A Nation’s Birth: Independence Day Lessons of Yesteryear for Today

With the close of Trinidad and Tobago’s 60th Anniversary of Independence celebrations, and the end of the festivities, comes a time, I truly believe, when many of us could derive great value in reflecting on what it truly means to be independent. Deep within the story of how we became a nation in charge of its decisions and destiny, and those hard-earned lessons along the way, perhaps lie some tools for leaders of today to adapt and grow – professionally and personally.

Whether it’s a nation, a multinational organisation or a small team of driven and talented individuals, the quest for autonomy in thought and action, for seizing a greater stake in mapping your own future, is one on every leader’s priority list. In our fields, every time we analyse and assess situations, communicate and listen to our people, and make the difficult calls, in short, every time we lead, we demonstrate independence in taking that greater stake toward a future.

What’s more, we inspire those around us to do the same. Gaining independence, however, has never been a goal in and of itself. Like the leaders in 1962, we should strive for our independence not as the pursuit of a goal to be accomplished but the unlocking of a truest ability to lead and a powerful building block in defining our vision, purpose, and integrity as we shape lives.

In short, independence, whatever the circumstance, is what an effective leader wants not only for themselves and teams, but for all.

The struggles of our bygone leaders may not necessarily be ours today, but there are key leadership lessons that we could learn from as we chart our own independence journeys.

Don’t Rest on Your Laurels; Keep Moving Forward
While exceptional past performance can be instrumental in leading to future success, it is by no means any guarantee. Effective leadership has always been founded upon building on the successes of the past and transforming them into sustainable gains for the future. Leaders, therefore, are constantly moving forward.

Achieving independence and creating an individual identity became the bases upon which our nation and people would grow. Our leaders, over the years, were able to turn the successes of 1962 into future ones. Upon becoming our own nation in August, for example, the next chapter for Trinidad and Tobago would be joining the United Nations a month later, and then going on to achieve Republic status, attained in 1976. From there, we would go on to stake our claim as an accomplished peer in the global community.

Our organisations and teams are no different. The achievements of the past (great as they may be) are just that, the past. Achieving one goal doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put in the effort to do even more. Just because you were profitable or grew the organisation last year, doesn’t mean that it will happen this year.

We have to keep building our teams, moving forward in the pursuit of better. This isn’t just about fattening bottom lines. This about achieving real growth and sustainable progress. Moving forward may even mean that your company takes a loss one year or a few, and, learning from the past, you are able to steady the ship and lead your teams to the results you want to see.

In many ways, leadership is a race track. Every day, every week, every month, every quarter, every year, after every race, you start back at the gates again; ready to run it the best you can.

Ready to prove yourself all over again.

Know how to Ride the Tiger
I came across this quote from GoDaddy CEO Aman Bhutani who recounted a time in his life when his father would ask him, “How do you ride a tiger?"

The answer is that you ride on its neck, and not its tail, because there you are more focused and aligned with where it is going. You are also better positioned to turn together at the same moment. The moral of Mr. Bhutani’s story is that the tiger is change. If we ride it the right way, we are better able to manage and navigate it. I’ll concede that the horror and fear associated with riding a tiger (metaphorical or otherwise) are quite significant. But the lesson here is far greater. Rather than hold on to the tail and be at the mercy of the beast, getting and staying ahead of change, difficult as it may be, is far better.

The sheer size and weight of the changes that came with achieving independence as a nation have great import for the changes that come with contemporary leadership. The leaders of 1962 had no idea what their future (our future) would hold. There was expectation that the newly formed nation would collapse into ruin within 5 years – a fate that befell many other nations.

However, our leaders stayed the course and did their best to manage the changes by staying ahead of them. We can take a page from this. And we need look no further than the COVID-19 pandemic. Clearly, we don’t know what the future holds and are all too familiar with how fortunes can change in a heartbeat. Not surprisingly, the leaders (business, political etc.) who did the best during the last 2 years were the ones who were able to navigate the changes well. The ones who understood how to ride the tiger.

Dream Big
This one often escapes a lot of us. This isn’t about throwing caution to the wind. This is about trying take more than the little steps when it comes to building our teams and organisations. While it is true that there is power in the small changes that can lead to bigger results over time, it is also true that many of us get caught in the trap of over-relying on those small changes to lead to the results we want.

The thrust toward becoming an independent nation is a big change – just about the biggest change possible in that country’s history. At the time of our nation’s birth, it’s not unreasonable to assume that there was much trepidation about the decision. Leading up to Independence Day, when those leaders sat down to decide the best way forward for our nation, they also stood up against the status quo and stood for the power of dreaming big.

Despite the fear, the focus remained on achieving what was most important and a bold, historic move was made. So, in our lives, we will often be called upon to overcome our own discomfort with change and make the right moves to improve our organisations and move our teams forward. In that space and time, when we are presented the opportunity to aspire to better, to reach for the proverbial stars, as effective leaders, we must take it.

The greater danger of failure always lies in not dreaming big and taking a shot at that dream – for one’s self, for one’s team, for one’s nation.

So, go on. Dream Big.

What other lessons do you think we can draw strength from our (or your) nation’s independence story?

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