Sunday, August 31, 2014

General George Washington

“The year 1777 was not a particularly good time for America’s newly formed revolutionary army. Under General George Washington’s command, some 11,000 soldiers made their way to Valley Forge. Following the latest defeat in a string of battles that left Philadelphia in the hands of British forces, these tired, demoralized, and poorly equipped early American heroes knew they now faced another devastating winter.” [Great Leadership Isn’t About You, John Michel, Harvard Business Review, 22nd Aug 2014; Brig. Gen. John E. Michel is the Commanding General, NATO Air Training Command-Afghanistan and Commander, 438th Air Expeditionary Wing, Kabul, Afghanistan]

“Yet history clearly records that despite the harsh conditions and lack of equipment that left sentries to stand on their hats to prevent frostbite to their feet, the men who emerged from this terrible winter never gave up. Why? Largely because of the inspiring and selfless example of their leader, George Washington. He didn’t ask the members of his army to do anything he wouldn’t do. If they were cold, he was cold. If they were hungry, he went hungry. If they were uncomfortable, he too choose to experience the same discomfort.”

It was the title of this Harvard Business Review article that caught my attention – “Great leadership isn’t about you” –because of another “drama” that has unfolded in PHL politics, about President Aquino running for a second term which means amending the Constitution. And given the subject was leadership and written by a brigadier general in the US military, it brought memories of the one leadership program that every senior manager at my old MNC company had to attend. And the centerpiece of the takeaway from the program was how a manager’s perception of their leadership style matched those of the people around them – the bigger boss, the peers and the subordinates – a 360-degree view.

And the program would provide insights on how to narrow if not bridge the gaps that may exist reinforced by a one-to-one session with a coach. In short, “leadership isn’t about you!” And it has had an enormous number of graduates globally that the different profiles of successful leadership have been confirmed many times over. And that's why even the US military sent their generals to the program.

Was President Aquino testing the water to assess if the people around him, what he calls his “bosses,” would like him to continue? And going by the rallies and the news reports, he must have heard “the bosses” weren't entertaining the idea?

But there is a sadder dimension to this drama. It simply confirms that we’re a banana republic. It also confirms that we’re all about politics – and politics of the rotten kind. Sadly, while his camp sees it as a “demolition job,” the reality is VP Binay’s reputation has gotten ahead of him, so far ahead that even here in the US, people know about his “rags to riches” story, including how the riches came to be.

Sadly indeed, we keep taking two steps back. And until Juan de la Cruz embraces transparency, we won’t move forward as a democracy. And the leadership program referenced above is meant to stress the point. Great leadership is transparent; it is not about hierarchy. And thank God Pope Francis made that an unequivocal message especially to the Vatican Curia by choosing to be housed not in the papal apartment, for instance.

I pity our NEDA secretary trying his best to drive an economic agenda. But an economic agenda is derived from the people and the leadership, and they are at the core of a nation’s culture, the hopper through which economic initiatives are either squashed or nurtured. For example, in a hierarchical environment, transparency isn't valued in the first place. We can legislate elements of it like via the FOI or the competition law but unless our psyche is heavily tilted to honest-to-goodness transparency, the efforts will represent the path of least resistance that would collapse when push comes to shove – especially given the characteristics of PHL society: political dynasties, political patronage, crony capitalism and paternalism. Translation: to take down political patronage and oligopoly, for example, demands leadership like that of Pope Francis.

And so unless the Philippine church, like Pope Francis did, demonstrates shunting hierarchy, Juan de la Cruz will always be at home in our soft culture – given the church occupies a special place in the Pinoy way of life. But then again, will we appreciate why the pope would demonstrate tough-mindedness and be at home in Wall Street lingo? Francis wanted a leaner, more efficient Vatican administration that would be solidly self-sustaining . . . he despises waste and inefficiency, and he thinks the Vatican can run better with fewer employees.” [This pope means business, Shawn Tully, Fortune Magazine, 14th Aug 2014]

Our soft culture comes from the subservience that Rizal saw and reinforced by Padre Damaso? “Why independence, if the servants of today will be the tyrants of tomorrow?” Even in the West, where there is more openness and diversity, progressive enterprises train managers to manage with respect, how then would we in PHL ever approximate such progressive ways in getting the best in people?

And precisely why we in the elite class like to talk among ourselves – i.e., we think alike. Why would we want it any other way when our quality of life – given our place in PHL hierarchy – is what we’re proud of?

We are younger than America and that would also explain why we’re still a banana republic. But that is giving ourselves a free pass too when our neighbors are likewise younger yet they became Asian Tigers. What we need would be great leaders like Washington. And Lee Kuan Yew and Mohamad Mahathir have similarly demonstrated enviable leadership traits but we chose to nitpick instead of learning a lesson or two from their successes. It is what benchmarking is about, but it demands a great deal of maturity.

And what can we do granted that it’s not easy to replicate America because they founded their nation precisely as the anti-aristocracy and anti-persecution – and thus their commitment to the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness – owing to old Europe? Consider: our younger generation has already demonstrated the penchant to follow the footsteps of their parents; ergo, political dynasties, political patronage, crony capitalism and paternalism shall continue to define us? And not surprisingly, we keep taking two steps back because crab mentality is their natural outcome.

If the leadership that PHL needs is not reflected in Binay then who? Roxas? What should be the conversation and debate about him? For example: He is a personality but did he demonstrate leadership especially given the high profile accorded him courtesy of the administration? What about visionary leadership that PHL sorely needs? PHL is a laggard as the world knows because we lag in basic infrastructure. Roxas was at DOTC where he could have demonstrated a sense of vision and taken the leadership within the cabinet to drive infrastructure development? And at Wack-Wack what did he demonstrate? That he personifies our hierarchical system and structure? Is that what we should be talking and debating about instead of personalities?

Mature politics is what leads to a mature democracy; while our personalistic brand of politics is a confirmation of our adolescence in the exercise of the democratic process. That is why young people are asked: what do you want to be when you grow up? It is to inculcate in their young minds the imperative of setting their sights into the future, the higher the better. For a nation, that means establishing a shared vision as in the common good.

So far we got it all wrong because we continue to value our cacique system and structure – and sadly, personalities. And we only have ourselves to blame. Let's call a spade a spade – if we'd ever to have the chance to be on the road to a mature brand of politics . . . and attain nirvana, a mature democracy. What about socialism? Don't even get there, would be the response of my Eastern European friends!  And we don’t want to play with fire?

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