Thursday, May 13, 2010

Kamla: Potential Prime Minister- A Critical Analysis

As Ms. Bissessar seeks the highest political and executive office in the land, necessity and wisdom demand assessing potential outcomes under her leadership rather than regretful discovery under testing future circumstances.
We live on a complex postmodern global landscape; these are consequential times! Too much is at stake for Trinidad and Tobago to passively accept a boutique designed leader. My sense is that Ms. Bissessar’s giddy progress towards the prime minister’s office is a dubious dynamic more happening around her than crafted by her; and far less controlled by her! 
Whose interests is served if a band of expatriate marketing experts hype and psyche us into electing a prime minister without critical scrutiny of her suitability and capacity? This exercise requires sober analysis and considered deliberation.  
What is worse, the foreign formulated, carefully Choreographed disguise of Kamla as- feminine power whose time has come- only lends indignity and insult to the many strong intelligent women who have already successfully and legitimately positioned themselves throughout our society. 
Notwithstanding the hyperbole of her well managed ascendancy, perhaps it’s yet not too late for careful assessment of Ms. Bissessar’s leadership suitability and capacity. Pride in our independence, indigenous intelligence, and localized wisdom requires no less.
Kamla’s Leadership Suitability:
The study of leadership goes beyond the awed mystique of leaders on followers; and so must we. It includes analyzing and profiling how a leader will likely govern.  
Before evaluating her particular leadership capacities (part II) I will attempt to help profile Ms. Bissessar in terms of overarching considerations that usually predict suitability to govern. I refer to physical wellbeing, philosophical grounding, and psychometric bearing. Invariably these will independently as well as interactively impact her ability in office- so some semblance of a serious peek into these areas is important. Regrettably with elections a mere two weeks this has not yet been done; and constitutes a major slip up by our local analysts and intelligentsia.
At 57, kamla appears in good physical shape; but her job application obliges more than passing glance. She will do herself a ton of good to tender for public record a recent medical- especially relating to any current or imminent degenerative impediments.  Crises surrounding leaders’ mortality are well documented as triggers for blurred judgments that produce urgent but un-salutary agendas. And since this is a Peoples Partnership we have to multiply this assessment times 6 or 7 and ask: How will unknown illness or demise of any player likely affect chemistry and/or agendas in the coalition?
Next, what is Kamla’s philosophy of life? What core values inform and chart her human outlook and interactions? What is her political philosophy? How appreciated is her regard for the inter-sect between legitimacy and democracy? How sacrosanct does she hold Separation of Powers and under what conditions does she view violations tolerable if at all? And very importantly, how does her grounding on these issues square with other key players in The Partnership? 
For example, Jack Warner is known to both espouse and practice a political philosophy that claims “yesterday is yesterday, today is today and tomorrow will be tomorrow” – An ethic that allows him to unflinchingly use abuse and dump many significant bodies and change policies along the way as chips fall where they may.  Does Kamla embrace this outlook? And what are the implications for stable governance, as well as her own longevity, given Mr. Warner is kingmaker in the coalition?
Still the biggest question is: Do Kamla’s philosophies as well as those of her federated partners square with the best interests of Trinidad and Tobago? The mischief of accommodations (notwithstanding general pledges to unison) is that each primary player silently retains un-surrendered sentiments of rights to leadership. This means the larger the coalition, and more disparate the philosophy of key players; the more difficult it will be to achieve coherent philosophies of governance to advance the country’s good. 
Until their core values and philosophies of life and politics are clarified and reconciled with the nation’s greatest good, the People Partnership reminds of the two headed snake school children found and named Cute Little Harry. That was before tests revealed each head was capable of taking Harry in different directions simultaneously. As he spent most of his time going around in circles Cute Harry was soon renamed Poor Harry. One has to wonder, with multiple heads in this federation, do we have before us a structural and ideological schizophrenia? 
Third, in considering her psychometrics, the very nature of the federated beast Kamla leads suggests she needs a sterling psychological construct and healthy well assured emotions.  Her psycho-emotional constitution is even more critical as one ponders the strong discordant personalities with whom she has surrounded herself under a euphemistic Peoples Partnership. 
Does Kamla have the emotional confidence to contend, far less successfully manage these forces that potentially wait to engulf and overwhelm her? Does she possess the critical psychological bearings to lead while walking on egg shells? What is her emotional capacity for stress, threats and trauma? What evidence does the country have of Kamla’s psychological balance and emotional poise under duress or turbulence?
It is also not unreasonable to inquire whether Ms. Bissessar’s ready embrace of foreign image consultants and easy decent into false accent, hairdo and clothing reflect an unhealthy sense of self and deep identity confusion? Does this not suggest she may be harboring serious unresolved complexes? One has to further ask: Is her quest for top office intended to camouflage or resolve deep seated psycho logic needs and/or serious inner conflicts? Are her actions sending reassuring psychological signals of leadership suitability? Ms. Bissessar will do well to help the nation better understand her inner self and develop confidence in her emotional bearings. 
Of course the issue of her purported alcohol dependency does not help; it only serves to further complicate her psychological profile. What is the truth content of this rumor? Is she presently alcohol dependent, a recovering alcoholic; or social drinker with a tendency to overdo? And are there in fact embarrassing documented episodes of indiscretion that are likely to render her psychologically-politically vulnerable when necessary hard decisions must be made? 
Perhaps it was hypocritical, even disingenuous of Mr. Panday to raise this matter in run up to UNC leadership elections (given his own past challenges as well as the fact that he kept her in his cabinet under said rumored conditions). Yet short of unequivocal clarity from Ms. Bissessar, this issue discolors her psychological profile and sharply raises her leadership liabilities. 
 Among others, these are some of the physical, philosophical and psychological considerations that challenge Ms. Bissessar’s suitability for high office. Clearly there are matters here she must urgently address and clarify in order to be seriously considered for the position to which she aspires.

Dr. Raymond S. Edwards President/CEO, MOHDC Raymond Edwards, Ph.D. Organizational Psychologist & Minister of Religion: is an international development consultant and executive Leadership behavior specialist.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Honestly Speaking: The Mischief of Truth & Value of Lies!

From my lips will come what is right; for my mouth will utter truth.
Imagine politicians reciting above preamble (Proverbs 6:7) with passionate sincerity! Believe me, to the last one they will! Still, my politician’s Oscar goes to disgraced former Chicago governor Rod Blagojevich for looking into the cameras and quoting Kipling “…don’t deal in lies” before straight facedly declaring “I am confident I have the greatest ally on my side; the truth”! 
Recent egregious transgressions of lies posturing as truth in the public domain have aroused urgent integrity concerns among leadership scholars not seen since Watergate. Of course, our Caribbean Island States are themselves never short on the drama of lies as truth in public space. 
The Eagles’ popularized myth (there ain’t no way to hide your lying eyes) has long been debunked by leaders. We’re not far from standard dictionaries safely defining leaders in general and politicians in particular as- Persons adroit; even gifted in telling lies while claiming truth. 
But how do they pull it off with such ease while lying seems to torture the average person?
This essay is about why politicians lie and how to fix it. While exploring politics in the truth and politics of the truth; it boldly examines the nature and role of truth in public spheres. In a subject crying for lucidity I’m challenged for parsimony. I trust your curiosity and crave your tolerance.
Insight but No Help
A bit of nuanced research out of Columbia University’s business school (Carney et al, 2009) helps shed light on how leaders are able to pull off searing incisive lies without the slightest outward appearance of dishonesty! 
In pertinent part findings claim the emotional satisfaction power yields produces anti-cortisol effects on the body- thereby shielding leaders from displaying physiological signs of stress and discomfort that lying normally produces in the average person. In other words, power, it seems, enhances the same emotional, cognitive, and physiological systems that lie telling depletes. So don’t look for normal cues such as shifting eyes, nervous looks, fidgeting feet and hands etc to detect a leader is untruthful; you’d be fooled. The feel of power or the quest for power renders leaders immune to such nervous effects. They’re able to act the lie-truth with super calm efficiency!
But is grasping mechanics that enable politicians to readily lie the same as understanding why they actually do? The answer is of course, no; and is something we will come to shortly. But first let’s examine what professor Carney and other experts suggest can rectify lies in leaders and result in greater truthfulness. 
Carney thinks “reminding a leader that the behavior is bad can get the person to stop engaging in those transgressions” and also feels “more discussions on ethics and integrity can help throw some cold water on fibbing bosses.” Peter Cohan (Values Leadership) opines it is the role of oversight bodies to stop lying executives. Mary Gentile (Giving Voice to Values) suggests letting it be known that an issue is known and understood will help leaders know they “can’t fly under the radar with deceit.” Even Harvard Business School has a suggestion for getting leaders to be more truthful. It’s called the “MBA Oath” and is designed to make leaders pledge to be ethical and think of the greater good. They “want it to be more than just words on a page” so they give signers an MBA Oath card to carry in their wallets.
I won’t be surprised if you’re chuckling- Reminds me of the Beatles famous Imagine. These specialists must be dreamers- and hope someday we’d join them so the world could be as one uh.
A Dose of Honesty
Leadership truthfulness in the public domain is messy, filled with drama; and does not come with easy answers. Honestly speaking why leaders and politicians lie so readily has very little to do with their ethical constructs, and a lot more to do with the nature and role of truth in public space. 
That famous 16th century counselor of leaders, Machiavelli, has long been posthumously warning those who desire survival not to speak the truth when doing would likely cost them the kingdom. And who can forget Jack Nicholson’s epic self righteous indignation in A Few Good Men as he bellows “you want the truth; you can’t handle the truth”! A modern day version of Plato’s timeless assertion that leaders should withhold truth from subjects out of concern for their own good!
The irony is that despite the best concealment ploys, sooner rather than later truth seeps out; and people are forced to ‘handle it’. Time and time again they have demonstrated they can handle it. Wiser but sadder, it’s not that people can’t handle the truth; but more so that leaders don’t wish to be handled by the truth! And yet, it is still not that simple.
It is not so much that leaders in and of themselves do not wish to be handled by the truth; but that they have come to learn it’s not in their best interest to be handled by the truth. Honestly speaking, one must further concede there is value and seemingly virtue in leaders telling lies while pretending to speak truth. 
What the Truth Has Become & How We Got Here
It seems inadequate to suggest truthfulness in leaders can be reduced to pedantic uttering such as honesty is the best policy, truth you win; lie you lose, or even truth shall set you free. Indeed it is also disingenuous to assume sitting in Sunday school and avowing to speak the truth and shame the devil is the same as standing on the pragmatic plains of real politick- where truth itself can be the devil with dangerous pitfalls and serious consequences. 
Any honest discussion of truth and politics must be willing to acknowledge there is politics in the truth and politics of the truth; and that the notion we call truth is often just that, a notion; even a virtuously mischievous one. 
Only a foolish politician falls for the calypsonian’s bait “tell we de truth so we could fix we business to suit” without realizing that fixing business likely includes voting out said leader for telling de truth. The Polish Prime Minister waited six months after his appointment in 2008 to finally come clean with compatriots. “In the run up to elections I lied to you morning, noon and night” he confessed. Pressed by journalists on this alarming disclosure he further explained “that’s how I got elected.” Hinting of course had he spoke the truth it would not have happened.
To a large extent leaders in general and politicians in particular lie because publics often tend not to want to hear the truth as a first or primary recourse. As with any living organism the public tries to repel, or at least defer, stress caused by bad news or by any harbinger of discomfort. This is a subtly decided dysfunction, a conspiracy of convenience if you will. But there is more to the naughty dynamic of truth, and ultimately lies as truth, in public space!
In order to facilitate our decided dysfunction or conspiracy of convenience, two simultaneous operatives of truth are made to coexist. On one hand there is mental expectation of bare knuckle honesty from leaders; truth as principle. On the other hand there is truth as notion, strategy, mischief; even game.  
In this duality our mental expectations regarding truth are often in diagonal conflict with actual conditions under which leaders are forced to operate. No surprise really that this double-sided or two faced interplay of truth produces our broken politics, with the brinksmanship that largely defines it. 
Let me illustrate how our current political landscape of truth as bare knuckle honesty and truth as mischief bears testimony to the politics in truth and the politics of truth
Notice how oppositions always want governments to tell the people the truth; but only while in opposition. Notice how once they become government they also become strangers to the very truth they previously clamored for in the name of the people. And notice how the people accept this truth charade! Truthfulness is celebrated as a principle to cherish; but not necessarily rewarded as a practice to honor. 
This stark dynamic explains how truth can be postured as bare knuckle honesty only in order to use it as deliberate strategy and mischievous notion. In this way truth is made to play arsonist, instrument or tool to effect professional derailment, expose psychological vulnerability and trigger political demise; while at the same time being used as fireman to propel and leverage power.
Of course governments know this only too well (after all they were once opposition) and therefore well understand their role regarding the truth is to be a great spin master- hedgy and untruthful enough to remain unexposed; while honest just enough not to be disgraced. 
In thinking about the leadership predicament of truth in public space, two separate but much related observations stand out: 
  1. Truth causes the same nervous effects in leaders/politicians that lies have on the average person. Accordingly, leaders/politicians are just as nervous about being caught in the truth as average persons are about being caught in a lie.
  2. The dynamic interplay of truth as principle Vs truth as strategy and game forcibly yields politics in truth and politics of truth- Which invariably results in the mischief of truth, and the value of lies.
The Way Out: Partners in Problem Solving
As we round towards the end, what are our options regarding leaders and truthfulness? First, a soliloquy-
A young Caribbean minister recently admitted flawed oversight on his part and committed to preempt recurrence through robust care going forward. Immediately the opposition began shark like circles while the media activated feeding frenzy mode. Call in participants jeered. And of course, pundits pronounced final rites given public record confession. 
Notice, not one sanguine sentiment praising honest public disclosure! Not one serious attempt to grasp an opportunity to engage a new social contract or telegraph a new leadership outlook between public and politicians! In preference for intrigue, mischief; game, a golden opportunity for fostering truthfulness- complete with structures of accountability including rewards/sanctions pertaining to a promised commitment of new carefulness went a-begging. It was disheartening.
Emerging from this entire expose on leadership and truth, a few options are available.
  1. Embrace Raw Pragmatism: In a bout of Freudian catharsis, a Caribbean politician went on record in suggesting we’d be all better off realizing and accepting politics has its own morality. That of course is not only an inadequate shortcut to resolving a critical dilemma; but also a dangerous precedent with far reaching implications for social order. 
  2. Officially Anoint Brinksmanship: In other words just be more open and accepting of our present order. A world in which the leader’s role is to develop adroitness in reading the public’s mood and rhythm for truth; while employing the requisite savvy for lies, half truths and innuendos, or at least incremental disclosure. We can keep this present order with its collectively conjured arrangement- In which we inadvertently conspire with ourselves against ourselves to create misleaders- Persons who lie enough to be liked while being truthful just enough not to be disgraced.  In this milieu we can live with the intrigue if we’re also prepared to live with the discontent and chivalry of tomfoolery- in which truth forever remains mischief or vice but seldom benefit, victim or villain but hardly victor; even attack or defense but never triumph.
  3. Build A Higher Ethic, More Sophisticated Reality, A New Order: I speak here of establishing a greater nobility, a more wholesome rubric to guide leader/follower intercourse in public space. A partnership of responsibility between people and leaders; partners in problem solving instead of deceit, deferment or avoidance if you will. When publics begin to value/reward leaders for disclosure as well as capacity/acumen for innovative problem solving; but more importantly for ability to inspire joint problem solving with followers, then we’ll be ready to build this new reality- where truth emerges benefit, victor; triumph. Until the public is willing to play an active role in repositioning truth from where it is presently (i.e. being a two edged game and strategy) to being what it ought to be (i.e. a principle and means to betterment) we should not expect executives or political leaders to be excited or trusting about calls for truthful disclosure.

Dr. Raymond S. Edwards President/CEO, MOHDC Raymond Edwards, Ph.D. Organizational Psychologist & Minister of Religion: is an international development consultant and executive Leadership behavior specialist.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Graceful Savagery! How We Retire Our Leaders

As the legendary Basdeo Panday desperately soldiers on feet ajar, one in the grave, the other on a banana skin! I am surprised that most commentators are themselves alarmed he won’t go riding silent and graceful into the sunset.  
Beyond this immediate dramatic interplay between people and a leader lies the larger painful reality that Island Politics has not yet found a healthy way to retire its leaders.  Almost to the last one, we force each to either die with boots on or go as a pathetic disconsolate. 
The rapturous When I Come to the End of My Way is not an inspiring epitaph or of sufficient comfort to anyone who has whiffed from the chalice of power and is asked/forced to breathe ordinary air again. And yet that is the easy part; it’s not only about the power thing!
Perhaps if we pause long enough to have leaders interrogate us we will hear them asking: Is it fair/just to force a leader to give up his/her position without first understanding what that position means/represents to him/her? 
Of course leaders are themselves partially to blame for their ultimate inglorious endgame because they come offering bestowals of themselves with altruism and self sacrifice for greater human good as the legitimate front, with little or no self disclosure of their urgent underlying psycho-logic needs. 
On the other hand the public is to blame also. Not only for believing the altruistic rationalizations and platitudes leaders offer; but also for embracing leadership services offered without stopping to ask hard questions re what psycho-biographical underpinnings and deep seated emotional/identity needs leaders may be desperately seeking to satisfy under the guise of ‘service.’ 
Truth is, the worthy cause a leader champions seldom adequately explains his/her passions. On the contrary, the cause often provides justification for hidden powerful emotional states of inward hunger the leader is being overwhelmed by and must satisfy/reconcile. 
For example when Basdeo Panday speaks perennially of the people’s struggle to which he is so committed those who understand him to mean what he says are fooled as much as he also fools himself. The people’s struggle to which he is ever so committed is never the cause in itself. Panday is better understood as being in fact more committed to a psycho-logic quest surrounding his sense of self and internal validation. In other words the quest/cause is his search for meaning and value to his existence. The people’s struggle is his euphuism; a vehicle for his deep seated psychological needs – Needs which he discovered find fulfillment in pouring himself out on behalf of people; because in turn he derives greater satisfaction from having people beholden to him. 
Until we are willing to understand and grapple with the real needs of leaders and are also willing to engage in searching out transactions that allow them equally satisfying emotional substitutes, it is not only unfair; but graciously savage of us to force them into retirement without understanding we are in effect asking them to ride off into self proclaimed insignificance, psychological invalidity and emotional purgatory.  Small wonder most prefer to die with their boots on, in pursuit of continuing to yet fulfill their psychological needs than accept and lend validation to their own ‘unvaluableness’ and loss of self.

Dr. Raymond S. Edwards President/CEO, MOHDC Raymond Edwards, Ph.D. Organizational Psychologist & Minister of Religion: is an international development consultant and executive Leadership behavior specialist.