Leadership in theory, practice

Two views of leadership were explained, from very different perspectives, at the recent UCCI conference on that very subject.  


Most people hold the mistaken belief that great things happen when we have great leaders, according to Robert Weisham, professor at the UCCI and a speaker on a panel discussing leadership in theory and in practice.  

In truth, great things happen when people group together collectively to bring about change for the good, such as the women’s rights movement, and nowadays with what is happening in the Middle East. 

“Change happened when ordinary citizens got together and demanded that something happen,” he said. “Education is the key. It opens up the ability to learn and create new ideas, empowering individuals.” 

Weisham said that nowadays we train leaders but they are really only administrators or caretakers. 

“Transitional leader isn’t really a leader, it’s a position created by someone else. The actual authority lies in the position, not with the individual. They don’t really lead, they just take care of an organisation for a period of time,” he said. 

This type of leader is thus averse to risk for fear of losing their position and are accountable only to the top of the organisation, not the bottom, so as not to offend those who put them in their position in the first place. 

Transitional leaders don’t make real decisions, they simply choose between one option and another, he went on to say. They choose the solution which best fits the situation. This works when the situation is ordinary, but doesn’t work so well when things are out of the ordinary. 

Transformational leaders, on the other hand, are not trained to be leaders. Instead, they gain power and authority from their personality, such as individuals like Martin Luther King. 

“Transformational leaders are those who strike a nerve in the general population,” he explained. “They have the ability to awaken people. They are accountable to the individuals in society with a real need. They take that need, focus on it and give it a voice and energy so that people will demand change and make lives better.” 

It takes courage to be a transformational leader but these types of leaders are not afraid of losing their power because they are already in that position. They take risks and look at the world differently, he said. 

The Caribbean needs less transitional and more transformational leaders, Weisham offered, stating that the region does not have that many organised civic groups. 

“There is a dearth of transformational leaders here.  

“Everyone is looking at how to get back to the way things were and no one is looking forward,” he said. 

Former Leader of Government Business in the Cayman Islands Kurt Tibbetts said that his motivation for leading the Cayman public was a personal satisfaction that he derived from serving his fellow man. 

“I believe we thrive when we serve others and without that opportunity there is a great void in our lives,” he confirmed. 

Speaking from a personal perspective, Tibbetts said that when he was first elected to government in 1992 he sought an audience with God to seek guidance. 

“That was my first lesson in leadership,” he revealed. “God is omnipotent and he is the real leader and we shouldn’t stray from that.” 

Tibbetts said that in the 19 years he served as an elected representative, he always felt blessed to hold the position, “even when it was at its most challenging and distasteful” 

A real leader is not swayed by their own ego, according to Tibbetts, who said that following an ego “can get you into trouble”. 

“I’ve seen it happen too many times within the circles of elected representatives” he confirmed. “In politics there needs to be compromise, but in the matter of principles there is no compromise. I’ve seen good people cross the line and once they cross it they stay there for they are never able to come back.  

“The moment they cross the line they are beholden to someone other than God.” 

Tibbetts said that he believed strongly in building consensus and that everyone’s perspectives ought to be taken into consideration when decisions are made. 

“It leads to a better decision and therefore gives better results,” he confirmed. 

Great leaders are teachers and mentors, but that does not mean that they have to know everything but it was good to have a strong grip on things, he stated. 

“Any staff always work better as a team,” he said. “The leader has to be able to trust and have belief in their team. Micromanaging should be avoided because it shows that you don’t trust your employees and it’s morally wrong.” 

Leaders also need to have great people skills, which will help them build relationships that are long lasting. Patience was another important quality integral to success and survival, he confirmed, as was being sensitive to what affects them the most. 

“You have to allow them to be part of the solution,” Tibbetts said.  

“They need to be given the ability to empower themselves to be part of it all.” 

Tibbetts said that he did not set out to be a leader. 

“You can’t read a book to tell you how to lead, you simply have to live it,” he concluded.