back to http://www.vfinc.org
This weekend we witnessed the funeral masses of two presidents, President His Excellency Mandela Nelson, known as the World’s President and President His Excellency Vernon Lorden Shaw, Fifth President of the Commonwealth of Dominica. They were both moving ceremonies, and one of the things that struck a chord with me, was the impact on the lives of others that these men had. While President Mandela’s impact was worldwide and much of it coming from knowledge of him from a distance, President’s Shaw’s impact was chiefly contained locally, with personal knowledge. Last week I paid tribute to President Mandela. This week, I pay tribute to His Excellency Vernon Lorden Shaw, Fifth President of the Commonwealth of Dominica.
“One word of praise in life is better than all the eulogies in death,” this was part of the program of our late President, His Excellency Vernon Lorden Shaw. When it was drawn to my attention, I could not help thinking how true and how so like His Excellency Shaw. I loved Mr. Shaw and he loved me. Every time we met, we would exchange hugs, kisses and words. He often chastised me that I did not visit him often enough, and I would always promise to do better. I did not keep that promise well, however, he never held it against me.
My journey with Mr. Shaw commenced when I joined the Civil Service in 1988, following my graduation from the University of the West Indies. He was the Secretary to the Cabinet and though I was not in his ministry, I served as the Coordinator of the Administrative Reform Programme (ARP), and he was a member of the Reform Committee, of which I served as the secretary. Mr. Shaw would get to work very early and would stand at the entrance of the Government Headquarters from about 7:30 – 7:50am daily. He would often call me later in the morning and say, “Ms. Henry, I did not see you this morning, what time did you get to work?” I would respond, “Mr. Shaw I am here! Mr. Symes is my boss!” Through our interaction both on the Committee and in the execution of my duties, we developed respect, admiration and love for each other.
Mr. Shaw holds a special place in my heart for many reasons, and today I share one of the reasons with you. Mr. Shaw was instrumental in me gaining a scholarship to pursue my MBA. I received a scholarship from the University of the West Indies in 1988, to pursue an MPhil leading to a PhD, however, I was asked to return to Dominica as I was bonded, and I was earmarked to head the ARP, as Ms. Jennifer White was leaving to pursue studies in Canada. The Government promised that the scholarship would be returned. When I realized that because of the actions of certain individuals, I would not be getting a scholarship, I applied for a student loan at the Aid Bank in 1991 to pursue my MBA. Mr. Shaw was one of the members of the Bank’s Loan Committee, and when he saw my application, he inquired why as he was the Secretary to the Cabinet when the decision to have me return and the promise to award me a scholarship was made. He made a call (at the time I had no knowledge of this and I only found out about it much later, not from Mr. Shaw but from someone else) and with the help of a few other persons, including Mrs. Edith Bellot Allen, Mrs. Jennifer White and Mrs. Jennifer Astaphan, I received a scholarship to pursue my MBA. When I went to thank him, he downplayed his role, but I would have none of it! I thanked him for caring and for “righting a wrong.” I am so glad I gave him his word of Praise while he lived so that my short eulogy is still in order!!
This incident reflected a lot about who Vernon Lorden Shaw was: He was a man of integrity, discipline and order. He was selfless and was always willing to share and mentor. He was frank and candid. He took pride that in all of his many years of service he was never late or missed work except for his vacation (and he did not take all that he as entitled to; in today’s world, this would not be permitted!). Mr. Shaw was known to send employees home if he felt they were not deported appropriately. Some persons, because of Mr. Shaw’s strong disciplinary stance were either afraid of or avoided him. I however saw behind the exterior, and found a man who was eager to share and teach. He had a wealth of knowledge and I would tap into it to help me carry out my duties effectively. He was by his very insistence on the proper way of doing things, driving us to be our best selves; to commit ourselves to excellence and to service to others.
I want to return to this quote, “One word of praise in life is better than all the eulogies in death.” This quote resonates because it reflects well what I firmly hold and have commented upon on more than one occasion in this Column. We need to give people their flowers while they are alive, while they can hear and appreciate it. We need to let the people around us know what they mean to us. We need to express our love, thanks and appreciation. I have also said publicly more than once, please give me my flowers now, when I can appreciate them and they can serve to encourage me to keep on working on fulfilling my purpose on earth!
I have told my family and close friends and have said this publicly before, that when I die, I don’t want a mountain of flowers, all I want is a huge bouquet of yellow roses. I want the money that would be assigned to the wreaths to be donated to the Education Trust Fund, and I pray that all who would have bought flowers will make the donation. His Excellency Shaw requested donations be made to the Cancer Society in lieu of flowers. One part of the request was honoured as only The President, Prime Minister and family members laid flowers. I hope the second part of request is honoured.
I also want to use this phrase to address an issue that is prevalent in the workplace. Over the past five years, I have administered employee surveys in several companies, in the public and private sectors in the Caribbean, and one common issue is employees’ view that supervisors and managers are long on complaints and short on praise. They claim that managers will be silent when they excel and do well, but do not hesitate to condemn and punish for shortcomings, no matter how trivial, and often keep these shortcomings in active memory, no matter how distant the transgression. Employees are paid to do a good job, and some supervisors and managers believe that because this is so, they do not have to acknowledge good work of employees. Supervisors and managers do not have to start a “praise party,” when employees do what is required, however, when employees do more than what is required and when they consistently produce superior work, a “praise party” is required. Supervisors and mangers must take note and show appreciation when employees out perform and for consistently doing a good job.
The absence of money is often touted for not recognizing employees, however, praise, thanks and appreciation do not necessarily have to costs much. Words such as “Thank you for a job well done!” “This was great!” “I really appreciate you going over and above the call of duty.” “You are a valued member of our team,” go a long way in employees feeling good about themselves, their supervisors, managers and organisation. Emails, cards, an article in the company’s newsletter or even in the local newspaper are some of the ways companies can show appreciation for staff. And of course a plaque, monetary gift, dinner for two, are other ways.
Employees accept better when they are reprimanded and disciplined when they are also recognized and rewarded when they do well. They accept the reprimand for they know that they must have really fallen short of what was expected, for when they do well, they are recognized. This however has to be prefaced with clear goals and expectations established up front, so that there is no ambiguity of what is expected.
This brings me back to Mr. Shaw. He was clear in making known what he expected. When those expectations were not met, he was firm in his reprimand. When those expectations were exceeded, he recognised and acknowledged it. As we continue our journey of life, may we be clear in our expectations, voice our disappointments, recognise, acknowledge and appreciate when those expectations are exceeded. And above all, be generous with our praise while the recipient is alive and can appreciate and know how and what we feel about them and not reserve them only in death, when others are the ones who can hear and appreciate.
May the angels come to meet you, Your Excellency Vernon Lorden Shaw, Fifth President of the Commonwealth of Dominica. May your Soul Rest in Peace.
Until we meet again, may the Lord continue to Keep Us in the Palm of His Hands.