Political leadership is the cornerstone of all societies. It can be used for the the good or the bad. It can take societies to the greatest heights or piles of rubble. We can view it in the warm comfort of hindsight, or see it up close in the chaotic financial meltdown of today. Either way, it surrounds us continuously. The big question is: What is political leadership and how can it work for us?
Leadership has many different components, depending on who is explaining it, but some of the main components are generally described as: Integrity; Energy; Self-belief; Vision; Decisiveness; Drive; Creativity; Communication; and Courage. I will add a modifier to vision - political foresight. Great leaders of recent history that we recognized as having these qualities include Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, and so on. Great names associated with larger than life contributions. Many in this province would include our recent Premier Danny Williams as a great leader with the required qualities. It is easy to see by the small amount of names, compared to the great numbers of people, that these folks are extremely special and do not come around everyday.
Unfortunately, the problems do. In our case we have numerous historical and current problems that, as the saying goes, "keep on giving." The Upper and Lower Churchill, Old Harry oil, offshore drilling, boundary disputes, an aging population, a shrinking tax base, a large provincial debt, a destroyed fishing industry and the list could go on. A big part of leadership is knowing the past. Without knowing the past you cannot understand the future, and you are doomed to repeat the same mistakes. A good leader understands this, and uses those lessons to change the future for his people.
A good leader understands the roots of issues, and communicates those to his people. Together they take the journey, and together they finish it. A good leader understands that he is nothing without the people, and that their well-being is his mission. A good leader places himself last and the people first, at all times, and demands the same of those that work for and with him. A good leader makes sure justice is not just seen to be done, but is done.
In the Newfoundland and Labrador context it means changing historical wrongs, and setting new courses for the future. It means rewriting the Upper Churchill agreement, building the Lower Churchill, affixing maritime boundaries to exploit the Old Harry oil field, getting the best possible return for our resources, expanding our economy, building our infrastructure, increasing our population, eliminating our debt, breathing new life into our fishing industry, and fending off the wolves. Any leader of Newfoundland and Labrador can expect to be challenged from within and from without by those who seek their own self-interest, and could care less about the consequences for us. That has been a historical fact, and remains true to this day. Any leader of this province must therefore be reinforced with a powerful courage of conviction.
The next leader must be able to deal with Quebec and Ottawa, and withstand an incredible amount of pressure in order to successfully achieve this province's goals. That kind of leadership requires the ability to project yourself onto the national scene, and achieve a very divisive victory, without ripping the country apart in the process. The ability to fight in the trenches and in the end ... diplomacy. Our leadership in this respect has normally achieved one or the other of these qualities, but not normally both. It is absolutely critical to our future that this be handled properly. However, should it not be possible to do so, the leader must have the courage of conviction to look after this province's interests first. In other words, the quality of an extremely thick skin will be necessary.
Once it is all over, and the challenges have been met, the future direction of the province will take shape. Leadership will then be required to set priorities on spending in a post-debt era. What do we value the most? Is it a low tax, low debt, and minimal government society? Is it a high tax, low debt, government stimulated society? These are issues for the future, though not too distant future. They will require a leadership that is open to the cultural and societal needs of this province.
Perhaps the most elusive quality of leadership today is humbleness. We live in the "me, me, me" era. The ability to listen to people, to take your guidance from them when they wish to give it, is absolutely necessary. Many leaders fail to understand that while you can not please all the people all the time, you must at a minimum please the silent majority. Be humble, open your ears and mind and listen to them. They will not let you down - don't let them down.
**caveat: his = his/her
Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the
round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently -- they're
not fond of rules... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify
them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change
things... they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the
crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that
they can change the world, are the ones who do.
US computer engineer & industrialist (1955 - 2011)