The SPU’s NICIL has a lot to learn about servant-leadership

Dear Editor,

‘The better to sever’: To some this (mis)quote would sound better if it were to read ‘the better to serve’. Other colleagues who dabble with words and the ideas they could imply, talk, perhaps too glibly, about ‘self-service’. Actually the latter does not refer either to buffets or takeaways, but to a style of governance and management that is hardly productive.

In the confused, almost bellicose, exchange of views, one sage dilates on the style of ‘servant leadership’ practised in creative organisations in more progressive environments , in contrast to a style they perceive as becoming increasingly pervasive in their home country, a style which tends to command, to demand uniformity, and expects only obeisance. Conversation no longer consists of the lively exchange of different views. Rather there is a podium on the one hand, and the apprehensive, if not attentive, seats across the way. In the end loud, submissive, applause reverberates into an egocentric microphone.

The next day’s reflections are about what is learnt, if anything; a new direction or a full circle; an invention, or the re-invention of the old wheel – ‘Me first’! ‘You follow!’ ‘Forward March’ – a parade!

Have we learnt to think? Are we supposed to? Not if the decision is already made. Nor is it changeable. The die is cast. Just follow, even if it is to march around a known circle. But you know what, there are some circles we don’t know, as happens in organisations, public or private. The ‘Publics’ are consistent in their repetitiveness. The ‘Privates’ do attempt some creativity.

It is the admixture of the two somehow which appears to obfuscate communication to the point of abrasive confusion.

An imperious indulgence in change is now being imposed on an industry that is some three hundred years old, now into splintered management.

The presumption of power precludes proven professionalism, excludes recognised organisational structures and relationships, declaims the standards of respectful communication, unaware of the demeaning effect on the persona, morale, depreciating the performance of those who once lived and worked as colleagues and friends. Neither the dissipation of teamanship, nor the debilitation of the human spirit is discernible to them, not to mention the compromise of self-respect.

It all started with the self-convincing proposition that the centuries-old sugar industry could only survive economically on a reduced and more compact scale. Hence the somewhat peremptory closure of four-sevenths of the operations. There appeared to be no explicit consideration given to the uniqueness of this industry as an educational, health, community development and welfare institution. Accordingly its deconstruction could not simplistically be translated into the mere reduction of employees, but more importantly account had to be taken of the extended impact on the future lives of families, particularly of children at school now, and in the future. The latter constituted a significant enough percentage of the related ‘communities’ for decision-makers to be concerned about their future development.

And yet there is this puzzling construct, wherein employees having been severed at considerable cost, which initially can only be partially met, are to be rehired for reopening the closures.

The strategy, so called, is to invest considerable sums in reopenings, hopefully, serving as incentives to future investors to revive the industry at varying unpredictable points in time.

It needs desperately to be understood at what stage of the decision-making process was the rationale agreed that functional estates only would be more attractive to investors than those closed. For it follows that were the reasoning more meticulous at the time, the severing of employees of the estates so hastily to be re-opened could have been deferred.

Even at this juncture it seems fair to inquire into a number of ponderables attendant on this venture:

i) the assurance of the unions’ steadfast commitment to a productive revival, given their combative industrial relations record;

ii) in any case the confidence that workers and managers respectively, would accept other than the employment packages to which they have been accustomed; based of course on

iii) the critical assumption that the right skills and competencies will be available to operationalise production, and of course, at an acceptable level of productivity;

iv) and the most important factor, that of the assured longevity of the investor’s interest in an uncertain market environment

v) in the milieu of the still imperative need to develop a comprehensive strategy for the alternative economic and social survivability of neighbouring estate communities, of which the industry has always been its first citizens.

For we must all be reminded that our Constitution gives us all the right to work, and to aspire even to be elected decision-makers.

“A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. While traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the ‘top of the pyramid,’ servant leadership is different. The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.

“As a servant leader, you’re a ‘servant first’ – you focus on the needs of others, especially team members, before you consider your own. You acknowledge other people’s perspectives, give them the support they need to meet their work and personal goals, involve them in decisions where appropriate, and build a sense of community within your team. This leads to higher engagement, more trust, and stronger relationships with team members and other stakeholders. It can also lead to increased innovation.

“Servant leadership is not a leadership style or technique as such. Rather it’s a way of behaving that you adopt over the longer term. It complements democratic leadership styles, and it has similarities with Transformational Leadership – which is often the most effective style to use in business situations – and Level 5 Leadership  – which is where leaders demonstrate humility in the way they work.”

The SPU’s NICIL obviously has a lot to learn.

Yours faithfully,

E B John

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