By Marcus M. Mottley, Ph.D.
According to the highly respected management consultant and author Warren Bennis “Good leaders make people feel that they're at the very heart of things, not at the periphery.”
“’Good’ leaders make people feel that they’re at the heart of things.” Not powerful leaders, not spiritual leaders, not aggressive leaders… but ‘good’ leaders. Now, I don’t think that Bennis’ ‘good’ is a statement about the character of the leader. I think that in this case ‘good’ means effective.
So, forgive me as I take some liberty with Bennis’ words: “Effective leaders make people feel that they’re at the heart of things… not at the periphery.”
Certainly Mahatma Gandhi was an ‘effective’ leader (He was good too – in the other sense). Martin Luther King was an ‘effective’ leader (He was also ‘good’ in the other sense). Nelson Mandela, Golda Meir, Sojourner Truth – all effective leaders…
They made people feel that they were at the very heart of things… not on the periphery. People did not have to wonder about how those leaders felt, what they believed, how they reacted to situations…
Those leaders communicated with the people… continuously.
‘Good’ leaders are not only ‘good’ communicators who communicate with and continuously inform the people. They involve the people… and “make the people feel that they are at the heart of things”.
Involvement: consultation, collaboration, two-way communication and conversations, getting feedback from the people, utilizing the people’s feedback and feeding it forward into public activities, projects and programs… that serve the interests of the people!
“Good Leaders…” I had a hard time coming up with a list of “good leaders” who fit the profile set by Bennis. Yes, most leaders do some of what Bennis describes, but most do not do so consistently. As a matter of fact, most leaders only involve people – or make people feel at the heart of things… when they… the leaders want something or when they are at their ‘wits end’ or in trouble of some sort.
We certainly see a lot of ‘involvement’ and ‘communication’ and ‘interactions with the people’ prior to an election. Lots of it! But as soon as an election is over… most leaders retract back to the same old, same old way of operating.
What’s the same old, same old? High handed behavior; Making decisions that ‘blow gas’ in the people’s face; trying to muzzle the same media that got them elected… not once but twice; Aloofness and “I am better than you-ness”; And, Hobnobbing with a special class or group – ignoring the grass-roots people who elected them.
There is one other way that leaders retract, revert and go backwards: Being silent.
Silence… Not feeling that you have to respond to the questions of the people… Taking matters of public concern… and labeling them ‘private’ matters that would be dealt with privately when they feel like (whenever, if ever.)
In the meantime, the people are left on the periphery of things. Excluded from the decision-making. Excluded from making contributions to their own welfare – to their own future. Purposefully excluded.
Any leader – or group of leaders – who leave people on the periphery and who exclude people from the decision making… and who exclude the ideas of the people… and who dismiss the concerns of the people… will have done so at their own peril.
It is self destructive to leave the people on the periphery of governance.
Yes, there was a time when it took 28 years for the peril to be realized. But those days are done. The world is moving faster these days… and leadership tenure will fall away and dissolve much more quickly.
Therefore, leaders must recognize the fragility of their tenure. The people will not wait another 28 years… As a matter of fact, the way we are going 28 months might be a stretch…
Those leaders who harken back to the olden days and wish they had the kinds of corrupt benefits their predecessors had and their ability to get away with a lot of ‘stuff’ are involving in wishful dreaming. They are now dealing with young people who lack the patience and who will not listen to the spin of these ancestral behaviors. They are dealing with a new Antiguan and Barbudan phenomenon – ordinary people who have extraordinary access to the media… and who use that access everyday.
Rightly or wrongly, historically this is the day of immediate communication; this is the day of speed; this is the day of immediate gratification; this is the day of 20/20 cricket. Action now. Results now.
Five more years of this self-inflicted wounds among the leaders? Not a chance! People will not wait for the pain to be passed down to them.
“Good leaders make people feel that they're at the very heart of things, not at the periphery.”
When people feel that they are being kept on the periphery… then the leaders themselves are in jeopardy.
So… let’s put the people at the very heart of things. As servants of the people – you answer to us!
As ‘good leaders’ you put us first – at the very heart of everything!
And if you fail to take the people from the periphery into the heart of things… then you run the risk of being put on the periphery yourselves… Ask Lester what that is like… As a matter of fact, just ask some of your own colleagues what that is like!
Leadership is about people.
Rally your mates and lead-the-ship, good Captain. Let’s get back on track – and let us all go in the planned direction.