Changing Leadership Paradigms for Challenging Times

Posted on August 2, 2008


First published in Starfish Magazine, Volume 2 Issue 2 (2007)

[Author’s Note: I first wrote this for Starfish Magazine in late 2006 (published in February 2007), before the mid-term elections. Reading this again, it seems to me that its theme rings even truer now–as we face soaring gas, food, and electricity prices; one government scandal after another; a poverty crisis that makes people gouge children’s eyes out just to sell them as organ donations; and even global uncertainty in the face of a U.S. recession and a potentially explosive election in the world’s last bastion of “old power”. Around 100 weeks to go ’till our very own “make or break elections,” it becomes even more imperative to look at the choices we have made in the past and how we can make transformational choices for the road ahead.]

If there is anything that the year 2006 has proven so far, it is that leadership—be it in the public or private spheres—has become much more challenging than ever.

The president’s star, which shone brightly only for a brief moment a few years ago, continues to dim rapidly even in spite of a rallying peso and reports of a strengthening economy. Our legislators are caught in a damn-if-you-do-damn-if-you-don’t bind in regard to the Charter Change (if they choose to be bought with favors and additional budgets, then they would have sold their souls; if, however, they choose to oppose the Powers That Be, then their constituents may just as well continue to starve). Private citizens, business owners, and agriculturists are still reeling from the aftermaths of the supertyphoons that battered all corners of the country. Our country’s mothers and homemakers, those who have to balance their duties as wife, mother, and income-earner, have to deal not only with rising gas, electricity, and commodity prices; they also have to deal with the fact that many young Filipinos, their children, are doing poorly and see nothing wrong with suicide, using illegal drugs, pornography, or paying for sex (according to the McCann Intergeneration Study of 2006, as cited in Newsbreak, August 14, 2006).

Indeed, now is probably not the best or the easiest time to be in a position of leadership or influence.

Nevertheless, these issues that have stung the Philippines like a poisonous snake bite may be just what the country needs to purge itself of the deadly toxins that have permeated the bureaucracy’s internal organs. By underscoring how current paradigms and practices of leadership, power, and influence are no longer effective in the age of a more vigilant civil society and a more involved, Web 2.0-savvy youth sector, these “crises” may lead us to discover more paradigms, new approaches, new roles, and new opportunities for curing our systemic ailments. They may bring to light a new leadership model that challenges—or integrates—those put forth by Niccolo Machiavelli, Sun Tzu, Jack Welch, John Maxwell, the Buddha, Jesus Christ, and all those other charismatic figures that have shaped the world’s perceptions of leaders and leadership.

The crises and challenges of 2006 just may have taught us that, in the absence of strong, principled, and inspiring leadership, we have no other choice but to become, in Mahatma Gandhi’s words, “the change we seek in the world.”

No longer such thing as “Divine Right”

Unlike in centuries past, the leaders of today can no longer invoke “Divine Right” as did the kings of yore or force someone else to recognize their leadership through war and oppression. They must be leaders not only by virtue of their electoral mandate, or their socio-economic dominance, or their seniority; they must have the moral ascendancy to make decisions that will affect people’s lives.

Likewise, today’s citizens are no fools—they will no longer bow down to an authority figure simply because his or her nameplate demands it. Today’s “followers” demand legitimacy, transparency, accountability, and character. But that’s not all; today’s leaders have to navigate very complex social, economic, political, and even psychological territories.

Joseph L. Badaracco is the Harvard Business School’s John Shad Professor of Business Ethics. He teaches a course called The Moral Leader, an MBA course where students discuss works of literature, such as The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli and Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, in order to explore important dilemmas that confront leaders today. He says that one test of moral leadership is “not what kind of character you have or what your values are… [but] is the world different because of things you have done?”

Ultimately, Badaraco puts forth this definition of leadership as: “Leadership is a struggle by flawed human beings to make some important human values real and effective in the world as it is.”

Social entrepreneurship: Making values effective “in the world as it is”

One leadership model that is fast gaining prominence among civil society and development groups all over the world is social entrepreneurship. James C. Toole, Ph.D., President of the Compass Institute and a Teaching/Research Fellow in the University of Minnesota School of Social Work, in his afterword in the book Our Time is Now: Young People Changing the World (Pearson Foundation © 2005), defines social entrepreneurs as “those that use an entrepreneurial mindset to create social—rather than business-products and services.”

In the same book, Toole puts forth six dimensions for leadership under the social entrepreneurship model:

1. Personal leadership. “Be the change… Anyone who wants to change how a society thinks and acts will initially face scepticism or disinterest. Youth must at first sell not only an idea or a program, but themselves, to gain others’ trust. Leadership therefore must involve both ‘inner’ work (the person you are) and ‘outer’ work (what you accomplish).”

2. Visionary leadership. “Be a [boundary-breaker]. Having a dream is very different [from] becoming a change agent… The job of a change agent is to recognize when a part of society is stuck and the provide news ways to get it unstuck… Visionary leadership is about redirection. It is about both the process of change… and the end-goal.”

3. Knowledge leadership. “Be a learner… The message is clear. If you want to change the world, you have to study… Once youth change agents acquired training themselves, they often created systems for volunteers, communities, funders, and the government to catch up.”

4. Political leadership. “Be a marketer and a collaborator… Innovative or transformative ideas are often born as orphans. Nobody initially recognizes them or claims them as their own. The goal of political leadership, the fourth dimension of the framework, is to mobilize public will—to turn orphan ideas into mainstream thought. That includes recruiting volunteers, forming cross-sector partnerships, securing media attention, and ultimately changing public opinion.”

5. Organizational leadership. “Be an entrepreneur… That ‘weakness’ of youth is that they lack prior knowledge, resources, connections, and experience. What makes them organizationally powerful is that they are willing to see things in new ways, live on little money, turn their homes into offices, practice just-in-time learning, value the participation of other youth, seek partnerships, and enjoy new adventures. In most debates, this gives them the moral high ground—territory that is deeply important when one is trying to change the world.”

6. Societal leadership. “Be a Transformer… It is necessary to both change the world (reality) and how people see the world (perception). The first changes essential life conditions, but the second creates an environment in which much more can take place.”

The changing face of leadership

Social entrepreneurship is one way by which we can more actively participate in real change, but it is also not a cut-and-paste solution. Indeed, the face and the contexts of leadership are changing. Not only are we experiencing a shift from traditional politicians and first-generation tycoons to political neophytes and youth, business school-bred managers, but we are also seeing how much more complex it can be to lead effectively, and in the right way.

As the Philippine launches full-speed into election mode, expect many more hidden issues to surface and already-hot issues to boil over. Expect to uncover more questions that need resolution, but no answers to assuage our collective anxiety. Expect to see old faces with familiar platforms and new faces with familiar surnames, but (possibly) very little hope for a real move forward. Above all these, expect YOUR role as a citizen and as a potential social entrepreneur to become even more prominent in our country’s quest for self-actualization.

The face of the country’s leadership is changing. It could very well be yours.

Copyright © 2008 Niña Terol