Leadership and motivation
Stabroek News
November 20, 2003

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Effective leadership, whether of a country, a political party or a company consists in motivating people by giving them hope, by showing them that progress is possible and that there is a credible plan to achieve it.

A leader need not be a thinker. President Ronald Reagan may not have been able to give a profound analysis of the virtues of capitalism but he had a gut feeling for it and was a good communicator.

If you tell a man that he is not doing well because others are conspiring against him, you create despair or anger not hope. At worst, you demotivate him by leading him to believe that the cards are stacked against him and that he can make no progress by his own efforts.

If, on the other hand, you tell a man that though there are difficulties you believe they can be overcome, and that he has the capacity and the stamina to achieve what he sets his mind to, you create a positive vision. You must of course believe in what you say and you must seek to create mechanisms to facilitate achievement.

People don't want excuses for lack of progress from leaders, they want ideas for moving ahead. Leaders like Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore and Mohamad bin Mahathir of Malaysia were full of progressive ideas for development and tremendous economic progress was achieved, transforming the standard of living in those countries, though in both cases there a heavy price was paid in terms of limitations on traditional freedoms. In other countries, including our own, there were at times limitations on freedom and no economic progress. We got the worst of both worlds.

Leaders don't look for excuses, they look for ideas. They don't look for weaknesses, they look for strengths. If there are unfair impediments to exports to the region, they try vigorously to have them removed, if there is unfair competition from smuggled goods they move to stamp this out, if better air services are needed they don't complain, they try to organise to get them. Moreover, they use the human resources they have available, delegate real responsibility to their subordinates and try to motivate them and bring them on. People can and often do grow on the job with the right encouragement.

Leadership is about having the insight to understand problems and to seek solutions, and the strength and stamina to see them through.

Everyone pontificates on our problems, few advance creative solutions. What about the encouragement of immigration, for example, of teachers, nurses and other skilled persons, in consultation with the relevant bodies here that represent them? There will be some difficult issues, of course, but in the field of education for example, it offers some hope of solving what is now, in the short term at least, an apparently insoluble problem of not having enough trained and competent teachers, the result of a massive brain drain over several decades. What about offering substantial incentives to entrepreneurs to encourage the rapid development of tourism, a huge potential growth area? What about getting serious with Suriname over their unjust interference with our potential development in oil? The talks drag on futilely and there's no sense of urgency. What about the hydropower project? Everything moves too slowly. That is the real description of, and reason for, underdevelopment.

The real problems facing the country are poverty, unemployment, lack of development, stagnation and frustration. This has been so for at least three decades . What we should be discussing are bold economic solutions. That is where the focus should be. There have been a few small steps forward but nothing significant and there have been dozens of missed opportunities, partly due to red tape and in recent times partly due to political instability.

Leadership is about not succumbing to frustration and despair, offering a vision and a way forward. It is most difficult in testing times when all the resources of character have to be summoned.