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Leadership: The first fundamental building block to achieve Sustainable Development

In the next series of articles we will be focusing on Leadership.  We will look at the various forms it takes and discuss what research has uncovered about Leadership.  We will study some of the world’s greatest Leaders and underscore the lessons to be learnt from their experiences.

Let us put the topic in context. This column is about Sustainable Development (SD) and Human Development (HD).  These are new approaches to understanding and dealing with the issues of achieving a better life for the peoples of the world, and in our specific case, the citizens of Belize.  In fact, these approaches can be considered the two sides of the same coin, and offer a new and improved way of dealing with development.

My view is that, with our limited resources and deep-rooted problems, the priority should be first on fostering and promoting good Leadership, which is a prerequisite for us to achieve National Unity, which is needed for us to seriously develop a relevant, high quality educational system starting with the Tertiary level (and not the lower levels as many have proposed), which is a prerequisite for the increased productivity of our people and economy, which then produces the fuel we need to deal with the other very important pressing social, environmental, institutional and economic needs.

We are therefore promoting a new way of doing things, a new and improved way of understanding, confronting and resolving tough developmental issues.  This means we must face a very important constraint when promoting something new, especially one of this magnitude, and that is “resistance to change.”

So we ask the question: how do we deal with resistance to change? If we look at either relatively small positive changes around us or at larger national, regional or global changes, we will find that the main ingredient is good strong Leadership.

These changes required persons who were able to persuade others, in some cases a few, in other cases multitudes, that the new way was better for them.

In this regard, we cannot ignore the fact that some very undesirable changes have also come from strong Leaders.  Hitler and Stalin come to mind immediately. So we must also be aware that while we are promoting positive change and good strong Leaders, there have been and continue to be bad strong Leaders who persuade others to live by new undesirable standards that yield very negative results.

The person or persons who initiate and instigate positive change usually demonstrate what is called “Agency” in their quest for improvement.  The study of Agency in SD and HD focuses on those qualities that a person has who “make positive change happen”.  It is observed that these persons do things for the benefit of others without expecting any direct personal benefit.

Leadership has been studied and researched for many years and this effort has been led by universities such as Harvard.  At the most general level, some earlier research looked at the interaction between the type of Power a Leader has, the way the Power is used and the result of the use of that power.  In a 1999 paper by R. Dennis Green, he captured the essence of the work done by Gary A. Yukl of State University of New York.  Yukl’s Power Taxonomy includes Reward Power, Coercive Power, Legitimate Power, Expert Power, and Referent Power.

As the names suggests, a Leader can influence others to do things based on various reasons.  Reward Power means that the Target Person (the one being asked or instructed to do something) is given a positive incentive to perform. In the case of Coercive Power, the Target Person acts because otherwise they face punishment. Legitimate Power is derived from rights given to the Leader and the Target Person feels obligated to comply.

Expert Power comes from a differential of expertise or knowledge between the Leader and the Target Person, and the Target Person complies because they believe the Leader knows best. And finally, Referent Power is obtained when the Leader has gained the admiration of the Target Person and so the Target Person wants to gain the approval of the Leader by following the request of the Leader.

Yukl summarizes the results of his research as follows:

“The success of an influence attempt depends greatly on the manner in which power is exercised. Effective leaders are likely to use power in a subtle, careful fashion that minimizes status differentials and avoids threats to the target person’s self esteem. In contrast, leaders who exercise power in an arrogant, manipulative, domineering manner are likely to engender resistance.”

There is much to be learnt from this summary here in Belize as we observe the actions of some Leaders.  Many times even if the vision, goals and objectives are acceptable and desirable, we cannot attain them in the longer run because power is exercised arrogantly or disrespectfully.

In a more recent paper published by the Harvard Business School July 6th, 2011 by Mitch Maidique, Leadership was studied from the point of view of the answer to the question: “Who do you serve?”  Maidique develops six levels of Leadership based on the answer to this telling question.  These levels include the Sociopath, the Opportunist, the Chameleon, the Achiever, the Builder and the Transcendent.

The Sociopath serves no one, not even him or herself, and is basically destructive. Opportunists, one notch above, serve only themselves and exhibit no consideration for institutions, society, friends or family. Chameleons, the so called “flip-floppers”, change their allegiance depending on their surroundings.  The Achiever is very effective at getting a job done and serves only the narrow goals to satisfy some group or person (which could be him or herself).  The Builder makes decisions that serve and help to build the institution he or she is a part of, and persons such as Oprah Winfrey and Alfred Sloan (General Motors) fall into this category.

The Transcendents are at the top of the scale.  They go beyond building the institutional and also contribute to the entire community, both local and international.  People like Ghandi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela are in this rare category.

So at what level are you? At what level are the Leaders around you? What do you think the sincere answer to the question “Who do you serve?” is for the Leaders we have around us? We need more Leaders across our country at the higher levels of Maidique’s taxonomy.

More of us need to work not only for our own self interest, or only the self interest of our families, but we must go beyond that, to serving others without wanting any compensation for that service.

Our actions make it easy to determine where we are in this regard.  Actions speak loudest.  Take the next step up the ladder of Leadership.

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