Recently, I had to reflect on the theme of leadership from a moral and ethical perspective, and though this issue has been practically exhausted by numerous articles, academic publications, public discourses, movies, and documentaries, I felt I could bring another perspective to the discourse. Though not new, leadership which puts people at the centre of discussions and actions values the views and perspectives of all persons, including the most vulnerable and marginalized, with the goal of transforming individuals and communities and providing the avenues for social and community transformation. Indeed, leadership, understood as the capacity to influence individuals and communities for good, backed up by ethics and morals, with the first focused on thinking about the right things and the second committed to doing the best for the welfare and wellbeing of others, is poised to leave the world a better place than the way we met it.
In this sense, leadership matters. It starts at home, moves to schools at all levels, through to church and other religious institutions, and, finally, to the wider society. Interactions with people at every stratum of society, provide an integral element, with the importance of affirming people for who they are and doing everything in our power to influence positive thought and behaviour while setting aside attitudes and postures which undermine, devalue, and belittle those whose worth is given by God and requires total respect.
Leadership matters as it can provide the context, shape, form, and method to drive the present state of performance and the strategies required to foster development, respect, and growth at all levels of society. At the level of the family, leadership can be practised by one or both parents, caregivers, other family members, and a significant other in the case of a step parent. Foster parents also provide vital and very useful leadership by the example they set for the children and the establishment of clear boundaries within which children learn and thrive as they prepare to assume leadership roles in the wider society. Of course, failure to set the foundation for leadership at the level of the family does not mean all hope is lost; however, the ground is set for stunted growth and flourishing, and other social, educational, and religious institutions will need to provide corrective measures.
In schools and other educational institutions, students learn from educators, administrators and other stakeholders through dynamic processes of interactions at both formal and informal levels. For example, at all levels of my educational development there were teachers, educators and administrators who, by their example, demonstrated that leadership with integrity is not just a matter of what is said but also that which is put into action in an effective and efficient manner.
Modeling appropriate behaviour
A fundamental principle of leadership is modeling behaviour or leading by example. By their lives and examples, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, St Oscar Romario, Nanny of the Maroons, Marcus Garvey, Una Marson, and Mary Seacole, among numerous other freedom fighters, demonstrated that to be an effective leader, one has to be courageous, willing to take a stand even when it is unpopular to do so, and, also, abide by morals and principles focused on high standards with the goal of achieving the best for those we are called to lead. In this way, effective leadership is understood as adopting a posture of leaving the world a better place than we found it.
A spiritual principle
Finally, leadership is a spiritual principle. Earlier, I mentioned churches and other religious organizations as part of the socializing institutions which help to shape the lives of people in a society. The fact is that some schools in Jamaica which are operated by churches continue to outperform others academically. Though some of these are descendants of bequests and legacies, which provided well needed funds, in addition to support from the government, nonetheless, their performance is nothing to scoff at. If nothing else, this shows that where the requisite resources are provided, coupled with morals, ethics, and character, the results will be not just academically astute but well-rounded students and citizens of the world.
Additionally, schools run by churches emphasize the importance of accountability, and with it, transparency and due process. Accountability, an acknowledgement that all leaders are ultimately responsible to God, requires respect for those we serve and an example to those we lead. In this way the welfare, wellbeing, and optimum benefit of students in a school, members of a religious organization and citizens of a country are held in the highest regard. If this is to be achieved then transparency or openness with the systems and processes must be shown at all times. This is where due process is vital. All levels of staff, students, parents, and stakeholders must feel and know, in the final analysis, that they have a stake in the overall running of the institution and that its ultimate wellbeing depends on the input of everyone.
It is critical that we implement a leadership framework that drives the desired outcomes needed to improve the lives of all Jamaicans. In this regard all is not lost as I am encouraged when I observe that, with little or no support from government, some private schools and colleges continue to excel in education, sports, medicine, religion, and other spheres of life because there is a spirit of resilience in the people of Jamaica. This is illustrated, for example, in the Jamaican pardna. A means of saving money without interest, it showcases ways in which local leadership, driven by integrity, morals, and values, provides the radical leadership to sustain economic growth, expansion, and development, albeit in the informal sector. One local bank has adopted the pardna principle, with a view to bringing the practice into the formal economy. Pardna practice, rooted in leadership that matters, continues to highlight the spirit of creativity and resilience of the Jamaican people which allows for survival at all cost, and despite numerous obstacles, especially in the season for back-to-school preparation, real leaders are standing tall.
So, leadership matters where it puts people at the centre of development. As crucial staples of leadership, morals, ethics, and principles must be placed at the forefront, where it is not so much a matter of entitlement, which feeds fraudulent practices even in religious and political institutions, including church-based ones, but rather a character-based approach to leadership focused on building healthy families, institutions, and communities where persons are valued for who they are and not simply for what they can produce.
The Rt. Rev Garth Minott is the Suffragan Bishop of Kingston.