Maureen Dowd wrote a really nice, provocative piece the other day – WHY IS HE BI? (SIGH).
I’ve been thinking about leadership for a very long time. These are the sentences that resonate the most for me: “It’s not enough to understand how everybody in the room thinks. You have to decide which ones in the room are right, and stand with them. A leader is not a mediator or an umpire or a convener or a facilitator.”
Those same words could apply to many Filipino leaders, including President “Noynoy” Aquino. No one doubts his values nor his intentions. They just want him to make a decision. Unlike US President Obama, he’s not facing re-election. Mr. Aquino said he won’t run for office again, and he can’t. The Constitution limits the President to one term. I suppose that’s why Filipinos’ hopes are so high that he can and will make the right decisions. Now he just has to tackle the big problems, and take a stand! (Let his popularity ratings be whittled down by substantive decisions that lead to progress rather than trivial matters that degrade his ability to lead).
It’s hard to be a leader. Every decision you make sets policy. Every decision could potentially make you enemies. So if you don’t like that, don’t be a leader. To be a good one, you need to have not just vision, an inner voice that points the way, but most importantly, the courage to make a choice – not just for yourself but for the group you lead. Indecision is the worst trait for a leader.
Indonesian President Bambang Yudhoyono at Istana, Jakarta, Indonesia
In the past few weeks, I’ve spoken to many leaders. Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has taken a firm strategic stand on terrorism that’s put both him and his family in harm’s way. Last year, less than a month before it was supposed to be executed, police discovered an assassination plot against him by the Jemaah Islamiyah network. It involved two suicide bombers attacking his convoy outside his home. Police say when they found the safe-house, the explosives and vehicles were there – as well as the suicide bomber!
When I spoke with him last week, he had the most succinct, strategic vision I have heard for fighting this prolonged, generational battle against terrorism. It seems the assassination plot by the JI network only solidified his vision and courage to fight – not for himself or his family, but for the future of the country with the world’s largest Muslim population.
Former President (now Congresswoman) Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Manila, Philippines
A week earlier, former Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo sat with me and gathered her former cabinet officials in charge of security for a conversation at her home. As she pointed out, she recognized the dangers of terrorism and was the first leader to call US President George Bush when 9/11 happened a decade ago. She spoke about how she felt when the MOA-AD collapsed and the difficulties her administration faced dealing with what is largely a poverty-driven problem of terrorism (unlike Indonesia, which is ideologically driven).
In evaluating today’s administration, she had this to say: “It’s really unfortunate that they’re putting so much emphasis on persecuting the past administration when you have problems of FDI [foreign direct investment] reduced to half of what it was, unemployment going up, even the corruption index is worsening. There is a real governance problem today.” (She has since stated these views publicly, eliciting a reaction from the Aquino camp).
MILF Chief Negotiator Mohagher Iqbal, Camp Darapanan, Mindanao
Shortly before meeting Congresswoman Arroyo, I spent time with the Chief Negotiator of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Mohagher Iqbal, in the MILF’s Camp Darapanan in Mindanao. He seems outwardly strong, principled – and pragmatic. After all, he has been negotiating for peace for his people for 14 years.
On negotiating with President Aquino’s government, he said: “There is some hope, but objectively speaking, I am neither optimistic or pessimistic.” It’s understandable after more than a decade of negotiations and a scuttled MOA-AD in 2008. From his point of view, the Philippine government has betrayed every agreement it’s made with the Moro people.
He answered questions in a straightforward manner, even if they were pointed, particularly about the MILF’s links to Jemaah Islamiyah: “Sometimes you cannot choose your friends. I am not saying that some elements of the JI were not in Mindanao. We have no organizational link with them. We have nothing to gain.”
He spoke about the root causes of our nation’s problems. “The problem in the Philippines,” he said, “is the system. If you examine the rules and regulations, they’re good, but they’re not implemented. Instead we have pakikisama, utang na loob.” I couldn’t agree more. It’s actually our lack of systems that create failing or failed institutions.
Finally, there are our corporate leaders who push change even if governments can’t seem to do so fast enough. After Mindanao, it was a joy to visit the home of Jaime and Lizzie Zobel de Ayala in Calatagan. It was a rejuvenating day of conversation with leaders who are moving forward, setting agendas, not waiting for governments – or anyone else for that matter – to set the direction. Rodrigo Veloso, the Brazilian founder and CEO of O.N.E. Coconut Water, was so enthusiastic about the Philippines and its potential growth. He compared us to Brazil right before it took off. He gushed about our natural resources and talked about how the coconut in Almond Joy chocolate bars and all Hershey’s bars come from a factory in the Philippines. Just being around him lifted my spirits.
Sheila Marcelo, NY-based founder and CEO of care.com, along with True Value’s Gianna Montinola (who’s also on the board of trustees of Far Eastern University) discussed the future of our country poolside, focusing on development and education as key concerns. Leslye Arsht, former undersecretary of US Dept of Defense and former Reagan press secretary, talked about the year she lived in Afghanistan trying to build schools and help resuscitate their educational system – the real nuts and bolts of rebuilding a society that’s still in conflict with a focus on the future. And there is budding leader-to-be Mariana, Lizzie and Jaime’s daughter, who’s just graduated from Harvard and who did her thesis on the RH bill.
Leaders set their own rhythms. They listen to others but only to check their vision, to check the compass and the tide. Some choose to go against the tide. Others use it to speed them along. The one thing leaders don’t do is stay quiet. In order to lead, you have to be clear where you want to go. You have to state where you stand and why people should follow you. You have to be agile – to have the humility to admit when you’re wrong and change direction. Adapt. You have to have vision and the courage to engage and persuade – to push through no matter what.
Key to all of it is courage – the courage to imagine the world beyond what you see; the courage to fail (because that’s what you risk in every decision you make); and the courage to risk your personal and professional life to make your vision a reality.
I have to go back to writing about terrorists again now. It’s been fun. Look for the leader in you, and in your area of influence, make your vision a reality. Happy flying!