Monday, September 27, 2010

Leadership styles can make or break a nation

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 26 September 2010)

I have been in the presence of leaders for most of my life. At differing stages of my life I have found myself surrounded by religious leaders, business leaders, community leaders and media leaders. It is but a simple thing for me to assess a leader’s leadership style in short time.

I have very strong opinions on leadership styles. The authoritarian leadership style has always irked me because it feels like a throwback to feudalism when nobles owned everything and common folk were forced to work themselves into the ground just to live in squalid poverty. Having grown up in poverty myself, I vehemently reject the notion that only a few aristocrats possess the intellect necessary to be a competent leader.

My preferred leadership method is a participative approach that assumes a democratic way of addressing an issue. I truly believe two heads are better than one. When it comes to political leadership, I see the participative approach as the only practical method, since in a democratic society, politicians are representatives of the community at large, and therefore the wills of thousands of people.

In Guyana, the leadership approach of the ruling government is quite clear. Everything about it screams authoritarian. Each day reveals more of the government’s authoritarian approach. I see this as being in direct conflict with a democratic populace.

I have to admit I am quite puzzled by this choice of leadership style because it did not have to be this way. In fact, it seems to me that given the record of past PPP and PNC governments (pre-Jagdeo), the current president and his administration had the perfect opportunity to put themselves down in the nation’s history books as the best government the nation has seen since independence.

I do not negate the obvious economic and infrastructural progress in the nation. Not that everything is perfect, but perfect is an unattainable goal. However, progress has been made, which makes the chosen leadership method even more disappointing, because had the current government not taken up this feudalistic approach, the entire nation might be singing its praises today.

On the contrary, somehow the nation’s leaders (and their friends) rule Guyana with a firm rod and anyone who gets in their way seems to find themselves on the wrong end of that rod. Public-sneering quips and a submissive opposition have replaced statesmanship savoir-faire and genuine population representation.

When any political leader makes remarks about “sour” people and throws tantrums at every little bit of dissent, the message is apparent to all – do not get in my way. It sends a chill throughout the nation that quiets even more voices so the authoritarian can continue the feudalistic trend. Vassals be damned. The silent dissenting voice is the homage to the lord.

There is a reason the common folk of the 15th century revolted against medieval feudalism, because it was wrong, because every voice in a nation matters, because browbeating subjects into submission will never build a strong and thriving nation. Authoritarian rule is simply not compatible with democratic societies.

Imagine what Guyana could be today if the current government had chosen the superior leadership style upon winning its first election. Envisage a country vibrant in idea exchanges and energetic businesses unafraid of political repercussions. Picture dozens of radio stations alive with brilliant discourse and a rainbow collection of musical genres. Visualize a free press with access to the information it needs to competently report on the pressing issues of the day. That is a free society. That is a democratic society.

Instead, in Guyana, people are afraid to speak their minds because they might fall into the “sour” category and upset someone. Businesses are afraid to make a wrong move lest they get shut down. Local radio and television are stagnated from lack of competition to spark innovation. The press is almost always in the dark about almost everything important – and the feudalistic leaders like it that way.

Guyana could be a fully vibrant and thriving nation, but the authoritarian leadership has instead created a stifling and oppressive environment – and then it wonders why so many citizens escape into rum. It really is too bad when this government had the opportunity and the capacity to create a blossoming and prosperous nation.

The PPP announced this past week that it will choose its presidential candidate using the same process it has always used – “deliberations at the level of the Executive Committee and subsequent approval by the Central Committee.” Nepotism is another attribute of a feudalistic leadership style and does not bode well for the selection of a PPP leader who can and will disavow the authoritarian approach for the more participative style essential for a truly democratic nation.

Apparently, if given the choice between being a hero or a bully, some leaders prefer the latter. I do not understand this choice, especially when so many thousands of people’s lives are hanging in the balance. I have always been of the opinion that it is an insecure leader who chooses to be authoritarian over participative – and I have always been right when the time came to assess the person inside the leader.

Moreover, one cannot escape the cruelty attached to the authoritarian leadership style. It is a cruel leadership that chooses to refuse its people the vibrant and flourishing nation they deserve. It is a cruel leadership that scares businesses into submission. It is a cruel leadership that attempts to contain the media to reporting on car accidents and grand opening events.

The truth is that Guyana could really use a hero. Bullies seem to be a dime a dozen lately, but heroes are a rare breed. I met a hero while in Guyana. Too bad she will not be running for president next year.

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