What’s the state of leadership in the Caribbean?

With just over a week until Virgin Atlantic and Richard Branson touch down in Barbados for the one day Business is an Adventure conference, we catch-up with one of the speakers who will take to the stage on May 3rd, Scott Hilton-Clarke...

The fifth stop on the Business is an Adventure tour will see the Virgin Group founder, along with a host of local experts, tackle the tricky issue of leadership. One person who knows more than most on the subject and its impact in the region is Scott, who has been conducting research on the state of leadership in the Caribbean.

Scott has spent much of his 25-year career advising and inspiring senior executives and entrepreneurs to raise their level of personal and leadership effectiveness. As the Founder of Inspiration Laboratories, his life’s work has revolved around helping others to achieve their goals, dreams and aspirations. We sat down with him to get a sneak preview of his findings, all of which will be revealed live on May 3rd.

What has your research project discovered about the state of leadership in the Caribbean?

Scott: Although we are in the early stages of our research, the short answer is "We’re screwed!" I found a lot of cynicism, sarcasm and negativity toward the very notion of Caribbean leadership. As you can imagine, this made the project even more intriguing. The fact is... there's a need for stronger leaders in the Caribbean.

For you to have the right context for my comments, let me step back and share why we wanted to conduct this research in the first place.

There are many leadership development programmes available in the region, including work that I've done personally over the past 20 years. Yet, when I talk to business professionals, the consistent feedback I get is that, "great Caribbean leaders are rare and hard to find".  So the first step for me was, "Is this true? Or is this just a handful of anecdotes that do not reflect a broader pattern?"

Next, we had to decide what questions we should be asking. So we dug into all of the commonly found attributes of good leadership and discovered a revealing pattern... that the recurring themes that kept coming up fit into these five broader categories:

  1. Inspiration
  2. Self-management
  3. Development
  4. Tracking +
  5. Innovation

We decided that rather than structure tiresome questionnaires that would require tedious effort from the respondents, we would do the heavy lifting by asking more open-ended questions, then use a blend of technology and expert insight to identify key trends from the responses. This has given us a rich understanding of the problem, and a clear direction on what we need to do to change the game.

Did any of the results come as a surprise to you?

There are both causes for concern, and bright sparks in the data. One area that makes me optimistic is that leaders have been reported to support creativity in the region. On the flip side, we've seen that many of them will take your ideas as their own (laugh).

There was one result that came as a complete surprise to me and has a number of implications for how Caribbean leaders can practically raise their effectiveness. I will reveal this during the presentation. No spoilers here!

What key themes have you identified when it comes to the difficulties of preparing the next generation of leaders?

The biggest theme is - simplify, demystify and simplify again.

Leadership can become overly complex because the responsibility of leaders is so broad. We need to help future leaders identify specific areas that create the biggest impact, then put them on the path to developing the right habits. If, for example, someone in a leadership position is not a good listener, we can't make him or her a good listener. What we can do is help them to develop the habit of trying to remember to listen, when every part of their being is pushing them to interrupt and preach. That instinct seldom (never) goes away.   

Another big theme was personal accountability to develop others.

Quiz: Can you match the leaders to their mission statement?

It almost seems that we, in the Caribbean, didn't get the memorandum that a manager actually means 'manager of people' and therefore one should consider actually developing the people that report to you (or for the very least, pretend to). It turns out, that helping people get better, is a very difficult act to 'pretend' to do, and that it actually takes effort. For example, in my consulting experience, succession planning beyond the CEO is a fairly recent thing in the Caribbean (last 15 years). In all seriousness, there was a mix of anger and disappointment in the survey results around their manager’s lack of support in advancing their career through development and exposure.

Are there any leadership styles that you see as garnering the best results? Or do you believe it’s down to leaders to pick an approach that best fits the situation they’re in?

This is a great trick question. There are a number of leadership styles that are effective and yet it is important for leaders to be adaptable to the situation they find themselves in. What we noticed when we looked at the best results was there were a few traits (as distinct from styles) that underpinned those leader’s behaviours. Two of them were trust and empathy.

It was clear in the survey that certain direct managers had earned significant trust (read credibility) that inspired the respondents to put their best foot forward. It is difficult to garner that kind of willingness, without that second trait of empathy. As one respondent remarked, "He trusts me to accomplish what we set out as goals and offers great support if I stumble". The best leaders demonstrate this kind of empathy. What the respondent is implicitly saying in his comment is that he can also count on this manager to be there for him (reliability/trust). That same respondent also went on to add, "He (his manager) champions me at every opportunity".  It is clear, that this particular manager understand the criticality of development but unfortunately, they were in the minority.

Interested persons can register at virginleadership.com. Tickets are BBD$245 per person and all proceeds will go to the BCCI, a non-profit organisation. You can also find out further information on the Facebook event page.

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