Sunday, February 06, 2011

P'noy and Heroic Leadership

During a fellowship lunch with former classmates I happened to mention to a friend a leadership book that I recently read which could be a source of inspiration to P’noy. At the moment, he seems to be beleaguered by all sorts of distractions and inadvertent events in civil, judicial, political and military sectors which inhibit the progress of his initiatives; the campaign against corruption in government included.

Conversations during our fellowship meetings tend to be sporadic as incessant interruptions occur out of exuberance from all of us. Since we couldn’t get an intelligible exchange going he just asked me to provide him a synopsis and post it in our group e-mail mentioning, as an aside, to have something different from the light banter and the occasional off colour postings that we have been accustomed to in an all-male group e-mail. I thought I should accede to the request as a sort of making up for the sometimes outrageous e-mail contributions I have made in the name of humour.

The foregoing is what I wrote.

In Search of a Leadership Style

I start with the presumption that P’noy is struggling at the helm of the ship of state. I base my speculation from harsh assessments from the worst of his critics who never even gave him the benefit of a honeymoon by holding off their tirades and brickbats during his early stages on the job. Perhaps he has been a victim of unfortunate luck since too many crises greeted him shortly after assuming his role as President of the republic.

Nevertheless, the crisis management style he and his team exhibited to address the problems arising from the critical events lacked the finesse of seasoned managers and gave the impression that the government is being run by a bunch of inept and inexperienced amateurs.One of the observations made is that he has assembled for himself a light weight cabinet composed of people close to him and his family who by themselves came up with a set of criteria based on subjective perceptions of uprightness as well as their closeness to the members of the family.

It seemed that competence, though sought, took a back seat to personal assessments of trustworthiness and moral uprightness the perceptions of which may have been based mostly on friendship. It would have been ideal if those chosen had some experience and a track record of competence or even just a strong potential, by virtue of good educational credentials and excellent achievements in other fields were management skills were exhibited. It is an ironic truth that the best and the brightest; those who can really serve competently are not attracted because the financial rewards in the Aquino administration, to their minds, are not commensurate to their abilities. In the current culture in the bureaucracy, plum posts are expected to allow for some graft which would augment an otherwise measly salary. P’noy’s crusade will not allow corruption no matter how petty. When you pay peanuts you end up with monkeys.

While I am critical of the current state of affairs I share P’noy’s optimism that a government devoid of graft and corruption is possible and that he should persevere with this goal. This heroic desire is noble and lofty, true to the Ignatian spirit. Now, he has to look for and enjoin men who are as stout-hearted as he is, men with generosity to work for little rewards and to be indifferent to the pain and loneliness of just crusades. This is a daunting task requiring utmost patience and good discernment. But he has to hurry; the forces that oppose him seem to be well organized and have been successful thus far in their efforts to thwart P’noy’s initiatives. So much has to be started and done soon.

The question that comes up is what kind of governance style should P’noy adopt to pursue his mission. Books on management styles fill up shelves of libraries and book stores, each one of them promising a sure fire approach towards successful management of companies or of governments and principalities. Oft mentioned is Nicolo Machiavelli’s book The Prince, then there is The Art of War by Sun Tzu, management books that focus on the leadership style of Attila the Hun and others, some of which verge into the inane and the ludicrous. Most of these approaches consider deceit, underhanded tactics and assassination as acceptable strategies for gaining or using influence. I would think that none of these would be civilized and moral enough for P’noy to consider patterning his way of governance. I posed the question once about P’noy’s having the inclination and gumption to take on a Machiavellian response to the problem of corruption. As a Christian, he has been taught that in the face of ravenous wolves he should have the wisdom of serpents but be harmless as doves. His mother advocated this with her reconciliation and justice line as opposed to indignation and retribution against those who abused. As we now know, this belief seems hard put to provide solutions because it does not finish the job and does not deliver the “coup de grace” against the enemy. As recent history shows the robber barons are still very much with us because they were not eradicated when we had a chance to.

What then has the guy to do? Is there a style of leadership that would fit the aspirations of P’noy and the prevailing situation?

Heroic Leadership

Chris Lowney, a former JP Morgan managing director in finance and investment banking and former Jesuit novice suggests yet another leadership style which executives can learn from. Now in a book, it is a unique guide for leaders of all sorts of organizations, drawn from the experiences of one of the world’s most successful organizations, the Jesuit order. Lowney offers leadership lessons from the Jesuits, the renowned religious order whose originality and expertise have been admired for over 450 years.

Another management “how to” book perhaps, but, with a difference because it is not expressed as a formula, a list of “things to do”, nor is it a centralized leadership style revolving around a charismatic figure. It could be looked at as a way of life, a way of doing things – in Jesuit parlance “...our way of proceeding”. Curiously, it takes off from the Ratio Studiorum and the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises,the spiritual boot camp which every Jesuit novice has to undergo in his formation.

Modern executives can learn a lot from a sixteenth century priest who led a ten man band (referred to as the "company") to form an enterprise whose success covers not only five centuries but also spans the globe. St. Ignatius of Loyola founded the world’s largest religious order now composed of 21,000 professionals operating in 2000 institutions and hundreds of companies.
Just to show how visionary the Jesuit organization has been, modern management concepts such as the statement of purpose in vision and mission statements (consider "...the whole world will be our house"), the harnessing of multifunctional teams (matrix organizations), managing globally (across borders), the circulation of “best practice in satellite organizations and the commitment to continuous improvement of product and services were already being practiced with success.
Thus far, it continues to influence, through the alumni of its educational institutions, the significant events that had profound effects on recent history. The book makes mention of its illustrious roster of former students which include Fidel Castro, Francois Mitterand, Antonin Scalia, Bill Clinton and Vince Lombardi. It’s a (my) relief that Bush and Obama are not included in the motley group.

In the book, he touches on a bit of Jesuit history; the intrepidness of the early Jesuits who trekked the Asian expanse through deserts and steppes, gaining influence in the courts of emperors and powerful rulers of the time. These factoids may be of little interest to the general reading public but should pique the interest of those who have been influenced by the Jesuits one way or the other.

Rather than attempt my own abridgement (omissions or additions on it might dilute its saliency) of the four principles that characterize the Ignatian leadership style allow me to lift from Lowney’s own words:

Four Guiding Principles Forming an Integrated Way of Living, a “Way of Proceeding”:
1. Self-awareness: “To overcome oneself and to order one’s life”[3]
Leaders thrive by understanding who they are and what they value, by becoming aware of unhealthy blind spots or weaknesses that can derail them, and by cultivating the habit of continuous self-reflection and learning.
When Nelson Mandela was liberated after 25 years of imprisonment by apartheid regimes, he made this confession: “My greatest enemy was not those who put or kept me in prison. It was myself. I was afraid to be who I am.” “Overcoming oneself,” “self-acceptance,” and “being at home with oneself” are expressions referring to a journey within that seeks a healthy command of self. Only the person who knows what she wants can pursue it energetically and inspire others to do so. A good leader knows what she wants in life, how to get it, and what weaknesses or paralyzing mindsets can trip her up. Leadership begins with self-leadership.
Key virtue: humility (accepting the truth about oneself through regular practice of self-reflection like the daily awareness examen)
2. Ingenuity: “The whole world will become our house”
Leaders make themselves and others comfortable in a changing world. They eagerly explore new ideas, approaches, and cultures rather than shrink defensively from what lurks around life’s next corner. Anchored by nonnegotiable principles and values, they cultivate the “indifference” that allows them to adapt confidently.
Saint Ignatius of Loyola described the ideal Jesuit as “living with one foot raised” – always ready to respond to emerging opportunities. A leader must be vigilant about and set aside ingrained habits, prejudices, cultural biases and the “we’ve always done it this way” attitude – baggage that blocks effective, adaptive responses. He or she stands by core beliefs and values that are nonnegotiable. Knowing what’s negotiable and what isn’t, the leader can adapt or accommodate confidently. In short, he or she becomes “indifferent” – free from attachments to places, possessions, ways of doing things in order to move, change, or adapt to engage opportunities.
Key virtue: indifference or interior freedom
3. Love: “With greater love than fear”
Leaders face the world with a confident, healthy sense of themselves as endowed with talent, dignity, and the potential to lead. They find these attributes in others and passionately commit to honouring and unlocking the potential they find in themselves and in others. They create environments bound and energized by loyalty, affection, and mutual support – places marked by “greater love than fear.”
Research has shown that individuals perform best when they are respected, valued, trusted by someone who genuinely cares for their well-being. Ignatius used to say “Refuse no talent, nor any man of quality.” Do we treat people well because we need them to do things for us, or do we empower them to develop their gifts, regardless? Do we strive to make people want to work and make a difference rather than just making them work? This love-driven leadership involves:
the vision to see each person’s talents, potentials, and dignity
the creativity, passion, and commitment to unlock those potentials
the resulting loyalty and mutual support that energize and unite teams
In short, love-driven leadership involves a way of seeing potentials and the commitment to empower others toward realization of that vision.
Key virtue: love (that empowers, unifies, edifies)
4. Heroism: “Eliciting great desires”
Leaders imagine an inspiring future and strive to shape it rather than passively watching the future happen around them. They extract gold from opportunities at hand rather than waiting for golden opportunity to be handed to them.
Eleanor Roosevelt said: “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
One will not achieve the dream one cannot imagine. This involves the Ignatian ideal of the “magis” (A.M.D.G. – “for the greater glory of God” lies in a total surrender to God). At times this means envisioning and imagining heroic objectives. At other times, it entails the Theresian ideal of “doing an ordinary act with great love.” It may involve doing more; or it may mean doing less. This always involves compassion toward others in understanding of weaknesses, but aiming high nevertheless.
Key virtue: cultivate imagination (wonder like a child; dream like a visionary; think outside the box)

P’noy can easily relate to this style of leadership as he has had sufficient grounding on Jesuit education and would be familiar with the Ignatian discipline and their unique way of doing things.
Heroic leadership would require his good judgment in selecting the people that would make up his cabinet and his ability to persuade them to adopt this “way of life” ...a way of proceeding.
P’noy must examine himself thoroughly; do an honest appraisal of his strengths and weaknesses, review his values, his world views and see how cohesive and consistent they are with what he believes in. He must constantly find ways, innovative ways of addressing the problems confronting him with a mind that is attuned to the evolving situations in an ever changing ingenuity coming from one whose feet are firmly rooted on realities and not from the distant reclusion of an ivory tower. All these to done with a loving hand, working with “greater love rather than fear” that foster respect and trust within the company and with a sincere attitude towards ameliorating his constituents’ lot. And most importantly, show a heroic stance to energize himself and his company of stout hearted men by aiming for ambitious goals unmindful of the warnings, dissuasions and vehement opposition that may be thrown in his path.
Heroic leadership is not one of leading but one of encouragement of an innate desire to do amazing things for the betterment of people’s lives, the world at large and the recognition that these are being done as a magis for His greater glory. It is the rousing of an internal leadership trait from men of good will and they, as a company of leaders create and transform our sordid existence into a better world as meant in the divine plan.
Sounds like pie in the sky, but, it must really go down to this and if P’noy considers taking this tact he will need all the support and the prayers from all of us, but then, this is what Heroic Leadership is all about.


Narciso said...

This is a superb dissertation. Patriotic fervor in one's heart and the sincere desire for good governance should an ideal formula for a great president.

wayfarer said...

Hi Boy,

I knew that you would like this one because of the Jesuit flavor.
Pero sayang naman ang pag ka Atenista ni P'noy kung hindi nya isasaluob ang mga turo ng kanyang mga Jesuit counselors.
Thank you for your comment.