In the just concluded PPP Congress, as they elected their new cadre of leaders, the question of what type of leaders might be best at this juncture had to be paramount in the minds of the delegates. So too at the “conversation” among African Guyanese last weekend, even though elections were not on their agenda.
The need for leadership is perennial. Man, after all, is a social animal and by definition we must function in groups and institutions – especially in our modern, complex societies. Groups and institutions need leaders to ensure that goals are fulfilled, the people are inspired to work towards those goals and sanctions are applied to those that may want to stymie the realisation of the common good. This need for effective leaders is evident not only in our beleaguered country.
There is the well-known acknowledgement of varying leadership styles that may be appropriate in different situations – the democratic, the laissez-faire and the authoritarian leaders. But in our Caribbean and Guyanese reality, the imprint of the authoritarian leadership model has been dominant for so long that it appears that no matter who we select – whether in business, not for profit, religious, labour, educational, and surely political – authoritarianism is the default mode. We are past overdue for a leadership reset.
Since the seventies, there has been another view – proffered by Robert Greenleaf – which advocates a completely different tack. Labelled “servant leadership”, it is a philosophy and a body of practices that prioritises, in the repertoire of the leader, the needs of his colleagues and of those whom they all are supposed to serve. In politics, this would be the people.
In his now seminal essay, “The Servant as Leader,” Greenleaf described the essence of servant leadership: “[It] manifests itself in the care taken by the servant — first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is this: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?”
The approach acknowledges that in the development of the leader, the early phase has to be inevitably focused on the acquisition of competence – especially in the area in which he/she will operate. The development of the self is accompanied though inevitable acts of power in which the competence is displayed. As these acts of power are increased with greater authority being conferred on the leader, there is the ever-present danger of the individual developing on what has been termed the “monomaniacal trajectory” that we see all around us, in every field of human endeavour.
Greenleaf’s proposal was that at some point in this “crucible of power” the leader has to consciously take or be forced to take a “redemptive” turn. In this phase of his development, the servant leader imbibes the qualities of: listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, foresight, stewardship, growth, and the building of community.
In what might be seen as a descent of the leader into a greater alignment with his “people”, he/she continues with the development of self, but in a test of humility. We should note that the leader still retains the competence and capacity for acts of power as consonant by his/her authority – it is simply the manner of acting that is altered by the greater giving of self. This latter process is crucial in the development of the community surrounding the leader – both the immediate and wider ones as a culture of service is fostered.
This type of servant leader has been paradigmatically exemplified by Gandhi, and aspects of it are evident in many of those that self-consciously set him up as a model – such as Martin Luther King in the USA and Nelson Mandela in South Africa. In Guyana, we must decide what type of leader can best take Guyana forward at this point of our history. Do we want leaders of competence tempered with the mantle of humility or do we want Little Caesars bent on only their own self-aggrandizement?