Competence, character, charisma | Inquirer Opinion

Competence, character, charisma

12:05 AM April 26, 2016

STUDIES IN persuasive communication have long shown that there are at least three factors necessary for leadership to be effective: competence, character and charisma. All three are needed if one is to lead people from where they are to where they can be.

Competence. This means not just technical competence, like being a good lawyer or a good technocrat. There are highly competent people in their own fields who do badly when put in positions of leadership. In management, this is known as the “Peter Principle,” a process where people ascend to their level of incompetence.


Jejomar Binay or Rodrigo Duterte, for instance, may talk of “experience” as their strong suit. But it is doubtful if executive experience in leading cities can be extrapolated into competence in managing an entire country. This requires more complex navigational skills, like the challenge of defending the West Philippine Sea.

Leadership requires the ability to decisively and effectively move resources toward identified priorities and goals. Part of the growing possibility of a Duterte presidency is the message that it is going to be strong, with the will to punish crime even in high places, enforce order and make the government more responsive to people on the ground, as with the reported dispatch of sacks of rice from Davao to starving farmers in Kidapawan. Contrast this with the local governor’s callous insistence on “procedures” before providing relief to the starving farmers. Or the urban legends circulating in Tacloban about Mar Roxas’ incompetence in handling the crisis in the aftermath of Typhoon “Yolanda.”


Character. It is conventional wisdom to opt for professional competence vis-à-vis a candidate’s morals. Sophisticated Europeans I know, for instance, could not fathom why Americans got all heated up over Bill Clinton’s sexual indiscretions when the Monica Lewinsky scandal burst into public notice. To them, this was puritanism in the public square, a matter that ought to be relegated to the realm of private morals, and not flagged as a sign of fitness for public office.

Filipinos, used to the Spanish legacy of the querida system were likewise quite forgiving of the marital infidelities of Joseph Estrada, in the same way that Duterte’s womanizing is now glossed over as a minor character flaw. Duterte is seen as a lovable rake, at worst a rogue whose coarse language is comic fodder for those with a stomach for crude jokes.

However, the notion that one’s public and private life can be separated is a myth. Clinton’s presidency had not only been tarnished but also impaired; his credibility as a leader plummeted. His integrity, not only as a husband but as chief of state, had been shadowed. After all, if one can lie to one’s wife, he can lie to the nation.

Experience shows that private behavior leaks into public conduct. Estrada had been quoted as saying that the unsavory transactions that led to his downfall was in part driven by having to provide comfortably for his numerous mistresses and progeny. Revelations of him and his “midnight Cabinet” carousing showed the depths to which the state had sunk, a drunken governance in a state of perpetual stupor.

More significantly, character is predictive of how a candidate is likely to behave once in office. Which of today’s candidates, based on their personality profile, are likely to buckle down under pressure, or pull the trigger summarily without much thought? Who would most likely compromise integrity when faced with lucrative opportunities? Who has a hard enough sense of right and wrong such that our history’s wounds do not get papered over by talk of “unity” and a false sense of peace?

Disturbingly, Duterte is likely to obscure the horrors of the Marcos regime in his willingness to bury the dictator in the Libingan ng mga Bayani, reportedly promising to even turn over the presidency to Ferdinand Marcos Jr. if he is not able to curb criminality swiftly. This shows an alarming lack of judgment and moral sense. If both Duterte and Marcos Jr. win, we open the floodgates for the return of an arbitrary and autocratic rule, however whimsical in disguise.

Charisma. This is not “charm” as usually understood, but the power to move and persuade. Derived from the Greek sense of “rhetoric” as articulated by Aristotle, charisma is the capacity to evoke pathos, an emotional connection.


Binay has been most intentional in inducing this, but it is Duterte who has connected with the crowds, with his Binisaya accent, tough talk and bare-knuckle approach to issues.

Part of Grace Poe’s charisma is not only the association with her adoptive father’s image as champion ng mga api, but the perseverance and tenacity with which she has hurdled her own challenges. Her persona as a foundling fighting her way to validation as a citizen and a candidate is emotionally moving in a culture that tends to identify with the underdog.

More than competence, our people are looking for leaders who authentically feel and sense where they are. “Gobyernong may puso” and the rough-and-ready governance promised by Duterte are tapping into the people’s sense of marginalization and frustration over a governance that is remote and measures itself by abstract statistics, and not by concrete and palpable responses to felt needs. Against this social tendency and preference, the Wharton-educated Mar Roxas, schooled in the rationalities of modern bureaucracy, does not register. Walang dating.

Without charisma, leaders cannot inspire and summon social energies toward goals envisioned. Without competence, leaders disillusion. Without character, charisma, even with competence, as we have seen during the Marcos era, will lead us to disaster.

Dr. Melba Padilla Maggay is a social anthropologist and president of the Institute for Studies in Asian Church and Culture.

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TAGS: candidates, character, charisma, Commentary, Competence, Elections, opinion
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