Monday, February 07, 2011

The Portrait of the Filipino as a Leader

Below is the reflection paper I wrote for our "Leadership in Public Service" course at the Ateneo School of Government. It is rather lengthy (about 20 pages) because it is an integration of the 3 reflection papers we wrote as part of the requirements for the course.

The Portrait of the Filipino as a Leader

By Oliver M. Mendoza


I believe that many in my MPM Batch 2010 class would agree when I say that the “Leadership in Public Service” module is perhaps the most challenging and demanding we have taken so far at the Ateneo School of Government. Our professors, former Marikina City Mayor Marides Fernando and Father Pat Falguera, S.J., really bombarded us with a lot of assignments – concept maps, reflection papers, leadership articles, etc. – and to top it all off, a comprehensive Final Exam. I almost feel that I am back in college.

Our class was assigned to read Dunoon’s “Rethinking Leadership in the Public Sector,” Rost’s “Leadership for the 21st Century,” Heifetz’s “Leadership Without Easy Answers,” Goleman’s “Primal Leadership,” Makrydemetres’s “Dealing with Dilemmas,” Ackerman’s “Social Accountability in the Public Sector” and the Ateneo School of Government Leadership Framework. We were also asked to write a reflection paper on the martial arts flick “HERO” and identify underlying Asian leadership concepts in the film. For my part, I learned a new skill – that of reducing essay articles into concept maps – which will no doubt prove useful to me in my future courses at the Ateneo. And as a final course requirement we will be submitting our respective Leadership Portfolios, a sort of scrapbook project detailing our personal journey in the the “Leadership in Public Service” module.

This integrative reflection paper will start by discussing the “multiplier effect” of leadership. My paper will then do a brief recapitulation of the different leadership concepts we learned in class. Then I will be examining the historical context and cultural environment that the Filipino leader finds himself. Finally, this paper will present my “personalized” leadership framework which contains my own “Transformational-Transaction Leadership” model.

The “Multiplier Effect” of Leadership

It is often said that a nation’s destiny is determined not by its people but by its leaders. As the noted historian Thomas Carlyle put it; “the history of the world is but a biography of great men.” Indeed, there are countless books and research studies which validate this adage. Experts often point to leadership as a vital factor in eventual outcomes: good leadership leads to development while bad leadership results to underdevelopment. The World Bank Institute was even able to measure precisely the “multiplier effect” of good leadership, which it claims translates to a 400% increase in incomes per capita in the long run, improvement in infant mortality from 2.5 to 4 times, and improvement in literacy rates by 15% to 25%.[1] Bad leadership, on the other hand, results to maladministration, erosion of the rule of law, graft and corruption, and underdevelopment.

Foreign observers are often puzzled why the Philippines continues to lag behind its Southeast Asian neighbors when our “East Meets West” culture and abundant natural resources should have given us an added advantage in a globalizing world economy. To be sure, the average Filipino is no less intelligent and no less hard-working than the typical Malaysian or Singaporean. In fact, based on many anecdotal stories from friends and relatives based abroad, the Filipino tends to do well when he is transplanted overseas. Clearly, the problem is not with our people but with our leaders.

The causal link between leadership and development is best illustrated by comparing the leadership of Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos and Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. Both Marcos and Lee Kuan Yew were extraordinarily-gifted politicians who rose to power in the same year: Marcos became the 10th President of the Philippines while Lee Kuan Yew became the 1st Prime Minister of Singapore both in 1965. At that time, the Philippines was a fast-growing country with a vibrant democracy while Singapore was a tiny, newly-independent city-state with practically no natural resources. Both leaders adopted similar political strategies (e.g. they stifled opposition, coopted the press, etc.) but pursued widely-contrasting economic policies. While Marcos adopted an import-substitution economic policy, Lee Kuan Yew liberalized the Singaporean economy. In time, Marcos’s “nationalistic” economic policies resulted to market stagnation and cronyism whereas Lee Kuan Yew’s move to open up the Singaporean market to foreign investors led to unprecedented growth so much so that by the early-1980s Singapore was already being touted as the first “Tiger Economy of Asia” while the Philippines was being referred to as the “Sick Man of Asia.” President Marcos became too sick to govern effectively, and when Senator Ninoy Aquino was assassinated the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank and other international lending institutions refused to grant any more loans to the Philippines until a suitable political successor to Marcos emerged. When Cory Aquino took over in 1986, successive coup ‘d etats negated the economic gains of her administration and it was only during the early 1990s, under the presidency of Fidel Ramos, when the Philippine government finally began liberalizing the economy. But by then Singapore (and the rest of our Southeast Asian neighbors) already had a 20-year head-start.

The “multiplier effect” of leadership is more significant in the Philippines because we Filipinos have, for lack of a better term, a “follow-da-lider” mentality. Observe that during heavy traffic it only takes one car to counter-flow and then everyone else follows, with the lead car acting like a “magnet” seemingly attracting other vehicles to follow it. In most government offices, underlings look to the boss for behavioral “cues:” if the boss is corrupt, then everyone feels justified to be corrupt in a perverse “the small steal small, the big steal big” kind of mentality. But if the boss is good, then employees will be on their toes and even the habitual grafters will “moderate their greed” so to speak. Thus, good leadership becomes even more crucial given this Philippine cultural trait.

There are numerous other examples that could be cited to further illustrate the “multiplier effect” of good leadership, like what Robredo did in Naga or what the Fernando couple did in Marikina and Hagedorn in Puerto Princesa, which I will no longer discuss here for lack of material space. Suffice it to say that leadership, not the people’s culture, is the key factor in influencing outcomes. We cannot continue blaming our culture as the culprit for all our ills. This “culture-as-culprit” mindset is fallacious since there is no such thing as a “perfect people.” All cultures have their own positive and negative traits, mores and customs; all civilizations have their own inherent strengths and weaknesses. It is the task of the leader to harness and bring out the best (and suppress the worst) traits of his people.

By way of closing, I would like to share this anecdote that dramatizes the “multiplier effect” of leadership. Frederick the Great once sent a letter to one of his generals with the following message: “I send you against the enemy with 60,000 men.” When the troops were counted they numbered only 50,000. The general sent a letter of protest and complaint, insisting there must be a mistake. “No,” replied Frederick,” there is no mistake. I counted you for 10,000 men.”

Lessons Learned: A Brief Overview of Leadership Theories and Concepts

This realization of the vital importance of leadership in the success or failure of all human endeavors has resulted to increased academic interest into what is dubbed as the “leadership phenomenon.” Cognizant of the “multiplier effect” of leadership on their profit margins and governance outcomes, business corporations all over the world are spending vast sums of money to enhance the leadership skills of their managerial employees. In fact, in North America alone, corporations have spent a total of $60 billion on these so-called “leadership development” and “managerial training” programs.[2] There are also tons of money being made on leadership/management “self-help” books due to increased public interest in this “leadership phenomenon.”

But despite the increased academic focus and the vast sums of research funding being poured into the field of leadership studies, scholars are nowhere near to coming up with a universally-acceptable definition for “leadership” today than they were 80 years ago. This is essentially the conclusion which Joseph Rost wrote in his book “Leadership for the 21st Century,” to quote:

“The Great Man Theory of leadership proved unacceptable by the 1930s, so social psychologists began a new approach to studying leadership. They looked at how leadership emerges and develops in small groups (Group Theory). That line of research reached a dead-end when it became clear that the results were not transferable to large groups or organizations. Even before that, however, other researchers looked for universal traits of leaders (Trait Approach) in order to understand what really makes leadership tick, but that effort was demolished in the 1950s by Stogdill, who compared the results of numerous trait studies and found that they were contradictory and inconclusive. So he and others at the Ohio State University declared that leadership should be conceptualized as behavior (Behavioral Theory), but after years of study, scholars could not isolate key behavioral patterns that made any difference. There seemed to be no one best way for leaders to behave when leading. With that approach laid to rest, researchers tried to determine what leadership behaviors were the best in certain situations (Contingency/Situational Theory). But that approach fell apart again when leaders realized that they would have to consult decision trees or wheel charts to find out how to behave. There were also thousands of situations that researchers have not studied, so leaders were left on their own.

Finally, in the 1980s, scholars repudiated the Contingency/Situational Leadership theory and determined that leadership is simply doing the right thing to achieve excellence (Excellence Theory). That meant researchers had to find out what the ‘right thing’ is, so they set about researching excellent companies and CEOs and developed lists of traits, behavioral patterns, group facilitation strategies and culture-shaping practices for would-be leaders. So after berating the ‘Great Man Theory’ in the 1930s, management scholars took it up again in the 1980s. In other words, scholars and practitioners of leadership are no more sure of what leadership is in 1990 than they were in 1930.”[3]

Aside from the leadership concepts cited by Rost, there are several more worth mentioning here. One is the “Attribution Theory” which became in vogue during the 1960s and 1970s. The Attribution Theory defined leadership in terms of influence and described leaders as “persons who cause things to happen.” But it was rejected by most scholars because it was virtually impossible to conduct empirical research on a concept as ethereal as “influence.” Then in 1978 James MacGregor Burns came out with two new concepts: that of the “Transformational” and “Transactional” leader. According to Burns, the transformational approach “creates significant change in the life of people and organizations. It redesigns perceptions and values, and changes expectations and aspirations of employees. Unlike in the transactional approach, it is not based on a ‘give and take’ relationship, but on the leader's personality, traits and ability to make a change through example, articulation of an energizing vision and challenging goals. Transforming leaders are idealized in the sense that they are a moral exemplar of working towards the benefit of the team, organization and/or community.” [4] Burns theorized further that transformational and transactional leadership were mutually-exclusive styles.

For their part, Don Dunoon and Ronald Heifetz presented the concepts of “Learning-Centered” and “Adaptive” leadership respectively. Heifetz argued that leadership is first and foremost an “activity” and not a position of authority or a set of characteristics. “Context and culture determine and shape our inclinations for dominance and deference and to be effective, leaders really must engage in ‘adaptive work’ in order to ‘stay alive.’”[5] Dunoon defined “learning-centered” leadership as the “intentional and continuous use of the learning process to improve skills. The leader in this context is not an authority figure with solutions but merely a ‘context-setter,’ the ‘lead-learner,’ and the ‘designer of the learning experience.’ A leader must not only be able to orchestrate but must also contribute as a colleague at different levels of the process.”[6]

We also discussed Anthony Makrydemetres and the “ALIR” Approach to ethical dilemmas (ALIR stands for Accountability, Legality or rule of law, Integrity and Responsiveness) while John Ackerman in his “Social Accountability in the Public Sector” article talked about how civil society groups serve to ensure greater accountability in government. The main purpose of their articles was basically the same – how to achieve good and honest government thru greater accountability. The two only differed in their preferred methods – Makrydemetres favored a more “internal” approach i.e. teaching public servants to be “good” (via his ALIR method) while Ackerman believed in a more “external” approach i.e. civil society acting as an independent watchdog to ensure that public servants remained “good.” The only thing lacking in the Makrydemetres and Ackerman articles, as I duly pointed out during class discussion, is that they both failed to mention the critical and long-held role of media towards ensuring transparency and accountability in government.

Lastly, Daniel Goleman advanced his concept of the “Resonant Leader” and the importance of emotional intelligence (EQ) in attaining resonant leadership. Goleman, quite simply, defined the resonant leader as “someone who brings out the best in people.” Emotional intelligence, he argues, is very important because “an organization’s ‘Group IQ’ – or the sum total of every person’s best talents contributed at full force – depends largely on the group’s EQ, as shown in its harmony. A leader skilled in collaboration can keep cooperation high and thus ensure that the group’s decisions will be worth the effort of meeting. Such leaders know how to balance the group’s focus on the task at hand. They naturally create a friendly but effective climate that lifts everyone’s spirits. Resonant leaders build resonance by tuning into people’s feelings – their own and others – and guiding them in the right direction.” Below is what I consider the most memorable line in Goleman’s groundbreaking book entitled “Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead with Emotional Intelligence:”

“Gifted leadership occurs when heart and head, feeling and thought, meet. These are two wings that allow a leader to soar. All leaders need enough intellect to grasp the specifics of the task and challenges at hand. Of course, leaders gifted in the decisive clarity that analytic and conceptual thinking allow certainly add value. We see intellect and clear thinking largely as the characteristics that get someone in the leadership door. Without those fundamental abilities, no entry is allowed. However, intellect alone will not make a leader: leaders execute a vision by motivating, guiding, inspiring, listening, persuading, and most crucially, creating resonance. As Albert Einstein cautioned, ‘We should take care not to make the intellect our god. It has of course powerful muscles, but no personality. It cannot lead, it can only serve.’”[7]

The Death of the “Expert.” I can spot two trends based on all the leadership studies we have studied so far. One, leadership nowadays requires a more egalitarian outlook on the part of the leader. Most modern scholars agree that leadership today requires a more subtle, pluralistic approach which some scholars cynically describe as “leaderless leadership.” Nowadays, a manager who has 50 years industry experience, a doctorate degree plus various awards under his belt, still has to listen and consider seriously the opinion of everybody in his organization as part of the “leadership process.” This trend towards increasing “egalitarianism” in the workplace is further corroborated by the seminal paper written by Leroy White and Ann Taket entitled “The Death of the Expert” which found that the traditional authority of the “expert” has been significantly eroded in modern society as more and more people gain greater access to knowledge and information.[8] Clearly, the days of the expert, know-it-all “boss” are numbered.

The “Feminization” of the Leadership Role. Another discernible trend is the shift towards the “feminization” of leadership. Nowadays, leadership traits that are long considered as “masculine” (e.g. aggressiveness, competitiveness, high-handedness, decisiveness, etc.) are frowned upon whereas stereotypically “feminine” qualities (e.g. sensitivity, empathy, congeniality, collaborative and participatory, etc.) are generally admired and encouraged by the leadership experts. Note for example that during the olden days a man who is undemonstrative and unemotional is labeled (often admiringly) as a “strong, silent type” individual whereas today, that same individual would be described (often derisively) as someone “not in touch with his feelings.” Gloria Galanes wrote an insightful study about this subject in her article entitled “Leadership in the New Millenium: More Mama Than Papa.” To quote:

“The problems our world faces are complex and multilayered in part because there are more people at the table whose points of view must be taken into account, making inclusion and collaboration essential. This suggests that effective leaders, as they address the complex, multifaceted problems that will be prevalent in the new millennium, will profit from using stereotypically feminine styles of leading. But while the feminine characteristics of understanding and relationship-building may appear to predominate, the masculine characteristics of action and goal attainment remain essential. Thus, today’s leaders must combine the strong elements of stereotypically masculine and traditionally feminine behavior, blending elements of both. Countless studies show that the behaviors that characterize effective leadership — whether they have been labeled stereotypically feminine or masculine — can be performed well by both men and women. The leader’s sex did not seem to matter, but behavior that encompassed both task and relationship goals did.” [9]

Some Suggestions for the ASOG Framework. I believe I was the first in my MPM batch to bemoan the fact that most of the leadership theories we were being taught in class are foreign (primarily Western) concepts, and thus quite alien and even irrelevant, I daresay, to our local Philippine setting. One definitely cannot teach leadership by only lecturing on Goleman, Heifetz, Dunoon (whom I thought originally was Filipino), Rost and a host of other Western scholars. Likewise, I also said that I find the Ateneo School of Government Leadership Framework “too Western” for my taste. Although I agree with most of the leadership concepts in the ASOG Framework, I have sincere doubts whether LGU department heads, barangay chairmen and other public officials – the supposed target market of ASOG – will be able to distill, much less internalize, all the high-faluting terms and elaborate concepts that it contains. In other words, the ASOG framework fails to “resonate” (to borrow Goleman’s term) not really because it is “too Western” in substance but because it is too academic in form. This, in essence, is my issue against the ASOG Leadership Framework.

One possible way of addressing this “dissonance” is through the use of native leadership paradigms to illustrate foreign concepts, much like using an atis instead of an apple to illustrate a fruit - the logic being that Filipino students will be able to relate better if local instead of imported fruits are used. By using the local context to teach foreign ideas, a student/public practitioner will be able to understand and more importantly internalize the concepts that will help guide him in his leadership role in government.

For example, I see that most of the Western concepts we have been taught in class really have their counterparts in local Philippine culture. The Great Man Theory of Leadership for instance is epitomized by the datu, the tribal leader who symbolized courage and wisdom during our pre-Hispanic past. Goleman’s resonant leader corresponds closely to the leadership role performed by the babaylan, the priestess or effeminate shaman who looked after the spiritual well-being of the people. Dunoon’s concept of the Learning-Centered Leader really talks about the panday, the blacksmith/artisan in Philippine folklore who attained respect and special status by virtue of his skill, intellect, creativity and diligence. Transformational leadership actually refers to the idealistic bayani as exemplified by Jose Rizal while the Transactional form of leadership reminds us of the much-maligned trapo (traditional politician), the pragmatic but highly-effective Filipino politician.

The Portrait of the Filipino as a Leader

To be relevant to the student/practitioner, the “Leadership in Public Service” course must not only explore Western theories but must likewise involve an examination of the historical context, cultural archetypes and political dynamics of the Philippines. Only by surveying both local and foreign bodies of knowledge can a student/practitioner arrive at a comprehensive understanding of leadership. Only by marrying both the indigenous and the alien can the student/practitioner arrive at his own personal definition of what it takes to be a good leader in our country.

The Leader in the Philippine Context

1. Patron-Client Politics. One really cannot study leadership in the Philippine context without dissecting the patron-client relationship concept. Defined as “a mutually obligatory arrangement between an individual who has authority, social status, wealth, or some other personal resource (the patron) and another person who benefits from his or her support or influence (the client),”[10] this transactional patron-client system is so pervasive that it affects not only the way we practice our politics but also shapes our societal relations, clan dynamics, and even the way we practice our religious faith. Observe how every January millions of Filipinos throng to Quiapo to ask the Nazareno for personal favors, or how every Friday thousands of El Shaddai devotees flock to listen to Bro. Mike Velarde preach about his own brand of Christian charity promising that every peso they give (as a “love offering”) will be returned to them “a hundredfold.”

If you ask a typical Filipino the question “ano sa tingin mo ang mga katangian ng magaling na lider?” chances are he will mention qualities like honesty, intelligence, competence, etc. But if you ask him to answer honestly the question “sino ang iboboto mo sa eleksyon” and chances are he will say, with a knowing smile, that he will vote for the candidate who has helped him (nakatulong sa akin) in the past or the one who can “bring home the goods.” Thus, under the patron-client context, a person has to possess not only the traits but also the means (financial or otherwise) to become a leader in the Philippine setting. Your personal traits may earn you the admiration of your peers and might even gain a few “true believers,” but having the means allows you to wield real influence and power. In fact, it is primarily the “means” and not the traits that get people elected to public office today. This is one of the hard realities of Philippine politics which our “Leadership in Public Service” course failed to resolve, focused as we are in merely discussing the traits that make a good leader.

2. “Pandanggo sa Ilaw” Politics. Besides the transactional patron-client system, the Philippine dynamic is also characterized by what UP Professor Remigio Agpalo colorfully described as “pandanggo sa ilaw” politics:

"The idea of pandanggo sa ilaw politics is derived from a native folk dance called pandanggo sa ilaw. This folk dance may be described in terms of 1) the participant dancers, 2) the objects the dancers carry or hold, and 3) the way the participants dance. The participants are male or female, two or more of them, who carry lighted glass oil lamps on their heads and the back of their hands. Dancing to the rhythm of lilting music, they sway and balance, go around the stage or dance floor, intermingle, manipulate the glass lamps with amazing and spectacular dexterity, and manuever for dramatic and arresting position on the floor. Agile of hands and nimble of feet, the pandanggo dancers do not trip or drop the glass they carry.

In pandanggo sa ilaw politics, there are elements analogous to those found in the folk dance. Similar to the pandanggo dancers are the political actors --the citizens and government officials; to the glass oil lamps, the power of the political actors. Corresponding to the stage where the pandanggo is danced is the political arena. The movement of the political actors can be compared to those of the pandanggo dancers; these consist in skillful manipulations and manuevering. For this reason, the political actors, like the pandanggo dancers, are fascinating to watch.

Unlike the politics of ideology where the ideological doctrines guide, direct, and dominate the political process, there are no doctrines guiding and directing the political actors in pandanggo sa ilaw politics. Thus, elections, legislations, administration, adjudication, and other processes of the government in this system are not ideology-oriented ... What interests them are personal and practical matters -- what favors can be allocated to supporters and burdens imposed on non-supporters; what personal traits certain public officials or citizens have or do not have; what party can grant favors and what group cannot give patronage; and the like. In other words, pandanggo sa ilaw politics is oriented towards personality, practicality and material goods."[11]

3. Pasyon” Politics. Aside from political showmanship, various sociologists also note that Filipinos tend to view politics as a “Pasyon” show. This “politics-as-a-morality-play” worldview explains why Filipinos have a natural affinity for messianic figures and a tendency towards viewing politics in terms of “good” and “bad,” black or white (or better yet, “pula” or “puti”). This explains the Filipino’s penchant for first having to wait for a “savior” to appear before he can move to save himself. Thus, our people have to wait first for our national hero Jose Rizal (and later Senator Ninoy Aquino) to offer their blood in Christ-like fashion before they could shake off tyranny. Filipinos see the Spaniards as “bad” and the Filipino revolutionaries as “good;” we condemn Marcos as pure evil while we anoint Ninoy (and recently Cory) Aquino as our national saint. But we overlook the fact that both the 1896 and 1986 Revolutions did not really result in dramatic transformational change but only resulted in one group of predatory political elites replacing another. We refuse to accept this because admitting it would upset our “good vs. bad” worldview.

4. The Leader’s “Pagka-tao.” Lastly, Filipinos do not look for individual traits but rather look at the person’s entire “pagkatao” when choosing their political leaders. A person’s “pagkatao” is shaped by nature (his genetic pedigree, his “budhi”/”dungan” or spirit force, etc.) and nurture (his education, value systems, etc.). It is the sum total of a person’s positive and negative traits, virtues and vices, his strengths and weaknesses combined. Observe that during elections voters are more interested in knowing a candidate’s “pagkatao” rather than his platform of government. This is also the reason why some Filipino politicians who are habitual drunkards or womanizers still merit the adulation of the masses because they demonstrate other traits (e.g. sincerity, generosity and empathy) that “offset” their flaws, the logic being that some virtues outweigh vices. Filipinos seem to accept the fact that no human is perfect, and that leaders are humans too.

To further illustrate the “pagkatao” concept, allow me to discuss the Ilonggo concept of the “dunganon nga tawo.” Derived from the root word “dungan,” the term “dunganon nga tawo” translated literally means a person possessed of a very strong dungan. Professor Alicia Magos of the University of the Philippines-Visayas defined the “dungan” as:

"a life force, an energy as well as an ethereal entity, a spirit with a will of its own that resides in the human body and provides the essence of life. Apart from denoting an alter ego and soul stuff, the dungan as presently understood refers to such personal attributes as willpower, knowledge and intelligence, and even the ability to dominate and persuade others. (Magos 1992, 47-50)."

Under this Visayan concept, life is seen primarily as a constant battle for ascendancy between and among people of varying levels of dungan. Naturally, the person with the strongest dungan emerges as the leader. The concept of dungan finds many parallelisms in other ethnic groups. The Tagalogs for instance call it “budhi” (hence the term “itim ang budhi”) while Bicolanos refer to it as “orag” (hence the word “oragon”).

Though the term is seldom used nowadays (it is considered too archaic) but back when it was more commonly used, the term “dunganon nga tawo” was used in reference to any person who exhibits any or all of the following qualities; 1.) acute intelligence, vast professional knowledge and a sharp mind; 2.) indomitable will-power and self confidence; 3.) uncanny ability to generate wealth or succeed in a chosen career; 4.) excellent oratorical skills, ample capacity to dominate others and subdue enemies; and lastly, 5.) incredible luck and fortune. In other words, the dunganon nga tawo epitomizes the qualities that inspire awe and respect from his fellowmen. He is a person who not only exudes an aura of power and self-mastery but someone who is blessed with good luck. Thus, the “dunganon nga tawo” is synonymous to the concept of a “leader” in the Ilonggo cultural setting.

During pre-Spanish times, the datu, the babaylan and the panday were the epitomes of the dunganon nga tawo. When the Spaniards arrived, the friar replaced the datu, babaylan and panday as the dunganon nga tawo in Philippine society. But it should also be mentioned that not all Filipinos submitted to Spanish hegemony. There were a few men and women of strong spirit and indomitable will – people of strong “dungan” who refused to be cowed by the Spanish (and later, American and Japanese) colonizers. Our history books often labels them either as heroes or bandits.

Filipino Leadership Archetypes

1. Pre-Colonial Period. As I mentioned earlier, the datu (tribal chieftain) and the babaylan (shaman or priestess) epitomized the concept of leadership in the Philippines during pre-Hispanic times. Today, mention the word datu and it evokes an image of a person robust in physique and regal in bearing, an individual both wealthy and brave, a man commanding both fear and respect from followers and enemies alike. Standing at the vortex of Philippine pre-colonial society, the datu was responsible for protecting his community from raiders, leading warriors into battle, adjudicating intra-tribe conflicts and looking after the general welfare of his barangay.

Opposite the datu is the babaylan - part-woman, part-man – who functioned as the community’s medium to the preternatural world. If the datu looked after the temporal needs of the people, the babaylan catered to their spiritual needs. Today, mention the word babaylan and it conjures feelings of dread and fascination, of sorcery and magical enchantments, of herbolarios, anting-antings and kulam. Finally, another notable leadership figure in pre-Spanish society is the panday (blacksmith), who attained special status in the community by virtue of his artistic creativity, technical know-how and diligence.

2. Colonial Period. During the Spanish colonial period, the datu, the babaylan and the panday were replaced by the friars as the leaders in Philippine society. The old animist faith practiced by the babaylan was stamped out by the Religious Orders and the panday disappears from history. The old datus were reduced to being mere factotums (i.e. tax collectors, sacristans, etc.) of the Spanish officials. During their entire colonial rule here the Spaniards never numbered more than 5,000 and yet, using their own brand of leadership they called "el arte de dominar el espiritu del Indio" (or the art of dominating the Indio spirit), these handful Spaniards managed to subjugate our people for almost three centuries.

But not all natives succumbed to the Spaniards. A few Filipinos, men and women of strong spirit, indomitable courage and manifest intellect, resisted the Spanish (and later, the American and Japanese) interlopers. These singular individuals would later become known as the charismatic and fearless “bayani” (heroic figure) in Philippine history. The Philippine pantheon of heroes include Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio, Apolinario Mabini, the boy-general Gregorio del Pilar and many others who fought and even sacrificed their lives for our country’s independence.

3. Modern Period. With the arrival of the Americans and the establishment of the Philippine Commonwealth government, a new kind of Filipino leader emerged on the scene – the traditional politician (or trapo for short). Contrary to conventional wisdom, the original trapo is not Speaker Jose de Venecia but President Manuel Luis Quezon. Eloquent, charming and astute, Quezon personified all the political traits and skills that aspiring Filipino politicians emulate even up to this day. He is the “template” upon which almost all subsequent Philippine presidents are compared to. Back in Quezon’s day, the words “transactional politics” have not yet acquired its pejorative meaning. In fact, “transactional politics” was synonymous to “principled compromise” used by Filipino leaders as a tool to forge a middle ground on various political issues and policy debates. In other words, “transactional politics” was the oil that lubricated the machinery of governance. The Americans were so impressed by the leadership and political “learning curve” of Quezon and the rest of his political contemporaries that the U.S Congress deemed the Philippines ready for self-rule in 1935 and complete independence by 1946.

The cultural milieu – e.g. patron-client, pandanggo sa ilaw, pasyon and pagkatao politics - and the traditional leadership archetypes – e.g. datu, babaylan, panday, bayani and trapo - all merge to form into what is often referred to as the Philippine “political culture,” which the writer James Fallows scathingly referred to as our “damaged culture.”

The Portrait of the Filipino Leader in History. Most Filipinos today agree on the need to overcome our feudalistic political culture. But ironically, almost every Filipino still has a patron who looks after their interests today. We all have this vague notion that transactional politics is bad for our country but, like a cigarette smoker, we could not quit because we are simply addicted to it. And like most smokers, we refuse to confront the wide-ranging negative effects this feudalistic culture has on our body politic.

Of course, our feudal political culture is by no means unique to the Philippines. In fact, almost all countries in the course of their histories went through a medieval stage and in many parts of the world feudal societies do still exist. Japan during the time of the samurai, for example, was a patchwork of independent fiefdoms ruled by warrior-patrons called daimyos. But what differentiates Philippine-style feudalism from the Japanese feudal system is that, while both systems obligated the follower to perform service to his leader, the Filipino patron-client relationship did not involve the client laying down his life for his patron. Thus, during the 1896 Revolution against Spain, the ordinary Filipino rebel, pressed into military service by his patron-landlord, typically ran away when battles became deadly not because he was a coward but because their unwritten patron-client contract did not stipulate him dying for his patron. Moreover, the patron-client dynamic resulted in Filipino soldiers taking orders only from their patron. This led to problems in military discipline and proved disastrous in the battlefield. In 1896 the Filipino rebels held the absolute advantage: they had numerical superiority, knowledge of local terrain and public support. Moreover, the Spanish Empire was a mere shadow of its former self: its colonial army and navy stationed in the Philippines were but hollow shells. Thus, the Filipino revolutionaries really had no reason to lose. But after just a few initial successes (due mainly to the element of surprise), the Philippine revolution against Spain floundered and eventually ended in a stalemate. And when the Americans entered the fray in 1899 the Filipino rebels found themselves totally outclassed. By 1901 the “glorious” Philippine Revolution ended with the capture of General Emilio Aguinaldo in Palanan, Isabela.[12]

Foreign interlopers have succeeded in colonizing our country mainly by using Filipinos to fight other Filipinos. In fact, it was a group of Filipinos – the notorious Macabebe Scouts of Pampanga – who helped the Americans trick General Aguinaldo into believing that they were rebel reinforcements coming to augment his dwindling Presidential Guard forces. In fact, the parochialism and lack of cohesiveness on the part of our leaders is a recurrent theme in our history. When the Spanish conquistadores first arrived on our shores 400 years ago, they found our leaders (the datus) locked in internecine warfare. The datus hated each other more than the foreign intruders, and this lack of cohesiveness on the part of our ancestors enabled just a boatful of foreigners to conquer our country, mainly by playing off one datu against another.

President Ferdinand Marcos could best be described as the “logical conclusion” of our country’s patron-client, “pandanggo sa ilaw,” “pasyon” and “pagkatao” politics. He represents an extreme, albeit typical, example of the Philippine “predatory” leader. As an avid student of history, Marcos adeptly used Philippine folkloric symbols, depicting himself as “Malakas” vice Imelda’s “Maganda” political persona.

Most Filipinos today believe that it was the greed and rapaciousness of Marcos which caused our country’s malaise. Much of this is certainly true. But how do you explain the fact that Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand, whose political leaders were no less corrupt than Marcos and his cronies, succeeded in turning their countries into “Tiger Economies?” The answer lies in our opposing economic policies. Whereas Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and most of our Southeast Asian neighbors were liberalizing their economies, Marcos opted to adopt an “import-substitution” economic policy. This not only resulted to cronyism but more significantly resulted to economic stagnation for the Philippines. For all his avowed intellectual prowess, Marcos failed to realize the long-term implications his “nationalistic” economic policies. In other words, Marcos was not only rapacious but also lacked the vision to see that his import-substitution policy would ultimately fail in a globalizing world economy.

The Way Forward. As we have seen, the portrait of the Filipino leader is not flattering, to say the least. Indeed, throughout much of history, the Filipino leader has been unable to provide our people with transformational leadership. Instead, our leaders often lacked the vision and wisdom to see the “big picture” which to policies that led our nation astray. Instead of uniting our people, our leaders have only fostered divisiveness with their inability to transcend parochial and personal interests. Far from bringing out the best in the Filipino, politicians had oftentimes pandered to the baser instincts of our people just to stay in office. And instead of using their powers to uplift their countrymen, the Filipino leader had oftentimes used his authority for personal aggrandizement and the maintenance of the status quo.

Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule. Jose Rizal, for instance, provided transformational leadership by exposing the venality of the Spaniards and the plight of the Filipinos under Spanish rule thru his books Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo. His death by firing squad ignited the 1896 Revolution that transformed Philippine society. President Ramon Magsaysay epitomized the selfless Servant-Leader and the resonant Primal Leader with his irresistible charisma and genuine concern for the common tao. Magsaysay proved that given the right leadership example, our government could become honest and efficient. The assassination of Ninoy Aquino provided the spark that eventually resulted to the 1986 People Power Revolution and the ouster of President Marcos. There are those who would argue that Magsaysay’s reforms ended with his death or that Ninoy’s and Rizal’s sacrifice merely resulted in one group of political elites taking over another. But irregardless of the consequences, Rizal, Ninoy and Magsaysay are heroes precisely because they broke away from the norm of self-centered and predatory leadership that has for centuries characterized our political elite.

The penultimate result of bad leadership is political asymmetry and widespread poverty. Today, 45% of our total population is destitute while the other 45% are barely making it, with the remaining 10% practically owning everything in the country. Unable to find employment opportunities locally, an average of 5,000 Filipinos are leaving the country daily.

It has often been said that Filipino politicians behave the way they do because of our country’s political culture. Our transactional political system puts pressure on politicians to “provide” for their constituents and thus compels them to steal. Our patronage politics likewise promotes dependency and “learned helplessness” among our people. Our politics of “showmanship,” described earlier as “pandanggo sa ilaw” politics, forces our leaders to resort to tokenism instead of really solving the root of the problem. Our “palakasan ng padrino” system also erodes “merit and fitness” in the Civil Service, making our career public servants timid and “tamad.” Lastly, our political culture acts as a sieve that limits the political “talent pool” of our country. If we are to have only the ablest, most qualified leaders managing our country, we need to cast a wider net and not limit our choices to only the top 5,000 richest families in the country. Today, our leaders continue to think only about satisfying their own personal and local interests, often to the detriment of the national interest. This claim is best illustrated by the fact that politicians are so unpopular everywhere, except in their own bailiwicks.

I believe that the way forward is by first reforming the top (leadership) before the bottom (culture). We cannot continue blaming our culture as the culprit for all our ills. Aside from the fact that it takes too long to change a nation’s culture, this “culture-as-culprit” mindset is fallacious since there is no such thing as a “perfect people.” All cultures have their own positive and negative traits, mores and customs; all civilizations have their own inherent strengths and weaknesses. And the fact that the Filipino does rather well when he is transplanted abroad is proof positive that the problem lies not with our people but our leaders. I believe that the burden of changing lies not with our people but on our leaders. It should be our leaders, not the people, who should act as the prime-movers of change. This is why they are called “leaders” in the first place.

My Personal Leadership Framework

Since prehistoric times, when early humans first congregated in groups for mutual protection against wild predators and the harsh elements, man instinctively looked up to someone from among their group to guide their affairs. Modern-day social scientists call this the “leadership phenomena.” Through millennia, man’s conception, definition and even expectations about leadership has evolved. As we have learned in our “Leadership in Public Service” course, society’s conception of “leadership” varies through time and space. Theories and concepts about what constitutes good leadership are also subject to fashion trends. We learned about how the leadership research movement in the U.S. seemed to jump from one “leadership fad” to another, starting from the Great Man Theory of the 1920s up to the Resonant Leader Approach of the present.

The 3 C’s of a Good Leader. Certainly, the exigencies of place and time alter our conceptions of leadership. But if you break down all the leadership theories of Goleman, Heifetz, Dunoon, et. al. to their greatest common denominator, I discovered that there are really just three basic qualities that a person must possess to become a good leader. I believe this to be true irregardless of space and time; thus I like to call them my “Three Categorical Imperatives to Becoming a Good Leader.”

1. 1. Courage. Since the dawn of time, courage has always been a “categorical imperative” of leadership. Whether in a primitive hunter-gatherer society or in a modern First World country, courage remains to be the foremost quality people expect from a leader.

Aristotle once said; “courage is the father of all virtues, for it is the virtue that gives life to all the others.” Indeed, a person cannot achieve great things if he is afraid to fail; a person cannot love if he is afraid to show his feelings; a person cannot attain self-awareness if he is afraid to admit his limitations; a person no matter how intelligent cannot gain wisdom if he does not have the courage to question things. Without courage a man will be unable to act on his convictions. Courage to act and stand by your convictions is really what makes leaders out of men and women.

My former boss, the late Senator Raul Roco, said to me once that “courage is contagious.” Indeed, it is the courage of the leader which motivates and inspires people to work towards attaining their leader’s vision.

2. 2. Compassion. If courage is the father, then compassion is the mother of all virtues. Compassion gives rise to another whole new set of leadership traits (e.g. humility, empathy, honesty, sensitivity, righteousness, passion, benevolence, etc.) which according to Goleman makes for a “resonant” leader.

Compassion is not just empathy. It is rather an active desire to alleviate the suffering of others - the Jesuits call it “cura personalis.” Compassion is what separates the good leader from the bad, the Jedi from the Sith. Adolf Hitler, for example, could be characterized as a great leader because he inspired the German people to rise from the ashes of their World War I defeat in 1919 and become a global economic and military power by the 1930-40s. But his lack of compassion made him commit atrocious crimes towards humanity and this is why Hitler today is not considered as one of history’s great leaders, to say the least. Thus, a leader must always take care not to lose his compassion if he does not want to fall on the wrong side of history.

3. 3. Competence. Not all people follow a leader based on his courage and compassion alone. The leader must also demonstrate an ability to produce positive outcomes. In the olden days, positive outcomes are usually attributed to the leader’s “luck” or interpreted as a sign of heavenly approval. Nowadays, we all know that success is often a result of the leader’s competence and that competence is really just a product of hard work, diligent study and good judgment.

Since most human societies usually replace leaders who fail to deliver positive results, a person must always do “adaptive work” to “stay alive,” to borrow Heifetz’s terminologies. In today’s fast-changing and highly-competitive world, a leader must constantly upgrade his competence level to remain at the top of his game. Courage and compassion will gain you entry inside the leadership manor, but it is your competence that will determine how long you will enjoy the hospitality of the people living inside that manor.

My “Transformational-Transactional” Model of Leadership. James MacGregor Burns, the author who coined the terms “Transformational” and “Transactional” leadership, claims that the two approaches to leadership are mutually-exclusive styles. I beg to disagree. I would like to argue that essentially all superordinate-subordinate relationships are “transactional” by nature. The leader, in order to “transform” must first learn how to “transact” and give-and-take if he hopes to inspire and energize his followers into transforming their organization. Even the so-called “Transformational Leader” cannot effect change if he fails to convince his followers that the change he is advocating would ultimately redound to their benefit.

As defined, a transaction is “an agreement, communication or movement carried out by separate entities or objects, often involving the exchange of items of value such as information, goods, services and money.” If you consider that these “items of value” could include not only material but also psychic-karmic-spiritual income (which indeed some people consider more valuable than money), then even the relationship Jesus Christ had with his disciples could be described as transactional in a “you-believe-in-me, you-will-be-saved” sort of way. Whether it is monetary, psychic, spiritual or whatever form of income, my point is that the motivation behind human behavior is transactional by nature. The social contract between the leader and his followers is always imbued by a “give-and-take” ethos. Even the selfless OFW parent who goes abroad to provide for her children’s material needs does not do it purely out of love but on some expectation that their children will serve as their retirement insurance or maybe by some primordial instinct that pushes a human towards the evolutionary improvement of one’s bloodline.

I believe that one can become a “Transformational Leader” by using a transactional approach. This is basically what Mayor Jesse Robredo did in Naga and what the Fernando couple did in Marikina – they essentially presented their constituents with a transaction contract: “wala kayong maasahang “KBL” cash assistance sa amin, hindi namin bibilhin ang mga boto ninyo, etc. Pero ang kapalit susuklian naman namin kayo ng maayos at matapat na panunungkulan. Aayusin namin ang mga lansagan at kapaligiran, papa-iralin ang katahimikan at kaayusan upang lumago ang negosyo at lumaki ang kita ninyong lahat.” By presenting their vision using the “transactionary give-and-take language” which every Filipino understands so well, they were able to convince majority of their constituents to “buy-in” into their plans and programs.

I believe that the “Transformational-Transactional Approach” to leadership is the style best-suited to the Philippine environment. It is the leadership model which is the most practical among all the leadership theories we have studied. It is a style which most Filipinos are familiar with, and all the leader needs to do is to “adapt” his reform agenda within the larger context of the transactional culture of the Philippines.


I have come to realize that “leadership” can really be summed up in just three words: “Knowledge-Action-Result.” This, quite simply, is what the leadership process is all about.

Leadership is a way of looking at the world. A good leader is able to view things from multiple perspectives and see the “big picture.” As such, a leader, when asked whether the glass is half-empty or half-full, will reply that the glass is actually both. This dialectical leadership prism allows the leader to see farther. But knowledge is not enough to make a person into a leader. A golfer does not learn how to play golf just by reading about it; he has to actually go out to the driving range and spend months practicing his swing. A person does not learn how to ride a bicycle by asking someone to describe the experience for him; he has to actually get on a bike, find his balance and start pedaling. Thus, to be a leader one has to get out and practice out there in the field. In sports, as in life, nothing beats constant and focused practice to improve your game. The more the practice, the better the results.

Leadership is thus about having the courage to question things and face the truth (knowledge); leadership is about having the compassion that compels us to action and the competence to realize positive results. Leadership is about having the courage to make conscious moral decisions every day; the compassion to always think about the other before the self; and the competence to make the right decisions even in the face of grave dilemmas.

The demands on public leaders today are quite considerable because the world has increasingly become more complex in the last 60 years. We now live in a global economy where events in places as far away as Europe and the Middle East can have a significant impact on our local economy, necessitating leaders that are superlatively adaptive and responsive. We now live in an “Information Society” which allows ordinary citizens to access information as fast as their decision-makers, requiring leaders who are extremely knowledgeable and intellectuality nimble. As our societal problems become more and more complex, our government increasingly needs men and women of strong moral fiber who possess higher levels of training and educational preparation, professional competence and creativity. Thus, the Philippines cannot afford to have a “government of clerks” in this age of the “knowledge worker.”

By way of closing, I would like to say that I have learned a lot of new things in my “Leadership in Public Service” course. The lessons will stay with me and will certainly prove useful in all my future endeavors. For this I would like to thank my two professors, Mayor Marides Fernando and Father Pat Falguera, S.J., for facilitating a most meaningful learning experience and helping me grow as a leader.

[1] “Governance Empirics: Some Methods, Findings and Implications.” A video presentation by Daniel Kaufmann, World Bank Institute at the 4th Session of the Committee of Experts in Public Administration, UN ECOSOC, UN Headquarters, New York (slide 15).

[2] Daniel Goleman, et. Al. “Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead with Emotional Intelligence.” Boston, Massachussetts: Harvard Business School Press, 2002, page 99.

[3] Joseph C. Rost. “Leadership for the 21st Century.” New York: Praeger, 1991.

[4] James MacGregor Burns. “LEADERSHIP.” New York: Harper and Row Publishing, 1979.

[5] Ronald E. Heifetz. “Leadership Without Easy Answers.” Cambridge, Massachussetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1994.

[6] Don Dunoon. “Rethinking Leadership for the Public Sector.” Australian Journal of Public Administration 61(3): 3-18, September 2002.

[7] Daniel Goleman, et. Al. “Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead with Emotional Intelligence.” Boston, Massachussetts: Harvard Business School Press, 2002.

[8] Leroy White and Ann Taket. “The Death of the Expert.” United Kingdom: Palgrave MacMillan Journals, 1994, 16 pages.

[9] Gloria J. Galanes. “Leadership for the New Millenium: More Mama Than Papa.” The Forum on Public Policy, 2009.

[10] Source: Anthromorphemics -

[11] “Adventures in Political Science” by Remigio Agpalo. Unversity of the Philippines Press 1996, pp. 107-108.

[12] Dr. David J. Silbey. “A War of Empire and Frontier: The Philippine-American War of 1899-1902.” Lecture at the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center, via YouTube address -