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By Mark DaCosta- Many persons will agree that while a politician is running for office he or she is usually down-to-earth and relatable. However, if that politician gets into office the situation frequently changes; suddenly, the politician becomes aloof and unreachable. It appears that acquiring political power may change an ordinary person into an elitist snob. Many Guyanese have expressed this observation with reference to our own politicians and leaders. The majority of people view this reality as undesirable or even repulsive. The questions then, are why does this happen, and how can leaders avoid this pitfall?
All political aspirants have personalities — as do everyone — which are products of nature and nurture; we all have innate personal predispositions that are conditioned and influenced by the environments in which we developed. A political aspirant may seek office as a result of a pure and genuine desire to serve the people or, on the other hand, for other more selfish reasons such as a craving for fame, power, wealth, and so on. The motivation for pursuing political office will, of course, be the major determinant of how that person will behave if he or she gets into office.
The decisions that political leaders make affect the lives of ordinary people, and those decisions are heavily influenced by their motivation for seeking office. As such, a politician’s motivation should be important to the electorate who must vote for that leader. Unfortunately, in Guyana, voters are more likely to choose our leaders based on race and party considerations.
As things stand, it appears that Guyanese are quite willing to support and vote for political leaders who are unquestionably corrupt. Evidence of such corruption may be inferred from allegations made against them, and from some politicians amassing enormous wealth that could not possibly be acquired legally. Such self-serving politicians have no interest in staying in touch with ordinary Guyanese. That being the case, we may set aside consideration of such politicians for now.
On the other hand, persons who genuinely wish to serve the people via the political path must stay relatable and grounded. While such matters as personal security must be considered, a servant-leader must find the balancing point between security and relatability.
Dr. Ruth Gotian a researcher, educator, and author on the subject of successful leadership writes that genuine, successful politicians — not the corrupt ones — must possess the following traits. Dr. Gotian cites examples.
- Courage. Dr. Gotian writes, “I am transfixed by the example of [Ukraine’s] President Zelensky. I have watched every one of his addresses. He is plainspoken, quietly forceful, and unstinting with the truth. I have been studying leadership and fearlessness my whole life. I’ve never quite seen the likes of this.”
- Authentic. “The leaders we admire show genuine authenticity. They are vulnerable and speak openly of their mistakes, worries and dreams. Perhaps most famously is Dr. King’s I Have A Dream speech. It touched on core issues that impacted others in a manner that inspired. The leaders do not hide behind a false veil of denials or untruths. They are honest and forthcoming, despite the consequences.”
- Simple language. “Zelensky’s speeches are simple, plain-spoken, commanding and emotional. They are so relatable that they are difficult to ignore. Don’t use a ten-dollar word when a 25-cent word will do.”
- Relatable. “When a leader is relatable, the constituents feel seen and heard. For example, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Arden’s livestream speech during Covid-19 from her home was interrupted when her daughter ran out of bed. Immediately, every parent could relate to the interruption. Arden did not hide what happened; she embraced it.”
In addition to Dr. Gotian’s findings, political experts agree that promises must be kept. It is not sufficient for a political leader to visit communities, shake hands, and listen to the concerns of citizens. Leaders must follow through if they want to keep and build their support base, and maintain their credibility. Effective leaders must have the courage to tackle big problems and the authenticity to be forthright with their constituents. Genuine leaders will always be reachable and relatable.
Sadly, addressing the issue of corrupt, selfish persons in political office is beyond the scope of this article. Guyanese, though, absolutely should come to the realisation that fixing the problem of corrupt people in positions of political power is up to us. Only the people have the ability to correct and rectify that problem at the ballot box.