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Succession planning is more than simply replacing leader

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This is the final part of a three-part series looking at issues pertaining to political leadership and preparation for succession. It is a most relevant issue in our political situation and one which our two parliamentary parties are addressing, or not addressing, in very different ways.St Vincent and the Grenadines has experienced what can happen when such an important responsibility is neglected and political leadership left up to chance or popularity. Given our two-party system, political leadership of one party or the other becomes not just of interest to the members of that political party, but arouses public interest, since that potential leader or leaders may well become the leader or leaders of the country as a whole.

In the Vincentian context, Prime Minister Gonsalves has, for some time now, been speaking of his intention to give up the leadership of his Unity Labour Party (ULP). It has led to speculation, within the party and without, about who will succeed him. Unfortunately, much of the discussion has focused, narrowly, on two contenders, themselves identified by the Prime Minister as likely successors, Saboto Caesar and Camillo Gonsalves.

To his credit, Dr Gonsalves has broadened the discussion, and raised the more encompassing issue of succession planning, preparing leadership of the future. In so doing, he made reference to our historical experiences with the failure of his predecessors at the national level to address the matter with a view to the future. The dominant figures of our post-Adult Suffrage politics, Ebenezer Joshua, Milton Cato and Sir James Mitchell, all had failings in this respect.

So, given those experiences, it is vital for our country’s development, progress and stability, that the matter of political succession be always kept on the front burner, that political parties constantly seek renewal and insist on leadership development. Admittedly, in our political system, it is difficult to get away from outstanding personalities and these will always have a place in politics, as in life as a whole. But we need to steer clear of seeing the progress of the country hinged entirely on the fortunes of this or that personality.

If the ULP, Caesar and younger Gonsalves fall into the trap of in-fighting to see who succeeds Gonsalves senior, then they will surely not only miss the boat, but end up digging their own political graves. On the other side, while there is clearly some discord at leadership level in the NDP, it is important for that party to have a broader focus than just on personalities.

There is quite a bit of discussion and comment in the public domain about recent statements by NDP deputy leader St Clair Leacock and former leader Arnhim Eustace, concerning the choices for Opposition senators. Unfortunately, it makes little sense locking the stable when the horse has already bolted. What is much more important than who should, or should not, have been chosen, are the remarks made by Major Leacock about succession planning, the need for the NDP to develop a core of younger leaders. That, where the party ought to be concerned, is the crux of the matter and its leader Dr Friday, would do well to focus in that direction.

This brings us to the succession planning itself, a concept much misunderstood and often confused with mere leadership replacement. However, it is much, much more than simply replacing one leader with another. It is a continuous process of preparing people to meet the needs (of a party, organization or country) over a period of time. This has as its objective ensuring that there would be continued effective performance and has, as its principal features, attracting through recruitment the best candidates, having practices which ensure retention of this potential, and developing this pool of talented people through carefully targeted efforts.

No matter how brilliant a leader, Father Time always takes his toll, and hence, measures must be put in place, not just to groom someone to take over, but to ensure that one develops a team of competent persons, any of whom is capable of providing such leadership. Of course, there will always be individual characteristics, but the idea is to have that group prepared so that the country, party or organization is not short-changed by the inevitable change of leadership.

That is the direction in which we must move if we want to guarantee stability and continued progress. All the other sets of speculations and political sniping add up to just brouhaha.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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