The gift of gratitude

 gratitude 2As I write this article, Valentine’s Day is on the horizon. It signals a time to pause and reflect on the need to express love and think about those, who to us, deserve our love. It is an act of gratitude. Never mind the fact that it has become commercialized and there are some prescribed rituals, which if not displayed, can cause disappointment.

In Barbados, there is a pall cast upon this commemoration because of widespread concern about the effects of Continue reading

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Preparing for change

preparing for changeAs the year closes, many people are talking about change. Not just the normal “new year resolutions” that tend to be a review of what remains from last year’s promises but changes that are being imposed. In Barbados, there is a growing group of persons who fall into this category. Beyond those in the public service who are on notice of job reductions, there is the ripple effect that occurs when money stops circulating. Continue reading

A time for joy

presentsChristmas is a time filled with giving and sharing. Those who can, gather their families and friends close to them and obtain warmth from these encounters. It has also become a time of commerce and over-indulgence in our hedonistic inclinations. Continue reading

New Wine in Old Skins

“No one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost and the skins as well; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.” (Mark 2:22, Matthew 9:17)

vineyardThis parable speaks directly to the challenges being faced in our society as we seek ways to make necessary changes to improve our social, economic, and spiritual circumstances. There are those who make constant reference to “resistance to change” as a natural human condition that will predictably frustrate the best intentions. This results in a “why try” attitude that becomes an excuse for not making the effort or contribution that one could make,

Another familiar refrain is “we have heard all that before” and we are still talking years later about the same thing. This, as though poor implementation is a default position that cannot be overcome. What actually occurs is something akin to reading a headline and assuming you can accurately fill in the details from inferences made about previous experiences.

These and many other avoidance clichés, deprive legitimate change initiatives of the propulsion and resilience needed to achieve a positive, beneficial outcome. Since all of us have an ongoing desire to improve our circumstances, I thought it might be useful to look at this Biblical parable for insight and wisdom that can be applied today.

First, let’s say the “old wine” represents the combination of thoughts, ideas, values, rules and actions that led Barbados to achieving a global reputation for being a good place to invest. It is a recognized leader in political, economic and social stability; along with a highly literate workforce. One aspect of this stability is that you find many people who have long tenure in positions of influence and authority, who over time, keep things at a pace that is comfortable for them and those like them. So in many ways, the “old wineskins include many established traditions such as test cricket, working for the boss, and not delegating authority.

The “new wine” is comprised of those who have endured the system and seen where it fails to recognize and adjust to the new realities. In those instances where they find themselves being forced into “old wineskins”, they are leaking out the sides and voice their discontent among friends, the countries’ customers and others who agree that the old system needs radical change. They lack sufficient authority to create meaningful change. They have seen many examples of those who are too vocal or visible with new ideas being cut down or treated unfairly.

There is a saying that “the first rats to leave a sinking ship, are the good swimmers”. As a result, many who remain are loyal to those who have kept them there are unlikely to generate innovation. Circumstances such as these tight economic times, increased lawlessness and declining customer satisfaction, represent the new wineskins of today. The opportunities come from addressing the needs of the country with compelling actions whose benefits satisfy urgent needs.

This will call for vision, courage and persistence.  There is still much to be savoured from the old and an important place for the new. When Jesus turned water into wine, the first thing the wine steward said was: “it is customary to serve the best wine first”. It’s your turn.

God bless.

Into the Promised Land

joshua and calebI have just been reading chapters 13 & 14 in the book of Numbers. It’s an intriguing story of the Israelites’ first encounter with the Promised Land. Twelve people, the elite of their various tribes, were sent out examine the land, its people, food, fortifications and the like. After 40 days, they reported back to the entire assembly. Ten of the twelve gave various reasons why they thought it would be impossible to enter and conquer the land as God had promised. Continue reading

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Observe – Describe – Disclose

An antidote to ass/u/me (making an ass out of you and me).

MP900382971The problem with making assumptions is that it leads to errors and mistakes. Far too many people make assumptions and the result of this is that people are not in the habit of observing.

They get into talking about what should have happened, what did not happen, what they would have done, and what went wrong. They have low skills in observing what actually did happen. Continue reading

“You Really Oughta Wanna”

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This week I have heard the Prime Minister and the Leader of Government Business in the Senate emphasize the importance of increasing productivity. They exhorted members of the public service in particular, to “pull their weight” and “be punctual”.

MC910216326This certainly recognizes a perennial performance issue that is generally characterized as low productivity. Recent reports commissioned by NISE and the Barbados government and others conclude that: a large segment of the population don’t want a job and that a large percentage of workers in the public and private sector are disconnected from their jobs.  Consequently, the cost of doing business in Barbados is so high it has an adverse effect on our competitiveness.

The title of this article is taken from the subtitle of a book written in 1984 by Robert F. Mager and Peter Pipe, called “Analyzing Performance Problems”. It is still in print and still relevant. The point is that the laudable words of exhortation by government leaders cannot, by themselves, lead to improved performance. Continue reading

Psyched Up or Psyched Out?

Woman Graduatinghave spent the last week working with a group comprised of faculty, adjunct faculty, tutors, practicum supervisors, administrators, students and alumni of the psychology programme at UWI Cave Hill. They provide the teaching, research and underpinning knowledge for those studying psychology at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

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Honour Thy Father

This week’s article falls within the influence of Father’s Day. On Saturday, I will attend the funeral of a very good father who was taken from us suddenly. When I asked his widow, who is a friend, what I could do to help, she answered, “pray that God will provide me the strength to endure.”

Honorable David ThompsonWhen I cast my mind back to countless other fathers whose passing would have left a void, I can’t but think of the late. Rt. Honourable David Thompson who left a nation to mourn. His example of being a thoughtful, caring father is what I remember most about him. These men, and many others, made contributions as fathers that supersede all their other accomplishments.

Of the living, Barack Obama is a shining light of fatherhood whether you agree with his politics or not.

I thought it fitting to examine some those things about being a good father that are so necessary and noble. What are things you remember that would resonate in the commandment to “honour thy father and thy mother” (Exodus 20:12)? What is so powerful that it lasts long after we are gone?

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What is the Real Score?

Election campaigns are now in full swing with lots of “noise at the barricades”. As I try to sort through manifestos, promises and boasts, I am left with the question: What’s the real score”? In the midst of all this party tribalism and the litanies of historic grievances; it’s like trying to watch a sporting event that has no scoreboard.

MM900395774The politically intense will reply with references to “voter swing”, at risk constituencies and a tally of political gaffes by their opponents. We mustn’t forget the economic statistics and claims of what has been done, should have been done and why it wasn’t possible. It seems like an athlete that’s involved in a competition but more preoccupied with making personal points or playing to the crowd. That is a sure formula for defeat.

From where I sit, both major parties seem to have gaining power as their objective and are using fragmented “solutions” without the context of a confirmed diagnosis. For example, education is an area that is sure to evoke deep emotional reactions. After all, we are renowned for our high literacy rate and it is a cornerstone of national development. However, the circumstances that existed when Errol Barrow made education universally available have changed drastically and we are struggling to put “lipstick on a pig” that needs major restructuring. Is it possible that the countless dispirited people unable to support themselves and increasing lawless behaviour are like the umpire’s finger going up in a cricket match?

Our vaunted social partnership seems to only emerge in episodes of crisis and make a calming return to the status quo of contentious industrial relations with government as a referee. Heck, university graduates with advanced degrees feel as aggrieved as the average wage-earner. Too often, they insist that they are entitled to pay far more than the actual value of the work they produce and employers are then saddled with labour costs that strangle their businesses.

MM900236244These are just two examples that are eating at the core of Barbados’ development as a nation. The ponderous inefficiency of government services and questions around ethical and respectful behaviour warrant mention as well. Alas, I have word limit so I will take this up further in other articles.

There should be no gloating by either party because both are culpable. Barbados’ political stability rests on the fact that regardless of who is in power, things remain essentially the same. It seems that this “stability” is an over-played strengthen and we are in danger of becoming a one-trick pony.

I am very aware that these are politically sensitive areas. They are the veritable “sacred cows” of Barbados society. It is said that: “Sacred cows make the best hamburger”. No disrespect intended to Hindus.

There has been much talk during this campaign about leadership. I submit that effective leaders must answer two questions constantly: What are we working on? (Vision) and How are we doing? (Performance). We live in a democracy but democratic management is a failed concept.

Our leaders may want to consider a modified version of a “balanced scorecard” that covers and aligns the breadth of key functional areas. They can then report against measurable targets at agreed milestones. Maybe then, we will be able to follow and participate in the game.

God bless.

Prepared for the February 18, 2013 “Strong Suit” column in the Barbados Business Authority.

Dennis Strong can be reached at supremeservices@caribsurf.com