Sitting on a panel discussing technology and leadership in the energy sector at the 2019 Trinidad & Tobago Energy Conference, Claire Fitzpatrick, BPTT’s Regional President, was asked her opinion on the most important leadership quality. She stunned and delighted the packed audience with her response: ‘a little bit of humility’. Claire explained that the big changes that she saw confronting BPTT and the industry meant that she needed to be ‘a lot more humble and actually listen to the organisation … [as] some of the best ideas and best people to implement … are at early stages of their career’. She told the conference that she saw the role as leader as being the person ‘to take the barriers out’ rather than being the person to ‘tell you exactly how it will be done’. 

The fact that Claire was talking as a member of the first all women panel that we have ever had at the Energy Conference made the comment even more powerful and memorable. Incidentally, the other memorable moment for me from the panel was when Siana Teeluksingh, a renewable energy expert, very respectfully told Senator the Honourable Franklin Khan, Minister of Energy and Energy Industries, who was in the audience, that in her estimation, his conclusion about the relative expense of renewable electricity generation compared to gas-power generation was actually incorrect. It was great to see a relatively young professional having the confidence to express her opinions forcefully in front of a big audience, and to Minister Khan’s credit, he didn’t seem to mind being contradicted. 

I was reflecting on Claire’s take on leadership recently after being questioned about how Trinidad and Tobago should drive economic diversification. There often seems to be an assumption that the government of Trinidad and Tobago needs to lead the way and invest heavily in new industries if we are going to see the economy diversify, and that there is therefore this conundrum that at times like this, when the energy sector is under strain and the desire for diversification is most apparent, is the exact time when government does not have the available revenue to invest. 

But perhaps we need a rethink, and instead of the government trying to direct people and capital into new industries, we should expect the government to show leadership by concentrating on removing barriers. Trinidad and Tobago scores very poorly in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Index on which we are ranked 105th out of 190 countries. We are somewhat behind some of our regional neighbours, with Jamaica being ranked 75th and St Lucia 93rd, and a long way behind the highest ranking countries in Latin America (Mexico and Chile). Trinidad and Tobago does especially poorly in the sub-indexes for Registering Property (158th), Paying Taxes (166th) and Enforcing Contracts where we rank a dismal 174th ( just ahead of Liberia). Given the urgent need to diversify our exports, it is worrying that we only rank 130th in Trading Across Borders. If we want to diversify our economy, these are all important barriers that need to be urgently removed. 

Perhaps our political leaders need to take a page out of Claire Fitzpatrick’s book and think about their role as leaders being about removing barriers for others to progress, instead of always thinking that their role is to direct people (or companies) into what they should be doing. And of course a bit of humility might also be advisable.