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Real leaders in times of crisis

Grenada is currently experiencing a pivotal moment in its history as the island confronts a multitude of crises; the coronavirus pandemic, global economic downturn caused by the pandemic, and a rather tense industrial climate on the island.

In times of national crisis, real leaders are expected to lead the nation to triumph over adversity by girding the country to safely navigate great uncertainty and real danger, and inspiring citizens to overcome their collective fears and getting them to do better than they can do by themselves on their own.

The recent national address by the Prime Minister, Dr. Keith Mitchell neither prepared the nation for the difficult challenges going forward nor inspired the citizenry to rise to the occasion and overcome the difficult times. Instead, the rambling speech was divisive, lacking ideas, direction, and transparency.

In times of crisis, real leaders get the nation to appreciate the gravity of the crisis and rally the people’s resolve to overcome.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the great depression said to the American people, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. Later in that same speech he challenged them to use their strengths to overcome the crisis by saying, “there is no unsolvable problem, if we face it wisely and courageously. There are many ways in which it can be helped, but it can never be helped merely by talking about it, we must act and act quickly”.

Winston Churchill in the face of unrelenting aerial bombardment of mainland Britain by Nazi Germany rallied Britons to “keep the faith”. He told the British people, “we shall not fail or falter, we shall not weaken or tire, neither the sudden shock of battle, nor the long drawn trails of vigilance and exertion will wear us down”.

He went on to demonstrate resolve when he said, “give us the tools and we will finish the job”.

Both leaders identified and acknowledged the fears of their citizens and sought to mobilise their collective will to confront the crisis head on.

Prime Minister Mitchell in his speech failed to do so and squandered another opportunity to rally the nation to collective action in the battle against the coronavirus.

The speech lacked a proper accounting of the dangerous challenges that lie ahead as the pandemic continues and failed to identify the resources; determination, solidarity, humanity, strength, shared purpose and resilience required to help the nation weather the storm.

Instead, the Prime Minister sought to stoke division when he portrayed teachers as greedy and uncaring while pitting them against those who lost their jobs during the crisis.

He failed to allay the fears of those who are hesitant to take the vaccine and adequately outline the dangers that lay ahead as the island continues to fall further and further behind in the race between vaccine and variants.

In times of crisis, real leaders bring people together and summon their collective will in pursuit of a greater cause. They appeal to citizens to act and give them a role and purpose to do so.

Martin Luther King Jr called on his followers, in the midst of the civil rights struggle to ‘sit in, march and otherwise protest against racial discrimination’.

Abraham Lincoln during the United States civil war exhorted men from the northern States to fight against the Confederate army of the Southern States.

With the banking system on the verge of total collapse at the height of the great depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt asked Americans to keep their money in banks to help avert a banking crisis.

Real leaders direct their followers to act and explain why they must do so. They are able to invoke a notion of a higher moral value for the common good of society.

The Prime Minister failed to clearly outline the emerging threats from the new variants in particular the B117 UK variant, B1.35.1 South African variant, P 1 Brazilian variant and B 1.5.2.6 New York variant all of which, except the New York variant, have been identified in the United States and Europe – two of the major source markets for tourists to Grenada.

He also didn’t speak properly to the protocols to be implemented with reopening of the hotels in the south of the island and the risk to the population. To ask the population to make sacrifices and give up their individual freedoms, you must explain why they need to do so.

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To give the nod to hotels to reopen knowing very well each flight to the island brings increased risks of the virus spreading and endangering the population; and not seeking to alert the population to the dangers, is irresponsible.

Because of the increasing dominance of the new variants, any breach of entry protocols and spread of the virus on the island, it can happen most likely through one of the more infectious and dangerous mutations such as the UK or Brazilian variants. It is only right that the population be made aware of this.

The Prime Minister failed to fully acknowledge the seriousness of the crisis and confront the brutal truth of the situation.

A real leader in times of crisis is honest and transparent with the nation.

The rush to pay huge sums to WRB, the former major shareholder of Grenlec, was not only going to disrupt government financial operations in moving to enforce the judgement of the Tribunal but was also intended to protect those individuals in government as well, particularly those with assets in the United States and in International banks.

Truth is often the biggest casualty of crisis, the first instinct is always to deny, conceal and later create a palatable version that attempts to confuse the population.

You can’t ask teachers and public servants to make further sacrifices when ill-advised decisions cost the State hundreds of millions of dollars to settle legal judgements.

Real leaders attempt to involve their followers in the process and make them feel a part of the struggle.

Winston Churchill, former Prime Minister of Britain was able to make Britons feel as if they were actually involved in winning the war. He understood the pulse of the people and listened carefully to their fears.

The recent national address by PM Mitchell failed to galvanise the nation into action, instead it was partisan since it appealed to a narrow base of supporters.

The speech placed groups such as teachers and civil servants in a bad light, as unreasonable and greedy, giving no credence to their financial plight.

There was little acknowledgement of the feelings of workers and the potential negative fallout from the tense industrial climate. The speech did not address the impasse between former RBTT workers and their employers over severance and gave no reason why government gave approval to the sale of the bank without ensuring the matter was resolved.

In the same vein, considering Sandals resort was the site of the December virus outbreak, the announcement of the reopening of the hotel and return of jobs without mentioning the measures in place to protect workers from the virus that was missing in the address, and shows little concern for them.

In times of crisis, real leaders are astute as they assess the impact of the crisis into the future and attempt to position the nation to take advantage of the positive possibilities that lie ahead.

The speech failed to identify the threshold of promise that will emerge after the various crises situation now confronting us and the opportunity for a new beginning, a paradigm shift, an opportunity to do things differently and better.

Instead, it reflected a maintenance of the status quo, devoid of new thinking or creative energy. The speech was bland and unremarkable as was the tone, body language and words of the presenter.

Real leaders in times of crisis lead a nation to overcome its fears and weaknesses and cause the people to do better. Looking beyond the immediate, real leaders create a culture that is able to sustain itself long after they are no longer around because change seldom occurs overnight.

The recent national address to the nation was not the speech of a real leader in times of crisis.

It was someone who in the twilight of their career is tired and void of new ideas. Sap of energy that person is unable to reinvigorate and inspire the nation to overcome adversity and aspire to a great new reality with endless possibilities.

Special Correspondent