What an interesting and thoroughly nerve-racking general election day we had as a country! The formation of lines at polling stations from as early as 5:15 a.m indicated that there was a noticeably keen desire on the part of the people to participate in this absolutely important exercise. Many of us experienced heightened anxiety as we learned of last-minute Supreme Court hearings, long waits at some stations and other curious occurrences. But what transpired after the closing of the polls at 6 p.m, ‘takes the cake’ in an already dramatic 24-hour period in our nation’s history.
It all started with delays in the commencement to the counting process in each of the constituencies where the process that would normally start around 8 p.m. was only getting off the mark in some areas after 10:30 p.m. This caused considerable questions to form in the minds of many a citizen and this was only heightened by the realization that the delay was due to the late arrival of the special voting day boxes that were being dispatched to each district. With that now out of the way, counting began and the anxieties of many morphed into feelings of shock and awe as we all witnessed significant historical moments unfolding right before our eyes. We saw constituencies which were generally regarded as strongholds by one party being won by the other; we saw several first-time candidates ousting established and former Ministers of Government; we saw one party winning all 30 seats and we saw the elevation of the first female to the high office of Prime Minister. What a night!
But I would hope that you also took note of some of the varied characteristics of leaders that were on display for us on this momentous occasion. Indeed, and as it is to be expected in any competition, there will be a winner and there will be at least one loser and the reactions of a leader in the face of either outcome can teach us much about being courteous leaders.
I start with former Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Freundel Stuart, who after many years as this country’s seventh Prime Minister, fell short in his bid to return his party to government. There were many directions that he could have gone in the face of defeat – he could have hidden from the media and from the penetrating public eye but he did not. He came out, spoke to the citizens of the country he had the privilege of leading and he accepted the outcome with a degree of dignity and courtesy. It is a part of our very nature as human beings to shrink away from uncomfortable and potentially embarrassing situations. When we are up, it is quite easy to show our face but when we are down, we often seek desperately to save face. Leaders must accept that there are times when we will win and there are times when we will lose but regardless of the end result, we must seek to always be polite, respectful and considerate in our presentation to others. It must also be noted from this example that leaders are willing to accept the responsibility for negative outcomes without throwing shade or blame in the direction of the remainder of their team – the former Prime Minister did this admirably.
But what about courtesy in the face of a tremendous victory? Is there a need for respect and politeness especially in the light of a hard fought win? I suggest that it is even more becoming of a true leader to be able to demonstrate grace and courtesy in such circumstances as simply winning for some individuals can often lead to superciliousness, gloating and boastfulness. We witnessed the Prime Minister designate (as she was at the time), Honourable Mia Mottley, expressing and extending great courtesy in the wake of a historic triumph at the polls. She did not speak of ‘B’ versus ‘D’ and she did not seek to pull down her political opponents; rather, she spoke of healing and unifying as a people and to us becoming the best Barbados that we can dare to be. It must also be noted that she even silenced and corrected members of the crowd when they began to aggressively go down party lines.
There must always be grace and politeness in our leading of others – they must see these traits on display when we are at the top of the mountain and, equally so, when we are in the lows of the valley. Sometimes we win and sometimes we lose, but being a courteous leader will enable us to behave appropriately in all situations and this will set the correct tone and example for those whom we have the honour to and responsibility for leading.
(Davidson Ishmael holds a MBA in Leadership and Innovation and is an operations manager in the financial services sector.