What is it that distinguishes “great leadership” from “leadership”? It is the ability to stimulate and encourage, making people want to act. Taking advantage of teachable moments, great leaders show us not just who we are but who we can be.
At the times when we are at our lowest and doubt ourselves, he (or she) encourages us to rise above our situation. A great leader appeals to our better angels and encourages us to see that many of our limitations are self-imposed, to be our better selves.
The Bahamas suffers from a failure of great leadership at a time it needs it sorely.
What do I mean by teachable moments?
Our government is desperately in need of money. The consequences of failure are dire. We impose taxes to collect revenue but people are not paying their taxes. More money must be raised and therefore people must be encouraged to pay. The task is made all the more difficult because, unlike other countries, the obligation to pay taxes is not considered to be a part of the Bahamian culture.
Despite all the protests in the market, Bahamians can afford to pay more taxes than they are now paying. The enormous profitability of web shops is illustrative of this. “Numbers” do not produce anything. People spend huge amounts of their income on numbers and yet continue to lead their lives and meet their obligations. I look in amazement when I see our leaders point to taxing web shops as an integral plan for the raising of money and think themselves brilliant for devising it.
The truth is that all money spent on web shop gaming is available for the payment of taxes. In allowing the web shops and taxing them, what we are doing is letting other individuals collect it for us and, as a reward for doing so, we allow them to keep the bulk of the money collected. Taxing some of it and letting web shop owners, and maybe an occasional individual, keep the rest, in a time of national need, can be counterproductive. You can have a moral position on numbers one way or the other, but to support it to the detriment of our ability to provide basic needs and services is self-defeating and contrary to our self-interest as a community.
We can legislate more taxes but, when people don’t pay existing taxes, how can we rely on payment by them of even newer taxes? Leaders have the power to make laws exercising the coercive power of the government to oblige persons to act. However, unless those laws are accompanied by strict draconian penalties enforced constantly, laws alone cannot ensure compliance. This can be imposed in a dictatorship but not in a society where leaders are subject to elections.
The people must be taught the importance of the obligations we owe each other in living together as a society; that we must each contribute to the general costs without persons who can afford to contribute wanting a free ride. We must also feel confident that the money we provide the government is spent wisely and in our best interests and not for the benefit of the few.
Characteristics of great leaders
The great leader is a teacher who is aware that he must, at times, “carry” his people where they need to go. For this he needs credibility and the trust of the people. Leadership is a sacred obligation and privilege. It is not an entitlement nor is it a favor to the people. He needs the wisdom to teach and like a teacher must know how far to push and when to call a break.
First the leader must by his own life show that what he is saying is possible.
“Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing,” said Albert Schweitzer.
The recent hurling of allegations by members of Parliament, each that the others do not pay their taxes, is disappointing. The subsequent admission by the prime minister that many parliamentarians live in “the shadows” is even more so. His cry that this must be condoned because these are hard times and that we all are suffering does not give encouragement. Leadership is about sacrifice and if you wish to be a leader then there are obligations you must bear without excuse.
Second, the leader must be able to educate, charm or even cajole people into doing the right thing. This is where oratory becomes important. However, not just empty rhetoric but words to serve a purpose. President Barack Obama has had at least two teachable moments where as a leader he rose above the fray and attempted to communicate a necessary message.
The first dealt with religious intolerance. Whilst a candidate, the accusation was hurled that he was a Muslim. His response was to deny that he was a Muslim but then to postulate that even if he was, it was no reason to condemn him or disqualify him from being president. He then educated people on the importance of tolerance.
The second dealt with race when Henry Louis Gates, a black university professor, was hauled out of his home in a white neighborhood and arrested without cause. Obama then addressed the question of racial prejudice.
Sir Lynden Pindling had teachable moments.
When, as some cry, he “forced” disclosure (then called “the sunshine law”) down the throats of our parliamentarians, this was necessary but unappreciated. His opponents (inside his party and out) failed to see that this was necessary if parliamentarians were to have the moral authority to convince people to modify their behavior in their own best interests. It is perhaps unfortunate that this has become lost on our present parliamentarians who see this merely as a breach of their right to privacy or, as ironically phrased by the prime minister, to live in the shadows. In consequence, they have largely ignored the sunshine law.
Again, Sir Lynden saw early the need to introduce national service to decelerate the then creeping decline in the discipline and moral awareness of our youth. Unfortunately, the credibility and trust reposed in him had been so diminished that his detractors were able to stymie his efforts by raising doubts as to his motives. As these youth themselves are now parents of youths, we are paying a steep price today resulting from the unchecked rise in crime caused, in part, by the failure to institute national service in the mid-1980s.
Our leaders now are so concerned with winning the next election that they are reluctant to challenge any destructive behavior in the people for fear of unpopularity.
By: Luther H. McDonald
Attorney and partner at Alexiou, Knowles & Co.