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Focus | Leadership matters and it matters even in youth

On Saturday, May 18, 2019, some 21 graduating high school seniors from various schools in Nassau completed a nine-month leadership development program that I began some eight years ago. On Saturday, May 25, 2019, some 30 such students from Grand Bahama will similarly complete the program. Below are remarks I delivered when the students completed the program.

Participants, I hope you found this program helpful; helpful now and for the rest of your lives. I hope you now have a better understanding of leadership; of what it is, of how important it is, and of how to exhibit it. I hope you see how indispensable it is to our collective experiences as human beings in general, but Bahamians in particular. I hope you realize that central to leadership practice and purpose is “people”. In purpose and in practice of leadership, people matter most. The aim of leadership is for the leader, who is a person, to influence others – the people – to work together to achieve a group objective; good leadership seeks to achieve noble objectives through the group. There is no practice of leadership without people and there is no effective end of leadership apart from people.

What you have learned over these last nine (9) months is just the basics of leadership. It is enough to set you on the road to being effective leaders but not enough to ensure that you in fact become that. In order to achieve the latter, you must continue both to learn, develop and practice the leadership skills to which you were exposed in this program.

You have to continue to learn, develop and practice: (i) visioning – seeing the ends to which you and your group aspire from the beginning and seeing it with such clarity and inspiration as to motivate you passionately to achieve it; (ii) goal setting – making time-sensitive concrete future achievements that help you realize your vision; (iii) strategizing – develop best means of winning at the things important to realizing your goals and ultimately your vision; (iv) planning and organizing – identifying, securing, coordinating and prioritizing the resources needed to achieve your aims; (v) communicating – effectively listening to understand others and speaking to ensure that others understand you; (vi) emotional intelligence – effectively dealing with your own thoughts and feelings while effectively dealing with those of others; (vii) critical thinking – given yourselves to thoughtful, objective, and evidence-based consideration of issues toward problem solving; (viii) problem solving – assess what is wrong and applying logic to resolving it; (ix) decision making – showing the ability to weigh options, pros and cons and choose the best outcome given your available information; (x) execution and evaluation – getting the right things done and getting those things done right while examining outcomes to see whether your aims were achieved or not, and whether or not you have to make adjustments. These and other skills were explored during these last nine months. There is so much more about them you must discover, and I truly hope you will take the rest of your lives doing so.

The benefits of having sound leadership skills are enormous. It improves your personal life, as it gives you the ability to set proper direction for your own life’s journey; it enables you to influence others toward positive ends; it puts you in a great position to be valuable to organizations, some of which can reward you well for doing so; it can make you a contributor to community and national causes, causing you to travel the world and meet some of its most influential people; and it can help you work for God’s kingdom, participating in ventures that bring eternal benefits.

Young people and people generally with leadership skills tend to be higher achievers, better societal contributors, higher performers, more positive and more productive. Look at the people we most admire or regard in the world over the course of human history – Jesus Christ, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr., Abraham Lincoln, Mother Theresa and Myles Munroe, to name a few – each and all of them showed great leadership skills. In a less dramatic way, go in any home, school, church, community or nation that is functioning well, and it is almost certain that good leadership is at work in them. Leadership matters and it matters a lot. If you grow in it, it will take you places you cannot dream you never imagined; trust me, I know; it has done so for me.

I am here today doing the Bahamas Youth Leadership Development Program (BYLD) because almost 40 years ago Hugh O’ Brien had me, and a young lady, from The Bahamas participate in his International Youth Leadership Seminar. It was life changing. It left an impact. The result of this impact is your presence in this place today. I expect no less than that 40 years from now, should the good Lord tarry, that you will be able to say that this BYLD had an impact on you and because of it some young people in 2059 are benefiting from your exposure today; perhaps not in a program of your own but certainly by virtue of the impact of your leadership in their lives. I truly hope so.

Today, I congratulate you on completing this journey; not everyone did. I thank you and your parents for being committed to your participation in our activities. You came to the monthly seminars and listened to our many presenters – some political, business, educational and organizational leaders. You participated in the New Providence Corporate Tour and had an audience with the governor general of The Bahamas, sat with the prime minister of The Bahamas, were addressed by the deputy prime minister and minister of finance, visited the multi-billion dollar Albany development, explored the global financial giant Templeton, visited the Inter-American Development Bank, the largest insurance company in the country, Colina Insurance, and heard from representatives of Colina Financial Advisers, were hosted to lunch at the world famous, culturally iconic Bamboo Shack and explored the slave ruins at Clifton Heritage Park. This gave you insight into the reason New Providence is the nation’s central economic hub. You would have done the same in Grand Bahama but your BGCSE exam schedule intervened.

Next month, some of you, joined with others from Grand Bahama, will participate in the final activity of this program – the Atlanta Corporate Tour. On that tour you will explore the richness and dynamism of one of the most thriving cities in the U.S.A. and perhaps the only such city in which black people have fared so well as a collective. You will visit CNN, Coca Cola, Home Depot, Hartfield International Airport, HR Russell and many other corporations. You will also visit the Martin Luther King Jr. Center and ancestral home; and the International Human Rights Center. You will visit Georgia Tech University, Georgia State University, Emory University and Clarke University. And yes, you will shop at the malls and have fun at Six Flags Atlantis. In the end, you will bond with each other, learn more about the world and perhaps even discover your place and space in it.

This program happens in large part because of many who contribute their time, effort and money. I want to thank all our presenters this year, both in New Providence and Grand Bahama. They were all extraordinarily generous with their time and thoughts. I thank our hosts for the New Providence tour and the staff of Colina who helped host us for these monthly meetings here in Nassau and Pelican Bay Resort in Freeport. I thank those who contribute financially to our cause, including the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture, RBC, Colina Group of Companies, Gilgan Holdings, the Grand Bahama Port Authority and many others who do so quietly. I also thank my administrative assistants and advisors in this program. Here in Nassau, Kendra Bowe and Tayte Adderley, and in Freeport Jade Pinder (past participant) and my right hand, and Kermit Saunders Jr. (past participant).

Parents, I hope I have honored your trust in this program. I hope that your children manifest the fruits of it now and forever more. Thank you for your cooperation and participation. God bless you and congratulations once again to all the participants. Graduate well and remember:

1. This life owes you nothing; you owe it to yourselves to be visionary, focused and industrious;

2. Take care of your bodies and they will take care of you;

3. Mind your mind; fill it with learning and understanding and it will reward you with long life and happy days;

4. Focus on character by being accountable to things eternal, this will give you peace within;

5. Value relationships that build you up and sharpen you, they are the only ones that count as friendships;

6. Be careful what you count as treasures, for whatever they are is where your heart will be;

7. Be grateful to God and all who pour into your lives; return the favor by extraordinary acts of love.

God bless you.

• Zhivargo Laing is a Bahamian economic consultant and former Cabinet minister who represented the Marco City constituency in the House of Assembly.

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