The Preferred Filipino Leader: How do our current leaders measure up?

April 13, 2020
Edna “Bo peep” Franco

The COVID-19 crisis has put our leaders to the test!  If we gauge it from  social media reactions, some of those who are suppose to be “in-charge”  are failing badly. Foremost that is pointed out is the lack of  clear direction and plan,  followed by vacillation,  conflicting  reports, empty declarations of assurance, and abuse of privilege. Yet, there are also leaders who are recognized and appreciated  for stepping up - acting decisively, innovating and solving problems with no fanfare.
Citizens’ reactions to the “failing” leaders  range from  disappointment, disgust and even anger. These reactions are based on  their expectations of what their leaders are supposed to demonstrate – whether that is character, behavior, or service. Each individual forms his/her own view of what a leader “should” and these views may be shaped by their own experiences and context. But for the most part, “followers” or those who are led, tend to have expectations that converge on some elements.
 A study* was conducted last year by graduate students to explore what Filipinos expect their leaders to be and to do in different settings. The qualitative study utilized interviews of 48 individuals from different sectors and socioeconomic classes. Participants included executives, supervisors, professionals, support staff and informal sector workers such as tricycle drivers and market vendors.
Although, the data yielded a wide range of preferences, the researchers zeroed in on key themes that clustered, as the preferred schema of a Filipino leader.
The figure below depicts the Person of the Preferred Filipino Leader of the country in terms of character, intention, behavior and acts of service. The accompanying table  gives more detailed descriptions and actual quotes  of the qualities that were identified and why they are important.

At initial glance, the schema appears like the typical Ideal Leader model that are seen in academic and popular literature, emphasizing the “wholeness” of the Person of a leader. What stood out in this schema is the nuancing of the quality labeled as  Firm. Much has been said about the Filipinos  or Asians needing leaders who are “authoritarians”  because of the collectivist orientation, and the propensity to follow  whoever holds power. This study found two distinct meanings associated with the term Firm – an individual who can control, and instill discipline (matapang), even with an “iron fist”,  and another, which means someone who is solid, with courage (may tapang) to stand for his/her convictions.  The preferred leader is someone who is able to demonstrate both qualities.

Preferred Quality What We See The Benefits
Person- oriented
Makatao, mabait, maalaga, hindi gumagawa ng dahas, mahinahon approachable, helpful, listens, treats people well, supportive, fair. Parang magulang, maaasahan Nurtures positive environment, helps people grow
Servant leader
Naglilingkod sa tao, nakikinig, bumababa sa laylayan, hindi nagbibilang o nag e-epal, grounded, feels pulse of the people, looks after the welfare portive, Sinosolusyunan ang kailangan ng tao, make lives better, focus on marginalized
Competent Knowledgeable, innovative, decisive, does not panic, malawak ang kaalaman, may vision, may kakayanan Achieve our goals, solve the problems, set clear directions; kayang iahon ang Pilipinas; magtutulak ng pagkakaisa, magbigay ng kumpiyansa sa mga tao
Authoritative, commanding, strict, controlling, iron fist/kamay na bakal, matapang Implement rules and discipline dahil matigas and ulo ng pinoy
Strong, courageous, independent, solid, hindi magpapadala, may lakas ng loob, may paninindigan, may boses, may tapang Ipaglalaban and tama, protektahan ang interes ng Pilipinas at Filipinos
With integrity Principled, trustworthy, respectable, ethical, tapat, magandang asal, hindi kurakot tinutupad and pangako, can inspire, set a good moral example
God - fearing Humble, prayerful, maka Diyos, may takot sa Diyos Pag sumusunod sa Diyos, hindi gagawa ng masama

This schema was framed assuming expectations of a leader in typical, normal situations.  
At this time, when the need for leadership in the country is most salient, and we are  forced to reflect we may find this framework helpful to answer some questions:
1.     What are my own expectations of leaders? Do I share this schema of my preferred leader?
2.     How do our present leaders score on these qualities?  To what extent have they met our expectations during this crisis?
To be more specific, looking at the details of the schema, referring to actual quotes both in English and Pilipino…how have the leaders demonstrated:  
·       Pakikinig at  pagiging maaasahan?
·       Paglilingkod, at  pagbaba sa laylayan,  at hindi nag-eepal?
·       Solving the problem,  Vision at kaalaman para iahon ang  Pilipinas?
·       Pagtulak ng pagkakaisa?
·       Panindigan,  Paglaban at pagproteksiyon sa interes ng Filipinos?
·       Implement rules and discipline?
·       Pagiging tapat at may magandang asal?
·       Pagtupad ng pangako at  Pagiging magandang halimbawa
·       Humility and fear of God?
Much has been said about the impact of  actions or inaction during this crisis on the longer term survival of our nation.  Needless to emphasize that the perceived vacuum in leadership during this pandemic will  have dire consequences that will be felt economically, socially and psychologically  at  all levels, but specially by  the marginalized.
What can we make of this? 
Is it too much to expect that  leaders will take time to look at themselves in the mirror and assess  if they have  fulfilled the responsibility that they swore to, and  meet the expectations of those whom they promised to serve?
Is there a remedy for failed leadership or leadership that fails to deliver? Leadership is a process of influence, and exchange between leader and led.  What can one do as a “follower”, when expectations are not met?  Today, the call for #Accountability has appeared prominently  in social media.  A number of articles and posts have gone viral calling on the citizens to be more vigilant, to speak out and demand for competent action and  some semblance of integrity. Individuals who are now seen as exemplars of  leadership in character and  acts of service are lauded and given appreciation and recognition.
Even as we are preoccupied these days with protecting ourselves and our loved ones from the dreaded virus, it is encouraging  that  awareness and involvement in calling out breaches in leadership is growing.  If we are to be guided by what this initial research has shown, it may be an opportune time to begin a process of greater participation to raise the standards for our future leaders. Perhaps  initiate serious conversations and deliberate information exchanges in whatever fora we can  generate interest.
One goal would be to reinforce the growing awareness  that  every citizen has a right to articulate what to expect from a  responsive and responsible leader, and empower them to make an accounting.  It is often said that we get the leaders we deserve. A related goal might be to trigger reflections and discussions on  how we choose  our leaders, and what factors influence this? A third one may be, for the reader, if you happen to also be a leader, to take the opportunity to review your own schema and practice of leadership.
May we all stay safe and healthy in these challenging times.
*for more details of the study, you may contact at Ateneo CORD
Edna “Bo peep” Franco is Associate Professor at the Ateneo de Manila University Psychology Department. She is the Program Director of the PhD in Leadership Studies, and Director for Special Projects at the Ateneo CORD.