Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Feature: Kamla’s leadership deconstructed

By Phillip Rochford
(Reproduced unedited from the TRINIDAD EXPRESS)

THREE years ago, Kamla Persad-Bissessar became Prime Minister by deliberate strategy in the political arena. Raised in the rural community of Siparia, she followed her professional vision to become an attorney and worked her way to the top.

Amazingly she waged a successful campaign for the leadership of the UNC against the party’s founding father, Basdeo Panday, and all other leadership aspirants.

Her achievement as the successor to Mr Panday is even more remarkable as she is a woman in a political and religious environment where women held a subservient position. However, her husband Dr Gregory Bissessar, supports her vision.

One source of fascination with Ms Persad-Bissessar is her leadership style. She is a good listener, courageously makes difficult decisions, is politically pragmatic and is sensitive to political opinion, although not enslaved by it. She exemplifies power, mystique and rebellion with a touch of compassion.

She is the first woman to serve as Attorney General, acting Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition. She also held the portfolio of Minister of Education. On January 24, 2010 she was elected political leader of the UNC and in May of that year she became the first female Prime Minister of T&T. This is quite an achievement in a previously male-dominated political hierarchy. How did she handle the challenge?

As the first woman Prime Minister, coming after Dr Eric Williams, George Chambers, ANR Robinson, Basdeo Panday and Patrick Manning, Ms Persad-Bissessar has some tough acts to follow.

The public’s general perception at the time of her elevation to the Prime Minister’s job was that T&T was in economic and political shambles. Another challenging factor was her being leader of what the late Lloyd Best would have called a pick-up political side. Heightened positive expectations of the electorate made her task even more difficult. However, her critical skills as a team player and her interpersonal attributes held the coalition of parties— The People’s Partnership— together.

One of my mentors, the late Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, said “you should not blame the leadership, as they are simply an innocent reflection of the consciousness of those they lead.” Thus, when for any reason whatever a leader is no longer in alignment with her followers, if that fracture is not mended, it results in the removal of the leader. This is a key challenge for Ms Persad-Bissessar.

Her major problem is the widespread perception that she is not in full control of the country’s governance. This is unfortunate. Her positive quality of being an effective listener means that she pays attention to all that is being said and then makes up her own mind. This can easily lead to the very wrong impression that she is being controlled by others.

Another issue is her famous habit of prefacing comments and decisions by saying, “I have been advised.” In fact, this shows her humility: she is not pretending that she knows it all and that she is personally knowledgeable about and competent in all situations.

Her comment on more than one occasion that “I have court clothes” is an example of her rebellion fascination trigger. I refer readers to Sally Hogshead’s book Fascinate. Hogshead cites seven “fascination triggers’’: Power, Prestige, Passion, Trust, Alarm, Rebellion and Mystique.

Public disquiet has surrounded the rumour that she consumes too much alcohol. The fact is many people in T&T drink alcohol in varying degrees and the reality is in no way could she have led the men in her political party if she did not “knock” a glass of alcohol with them. The rigours and responsibilities of being Prime Minister may well have led her to maintain, if not increase, her use of alcohol.

Of great public concern is the extent to which corruption, nepotism, and political victimisation have increased since she became Prime Minister. These evils have always been with us but the problem is now bigger than it ever was.

One of the Prime Minister’s biggest weaknesses is the perception that she does not honour promises she makes to the electorate, e.g. the old age pension increase, and the “no property tax” vow. Of course, the Prime Minister has given explanations for the apparent dissonances. For example, her comment that “no property tax” does not mean that property will not be taxed, but it will not be taxed in the manner in which the previous administration had intended.

We do not know whether Kamla Persad-Bissessar will retain the position of Prime Minister after the next general elections constitutionally due in 2015. However, she has already left an undisputed legacy of shifting the historic imbalance of public services from the North to Central and South Trinidad. This will redound to the benefit of future generations.

Ms Persad-Bissessar needs to improve her personal political brand with a serious professional makeover if she wants to retain the leadership of the UNC, as well as her position of Prime Minister.

In spite of her limitations of governance, Kamla Persad-Bissessar has kept the ship of state on an even keel, and has triggered greater awareness and public participation in the politics of T&T
• Phillip G Rochford HBM, is a personal empowerment specialist and author of Enlightened Corporate Leadership

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Jai & Sero

Jai & Sero

Our family at home in Toronto 2008

Our family at home in Toronto 2008
Amit, Heather, Fuzz, Aj, Jiv, Shiva, Rampa, Sero, Jai