Friday, September 17, 2010

Leadership's important role

JAMAICA'S economy has been going through a rough patch for the last 12 consecutive quarters. This has caused much stress to many Jamaicans, and in particular the 80,000 reported to have lost their jobs. We have seen some positives, which include the fiscal management programme [including JDX], the relative stability of the macroeconomic numbers, and the reduction in the murder rate. At best, however, these can only be short-lived without longer term stimulation of consumer demand.

Despite the challenges faced by the economy, however, I believe effective leadership can ensure that we emerge stronger than before the recession. When I say stronger I don't just mean an artificial feeling of wealth that results from debt, but a properly structured and progressive economy. That is what I am hoping will be the outcome of the sacrifices that Jamaicans have made over the past two years. For too many times, since independence, Jamaicans have been asked to make sacrifices with nothing to show.

Norman Manley's vision
For this to happen, however, it is going to be necessary to have effective leadership to take us to prosperity. This is what Jamaicans have craved for a long time and it is time it is realised. I think that even our politicians will accept that political leadership has failed Jamaica, since the vision of Norman Manley and the others who fought for political independence. Our political leaders have done nothing but squander the opportunity afforded us by independence. It seems as if they continue to be more concerned about accusations and scandals rather than the welfare of Jamaicans.

I sincerely believe, however, that with effective leadership and focus, that Jamaica's fortunes can be improved. In fact, effective leadership is going to be critical if we are to navigate the dangerous waters of the global and local economy. Over the past two years, while the national debate always centred around scandals, I have been involved in three public sector successes that resulted from the quality of leadership involved.

The first has been the Air Jamaica divestment, for which I was project manager and had the honour of being the only person involved from inception to the end. When Don Wehby called me to his office and said he was relying on me to make the divestment a success for him, I gave my assurance that I would do my best. The first thing Don did was to pick a suitable person to lead the divestment team, and after we discussed it he settled on none other than the Honourable Dennis Lalor, who managed to successfully bring the project to completion. Having worked on this project, I can tell you that the choice of the appropriate person to lead the project was essential, as it was the quality and co-ordination of the team that ensured success, given the challenges faced along the way. The events make interesting reading but requires a book.

The second team, which has been highly successful, is the Jamaica College School Board. I cannot sing enough praises for the leadership of the Honourable Danny Williams, as board chairman, and Ruel Reid, as principal. The board, led by Danny Williams, worked with the operations, led by Ruel Reid, to make Jamaica College the number one school in terms of facilities and improvement in my estimation. To understand the transformation that has taken place one would need to know where the school is coming from. I can safely say that no other high school offers a more rounded experience for the students, and today Jamaica College is one of the best looking high school campuses, having just completed our new auditorium that is big enough to hold the entire school population.

The third team is the Jamaica Ultimate Tyre Company Limited, which when the board took over in 2007 was making a loss of over $1 million per month and today is making over $2 million per month, and is now looking forward to filing and paying our estimated taxes. The support and leadership provided by the minister of transport was essential in ensuring the successful transformation.

So while the country has been enveloped in the discussion of scandal after scandal, over the last two years, I have been involved in a few successes in the public sector. I am quite certain that there are many other such examples, which we can learn from. It also makes me believe that Jamaica can rise from the economic declines we have been seeing and put this country on a sustainable development path, despite the economic challenges.

Common characteristic
The one common characteristic, in all three cases, was in my view effective leadership. All three cases could have gone a different way if the leadership focussed on the challenges only. But instead, Lalor, Williams, and Henry, all outlined at the start a mission of where they wanted the process to end up, and then they chose the team that was going to work on that mission with them. Whenever things went wrong (such as the scandals) they never attacked anyone on the teams, but rather sought to assist in solving the challenges. In all three cases also they allowed the team members around them to express their views and potential.

I, like many others, have become tired of the finger pointing that has become second nature in our politics, while the people suffer. Given the significant economic challenges that face us if the issue of consumer demand is not dealt with effectively, I think it would be in the best interest of everyone for our leaders to find that consensual working relationship, and finally deliver to Jamaicans the promise of 1962.

The fast tracking of the public sector transformation project is one of the positives that we have seen in recent times. We have been talking about public sector transformation for a long time, and finally it seems like we may get something, even if some believe that it was hurried primarily because of a fiscal crisis rather than a need for improvement.

What I am not sure of, however, is what the end game is. In other words if we just reduce the number of public sector workers without improving service delivery, and other efficiencies, then it would have been a grand waste of time.

Last week I went to a public sector outfit to transact some business. I was always impressed by the transformation they have undergone over the past two years, where the service improved significantly over what it was before. When I went last week, however, one of the critical persons said she had to go to lunch and therefore the persons who were there had to wait until she got back from lunch. There was no replacement, even though the government has increased the fees significantly. Immediately I saw the old culture creeping back in.

This is a problem of leadership. I sympathise with the lady who had to go to lunch, as it was way past her lunch time with no relief. But the managers did not care enough to provide a relief person so that while she went to lunch the public (paying customers) could be served. Again a problem of leadership.

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