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BUSINESS GUARDIAN guardian.co.tt JANUARY 26 • 2017
Responsive, responsible leadership
Two international events cap-
tured the attention during the
course of last week. The first
clearly was the inauguration
of the US President Donald
Trump. It is not necessary to
go into the details since this was front-page
There was another event, however, which
may not have grabbed the same level of head-
lines but was also important in terms of the cast
of persons present and the topics discussed.
I am referring to the World Economic Forum
in Davos, Switzerland. It is a forum where the
global economic, political and even financial
elite gather together to discuss the issues that
they see as being relevant.
The theme for this year's forum is captured
in the headline for this column. From the chair-
man's briefing the following is worth noting:
"Leaders have to be responsive and re-
sponsible; they must understand that we
are living in a world marked by uncertain-
ty, volatility and deep transformational
"Many people are living in precarious
situations and searching for identity
and meaning in a fast-changing world.
They want to regain their sense of pur-
pose. More than ever, leadership means
taking responsibility. It requires courage
and commitment to listen and honestly
explain the breadth and complexity of
issues, to proactively generate solutions
and to take action based on core values.
"It is the daunting task of today's lead-
ers to take the right decisions in a com-
plex world that suffers from many lega-
cy issues and emotional turmoil. There
cannot just be a return to basics! There
has to be a recognition that we are in un-
mapped territory, which places the status
quo, and by extension leaders themselves,
into question. To fulfill this task, leaders
need sensitivity and empathy to serve as
their radar system, and values and vision
as their compass. Without a radar system,
leaders cannot be responsive; and without
a compass, they cannot exercise leader-
The above discourse is applicable across all
facets of leadership. Not just at the level of the
State but also for companies, organisations,
families and even how we lead ourselves.
One discussion, in particular, considered the
issue of how money controls our lives, suggest-
ing that it was time to rethink our relationship
with money. In this regard we are the leaders of
what we want out of life and we can determine
what stands out as our biggest priority.
One notable quote was "the problem with
materialism is not that it exists, but that it
dominates." Pause and reflect on your personal
attitude towards money.
Do you have enough of it?
When do you think you will have enough?
How much is enough?
If we don't have perspectives far less answers
to these questions then money or our perceived
lack of it dominates everything that we do.
Ultimately, the issues of crime and corruption
stand at the core of this obsession. We sim-
ply need to look around to see the debilitating
impact of our personal attitudes to money as
reflected in the wider society.
One view of why we are so configured is that
we now live in an age where the nation state
has evolved into a market state. Success as a
nation is measured on our ability to consume.
It is consumption that ostensibly drives eco-
nomic growth and it is economic growth that is
used as the benchmark for economic success.
The problem with this model---especially
in the Western world---is that populations are
ageing and this, by nature, causes declines in
both gross domestic product and gross do-
mestic product per capita.
Growth becomes subdued because as a
population ages the size of the labour force
is reduced. That means overall there is less
productive output and by extension a lower
propensity to consume.
For an elderly population, the houses have
already been bought, the cars have already
been purchased. The only big ticket item on
the radar is medical care.
A smaller labour force and a greater number
of retirees mean that those currently in the
labour force will be faced with a higher tax
burden to pay for the services of the retired
The current imbalances are being dealt with
through greater borrowings as many nations
go more and more into debt. The argument is
that debt is going to spur economic growth
that will eventually allow us to pay off today's
debt in the future.
So far, that has proven to be nothing but
fantasy. Instead countries have simply gone
deeper and deeper into debt and kicked the
can down the road.
Central banks around the world have tried
to keep the game going through record low in-
terest rates that have allowed debt servicing to
be achievable even at higher debt levels. All of
this will eventually come to a head. The only
question still before us is when.
There is as always a source of hope, however
it also comes with another scourge. Technology
can enable a smaller labour force to be more
productive. Driverless cars means there is no
downtime for commuting. Robotics and ar-
tificial intelligence mean a smaller group can
accomplish significantly more. These are all
The problem is that jobs will be replaced and
the jobs to be replaced are not based on age
or gender but rather skills or the lack thereof.
Advances to productivity and output due to
technology can, ultimately, translate into an
even smaller workforce. Which means more
people with lower paying jobs or without a job
Since the financial crisis there has been a
growing trend where labour has gotten a small-
er and smaller share of corporate profitability.
If we extrapolate this then you will have less
people working and a greater income divide
with those with access to assets and to capital
coming out on top.
That's the problem that leadership of today
faces and that's the problem that has given rise
to Brexit and Donald Trump. There is an old-
er generation afraid of losing what they have.
There is a younger generation afraid for their
future and there is a group in the middle who
are caught between traditional manufacturing
and other work roles and changes due to ad-
vances in technology and who lack the skills
to bridge the gap.
We are being driven by fears and leaders can
either seek to play on those fears or respond
proactively and4 offer real solutions. This is
relevant as well for us in T&T.
Our society is also ageing. Our migratory
patterns see our brightest young talent go to
In the US two thirds of all migrants are
tertiary educated while only one half of indi-
viduals born in the US have attained a simi-
lar level of education. This speaks to the gap
amongst the middle group mentioned above.
Also appreciate that the educated immigrant
population came from countries such as ours.
Our inability to deal with our crime situation
means that we are unlikely to be able to attract
educated or wealthy individuals to our shores.
The role of automation means that manufac-
turing is not the panacea for job creation that
it once was.
Further, tax leakages, foreign exchange leak-
ages and the absence of public listed companies
from the private sector mean that benefits to
manufacturing will remain with the few rather
than the many.
The slowdown in global demand means we
cannot export our way to prosperity as we did
in the 1970s and 2000s and our commodity
resources while plentiful in the ground are not
being accessed at the required pace.
Every economist or financial commentator
has spoken about the need for diversification.
Yet no one seems to be appreciating that we
lack the basic human resources to be successful
over the long term in this regard.
Some have myopically defined diversifica-
tion as anything that results in the opportunity
to earn hard currency outside of the energy
sector. That may be technically appropriate
for our time but, if we are going to focus on
export-led manufacturing without the nec-
essary human resource capital both in terms
of quality and quantity, then we will soon our
later find ourselves wanting.
This is where responsive and responsible
leadership has to shine through. The moment
is upon us because we hardly have the luxury
Ian Narine can be contacted via email at ian.
Pause and reflect on your personal attitude
towards money. Do you have enough of it?
When do you think you will have enough?
How much is enough?
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