Wanted: true leadership
Many believe that this presidential election is unprecedented in how it has divided us Filipinos, and in how it has brought out the strongest emotions we have seen in an electoral campaign. Perhaps these emotions have simply been more manifest because the wide accessibility of internet-based social media has made it much easier for personal sentiments to be widely disseminated. In any case, with the ballots cast and as we await what everyone hopes to be a credible and definitive outcome, I am led to ponder on the kind of leadership that our flawed and fractured nation needs at this time.
Much has been written on the attributes of a good leader. I could have simply summarized here those most commonly cited in the literature. But what I write below are based on my personal observations, from having worked with and witnessed good and bad leaders alike. Among others, two individuals I had the privilege of working with in government at close range have prominently shaped, from two differing perspectives, my ideas on good leadership.
One was someone who led me; the other was someone I led. The first, President Fidel V. Ramos (FVR), was the boss I directly answered to in the six years I served in his Cabinet. The second, Aniceto (Chito) M. Sobrepeña, was one of my deputies as head of the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) then. In both, I witnessed qualities of effective leadership that achieved positive results, in their distinctive yet similar ways.
Allow me to share what I saw to be among their strengths, which would be well emulated by our newly elected leaders:
A true leader inspires. This starts with articulating a clear vision with which people will identify. FVR had Philippines 2000, a national vision hinged on the twin goals of global competitiveness and people empowerment, defined with his five Ds of democratization, devolution, decentralization, deregulation and sustainable development.
Chito, who I put in charge of Neda regional offices (NROs) that are technical secretariats to the regional development councils nationwide, effectively rallied them to be the recognized and respected vanguards of development in the countryside. Our new president must similarly be able to define where he/she would like to take all of us Filipinos, and rally our collective energies in pursuit of that goal.
A true leader brings out the best in those he/she leads. Subsidiarity—making decisions and taking action at lower levels whenever and wherever appropriate—is a key principle of good governance both FVR and Chito espoused. A good leader chooses his/her lieutenants well, empowers and trusts them to make the right decisions, and upholds them when they do.
FVR instilled in his Cabinet and all officials the standard of “completed staff work,” such that all decisions, orders and actions that properly fell on him were grounded on proper coordination and solid analysis. Any submission he considered half-baked was promptly returned with “CSW” prominently written with his trademark red felt-tipped pen—a silent reprimand that we in his Cabinet learned to take great pains to avoid.
For his part, Chito exercised a nurturing leadership that spurred the NROs that he led to excellence, enabling and training by sheer example all who he worked with on sound development management. His well-appreciated kind of mentoring supervision once led my own chief of staff to request to be detailed to him even for a limited period, just to learn more effective management by working under him.
A true leader is a humble and listening one. “The most dangerous leader is one who thinks he knows everything.” I’ve heard this said more than once in the recent campaign. Indeed, no one can claim to possess all the knowledge and experience needed to be equipped for national leadership, and the more he/she can acknowledge his/her limitations, the more effective a leader can be. For both FVR and Chito, decision-making should be more than consultative; it should be participatory. FVR formed the Philippine Council for Sustainable Development and the Social Reform Council, both bodies that brought nongovernment representatives to the same table with top government officials to plot a sustainable future for the country. Chito practiced a self-effacing leadership that I find rare: he was not one to claim credit even for ideas and initiatives that were his own; instead, he would publicly attribute these to his principals.
A true leader is decisive and firmly grounded in principle. A listening president will receive all kinds of advice from widely differing perspectives, but in the end, it is his/her judgment and character that will determine whose and which advice will prevail. The good leader decides based not on what serves his/her own interests, not on what is popular, but rather, on what is right—that is, what promotes the greatest good for the greatest number. The president we need is one who will not tolerate paralysis by analysis, decides quickly, and will be firm and unwavering about the decision once reached.
A true national leader is a unifier and a statesman. Lastly, the leader we need is one who will unify, rather than divide us Filipinos. He/she must be color-blind, and able to bridge the political, socioeconomic and cultural divides that have long prevented us from achieving true nationhood. Throughout his presidency, FVR preached and practiced “UST”—unity, solidarity and teamwork. For a national leader, magnanimity and statesmanship are a must. On this, President Ramos, who was the consummate statesman to both domestic and foreign eyes, was a hard act to follow.
How I pray that our new president can set the bar even higher.
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