they could achieve the objective, but he visibly labored with them, building their morale and responding as far as his resources allowed, to their basic needs. Nehemiah also made sure that families who lived in the zones where the wall was to be rebuilt, were employed in the work and therefore were committed to its durability. Beyond that, Nehemiah’s recognition of his accountability to God strengthened not only the faith, but also the will of the people.
There are other leadership lessons to be learned from Nehemiah’s actions:
- his wisdom of gaining the support of the strong leader of his times for implementing his mission;
- his selection of trustworthy people of integrity in what could be termed his Cabinet;
- his zero tolerance of corruption and determined action to stamp it out;
- his assistance to the poor and vulnerable;
- his administrative and legal reforms;
- his recognition of the importance of times of celebration and,
- most importantly, the formal social partnership with all sectors of the society for the achievement of the agreed objectives.
Do these leadership qualities appear alien to today’s realities? You will agree with me that they remain relevant. Yet Nehemiah’s leadership of the Jews was in 445 BC. So we come back to the first assumption of a substantial difference in 21st Century leadership. What becomes evident from a consideration of Nehemiah’s experience is that the basic nature of good leadership remains the same. The difference occurs as a result of the context in which leadership is exercised.
We are yet in the early years of the 21st Century and clearly, the end of this century will be as different from today as was 1999 from 1900. We whose lives span the 20th and the 21st Centuries are still mystified, perhaps, by the rapidity of global changes particularly in the second half of the 20th Century.
- The exploration of outer space, the moon landing and the International Space Station declare the immense progress in science and technology achieved since then.
- We witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall and with it, the conclusive dismantling of Soviet socialism.
- Violent wars in Asia, cross-border and civil wars and civil disturbances in some states of Latin America and the Caribbean, Europe and Africa, devastating natural disasters, international terrorism and global pandemics killed more people in the second half of the century than in the two World Wars combined. Many have therefore become blasé about multiple deaths and human life has lost value for some, especially those hardened by experiences of violence and abuse.
- The information and communications technology revolution has created a virtual global village with consequential changes in trade patterns and international relations.
- The international financial and economic crises of the seventies and nineties tested economic theories, while the current crisis has weakened economic bases even within the industrialized world.
- Projections are that within a mere four years at current rates of growth, the People’s Republic of China will surpass the USA and become the world’s number one economy. All these will continue to have consequences for the conduct of leadership.
For us who are Christians, but who accept the division between church and state which would have been heretical in Nehemiah’s day, a significant change for the worse is what is referred to as the ‘new norm.’ The trend began with the banning of prayer in schools and later, in state institutions in the former bastion of Christianity, the USA, under the banner of freedom of religion. Today, most states of Europe accept same sex marriage or civil unions, as do eight states of the USA. There is mounting pressure on states such as Jamaica to recognize specific rights for lesbians and gays, with even threat of withholding financial assistance from those who do not.
The erosion of traditional values and attitudes, the breakdown of family units and consequent increase of dysfunctional individuals, the creeping culture of mediocrity and negativism, the pervasiveness of crime: all these are contributors to the governance challenge which today’s leaders must confront.
One aspect of the global village worth noting is the rapidity with which information circulates. In recent years, social media has accelerated the pace of communication, often side-lining mainstream media.
- We saw how use of the internet and texting galvanized the “Orange Revolution” in Ukraine to give victory to democracy.
- Most recently, we saw social media at work in the “Arab Spring” which demolished long-standing dictatorships.
- We continue to see how election campaigns in many countries use social media to advantage.
Leaders have to move with the times and they or people in their inner circles, must become proficient in the use of new media to communicate their messages and to know what people, particularly young people, are thinking. We also see how some states’ authorities try to block aspects of social media to protect their power from erosion by protestors whom they suspect might be trying to copy the “Orange Revolution” or aspects of the “Arab Spring”.
Let me share with our church leaders some other realities with which we must grapple.
One aspect of the global village is that no leader of any country can anymore hide his or her actions behind the blanket of state sovereignty. The very concept of sovereignty has been weakened by the numerous international treaties, conventions and agreements to which states are party. Even where certain states might not be party to a given treaty or convention, the weight of international public opinion and sanctions might be used against those states. Where internationally covenanted rights are breached, negative criticism and sometimes condemnation is not slow in coming.
Bilateral protest, as well as regional or multilateral action, through the United Nations for example, could be employed to oblige leaders to change their course of action. And as some leaders have found, uprisings by their people can be assisted by external powers to bring about regime change (ending in their demise). Yet others have found themselves dragged before international courts and tried for crimes against humanity. Accountability is not restricted to the national front.
Economic interdependence also works to circumscribe the freedom of leaders of states, particularly small and economically vulnerable states, to act in ways which might be protective of their interests, but which would be contrary to the interests of more powerful states. Free Trade Agreements, regional treaties such as CARICOM, multilateral trade agreements brokered by the World Trade Organization, all limit the freedom of individual state action which could violate or undermine the provisions of the agreements. There are also the strictures of the international monetary and financial institutions, of which we in Jamaica are fully aware.
The global village demands a high degree of collaboration as problems in one region can easily spill over into another. Such collaboration carries policy prescriptions for individual states and therefore impacts on their national legislation.
- One example is in the area of the environment. Today’s leaders have to confront the impact of climate change and must plan to mitigate its effects or adapt to the impact. This cannot be done in isolation from each other; hence the importance attached to the relevant international conferences and often, the disappointment over their results.
- Collaboration in combating cross-border crimes such as drug trafficking, arms smuggling, human trafficking and international terrorism also demands the interaction and policy coordination of leaders and other representatives of states.
- Collaboration in global efforts to reduce poverty and for disaster prevention and mitigation also has significant impact on domestic policy.
I have said all of this to indicate some of the externally driven limits on actions which today’s political leaders can take. Some analysts of Bible prophesy see this as leading to the end times when there will be a single world leader: the Antichrist. However, what this means now for leaders of states such as ours, is that policy space is very limited, which is why there can no longer be many substantial policy differences- if any- between governing and opposition parties. It also means that with the ease with which information is accessed, coupled with the broader base of politically aware persons, greater national accountability is demanded of today’s leaders.
My focus till now has been largely on political leaders, though the basic tenets of good leadership hold true for leaders in other spheres of society. All leaders seek to influence change through motivation of their followers to work for desired objectives. Successful leaders must be alert to the dynamism in the relationship between them and their followers. Popular support cannot be taken for granted, but must constantly be shored up not by populist appeal, but by delivery on commitments made to the followers. Where circumstances militate against delivery, the people must be brought into an understanding of the new reality and motivated to close ranks against threats to national or organizational stability and in support of the attainment of national or organizational objectives.
For some leaders, the major challenge is to influence the thought processes, the mind of the follower to retain power. In the period of theocratic government, it was enough for the ruler-priest to say “Thus saith the Lord”. In the dark days of dictatorships, people were kept submissive through fear and intimidation or by brainwashing. Today, leaders use various motivational strategies to win the loyalty and support of their followers. Abraham Maslow, a 20th Century American psychologist best known for his theory on a hierarchy of needs, posited that the lowest spectrum of need by which people could be motivated was physiological. In his view, no other need would serve as a basis for motivation of followers as long as basic survival needs were not met. Maslow’s pyramid of needs climbed from physiological, through safety, to social and relational, and esteem to the pinnacle need of self-actualization. In this concept, as each rank of need was met, the leader had to gear upwards, appealing to the next level of need. Also in this concept, followers are at different levels of the pyramid and so the leader with an eye on retention of power or leadership position, would be employing strategies to appeal to the loyalty of the majority.
Let me turn now to an area of leadership with which most of us are familiar: leadership in the Church. Indeed, this is possibly the context in which the difference in leadership in the 21st Century is most keenly felt. I have already alluded to the changes which the Church today must confront as we grapple with the ‘new norm.’ The way our Church leaders respond determines the pace of growth or decline of their respective churches. Many yield to the temptation of populist appeal and sermons are watered down to meet the comfort level of the people, while music is used not so much to praise God, but to keep people entertained. If you look at what is happening across the world, these are the churches where membership is growing at phenomenal rates.
While this is not yet generally true of Jamaica, we cannot deny that the trend exists as the strategies employed by tele-evangelists and leaders of mega churches in the USA are creeping into our churches. Our church leaders should not yield to playing the numbers game to the detriment of leading a real spiritual revival. Their focus must be on soul-winning and strengthening the members, even if it means the falling away of some followers.
In these times, Church leaders must be alert to the many other societal leaders who strive to influence the mind and thought processes of followers. The global village brings into the local Church concepts and forms which would undermine the traditional values taught by our Church. It also introduces elements which would question the continuing relevance of doctrine and precepts. The infallibility of the Word of God is increasingly being questioned, even by theologians. The battle for the mind and heart is both external to the Church as well as within the Church. We know we wrestle not against flesh and blood.
There is also the influence of popular culture. How many of us have been shocked by the sight of very young children, even toddlers, singing or speaking venomous lyrics of dance hall while gyrating as they have learned from TV or even from the older persons in their lives? Some of those children have never been to church, not even to be blessed or christened. Their thought processes are captured from the very early stages of their development and their leaders and mentors are the pop stars or even worse, the community dons. The gravity of this situation is worsened where the very mothers of these children encourage or force them into liaisons with those persons to satisfy their physiological needs.
What is the role of the Church leaders in this situation? The battle for the minds cannot be fought solely within the precincts of our church buildings, nor even through the electronic and print media, useful though these are. Church leaders have to go where the people are and seek to meet their needs where they are. I am encouraged that leaders of the Jamaican Church, such as you who are here this morning, are combining your ministry efforts through this Fraternal to address some of these problems. Church leaders have to be visible and effective workers in the communities which they serve. Their messages, while being doctrinally correct, must be tailored in the language and style which will have the greatest impact on the minds of their audience. Church leaders who cannot adjust to change, including the use of modern technology, will become irrelevant.
Other mind changers or influencers are the media and civil society groups which in one form or another, lobby for the acceptance of their theses and new norms. Media moguls wield a power often superior to that of political leaders. Media leaders have an immense responsibility to ensure that their messages do not accentuate the worst in our society for the sake of the sensationalism which sells their product. Unfortunately, too often the profit motive moves them away from accentuating the positive, from dwelling on the good things that are happening because they are not seen as newsworthy.
People’s minds are fed on the negative as the media leaders claim they are only giving people what they want. But could that be a confession of their world view and therefore of their character? Thus the cycle retains its downward spiral! If our nation is to be lifted from the wave of cynicism and negativism which is overtaking us, the media leaders must accept their responsibility to change their messages, including by self-censorship. Their space, whether electronic or print, should not be used to extend the reach or influence of negative mind-changers.
Leadership in today’s private sector has also experienced change. Long gone are the days when labour laws could be flouted at will in response to the profit drive. Private sector leaders have to ensure that their skills are updated, that the quality of their products meet accepted standards and that safety and health standards are respected. Their freedom to act is also circumscribed not only by their own moral convictions, but also by laws, regulations and conditions which, as stated before, are often externally driven. At the national level, corporate social responsibility requires that private sector leaders act in support of national and societal well-being in ways which were rarely seen even fifty years ago.
While many such actions are motivated by philanthropy and Christian charity, others function as guided by enlightened self-interest. Not only are satisfied workers more productive and loyal, but national recognition of service to society could help to boost profitability. People who see private sector and service club leaders as partnering with or initiating projects for the benefit of their communities, are not only more likely to be drawn to the product or services of such leaders, but their loyalty can often extend to physical protection. I know of leaders who operate safely in the heart of downtown, without paying extortion to the dons, because of the good relations they have established with the communities in the vicinity.
I want to pause here to commend those private sector and service club leaders who are committed to making a difference in the lives of our people. A few months ago, I launched the Downtown Youth Foundation which was the brainchild of a group of Kingston businessmen who saw the need to engage with youth, including those at risk. The objective is to take them off the street, reduce conflict potential and socialize and train youth to become productive citizens. The Civic Committee of the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce is also doing a tremendous and transformative job.
Recently, I also launched the “Super Source” in Westmoreland, which is a similar community initiative, but which uses information and communications technology to maximize its impact. A few weeks ago, I endorsed a Rotary Club project aimed at reducing recidivism among our at-risk youth. That project, called Back-2-Life, merits replication across this country if we are to rescue so many of our young men who have fallen on the wrong side of the law. There are many other laudable initiatives which time does not permit me to list, but of which many of you are aware.
These initiatives underscore my belief that there is nothing wrong with Jamaica which cannot be fixed by what is right with Jamaica. Leaders such as these who step out of their comfort zone and use their resources to foster well-needed improvements in our society deserve our commendation and encouragement. They could have chosen to do otherwise, but their example is what we need to see replicated across Jamaica.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, a 19th Century American thinker, stated that “inspiring others to work diligently and successfully is the ultimate test of leadership”. I believe that resonates with all of us. He also said, and I paraphrase, that the reason followers do not obey leaders, is that they see the mud in their eyes! That reminds us that leaders who would successfully motivate followers towards excellence, must be perceived as having high ethical standards. They must themselves be good role models. The successful leader of today must select persons of integrity as advisers and inner-core support. They must develop unified teams and operate as a team, which means that rules of the game must be respected, with rewards for achievement and firm, swift discipline for deviance. Failures should not be covered up, but confronted and used as stepping stones for advancement. There is strength in learning from failures and mistakes. It is better to have tried and failed than not to try at all. And leaders who do not internalize this are in danger of repeating their mistakes.
If I should list other key traits of good leadership in today’s fast-paced, complex society, I would say that the ability to make tough, accurate decisions and secure their timely implementation is among the most important. Leaders have to be sharper than before, proactive and at the same time, responding effectively to changing situations. Today’s society is not very patient and they want to see action now or else, must know the logical reasons for delay. Leaders must select their managers well and organize well, while recognizing the difference between leadership and management. They must communicate well with their followers, including the art of listening to them. To maintain leadership positions in today’s society, leaders must be seen to be effective, producing results with visible benefits and being accountable to their followers. An effective leader must know his or her limitations, but must be wise in discerning the advice to be accepted. He or she must reject sycophancy and nepotism; only weak leaders surround themselves by “yes men” and “flatterers.”
Today’s leaders must recall the wisdom of the Rt. Excellent Marcus Garvey who warned that “The ends you serve that are selfish will take you no further than yourself but the ends you serve that are for all in common, will take you into eternity.” Indeed, there may well be leaders who started in that vein, but got sidetracked, sometimes by wrong advice or by character flaws which influence their decisions. The importance of rising from failure to embark on a renewed mission cannot be over-emphasized. The energy which this change gives will impact on others; it could also convince them to change direction. That is good leadership which also recognizes that others in the circle are being prepared to assume the mantle effectively.
For the sustainability of the action or policy, as suggested in the quote by our National Hero, the effective leader must also have in place succession plans. These should allow for a seamless transition of leadership to capable individuals who are being prepared for the journey ahead. Any organization which does not include succession planning jeopardizes its future. Leaders who fear the erosion of their positions by the development of younger, more capable persons and who employ various maneuverers to sideline the “competition” and retain their grip on power, are a danger to their organization. They must nurture that prospective leader, winning his/her trust and loyalty and preparing him/her to take the organization onto the next, higher phase of the journey.
I want to end by challenging all of us and in particular the Portmore Ministers Fraternal, to impartially assess the leadership in the various spheres of our society. Where there are failures, be bold in identifying them, but in love. Your mission is to encourage and motivate effective leadership, seeing where you can contribute to solutions and where you can use your own leadership skills to enhance the context in which other leaders function. As Christians, we are called to pray for our leaders. I hope that in your churches you encourage and stress the importance of this. Your members should not be among those who move from talk show to talk show lambasting political or other leaders, but should be those committed to bearing them up in prayer. Your members should be among the nucleus of Jamaicans who believe that together we can work to make Jamaica the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business.
I also want to challenge you, Church and community leaders to seriously engage in mentoring our young people. All of us must ‘seize the day’ and become involved in preparing them for the leadership of our country. Our response to the problems which are evident among many groups of our young people, cannot be to write them off as “the lost generation”. The Church is called to be the purveyor of hope and your ministry and message must demonstrate that hope.
As you know, the “I Believe Initiative” which is a Ministry I launched last year, seeks to convince young people of their potential to be the best. It recognizes the importance of strong families and therefore, good parenting skills. It emphasizes the critical role of good education in the development of our young people and in the advancement of our nation. The IBI seeks to build youth self-esteem and to help them understand their inherent value to this nation. Their belief in Jamaica and in our combined ability to achieve the vision for our country is essential. My expectation is that those who catch the “I Believe” fire, will themselves become instruments for positive change. Already, I am seeing signs of this. The IBI message is one which I commend to you, as this initiative depends on partnership for its optimal impact.
Let me leave you another gem from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Great men are they who see that spiritual is stronger than any material force- that thoughts rule the world”.
May God bless you as you continue to serve where He has placed you. As iron sharpens iron, may your ministry be strengthened by the bonds you form in the Fraternal and across our Jamaican Church. May God bless you and Jamaica, Land we love.