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I must confess that though I have served in senior positions in the media, at the community level, and within professional organisations, I am not naturally inclined to gravitate toward lectures and events focusing on leadership development and practice.

No fanciful modernistic MBA stuff or post-mortem adulation for me. For I have found that the conversations these things often generate tend to omit important features of how our societies actually work.

Ironically enough, it was former Jamaica prime minister PJ Patterson who remarked at a Bocas Lit Fest panel on the weekend, that it is difficult to distinguish the accomplishments of Caribbean politicians, without at the same time examining the role of senior public servants.

Kyron Regis’s superb reportage on the event in Monday’s edition of this newspaper captures this dynamic of Patterson’s evaluation of Caribbean leadership—samples of which are found in abundance in the former PM’s autobiographical My Political Journey.

Officeholders, you see, are not necessarily analogous to the nominal status of “leaders.” We see it every day. Many commentators have made the point about the police commissioner. It’s a point to be made about politicians, as well.

Now, I am not about to go all MBA on you, but my point is that in the Caribbean (and I suppose elsewhere) there has been a tendency to assign to politicians, professionals, academics, religious heads, and other elite groups, the automatic mantle of “leadership.”

This is so when, in fact, their most important developmental functions have to do with providing a facilitating environment for “grassroots” leadership—to use another term I also do not like, but which captures the essence of where I’m going with this.

In these pandemic days, this has come into view far more starkly than it has in the past. Business leadership, for instance, has largely emerged from our small and micro-enterprise sector in terms of its ability to readily adapt to brand new conditions.

There is the mask-making industry that sprung up overnight with outstanding results. The “curb-side” deliveries of fruit and vegetables. The emergence of online sales platforms employing basic, everyday social media channels.

Entertainers have filled important voids with music, poetry and dance. There was no ministry of culture. No ministry of food production. No ministry of industry. Just regular folks doing their thing. Providing “leadership.”

Teachers, nurses, doctors, journalists, garbage collectors, supermarket attendants, farmers, fisherfolk, street food producers, small entrepreneurs, tailors, people simply doing what they do. Responding creatively and imaginatively to unprecedented times.

Okay, so this can also be viewed as a function of a society that has been designed and re-designed by people in political control. It might also correspondingly be a function of the state as “tireless mother” —that contentious ideological descriptor.

I am not sure. The university folks have probably studied this to death. But all I wish to place on the table is the view that political leadership and office do not necessarily equate “leadership.”

Mr Patterson, for instance, presided over the government of Jamaica between 1992 and 2006 as a sworn integrationist. There is no doubt about this. My question to him on Saturday was: How come, in 2018, the (Bruce) Golding Report unveiled fundamental, pervasive, multi-sectoral questions surrounding his country’s embrace of the Caricom project? There was no time for an answer.

Then there was Godfrey Smith on the Grenada Revolution and his paean to the leadership of Maurice Bishop. I have only read the published extracts, but Smith’s favourable verdict on Bishop would have had to ignore the excesses of a failed experiment. It could not have been all everybody else’s fault. Not even Bernard Coard’s.

I also asked Alissa Trotz about reconciling the late, iconic Andaiye’s views on political and social transformation based on her early engagement as a thought-leader within the Working Peoples Alliance (WPA) of Guyana—an organisation from which she would later break. This, in the context of the organisation’s rapid descent into virtual irrelevance in the face of its participation in the embattled and unfortunate APNU+AFC ruling coalition of 2015-2020.

This region needs to look again at “leadership” and think long and hard about what we mean by it. Who, in fact, is there to lead our advance out of troubled waters. What are the desired positive outcomes.

I suspect we are looking in the wrong direction, and at the wrong set of people.