Monday, February 15, 2010

Leadership Our Nation Needs

What kind of leadership in governance does our nation need? We need transformational leadership that wisely can exercise transactional leadership to ensure the delivery of basic services to many poor communities and locales.

James MacGregor Burns, in his book, Leadership (1978), differentiates the two as follows:

Transformational leadership “occurs when one or more persons engage with others in such a way that leader(s) and followers raise one another to higher levels of motivation and morality.”

Transactional leadership “occurs when one person takes the initiative in making contact with others for the purpose of an exchange of valued things.” An example of the exercise of transactional leadership is the pledge and effort of elective officials to deliver rice, roads, bridges, water and electricity to their constituents in exchange for their votes. Transactional leadership can be ethical or unethical. An elective official who wins primarily through the offer of money to voters exercises transactional leadership of the unethical kind.

As for transformational leadership, the statesman Raul Manglapus (1918-1999) was describing it when he said: “The responsibility of to give meaning to the life of every citizen” (“Creating for Greatness,” 1962).

To illustrate the importance of meaning in the citizen’s life, his speech at the 1962 commencement exercises of the Manuel L. Quezon University recounted this story of 3 men at work:

“What meaning?

“In the Middle Ages, one of the great Gothic cathedrals was being built in France. The work was just beginning and there were many laborers at work, all of them cutting stones. A priest, wishing to discover the attitude of each worker toward his work, approached one of them and asked, ‘What are you doing?’

“And the man, looking up from his work and shrugging his shoulders, replied, ‘Can’t you see? I am cutting stones.’

“Not satisfied with that answer, the priest went to the next man and asked, ‘You, my good man, what are you doing?’

“The (2nd) man said, ‘Well, I have a wife and children. I have to earn a living. So I am cutting stones.’

“Still not satisfied, the priest went on to a third man and again asked, ‘And you, my good man, what are you doing?’

“This man looked up at the priest with pride in his eyes and replied, ‘Father, I am building a cathedral!’

“Three men at work at the same job, but what a world of difference between their outlooks.”

The responsibility of political leadership that is transformational is to raise the outlooks of citizens so that the old will dream dreams and the young will see visions...of a nation of justice, peace, and equal opportunity. Thus, the transformational leader is an inspiring model to the citizenry.

When do we know that transformational leadership has been exercised and borne fruit in our country?

“When we shall be able to approach the worker in the factory, the farmer in the ricefield, the lawyer, the doctor, the teacher, the engineer, the economist [the manager and the entrepreneur] and they shall all say, ‘I am earning a living, yes, but I am also building a nation’” (R. Manglapus).

For 2010 and beyond, our nation needs leadership that is transformational and transactional, just as in evangelizing or transforming politics, Christian leaders need to be “as shrewd as snakes & as innocent as doves” (Mt 10:16). “The children of light” have to be wiser than “the children of this world” (Lk 16:8) in making use of political power.

When necessary, the transformational leader will have to exercise transactional leadership in order to ensure that poor locales and communities lift themselves from poverty. For example, a transformational president should know how to engage wisely in transactions and reach a principled compromise with key legislators, whether opponents or allies, in order to secure both the timely passage of priority legislation such as the General Appropriations Act and the confirmation of key executive appointments.

The transformational leader in politics has to practice wisdom, which is a virtue that disposes one to discern what is both noble & realistic among goals & courses of action in particular circumstances. Wisdom in leadership is a dynamic balance between romanticism (wishful thinking) & mediocrity (dull thinking). A romantic or utopian leader can do as much damage as a mediocre leader.

Today’s wise leaders are “systems thinkers” & watch out for systemic flaws. In his book, “The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil” (2007), Stanford University psychologist Philip Zimbardo speaks of “the banality of evil and the banality of heroism: any of us could as easily become heroes as perpetrators of evil, depending on how we are impacted by situational & systemic forces.” In our country, the poor campaign finance system in which the generation of campaign funds lacks efficiency and transparency is one of the systemic flaws that push our elective officials towards unethical behavior.

The excellent leader practices systems thinking, the understanding & the learning of complexity, interdependencies (of action & structure), & change (e.g. in technology & knowledge).

To become a transformational president, one ought to have “fire in the belly” which, although rooted in some personal unhappiness or deep restlessness, can be positive if it comprises:
(a) healthy impatience with the national condition,
(b) the drive for excellence &
(c) readiness & willingness to authorize or command calibrated coercion or violence when it is necessary to enforce the law for the common good.

“If you have gone a whole week without being impatient, you are not serving yourself or your (organization) well” (Tom Peter). Among the qualities of which “the President should set the example” is “the virtue of healthy impatience” (Credo of Pres. Ramon Magsaysay).

Manglapus raised the question: “how does one lead (our) free nation to greatness?” His answer: “Awaken citizens out of mere existence, so that, with spontaneity, they may push forward where they had to be dragged [by government], help themselves where they had to be spoonfed, create where they only thought to consume, strive for excellence where they were content with mediocrity” (R. Manglapus, “Road to Greatness,” 1962).

Our nation needs transformational leadership that knows how to exercise transactional leadership whenever necessary. The transformational leaders for our times are systems thinkers & models of ethical values such as integrity, wisdom, justice & the pursuit of excellence.

Finally, we should keep in mind that we can exercise leadership, and should exercise it wisely, in our locales, communities and organizations even when we do not occupy positions of authority.

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