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Big, hard things can only be done together

Published: 
Thursday, November 9, 2017

Thomas L Friedman, world-renowned author and columnist, in an article in the New York Times noted:

“We’re living in a world being shaped by vast accelerations in technology, globalisation, climate change and population growth. It’s an age where the best leaders build trust, because trust is what enables teams to move fast and experiment more. It’s an age that requires doing big hard things, and big hard things can only be done together.”

We in T&T certainly have big, hard problems to solve. We are experiencing the impact of climate change in the form of recent floods. We are subject to the impact of escalating crime, both violent and white-collar.

We suffer through daily commutes from hell. And we are challenged to deliver the sustainable economic growth that would provide jobs and livelihoods for our citizens.

These problems can only be solved together—it requires teamwork. What, therefore, is required of our leaders, in business, government, labour, the professions, the clergy, and civil society? What qualities? What values should we be looking for?

Change is hard and effecting real sustainable change demands leaders who can inspire. Leaders who can be trusted, both because they are competent, they have a vision of where they want to go and a track record of results.

They can also be trusted because they walk the talk. They do what they say they’re going to do. Their word is their bond. They inspire and get people to follow not because their followers have to but because they want to.

Humility is one of the essential virtues of the ideal team player.

David Brooks, author of the Road to Character, defines “humility as freedom from the need to prove you are superior all the time. Humility is the awareness that there’s a lot you don’t know and that a lot of what you think you know is distorted or wrong. This is the way humility leads to wisdom.”

It’s knowing that you need the team to accomplish great things because you CANNOT do it on your own.

Brooks notes, “Truly humble people are engaged in a great effort to magnify what is best in themselves and defeat what is worst, to become strong in the weak places. But the struggle against the weaknesses in yourself is never a solitary struggle. No person can achieve self-mastery on his or her own.”

Therefore, we need people with the courage and self-confidence to speak truth to power; people to tell us when we are wrong, to advise us on how to do right, and to encourage, support, arouse, cooperate, and inspire us along the way. To point out, where necessary, that the emperor wears no clothes.

And we need emperors, leaders in all fields, who are open to the questioning and responsive to the advice. Knowing that together we are better.

Unfortunately, when we look around we find “leaders” in positions of formal authority who are afraid to appear vulnerable.

They subscribe, for the most part, to the concept of the maximum leader, and when they speak they still expect no damn dog to bark.

They are enamored with the trappings of power and its apparent invincibility and repeatedly miss opportunities for collaboration and genuine learning to solve the big problems facing us.

Labour refuses to engage with business; government refuses to speak to opposition, and vice versa.

Insults, finger-pointing and one-upmanship are the order of the day. The objective appears to be to big up oneself and one’s tribe or clique and demonise the other, as opposed to solving problems.

In a world as complex and fast-moving as the one we live in today no leader can drive change alone.

We need humble leaders, warts and all, who recognise their weaknesses and who have the courage to be vulnerable, to step up, put aside their differences and focus their energies on designing and implementing solutions TOGETHER.

NIGEL ROMANO