Commentary: Educating leaders to care

Commentary: Educating leaders to care

By Oliver Mills

In many organizations, the claim is that leaders show little concern to care about those they manage. The same happens in politics, where in many Caribbean countries, people feel that after an election, they are jettisoned, and the personal interest of political leaders takes precedence. In some companies the training employees were promised is put on hold and their request for resources to enable them to work more efficiently is ignored. They therefore feel the company is uncaring, and this results in staff absenteeism, even resignation of some.

Oliver Mills is a former lecturer in education at the University of the West Indies Mona Campus. He holds an M.Ed degree. from Dalhousie University in Canada, an MA from the University of London and a post-graduate diploma in HRM and Training, University of Leicester. He is a past Permanent Secretary in Education with the government of the Turks and Caicos Islands

In politics people see uncaring leaders as promising, but not delivering, dividing the country’s resources among themselves, and having a sense of social superiority after being elected. Uncaring leaders are perceived as interested only in themselves, using the country to benefit themselves and their associates. The politics of care is therefore lacking.

This idea of educating political leaders to care is dealt with by Canute Thompson, of the UWI, Mona, in a piece in the Jamaica Observer about politicians lacking in care, while acting in their own self-interest, and he suggests measures to educate these leaders to enable the creation of a culture whereby they could properly represent the people by focusing on their interest.

One of the measures he recommends among others, includes training in political education, which involves knowledge of local legislation, his country’s relationships with others, and international agreements and protocols. I think these topics make sense, in terms of the practical areas leaders deal with. Learning about legislation and its purpose shows political leaders how social initiatives have to have parliamentary legitimacy, and that it is about advancing the welfare of the body politic. This makes leaders aware that legislation affects people’s lives, and fosters an ethic of care. They will then become more committed to their constituents.

But training in local legislation as mentioned by Thompson is not sufficient unless its impact as a tool of development for constituents is mentioned. It is the impact of governance that creates awareness of its relevance, and garners clientele support, since they then realize how political leaders care, and so refrain from labelling them as self-seekers.

Educating leaders in inter-country relations, along with international agreements and protocols has to stress the caring elements of respect for other people, admiration for their achievements, and demonstrate how protocols encourage ethical behaviour, and rule following. From this context come positive representation of people, and the cultivation of a caring attitude towards them and others.

Another educational measure Thompson mentions is corruption prevention training, and the consequences for any violations. Here he includes conflicts of interest, accountability and recall measures. But here, as before, Thompson does not explain these terms. And he does not indicate how, by operationalizing them, politicians become more caring, giving priority to their constituents’ interests.

He needs to clarify how politicians become educated by the measures he mentions, which would transform their behavior. The same problem presents itself when he mentions ethical training for politicians, with oversight, to prevent the use of public office to engage in unseemly behaviours.

For me, ethics training sensitizes individuals to proper public conduct. Here the consequences of certain choices could be stressed, and their implications noted. This has the effect of rubbing in the importance of ethical conduct for the present and future prospects of politicians. Inherent in ethical training is an ethics of care, which can orient politicians to become more compassionate to those responsible for their being where they are.

Thompson further mentions, public policy training, strategic planning, and leadership, as one of his educational measures to enable politicians to become more caring, and jettison self-interest in the interest of the public. Like his other suggestions, I think this is fine, but again he fails to give details of what is entailed in each of the areas he gives, and how they contribute to educating political leaders.

I see public policy as consisting of measures to make things really happen for citizens, hence the idea of public. Built into it is the welfare of everyone with no space for personal benefit. The citizenry will see the practical manifestations of government for all, and lend their support to making the policies work. This is practical caring, with selflessness as a prime ingredient. It means public policy will be seen to guarantee the socio-economic, needs of the populace.

And he connects to the above, strategic planning, and leadership, but again neglects to mention the ways these concepts promote caring, and discourage self-interest in politics.

My idea is that exposing leaders both political and in other sectors to the concepts mentioned will cause them to select, and organize projects relevant to the needs of citizens, ensuring fairness in their application. And the implementation of programmes will be monitored to ensure needs are met appropriately. Here, leadership becomes important in directing, and deciding priorities, and in projecting future requirements.

Exposure to these ideas enables leaders to be more empathetic to the demands of clients, enriches their capacity to care, and fosters an unselfish philosophy.

The writer then suggests that the performance assessment of representatives, based on benchmarks, and having a mechanism for their recall, is another measure that could counteract the care deficit and self-interest of politicians. But Thompson does not give examples of the benchmarks, or say what level of corruption or ethical violation would warrant a recall. Nor does he say what constitutes success of the training programme.

Of course, performance assessment gives some indication of the quality of work done, and a system of recall for behaviours that tarnish the public’s image is acceptable. But what would constitute concrete evidence for action here?

I think Thompson has written a good piece, but could have included some of the observations I made. His article could serve as a guide to political leaders, and those in other types of organizations of how to foster an ethic of care, and selflessness in organizations.