Presidential leadership vs management

BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz - The Philippine Star

The president of the country appoints managers to run much of the national government, but he is not a manager himself or herself. Rather, he or she is a leader responsible to all citizens for the country’s future.

Unlike the CEO of a business corporation, the president of the nation does not have management authority over the economy or crime rates or how foreign powers will behave. But he is expected to have effective influence in each of these areas and, in fact, in many more areas. The added difficulty is that some of these may be difficult to measure like “confidence in the future,” “rule of law,” “national security,” and “quality of life,” which are all of vital interest to different sectors of society.

This advice is part of a series called “Memo to the President” written by 23  top American CEOs. While the memos are addressed to the President of the United States, the advice is applicable to presidents of other countries, especially with a form of government similar to the United States like the Philippines.

The advice continues by stating that while the president is held accountable for most problems in all areas of government, the president’s most important accountabilities often involve influencing individuals and institutions which are not in the president’s formal chain of command and over which he has no formal management authority – like the Congress, the Central Bank and the judiciary.

In the Philippines, there are so many groups the President must try to influence. These includes political leaders especially that belong to other parties; business leaders  and heads of multinational corporations which are potential investors; civil society; religious leaders; and leaders of mass movements like labor unions and people’s organizations.

The president must convince the Filipino people that his vision and his values are right for the country. It is only by doing this can he ensure that the people and institutions over which he has no management control will act in a manner that is consistent with the vision he wants to achieve.

The list of the greatest Philippine presidents would include Manuel Quezon, Ramon Magsaysay and Corazon Aquino. In the United States, the list would include Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy. George Walker Bush, the only American president to have an MBA from Harvard Business School does not belong in this category. It was during his presidency that the USA and the world had a financial meltdown leading to a worldwide depression.

These great presidents shared three common attributes which all great presidents must possess.

The first is that they must be very effective communicators. Their personality and speaking style may vary. But they were all able to communicate to their people a vision for the future and a set of values that would be the guide for their administration. The president must convince the people that their vision and values are right for the country.

The president must also realize that he cannot personally reach all the people and organizations he must try to influence. Great presidents, therefore, cannot rely solely on managing a group of followers through logical communication of facts.

The second, great presidents must be symbolic leaders who embody and symbolize a set of beliefs. More important than even communications, they convey their values through their personal behaviour. People will not believe what they are told. They will wait to see how their leader will behave. The leader must, therefore, be a role model.

This was the case when Quezon advocated Philippine independence; when Magsaysay said that those who have less in life must have more in law; and, when Corazon Aquino told the people that the restoration of democracy was worth fighting for. This is the case when P-Noy tells us that Daang Matuwid and the rule of law can be achieved in this country, and that transforming society is possible.  

Finally, although the President should not manage the national government, he or she does appoint most of the managers who run much of the national government. Even in large business corporations, the CEO is advised not to micromanage or be involved in implementation. Their task is to make the organization capable of implementing their strategies and attaining their vision.

The appointment of managers with integrity and competence is a very crucial task for the leader. He must be also ready to replace any manager or official whose performance or integrity has been compromised.

On the part of P-Noy, he has been able to appoint a large number of officials who have performed their functions with competence and integrity. Some of these officials that can be cited are Br Armin Luistro of Education, Cesar Purisima of Finance, Gil de los Reyes of Agrarian Reform, Andy Bautista of the PCGG, Dinky Soliman of DSWD, Rogelio Singson of Public Works, Leila de Lima of Justice, Sonny Coloma of the Presidential Communication Office, Voltaire Gasmin of Defense, and Jojo Ochoa of the Office of the President.

In the latest Pulse Asia ratings, the survey shows that only 9% of the people do not trust the president. This means that 91% of the nation either have confidence in his integrity, veracity and justice or at least remain undecided which means that they are, at least, willing to give him a chance.

This high trust rating was earned because the people believe in his vision and his values. More important, they see a leader whose behaviour is a reflection of his values of honesty and integrity.

The Philippine presidency has always commanded the most public attention and generated emotions more than any other institution. The Filipino people have turned to their president to act, not just as a leader, but also as a parent, a savior, and an agent of change. But the Constitution divides authority, institutions share power, political parties lack cohesion and a sustained policy thrust, and we have a political culture that tolerates corruption as a way of life.

Exercising effective presidential leadership with the goal of institutionalizing the rule of law and is thus extremely difficult. But if we are to achieve the vision where every Filipino family has the opportunity to live a life of human dignity, exercising the right kind of leadership is vital.

The extremely low “distrust” rating of PNoy shows that the Filipino believes in his leadership. This trust and leadership are his greatest assets in transforming society and even charting the direction for the Philippines well beyond his term.

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