Changing the Language of Leadership

The development of the Caribbean Region has been crippled by corruption. Within all sectors, evidence of mismanagement of funds, discrimination and crime have become synonymous with some of the most powerful policy and decision-makers.  Citizens are on a continuous search for the “good leaders” that will help move the region towards economic prosperity and growth. But where are all the “good leaders”? What is this “good leader” that we are constantly in search of?

The creation of these “good leaders” starts from the beginning. It starts from helping the youngest child understand what it means to be a leader. Unfortunately, what we have been teaching our children is a type of leadership fostered by  fear and competition. The post-colonial education system of the Caribbean inherently fosters a linear view of “leadership”. Hierarchical structures are embedded at a young age and a culture of competition is created dividing and sets in motion a paper chase that is somewhat never-ending and reinforces social class barriers that exist.  The status of “Head Boy”, “Class Monitor”, “Sports Captain” is put on children as young as age five or six. Pedestals and egos are fostered, through class rankings and prize-givings. A culture where failure is punished and individualism encouraged.

We need to change how we talk about leadership.

For the region to develop in a sustainable manner, the concept of leadership should extend beyond just finding or becoming a “good leader”, but through a more holistic lens. There needs to be a conceptual shift  away from an individualistic approach to leadership to a more collective vision. In a region with small numbers but big potential, it is not so much about the role of that one leader, but about the collaborative movement.

A shift in language will lead to a shift in attitudes and mentality surrounding leadership. The growing popularity of Social Innovation lends itself easily to this ideological transformation. The Social Innovation realm is founded on principles of collaboration and collective action. It goes beyond the traditional notion of teamwork towards a strength-based approach to the role of “community”.  The language of social innovation maintains the importance of the role of the individual, but strikes a balance by ensure both inward and outward introspection. The inward introspection comes along with the shifting of language and identification of the “self” in the wider system. The “self” and the “leader” are always brought back to their place in the macro vision of societal issues. Words such as “community” and “collaboration” are more prevalent as Social Innovation encourages dialogue. We want to encourage young people to not just abstractly define themselves as leaders, but to encourage them to identify themselves in more tangible terms such as innovators, change-makers or systems thinkers within the larger system in which they operate.

Learning this new vocabulary allowed me to better analyse how I viewed leadership and the impact it had on the young people with whom I interact. It inspired me to create a video introduction for the annual leadership program that I facilitate in Jamaica for high school participants from across the island. As the popularity of leadership programs grows, it is important to ensure we are introducing concepts that will prepare students to be these “good leaders”.

The Emerging Global Leaders Program is an initiative adopted by the Alliance of Jamaican Alumni Associations in Canada. This program aims at empowering high school aged students across Jamaica to  elicit their leadership potential. We have evolved from annual workshops, to a club system in over 10 schools across the island. For 2014, we are looking at evaluating our system and will be further developing and enhancing the community of young leaders that this program has already influenced and has the potential to influence.

The video aims to be to a short, dynamic introduction into the culture shift, that this program will take in the upcoming planning process.