By Ronald ‘Pappy’ Charles
What are the qualities of a good political leader? And when does good political leadership become synonymous with political greatness? The word ‘leadership,’ when used to describe the work of a politician, is often viewed in a pejorative manner. Hopefully, this writing will bring about some form of amelioration to that point of view as well as answer the aforementioned questions.
Historically, the structures and methods of leadership change with the passage of time. To influence events and affect outcomes, leaders must to be prepared to abandon policy instruments and ideas that no longer work in a new-world environment.
The world is full of aspiring political leaders but unfortunately, very few live up to the leadership ideals. In fact, many political leaders seem to lack some of the most basic and important leadership qualities such as vision, discipline, good oratorical skills, decisiveness, and the ability to share their purpose and passion, to name a few. However, a good leader is also charismatic, people-centered, influential, humble yet resolute and is able to inspire people.
We must bear in mind that all of mankind is subject to human frailty…we do not have it all. While many of us expect perfection, we must remember that our political leaders are not superhuman. In some instances we are negatively affected by the performance of our political leaders because our expectations override reality. We expect them to do the impossible by becoming the faultless provider…perfection personified. Some tend to rally around persons in the political arena who purport to be righteous. Get Real! If virtuous conduct was the main quality of a good leader, then we need to remarry Church and State and hand over our constitution to the Vatican.
Within reason, what we want and expect from a political leader is his or her ability to solve our problems; bring betterment to our lives; or provide an enabling environment for us to be successful. In the real world, it is also understandable that a political leader, in the execution of his or her duties, would from time to time stretch the truth or dabble in ‘face saving’ measures to bring about satisfaction for all and sundry. In taking initiative, there are times when good leaders have to mix, match or substitute funding in the best interest of nation-building. And there are times when good leaders have to make hard decisions and give ‘tough love.’
As we fantasize over the idea of finding the ideal person to lead us, we must temper our enthusiasm and extreme expectations with the reality that we all have shortcomings. What is the connection between leadership and character? Some not so nice people make positive contributions to society. Although being a likeable person is a plus, there is a key difference between getting the job done, and being liked personally. People do not have to like a good leader to trust and respect his or her performance. Whether the political leader is charismatic, possesses a remarkable acumen in governance, and preserves the integrity of his or her administration, these attributes are meaningless if the common man does not benefit from their actions.
A good political leader in the Caribbean must possess, in addition to the aforementioned attributes, astuteness, dynamism, innovative dexterity, resourcefulness, intestinal fortitude, and the ability to mix and match accordingly while amalgamating a systems approach. In a global context, the Prime Minister of a Small Island Developing State, such as Grenada, faces a much greater challenge than a leader of a first world country.
Clearly, the demands placed on today’s political leaders far surpass what was realistically possible yesteryear. Challenging times require leaders who can lead others through the challenges. Now more than ever, we need great leadership in our government.
The incessant increase of the role and responsibilities of a Small Island State leader, who is deprived of the resources first world leaders have in abundance, must be explored as I attempt to put things in proper perspective. Further, in spite of our smallness, third world status, and limited resources, our country has an invaluable opportunity to be exemplary to the world by demonstrating good political leadership and progressive citizenship.
The role of the good political leader, especially in the Caribbean, is very complex and multifaceted. As progressive Grenadians we need more clarification on how we view ‘leadership’ as it relates to the Office of the Prime Minister, in order to have a full appreciation for the type of leader who works in our best interest. Making things happen depends on the Prime Minister’s broad political vision. It is not simply a matter of getting a good idea, laying out a plan, telling others what to do, and overseeing the implementation. In order to make things happen the political leader has to identify allies and resistors, get the buy-in, build coalitions, and lead politically.
Political competence is about knowing how to map the political terrain, get others on your side, and lead coalitions. Political competence, in its most attractive light, is being aware of the interests of others, finding areas of common ground, bringing others on board, and leading them in pursuit of a goal. In the political world of imperfect decisions, it is political competence that makes things happen. It is competence that will translate ideas into action and strategy into results.
Grenada boasts a rich history of leaders who are revered worldwide. Do we ever ask ourselves, why is that so? Do we ever ask ourselves, why some Grenadians maliciously attempt to assassinate the character of our heroes? Have they or you benefited from it? It is disheartening to witness the number of times that some of the same individuals, who are obviously cursed by the blight of envy, hate and spite, would damage the image of Grenada in their futile attempts to damage the character of our Leaders. We have been hoodwinked into becoming a nation of combatants, waging a war of infamy…cutting off our noses to spite our faces.
What is Political Greatness?
Greatness, even in a biblical context, is achieved through humility, service and sacrifice. Throughout history we have seen many forms of government such as monarchies, imperialism, dictatorships, and democracies. We have also seen many forms of ideologies such as communism, fascism, and capitalism. The success of any nation has always been determined by its leadership, regardless of the form of government and ideology. Great leaders are positively contagious and they instill confidence and belief in others.
But what is political greatness? Notable author Steven Hayward, using Aristotle’s definition in his attempt to address the subject of political greatness, alludes to the premise that political greatness is ‘the ability to translate wisdom into action on behalf of the public good.’ So a great leader must not only know what is best for himself, he must also know what is best for society.
But even if a man is truly a great leader, doesn’t he need to confront some great obstacle to be considered great? Another way of putting it, did Winston Churchill need Hitler to be great? Did Franklin Roosevelt need The Great Depression to be great? Did Fidel Castro need the Cuban Revolution to be great? Did Eric Williams need his ‘Education for All’ initiative to be great? Did TA Marryshow, revered as the ‘Elder Statesman of the West Indies’ and ‘Father of West Indies Federation,’ need his record setting 30 consecutive years as a distinguished member of the House of Representatives for the Town of St George to be great? Did Eric Gairy need Expo 69 and being recognised as Grenada’s Father of Independence to be great? Or (you can extrapolate) did Maurice Bishop, who was lauded for his oratorical excellence, need the Grenadian Revolution to be great? Better yet! Does Keith Mitchell need the stupendous ‘Build Back Better’ recovery from hurricanes Ivan and Emily, his remarkable infrastructural initiative, four victories at the polls – two of which were shutouts, and once again being charged with resuscitating Grenada’s anaemic economy to be great? You see where I am going with this? In fact, I am merely transmitting the sentiments of the international community.
This is no perspicacious judgment on my part. Please, bear with me as I dare to give rightful credit to our sons-of-the-soil. I am fearless in giving Jack or Jane his or her Jacket and I have no reservations in calling a spade a spade. After all, a leader might be great but we would never know it until and unless it was demonstrated within the forge of some great or catastrophic event. Let me please stress, that I do not wish to glorify any particular leader listed above, as much as recognise the scale of their political and military achievement. Admittedly, some of these leaders may have had their own shortcomings; nevertheless, the scale of their political vision and overall leadership cannot be denied.
Have we seen the end of Great Political Leaders? Why do all great leaders seem to be in the past? Why don’t we see many today? With the emergence of Barack Obama, the resilience of Vladimir Putin, and the astuteness of Keith Mitchell, to name a few, it is probably a mistake to assume that the current political landscape is void of great political leaders. Steven Hayward believes that great political leaders are still possible, but ‘greatness of a statesman is seldom recognised in their own time. Typically we only recognise greatness in hindsight.’ More than likely potentially great leaders in our own day will be viewed as odd or controversial. Their greatness is likely to be obscured by the propaganda aired by the political opposition they face in their respective political climate.
Another reason for not recognising their greatness in their own time is that often the events that modern leaders are currently involved with have not yet resolved themselves. Everything comes full circle in the fullness of time. Greatness is ultimately a question of character and accomplishment. Good character and marked accomplishment do not change with the times; they have eternal qualities and value. And because marked accomplishment(s) has ‘eternal value’ it will always be something that can be cultivated.
Since TA Marryshow’s death in 1958, after fifty years of remarkable service, there seem to be a pattern of great Grenadian leaders emerging every two decades. With this God-sent phenomenon, we better count our blessings and pay homage accordingly or, if time permits, wait another two decades to make the same oversight again. When we are truly able to rise above the fray brought on by social and political immaturity, and embolden ourselves with a spirit of self-actualisation and purpose, we would then be able to engender the type of cooperation and goodwill that will be the hallmark of our existence as a progressive people. This initiative will respectfully return us to the front of the socio-political fraternity.
Now is the time to chart a way out of the moral quagmire brought on by the vicious cycle of negativity. Now is the time to stop casting assertions and passing blame. Now is the time for each Grenadian to step up and be accountable. Now is the time to remember that the only true-natural resource at our disposal is our Love for country. Fellow Grenadians, this is a clarion call. As Grenadians, we should all be proud to know that wherever in the world there is discourse on the subject of great leaders within the intellectual, diplomatic, or political community, our noted leaders are always in the conversation.