Postcard from Jamaica

Photo: Michael McCarthy

Lessons in Leadership

I’ve been busy these holidays, navigating my way through Kingston, with Bob Marley’s music and a patchy awareness of the Rastafari movement being the only prior knowledge I had of the island known to locals as Jamrock.

What better way to spend down time than to get lost in a great book? Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings is a fictional account of the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in 1976, with a cast of complex characters (CIA agents, gang members, politicians, journalists, children robbed of childhood in the ghetto, and of course, the Singer) that create a rich portrayal of the cultural and geopolitical climate leading up to and in the years following that fateful day in Kingston, which fortunately didn’t lead to Marley’s demise.

I’ve had to put the book down a few times, not because it wasn’t riveting, but because of the curiosity it piqued about so many historical and political events I was not aware of and suddenly had an urge to know about, such as the Bay of Pigs Invasion of Cuba. And herein lie the leadership lessons.

Most people who’ve worked in a team of more than one are well versed, at least in theory, in what makes a great leader and successful team. Looking at the lessons learnt by the CIA from their failed attempt to destabilise Cuba and overthrow Castro in the 1961 invasion that is known as Bay of Pigs, the answers are screaming out. There were a myriad of reasons for the invasion’s failure which were analysed by the CIA but remained classified until 1996. The one thing they seemed to get right were the nuggets in the post-invasion review which provide valuable lessons for leaders and team members in any work environment and on any project. I have countered (counter-intelligenced?) these reasons for failure with my Declassified Caches of Intelligence for a Successful Team.

Declassified Caches of Intelligence

Interestingly, the incident was also a prime example of what psychologist Irvin Janis wrote about when he coined the term “Groupthink” in 1972, a tell-tale sign of dysfunctional teams that many a leadership text warns against. I first came across the term in required reading of a leadership course I undertook a few years ago. Kouzes and Posner’s The Leadership Challenge  espouses five practices of exemplary leadership, one of which is “Challenge the Process”, a practice to challenge the status quo; be comfortable with the risks and lessons in failure; and ultimately, eliminate a team dynamic that results in groupthink.

Further lessons from my reading into Bay of Pigs:

  1. Use your leadership skills for good.
  2. Don’t undermine or destabilise other teams.
  3. Be open and transparent- share lessons learnt of success and failures in a timely manner.

How would you counter the poor leadership and team dynamics of the Bay of Pigs alumni? Share your intelligence in the comments, or recommend some great holiday/work commute reading for the New Year.

Wishing you happiness and success in your endeavours in 2016, and in the words of Bob Marley, I hope you:

Live the life you love and love the life you live!

21 thoughts on “Postcard from Jamaica

  1. Oh goodness, all this is very thought provoking but also so beyond me as I tend to glaze over on political matters. Really, if you look at Yimam’s chart, it pretty well answers your question, although I somewhat feel as if I might be cheating to quote it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I was almost embarrassed to admit this too, Marissa as regard your opening lines. I don’t feel too bad now. There is some truth in the adage: there is safety in numbers. But this is certainly thought -provoking and extremely well written. It opened my eyes to things I had previously been unaware of in such depth.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I’m usually the same, but that’s the beauty of the book – the storytelling and the world that Marlon James has created is so fascinating that I wanted to know more. In the case of Bay of Pigs- it is mentioned by one of the characters who is the CIA Director stationed in Jamaica in the 1970s. You’ve mentioned you often work on your own- have you ever worked in a team? Actually- it would be interesting to hear your perspective from the rock n roll part of your life- do the lessons apply also to a successful band?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Woah, there is so much to learn from this book :O I haven’t given non-fiction much preference in my To-Read-List, but A Brief History of Seven Killings sounds more riveting than most fantastical fiction novels. Thanks for the awesome suggestion (y)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s actually fiction! But based on the real assassination attempt, which just sets the scene for a story about a whole bunch of characters caught up in the culture and politics of the time. If you do read it, I’d like to know what you think- you have a knack for reviewing books. My reviews are usually just ‘yeah I loved it’ or ‘no, I put it down at page 23 cause life is too short’ haha.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Hahaha no you actually write pretty great reviews 🙂 Like this one, it grabbed my interest and made me wanna get myself a copy. What more do you need from a review 😉 Keep at it dear ^_^

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Thanks AB, although I did go off on a tangent with Bay of Pigs. I finished the book yesterday and although I’ll still say it’s a great book- I’m kinda glad to put the darkness and violence behind me and start on the lighter offering that is ‘the rosie project’.

        I see a flurry of AB activity- does this mean that cable is fixed? 😊


  4. I have finally got around to reading this and am blown away by your depth of understanding and your ability to convey ideas so skilfully and with such clarity. A lot of the points you make are new to me and some I knew about but not in such depth. I do tend to glaze over when it comes to politics as I don’t have an analytical bone in my body, but I found this incredibly informative. I’m also struck by the starkness of this piece and the very beautiful scene of a Jamaican beach. Who would have thought such intrigue was going on in a place like this? Such irony!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re too kind. It really is thanks to James’ storytelling that I was interested enough to read more. When I saw the report on Bay of Pigs, I immediately thought it was a great example of sll the things a leader/team shouldn’t do. Yes, such a beautiful backdrop for the fictionalised accounts of very true events..

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I found it!! As I was saying Marlon James (Man Booker prize winner no less) was being interviewed by Alan Yentob on BBC 2 last night. I couldn’t believe my eyes! I thought: Mek and I were talking about this a couple of weeks ago. Wow! I’ve gotta watch this! I wasn’t disappointed! They showed this dread-locked handsome guy collecting his award. I was bursting with pride! Apparently after he collected the award, he tweeted two words: “Holy Sh*t!”

    He couldn’t believe it. He is such a charming young man and humble too. Parts of his life story were saddening too: the fact that he tried to “pray away the gay”. Yentob talked about “A Brief History of Seven Killings …” and it was fascinating to hear James’s personal views and also how and why he wrote it. Thanks Mek for writing this post and being a wonderful blogging buddy. 🙂

    Hope you got a good sleep tonight/last night? What time is it there anyway??? LOL

    Liked by 1 person

    1. He is very easy on the eye isn’t he??? Really hope I can access the interview or transcript online. So you going to read the book?

      I got rudely awakened at 1am by my son then struggled to get back to sleep 😕

      Liked by 1 person

      1. So do I. I’d love you to see it. I’m so glad we had that conversation earlier on this month, because if we hadn’t I might not have realised who the interview was about. I was really just scrolling the TV guide to see what was on on Saturday night. Never dreamed I was in for such a treat! I am going to make a special effort to get hold of a copy. How old is your son?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Great! Love to hear what you think of it and how it sits with your own experiences of Jamaican life. HOw long since you lived there? Or have you always lived in the UK? Would that make you a yardie or have I got the wrong term??!!

        My son is almost 2.5 years old!! 😊 pic in one of my recent posts…

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Mek, are you really telling me that you have not read my “About” page? LOL I was born in Jamaica but was brought to England when I was 4, a couple of months off my 5th birthday. My mother left me when I was 18 months old to emigrate to the UK and then sent for me later. I am in no way a yardie!!!! You have me rolling around on the floor with laughter. I am so English!!! By the way that’s my passport pic in the gravatar you see aged 4. Ahhhh your son is 2.5. That’s such a lovely age. I also bet he’s a bit of handful and keeps you busy. :)))

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Your pic actually reminds me of my 6year old passport pic when i left ethiopia. I’d thought that sunce i first saw you in comments on kathy’s blog. Glad to have made you laugh. I’m sure I’ve read your about page, but clearly not committed it to memory…I do apologise 😊

        Liked by 1 person

      5. I was teasing you! LOL Please don’t apologise. So we resemble each other? How long have you lived in Australia? Are your parents there too? Is your partner Australian? I am TOO nosy, so please feel free to ignore any questions that you feel are none of my business Mek. :))))

        Liked by 1 person

      6. Funny you should say that about the sadness. I was very SAD. My grandparents told me that I was being sent to England and I didn’t want to leave them. OMG how strange that you should pick up on that. Have a nice rest of the day. I’ll be turning in in a couple of hours. xx

        Liked by 1 person

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