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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Thursday, November 30, 2006

entry arrow7:41 PM | Wanted: A Visionary

"Quo vadis?"
-- John 16:5

Trust me, in the long run, workshops certainly do not constitute a workable leadership style.

Of course, there are many ways to lead a people, not all of them always successful. The truism goes that there never is any one formula for great leadership -- that what would work for a Margaret Thatcher or a Ramon Magsaysay would probably not work for a Tony Blair or a Joseph Estrada. Circumstances will never always be the same, and the nuances of personality certainly lend a lot to whether a particular style can lead to mayhem, or maturity. For every soft dictatorship of a Lee Kuan Yew, for example, there is always the polar opposite of the mindless totalitarian terror of Stalin or Pol Pot. And for every democratic graces of a Nelson Mandela, there will always be the flip-flopping softness of a Corazon Aquino. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, in the beginning, was bent on continuing the leadership style of her president-father, but now would seem dangerously close to emulating the mistakes of the person who unseated her father from Malacanan -- Ferdinand Marcos.

Leadership, it seems to us, has nothing to do with personal morals or history even. Fidel Ramos was an architect of the Martial Law, yet he managed to usher in, even if only for a very short time, an economic turn-around for the Philippines. Some of the best American presidents -- Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Bill Clinton among them -- flaunted mistresses in the public eye, while Bible-reading do-gooder Jimmy Carter was considered for the most part as a fumbling chief executive who was a lameduck throughout most of his presidency.

Then there is the feedback from those who are led: all of us have certain leadership styles we respond to. I, for one, like being under the wings of someone who can manage to inflame my imagination with a show of measured ambition. But I wilt under the slow grind of consensus: it reminds me of a time in Tokyo when the dormitory leadership I was subjected to took care to rein in the tiniest bit of opinion from all forty members of the house...over such ingratiating details such as whether to buy a blue mop, or a red mop. (It took thirty minutes to settle on a brown one.) I also like a non-patronizing pat on the back, which is always a fuel for any member of an organization. But I also know a lot of friends who respond favorably in complete opposite ways -- and they thrive in those styles as well.

Consider a yearbook editorial staff I once joined in college under the leadership of a young classmate who was, let us just say, eager to please everybody. Hers was a leadership style I found familiar in many local organizations: it was a kind of consensus-building taken to such uber-democratic extremes it virtually became a tyranny of the nonsensical. Do you remember the maxim, "A camel is a horse designed by a committee"? It felt that way. Our young editor was too eager to take in everybody's advice that the yearbook we eventually produced became a mad combination of a cookbook and a fashion spread, with cartoon characters -- among them a cow, a hen, and a cook -- sprinkled all over the pages giving gossip and sage advice. It was a veritable disaster.

What my former editor really lacked was a personal and concrete vision she should have fought for, a singular aesthetic principle she should have with which to rally the staff over to create a product pulsating with organic unity. And because she landed a job without a clear vision of what she wanted, she fell for a mutant kind of consensus that resulted to a half-baked job. Alfred Hitchcock, the acclaimed film director, is a paragon of somebody with uncompromising foresight. He created each of his movies with a thorough vision, assembling the necessary elements to create an effective whole. From his oeuvre come some of the best films ever made, including Psycho, Vertigo, North by Northwest, and Rear Window.

The same characteristic can be found in many of our most effective leaders. It thrills us when Microsoft's Bill Gates sets a deadline date for a revolutionary new software to be launched and shipped, even though the barest outlines of a design have yet to reach the drawing boards. It thrills us when Oprah Winfrey envisions a "Wildest Dreams" extravaganza, luring in television viewers with her quest for the happy life. It thrills us when Abraham Lincoln sets out to abolish slavery in a country teeming with the practice, resulting finally to a cleansing Civil War that would change forever American history.

This illustrates a grand definition of leadership, taking seriously the metaphor of being a captain of the ship, steering everybody to a destination one sees ahead.

The Indian hero Mohandas Gandhi had vision, something so steadfast he died for it. He wanted a political and religious independence for India from the British, where there would be equality between Hindu and Muslim, and between people of different castes. With his vision came enablement, empowerment, and energy. He walked the talk -- Gandhi was the program he advocated. He fasted. He used his charisma, his disregard for self, and his words to effect change. They worked. And everything started, of course, with vision. From that vision sprang India.

The sad thing is that "vision" is what is most especially lost in Dumaguete City.

We had a mayor once who had vision: he wanted a future Metro Dumaguete that considered a steady realignment of population, traffic, and sectoral centers. He wanted our main street to become a pedestrian walkway patterned after the best cities in the world, and even hired an architect of American renown to blueprint what would have been the future. He wanted a marina that would have been the capstone to a grander version of a Dumaguete Boulevard. He wanted a new city center that would have shifted progress and expansion to an underdeveloped part of the city, so that Dumaguete could grow out more evenly instead of just having everything concentrated on three thoroughways.

People got scared, softened as they were by the false illusions of old-time gentility.

It is a damning reflection of the political maturity of Dumaguetenos when this visionary was voted out of office, to be replaced by somebody whose most decisive act of late was to ban The Da Vinci Code from movie theaters.

Because, one could ask: What is the vision for Dumaguete City? Today, one looks at the local headlines to finally see how our previous fears and illusions of gentility and living in the past have overtaken our circumstances. A fellow blogger Dominique Cimafranca, somebody who takes to heart the development of Dumaguete, talked about this before in these pages.

What Dominique wrote bears repeating:

And how did Dumaguete fare [in city competitiveness]? Let's just say that we could have done much better. We didn't make it into the top ten list of the small cities category, a distinction enjoyed by nearby Tagbilaran.

How did this state of affairs come about? Why, despite our vaunted position as university town and BPO destination, did we rank below our close neighbor? It was with questions like these that I and several other members of the Dumaguete community from academe, business, government, media, and civil society attended the PCCRP workshop held at Silliman University... Some of the findings pointed to things we already know about, in fact, are issues the citizens have been raising for the past several years: unreliable and costly electricity, poor interconnection between [telephone companies], heavy traffic, and the growing incidence of crime. Some...were also eye-openers: that Dumaguete, comparatively, is an expensive place to do business in, that our local inflation rate is high, and that correspondingly, the prices of our basket goods also becomes high. Some findings were also alarming: the types of graduates we are producing do not match the needs of the local economy, ostensibly because our best and brightest students have their eyes set to opportunities outside of the city.

Some findings, on the surface, seemed contradictory unless one knows the peculiarities of the city. According to the study, we have a good road network and an acceptable vehicular density; however, our traffic management is poor. Of course, that's because of the pecularities of the stop-and-go traffic and whimsical habits of our tricycle drivers. According to the study, we have a good ratio of policemen to the population; at the same time, the incidence of crime and resolved murders is high. Draw your own conclusions.

My conclusion: poor and clueless city leadership backed by a politically immature population.

In the final analysis, nobody -- certainly not me -- is asking anybody to be a Superhero. We ask only for a leader with a vision, and a populace who knows how to elect one. We need somebody who is beyond saying, "I don't have the monopoly on ideas," and then proceed to suggest...another workshop.

I will end with a quote from Mick Yates, a globe-trotting CEO who also runs the international organization LeaderValues:

Leadership starts with having a vision, then developing a plan to achieve it. It is based both on data assessment and intuition, hope and fear. It is a noble challenge. A vision of the future is the key to getting started as a leader. Without one, go back to square one.

Dumaguete has enough of always being in square one. Please, let's up the ante, and embrace the future.

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