Monday, April 10, 2006

on leaders

What Needs to Emerge

We are surrounded by leaders; they affect aspects of our lives on a daily basis. Our parents and elders guide us towards becoming productive family members. Educators show us the paths of knowledge, preparing our minds for the rigors of life after university. Religious leaders help us in spiritual matters. Business leaders help determine the flow of commerce.

And government leaders?

Put in fundamental terms, in theory they should act as representatives of their constituents, the people in general, and put into action systems and laws that are beneficial, realistic and reasonable. In practice, however, this is often not the case in this country.

A look at any given day’s newspapers shows the tremendous levels of improvement that can and need to be made. Any informal backyard survey will bring to light expressions of dissatisfaction, confusion and cynicism from the population. People long for good leaders. People hope for great leaders.

But what sort of leaders do we need?

What kind of leaders need to emerge?

What requirements - beyond educational background, work experience, quality of ideas, ability to think long-term and act with necessary speed, capacity of meet the challenges of their specific roles or office, and other traits (which should all be givens) – should these leaders possess?

Leaders, in general, come in every shape and form, with various differences in personal manner, management methodology and leadership style. But there are certain qualities that leaders, in the context of government service, need to have. We have a number of leaders in government service currently who are doing good jobs, but we should have more.

Representation and Communication

Government leaders must serve the people by acting as their true representative, acting on behalf of the citizens who are not able to speak for themselves.

They are servants of the people and the Constitution. This is the primary reason they are in office. They must be active in spheres where the common man is paralyzed by the self-defeating attitude of only getting by on a day-to-day basis, providing the necessary momentum to ignite significant change. They must effectively communicate with the people at large and with the stakeholders that they represent. They need to abandon the ivory towers of obstructionist bureaucracy and honor the social contract that they have entered into.

They must develop a rapport with the people, formulating a personal chemistry that persuades and encourages people to participate and act together to implement the set objectives and attain the agreed-upon goals

Government leaders exist to serve, to act on behalf of those they speak for, to communicate in plain and understandable language to their stakeholders, and to inspire others towards cooperative endeavors.


Government leaders must be responsible.

They must not use their position for self-aggrandizement or to pursue the narrow self-serving agendas of special interest groups. They must be the strongest proponents of self-responsibility, advocating the idea that government is not about only proper systems but also about the quality of leadership. Once elected to an office, they must make good on their electoral promises. Honor is not an antiquated idea – it has its value and importance in the Philippines of today.

A responsible leader is one who holds himself or herself accountable, and is his or her own harshest critic.

Trust and Leading by Example

Government leaders must lead by example and consistently maintain a high personal standard of morality.

They must understand that their credibility ultimately comes from their moral stature and personal example. They must be trustworthy so people will believe in them, and they must trust the people to follow their example. People are not only looking for a leader that they can trust; they are also looking for a leader who will trust them.

People have come to accept corruption, personal corruption, as a given. This is unacceptable.

Our leaders must change this perception and take on the responsibility of being a positive role mode, someone we can respect and respects us, someone we can aspire to emulate.

Trust is powerful when it is present. It brings people together and demonstrates the pinnacle of human cooperative efforts. When it is absent in government there can only be unrest, as absent answers to difficult questions lead to disastrous consequences.

A Realist Outlook

Government leaders must adopt the fundamental posture of a realist.

They must subscribe neither to the cynicism that affects the great majority of people who have all but conceded the fight to the ingrained and reinforced behaviors of “Palakasan”, “Pakikisama” and “Bahala na” – nor to the unbridled exuberant optimism of the those who blind themselves to the true social realities of our country. This realist outlook that acts in the national interest permits the dual drivers of goal-oriented motion and internally-motivated behavior that our country’s leadership sorely lacks.

They need to reimagine the role of government and believe in the ability of the people, of the nation, of themselves, to create progressive and rational change.

This is governance with a sense of purpose.

Expanding Increments

Government leaders must know how to think “big picture” without losing sight of the small details and move in ways that make a difference.

The practice of incrementalism can be further improved by expanding the scale of the increments, with an eye towards making more than the smallest ripples that are usually unfelt and unseen. As agents of change, government leaders must be able to affect change on a large scale, given the fact that their policies, to be effective, must affect signifcant numbers.

The key is to extend and expand the definitions and span of increments with the ultimate goal of making life better for everyone in status quo-altering ways that are visible and lasting.

The Strength of Strong and Weak Ties

Government leaders must champion the idea of a nation, going beyond the small and paralyzing notions of small circles and instead embrace the idea of a network.

As a people, we are big believers in the idea of the Strength of Strong Ties. Strong Ties are direct relationships: family, personal contacts, business partners, friends, small organizations we hold membership in. It is all too easy to act on behalf of people we know by name.

But government leaders must also believe in the principle of the Strength of Weak Ties. Weak ties are people we do not know by name, are not members of our immediate circles, but whose lives we affect by the quality of our ideas that we communicate, the consequences of our action or inaction, and by the fact that we are all networked in the framework of a nation.

Weak ties are the majority of people who voted our leaders into office, persuaded by promises, and hopeful that their leaders go beyond charismatic rhetoric.

There is certainly nothing weak about these ties; and they are very significant ties.

A nation is not a notion. A nation is a real state composed of real people in ever-increasing overlapping ties.

The Filipino Leader of today must come to accept the reality of the Strength of Weak Ties, going beyond those he personally knows to those he should fully represent.

Now, now, now

We cannot afford to wait for the leaders of tomorrow who will arrive in glory with all of these attributes – the pressing matters that bedevil our nation are very much of the here and now.

Those who sought offices and were elected, chosen by the people, must bear the responsibility of becoming the kind of leaders they need to be.

We need our current leaders to make personal changes in significant, positive and transparent increments in the way they think, act and comport themselves.

We need them to provide evidence of their moral regeneration by example to restore lost confidence

And we need them all to do so right now.

There is no other way about it.


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