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Emergent Leadership

Former President of Colombia, Alvaro Uribe, recently addressed an international group of investors gathered in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, on the 6th of May.  Mr. Uribe speaks with the legitimacy  of a leader who has demonstrated the effectiveness of his ideas, words, and actions in real time.  It was during former President Uribe’s  8-year, 2 term administration (2002-2006; 2006-2010) that Colombia was transformed from what was practically a failed state to a thriving economy attracting investment, a place where Colombians chose to return after having departed their country for reasons of security.

Mr. Uribe described what he identified through experience as important qualities of a democracy and what he views as critical elements in a process of building and maintaining a democracy.  There were several themes running through his presentation which I will address later.  What particularly struck me about his speech was the role he was describing for effective leadership in Latin America, for political, business and civic leaders.  First, he represented a different type or paradigm of leadership, frankly, a deviance from the norm.  Secondly, what he described, and even the language that he used, was consistent with the model of effective leadership in challenging and complex environments, which we at Fenix use in our work with leaders and organizations.

This consistency was especially true when he referred to the importance of building trust, transparency, the role of dialogue and citizen’s participation, and the need for authenticity.  For example, he emphasized building trust and outlined  what he saw as the  scaffolding of trust and confidence in a society:  1)  security with democratic values, 2) investment with social responsibility, and 3) social policies to resolve social challenges.  There is no security with high levels of poverty.  Social challenges must be addressed simultaneously with efforts directed at increasing security and improving the economy.  Democracy is solidified with a large and dynamic middle class.  He highlighted the requirement for a constant dialogue with the society on the part of the leader.  And, he stated the fact that this dialogue should be about teaching rather than demagogical.  When asked to what he attributed his success, he responded that he endeavored to be authentic.  That is, to be the same person and deliver the same message, whether he was speaking in Moscow, Rio, Paris, or Washington.  He represented that his models for success were simple.  The key, he said is being consistent, delivering the same message repeatedly, and working daily to fulfill one’s commitment to promises made.

As a practicing leader, Uribe, is not without his critics.  Some say that he violated human rights in Colombia in enforcing authority in an often chaotic environment.  He did assert that peace comes with authority.  I cannot be the arbiter of all his actions within the complexity and difficulty of these eight years; however, I do believe that he is articulating a different type of leadership style, that he has achieved legitimacy among investors and entrepreneurs (so necessary for creating jobs that ensure greater stability), and that he is focusing on issues and qualities that need to be addressed, especially in Latin America.  In this speech, former President Uribe elaborated on the theme of security in a democracy, addressing important issues, including the critical role of education, opportunity, innovation, and entrepreneurship,  which I will address in future blogs.

If we think of leadership and models of leadership as reflections of culture, as patterns of values and behaviors, we can see that there are possibilities for positive change which bring forward dormant or less prevalent patterns already existing in a society or an organization.  As a different model emerges that is more suitable to success in a competitive and uncertain global environment, even though it may not be the strongest norm in a society, we can act to support the more productive and effective styles or patterns of leadership.  How can we do this?  We can encourage reflection and dialogue about values, participation and transparency.  We can work to help make this new language legitimate.  We can be explicit in our programs and projects for developing collaborative capacity and leadership that values trust and dialogue.  We can encourage a realistic view of power that does not exclusively view it as a 0-sum game. We can highlight and reward others individually and institutionally for authenticity and taking risks to improve their organization and society. We can create a space for growth and development of leaders in our classrooms, in government, and in our business and civic organizations.  We can encourage formal leaders to share power with emergent leaders who are innovators and represent different ideas and ways of approaching dilemmas and trenchant problems in organizations and societies.

As leaders emerge that articulate in word and deed authenticity, transparency, collaboration, and engagement in building trust and dialogue, whether in the board room, among members of our Congresses or Parliaments, the President’s chambers, the body shop or beauty shop, the regional business chamber, or the union, it is important to find ways to encourage and support these leaders.

In future blogs I will feature the perspective and experience of men and women who, in my view, represent positive changes in leadership in different regions and in diverse sectors of society.