Guyana needs visionary and courageous leadership
Stabroek News
February 12, 2002

Dear Editor,

Most young Guyanese I have spoken with yearn for a Guyana that is a democratic, multi racial, multi ethnic society in which every Guyanese regardless of age, race, religion or creed has an equal opportunity to realize his or her enormous potential. This is their El Dorado.

For Guyana to achieve this and to hasten its pace of sustainable development, leadership is the critical difference. This leadership must be visionary, courageous, experienced, knowledgeable, flexible, compassionate and accountable. Most of all this leadership must be healing and have a strong moral and ethical foundation. This leadership must promote spiritual nationalism.

In short, Guyana needs servant leadership.

In my recent letters, I briefly discussed the need for leadership at all levels of our society: political, social, business, civil and moral. Recent articles and editorials in the press have focused much attention on leadership succession, and to some extent have dealt with what leadership should do and not with what a leader should be.

What is very disturbing about the discussion is the significant depth of denial by many, especially those pursuing leadership, whether officially or unofficially, of the fundamental difference leadership makes. Whether it is Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Bill Clinton, Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela or Michael Jordan, leadership is leadership. The purposeful subterfuge of the reality that leadership lies in a leadership committee or leadership team bodes very ominously for our country. What Guyana needs are strong leaders at the helm of its political parties with those leaders surrounding themselves with capable advisors in a leadership circle. What Guyana does not need are weak individuals forming a leadership committee because consensus among the weak does not and cannot lead to strength.

Tough decisions can only be made by strong leaders not leadership teams of weak individuals who subterfuge the greater good for the vested interests of a few.

Why? Well, group leadership only works when there is a collective common vision, a common moral architecture, community and not individual vested interests, unity, accountability and honesty.

Any group that goes out of its way to deny the obvious truth about leadership and its critical importance, is a group devoid of leadership and full of individuals who lack the experience, knowledge and moral fibre to lead. Such a group wants to lead servants, not to be servant leaders.

There are many who will argue that collective leadership works because it allows different views, perspectives and vested interests to be discussed, the result of which is better leadership and decision making when compared to individual leadership.

I do not deny that collective leadership works. The problem however is that this type of leadership works in homogeneous environments where there are shared common values, common vested interests, racial harmony, emotional nationalism and equal access to resources. This is not the current situation.

Leadership is a strange animal .... you do not send an elephant to perform a ballet. You need a ballerina. You also can't teach an elephant to be a ballerina. Leadership by committee has the high probability of creating a camel when you need a horse and can often result with what is known in leadership circles as "a centipede with athlete's foot."

There are many leadership issues facing Guyana. One such issue is that of the role overseas Guyanese play in the governance and growth of our country.

In the Information Technology segment of the National Development Strategy (Sunday Starbroek News), Kenneth King highlighted it cannot be too strongly emphasized that rapid human capital development is essential for sustained economic growth and poverty eradication in Guyana. And yet, the country does not currently possess critical masses of trained personnel in any of the main areas of our developmental thrust. The inadequacy of our manpower base is therefore one of the main areas of our future progress."

The Guyanese Diaspora represents an exceptionally high skilled over seas based workforce that is sympathetic to the development needs of the country.

A visionary leader would opt to find ways of incorporating the Guyanese Diaspora into the development of the nation. Yet in 2000, collective leadership, in its wisdom and through the Constitutional Reform process, and primarily to protect its own selfish aspirations, has passed a seven year residency requirement for the highest leadership positions in the land.

Instead of dealing with the reality that Guyana has proven high calibre performers in the global community who can use their knowledge, ability, experience and networks in helping Guyana to find a meaningful place in the "global village," this collective leadership, in their common practice of "denial" has encouraged and supported the loss of access to this immense pool of Guyanese talent.

Visionary and servant leadership would have recognized that this extremely significant social, economic and developmental price is too high for the minor benefit of keeping a few inflated and incapable egos under control.

The National Development Strategy is Guyana's blueprint for sustainable development and poverty alleviation. Nation building is an absolute necessity and the glue that will ensure a modern democratic society in Guyana. Policies that affect our children, youth, women and seniors will determine whether our Nation will be prosperous, both spiritually and materially. Any new leadership should realize this tragedy and address it aggressively and immediately.

In a time when it is common knowledge that Guyana lacks a critical mass of trained personnel and experienced people, it is self defeating to alienate the immense pool of human resources comprising an unfathomable array of skills and knowledge. The enactment of the new Article 90 and the insertion of the proviso in Article 101 (1) (b) flies in the face of intelligent, visionary, servant leadership.

To the many elephants seeking to be ballerinas, consider the plight of our people and our nation. Personal ambition at the cost of national development is pure unadulterated selfishness.

Leadership is the critical difference. Because there has been poor individual leadership in the past or selfish leadership in the past doesn't mean a leadership team is the solution. Any "leadership team" that denies the value of individual leadership is a "management committee."

Sultan S. Sattar's letter (SN 02 02 02) entitled "Let us tell our leaders we want no race hate" is an honest description of our history of race driven politics. Sultan, Guyana needs strong moral leadership and people who will resist "wrong" in any shape or form simply because it is "wrong". To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Moral leadership, however, demands as a necessary prerequisite leaders who are moral and people of the highest integrity. Perhaps even a leader who has the moral balls .... to apologise for a wrong he or she did not commit.

Anyone aspiring to be a political leader in Guyana should answer seven questions publicly:

1) Why do I want to be the leader?
2) What are my qualifications and experiences?
3) How will I govern differently to change my party?
4) How will I lead if I am President?
5) What are my vision, programs and plans to solve our problems ?
6) How will I lead if I am not the President? and
7) How will I heal the racial divide?

We need Servant Leadership in Guyana. We need ballerinas. We certainly don't need centipedes.

Yours faithfully,

Eric Phillips