Lessons on Leadership in the Jamaican Business Environment

Karen Fitz Ritson was recently interviewed by financial/business journalist and RITSONITE Dennise Williams on the important lessons of leadership in the Jamaican business environment.

Leadership: Lessons the Jamaican Business Environment Needs to Understand to Survive in the 21st Century

In today’s Jamaican environment leadership and stewardship is something that has been put under the microscope. Solid leadership determines the direction an entity, institution our country goes.Sound strategies, stictuitiveness and a solid and capable team make the business structure work.

Leaders need to attract fertile and bold minds who understand the goals and objectives of the organization to ensure survival and sound management for this dynamic 21st century.

QUESTION: What are some of the qualities that you feel the 21st century leader should possess?

Fitz Ritson: The 21st century leader needs to be a risk taker and in doing so they have to have a sound understanding of the environment they operate in because it can be clouded with a lot of ambiguity which they have to have the tolerance to forge themselves through and understand the dynamics of cross cultural awareness. Today’s leaders need to be courageous and say what they mean and be prepared to accept the consequences, they have to be creative thinkers to keep ahead of the pack and be flexible. Successful companies today are not necessarily the biggest companies today and the mega conglomerates. Successful companies are those that go out there and understand the needs of their clients and continuously work at providing those needs in a timely, affordable and customer centric fashion. Team building is important as you are converging multi skilled and talented individuals and you have to manage it and make it work. Leaders need to constantly understand and be integral in the system dynamics and understanding the organizational behaviour that takes place to succeed. Most importantly the 21st century leader needs to be visionary and not get deluded into short term planning as it often creates greater ambiguity and lack of direction can be the demise of an organization

QUESTION: There is so much emphasis on team building and the role of the team what is your input on that philosophy?

Fitz Ritson: Modern day business practices thrive on the importance of the team and the contribution of the team. Sometimes I feel this can be taken to extremes where team members don’t understand their roles and the team can become explosive and unproductive in the process. One of the things that make the team successful is the dynamics of the team, one that is not clouded with the sameness of voice but the sameness of objectivity. A successful team is that which does not have group think as it stifles the creative process. Many organizations shun the individual who is considered the odd ball because they think differently from the status quo, but a good leader recognizes the role of everyone on the team and this “odd ball” may be that sole individual who knows how to spot the trends and challenges that companies need to be aware of in a dynamic business environment. Therefore it is integral that you have a strong team leader one who knows how to manage the team and made their team function and explore their fullest potential for the greater good of the organization and not the self.

QUESTION: There is a school of thought that is often extolled in Jamaica and that is leading from behind. What are your views on that?

Fitz Ritson: I hear it. I see it in practice, but I have never seen positive results of this style of management. What I have seen is a lot of damage control as the leader has to come forward and clean up the mess because their lieutenants have not understood their role. Strong leaders are forthright and lead from up front and make their mark. Team members and other members of the organization/entity take their take their queue from this and should be held accountable.

QUESTION: Acountablilty is another factor which people shirk around on these issues. What are your views on this?

Fitz Ritson: Very simple if you are not accountable, if you are not aware of your environs then you are not suitable for the job, it is that simple. The buck stops somewhere and people need to be accountable. It is totally unacceptable when people say they did not know and they were not aware of a situation. Checks and balances are placed in every well run organization. Good leaders review them and stay on top of it. Your finger has to be on the pulse. Too often emotions cloud ones judgment and hinders them from making the right decisions, but in each instance there are critical questions that need to be answered - at the end of the day, was that individual aware of their role, have  they met their deliverables/targets and how have they impacted to the bottom line?

QUESTION: In the Jamaican environment which leaders do you admire and why

FITZ RITSON: Michael Lee Chin – he is a visionary, he has a plan, he puts his money where his mouth is and he is driven with a social consciousness.

Butch Stewart – he says what he means, does not retreat and he forges ahead. He is the type of leader that sticks to what he knows best he does not try to be the man of all seasons and that is what I believe makes his empire work.

Donna Duncan Scott – she has a strong social consciousness and not afraid to speak out and sticks by her principles regardless of the consequences.

Lucious Thomas – this is a gentleman who is confident, knows his job, manages his team and ensures that he has able lieutenants to execute it. He does not come across as the most vociferous but everyone knows that he is in charge. He is results oriented and is respected by his peers.

As an organizational body I have renewed interest in the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce – in a time of national crisis they are not afraid to publicly speak out and give their positions and offer solutions. In spite of negative reactions they stood their ground and still extended the olive leaf branch which portrays the mark of true leadership.

QUESTION: What other important attributes do you think leaders should have?

Fitz Ritson: Great leaders say what they mean, they don’t always have to be charismatic but they should stand for something and let their voices be heard. They must have a mission and should always have checks and balances to see that they are meeting their targets. Great leaders don’t have to be great at all aspects of the execution in their empire however they must have the confidence to build on their strengths and source equally strong people to do it. Great leaders also need to know how to re energize their team and keep them motivated, if they are unable to so, they must also have the strength of conviction to step aside for the greater good. Great leaders must be of character which comes from social and moral influences. Great leaders must also know when to say no and not be all things to all people as that will impact on the company’s performance in the medium to short run. Great leaders must be great communicators, your must be understood and you must also understand your team. Arrogance plays no place in leadership, throughout history arrogance always brings down a great leaders demise, it has never had a fairy tale ending. Most of all great leaders should be like a fairy god mother their stewardship should positively affect the lives of those around them.

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