Do prospective candidates have what it takes?
With P-Noy’s valedictory State of the Nation Address and his endorsement of Mar Roxas, as well as the “counter-Sona” of VP Jejomar Binay, the election fever has gone up several degrees. And, this early, it is opportune to subject those vying for public office to the six tests proposed by Jocelyn R. Pick in her write-up published in Profiles Advantage Partner’s June 2015 newsletter.
Ms Pick submits that highly effective managers need six essential traits: communication skills, leadership qualities, adaptability to change, ability to build relationships, developing others, and developing themselves. These six qualities I propose to require of those wanting to hold public office.
Communication skills involve both instructing and listening. Good communicators, after they draw from the well of their organization’s vision-mission, process their insights and then convey these to their hearers. This act of giving needs also to be a receiving from those being instructed. Reading the feedback is as necessary as instructing. Good communicators need two-directional sensors that capture the ebb and flow of both ideas and feelings between the instructor and the student. It is an unseen dialogue.
Being a leader is another requirement. While there is universal acceptance that to be a leader one must be able to invoke the trust of others, provide direction demanded by the situation, and allocate tasks among team members, there is no consensus on what steps to take in order to be one. Some say it requires experience and training; others simply claim genes. To this must be added the complication that history has demonstrated: that sometimes the same person may be a good leader in the face of war or national crisis and a poor one during peacetime.
A third trait is adaptability, which is the ability to adjust quickly to changing circumstances. The Internet, social media, demographic shifts and geopolitical changes have all speeded up the pace of change. Often the effects begin to manifest themselves even before the causes have been recognized. Elected officials who are not adaptable can easily find themselves washed away by, to borrow from Shakespeare, the tide of times.
The ability to build relationship is another problematic trait: On one hand, it is crucial that a public official is seen as a friend; on the other, it is essential not to be expected to treat everyone as family. A certain distance is needed that is not too far as to make one unreachable or too close as to be blinding.
Exactly how that distance ought to be is difficult to determine. The practice of beso-beso that we inherited from Spain can be abused, in which case it may be seen as “plastic,” if not “social” in the pejorative sense. The American handshake is suited to stressing the distance one wishes to keep. But sometimes, the grip that is used, ranging from limp to crushing, conveys a message that is mostly not sensed by others but certainly keenly felt by the hand-shakers.
Finally, there is the need to continually develop others and develop oneself. The idea of development, whether of other people or of oneself, connotes in both cases an upward direction or some sort of vertical motion. Public servants are not machines spewed out by the electoral system complete in themselves. Instead, they are living organisms that must continually evolve. That evolution needs to be in the direction of improvement and enhancement and not of deterioration and decay.
Developing others requires unselfishness and generosity, even to the extent formulated by St. Ignatius of Loyola—giving without counting the cost and laboring without asking for any reward. It approximates what Pope Francis often calls “compassion.” It requires changing people but not imposing on them. It does not command; instead, it invites. It respects the freedom of the invitee to accept or to reject, to follow or to walk away. Public servants must be prepared to be misunderstood by the people they are serving, to be maligned by their detractors, and openly defied by the very people they are trying to help. They need to rise above all these adversities and persevere in helping others.
That leads to the final trait of highly effective managers: development of themselves. Often, this follows as a natural consequence of developing others. There is an old saying among the American Indians to the effect that one who uses his canoe to help a brother steer his own across a raging river finds himself, in the end, also on the other side. In those simple rustic times, developing others results in developing oneself.
But times are not as leisurely as they used to be. One cannot be consumed by the task of developing others to the extent of neglecting the duty to develop oneself.
Once more the Ignatian practice of daily conscience examen illustrates the need to take time out to focus on oneself at the end of the day and determine not only how one had fared but how one can do better the following day. Indeed, to be effective public servants, elected officials have to continually seek their own improvement, self-development, in order to serve others even more.
Using the tests suggested by Ms Pick, who of the prospective candidates pass?
Ricardo J. Romulo is a senior partner of Romulo Mabanta Buenaventura Sayoc & De Los Angeles.