Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Leadership brand and billboards

This was my column on the date indicated above. This post is antedated.

Each leader is distinguished for his or her leadership brand. There are many brands as there are leaders since a leadership brand is really a composite of the person’s competencies, experiences, personality traits, etc. One of the most popular topics of discussion among management circles in the last few weeks has been Noynoy Aquino’s presumed leadership brand. There’s a lot of speculative drivel being floated and tossed around on what kind of a leader Aquino is most likely going to be. I think it is a little too early for anyone to be able to make any kind of authoritative and definitive analysis on Aquino’s leadership brand; the guy has not even been officially proclaimed, much less sworn into office. Any attempt at dissecting his leadership competencies at this stage comes off as plain and simple nitpicking.

This, however, has not stopped some people from already clucking their tongues and shaking their heads this early at perceived chinks in the armor, at some quirks in Aquino’s overall projection so far.

A friend of mine sent me an email noting what he perceives as Aquino’s tendency to make statements that border on temperamental outbursts as well as Aquino’s tendency to put personal comfort and convenience over and above everything else. According to my friend, Aquino strikes him as someone who seems to expect the whole bureaucracy to adjust to his particular needs. My friend listed off some critical incidents to buttress his theory: Aquino’s refusal to stop smoking, his expressed desire to transform his current residence at Times Street in far off Quezon City as presidential quarters, the snafu over who should administer his oath of office and the potential constitutional crisis if and when he makes good his threat not to recognize the legitimacy of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, etc. It’s difficult to argue with critical incidents although even these are subject to interpretation. But Aquino does seem to have the tendency to shoot from the hip.

His pronouncement last week belittling the surge in some indicators of economic growth and attributing the improvements mainly to campaign spending made him come across as petty and petulant. As a number of economists have already pointed out, campaign spending accounted for only a small fraction of the surge. Aquino should also remember that while it is the government that crows about economic improvements, there’s a whole structure of technocrats, industries, private companies, non-government and private organizations, and millions of citizens propping up the economy. I am aware that it has become very, very expedient for most people to heap all the blame and the scorn on just one person, but the reality is that it’s not just Gloria Macapagal Arroyo that makes the economy move up or down.

But like I said, let’s all give the guy a chance. Developing a leadership brand is a process that is never perfected. Aquino is a work in progress and there is ample room for improvement. Besides, he did anchor his platform—or what passed off as a platform—mainly on getting rid of corruption in government not on outstanding leadership competencies. Of course moral leadership cannot be the end-all or be-all of any presidency, but it’s a good starting place as any.

In a related development, this matter of how to address Aquino in the meantime that the official canvassing and proclamation have yet to be completed has reached ridiculous heights. What has made the situation unique is that everyone—with the exception of Joseph Estrada’s camp, of course—already knows and has accepted that he won the elections. Automation has enabled us to have knowledge of the results of the elections even if the official canvassing by Congress had yet to begin. It is obvious our lawmakers didn’t have the foresight to anticipate that such a situation would come to pass—we retained the old set-up where a joint session of Congress had to be officially convened to canvass the votes for President and Vice President not realizing that such a complicated and cumbersome process would be rendered almost irrelevant by automation.

Some have taken to calling Aquino as President-elect, which technically is not quite correct because without the official canvassing of the votes he has not been deemed elected. I have heard people refer to him as President-apparent, which seems accurate—he is apparently the next president, but it seems a bit tentative perhaps even frivolous given that the person being referred to is the President of the Republic. I referred to him in recent columns as presumptive President (some dailies use the more long-winded term presumptive President-elect) because that is the general assumption—he is going to be the next president. I came across articles that referred to Aquino as President-in-waiting, a designation that seems neither here nor there: Waiting for what, exactly?

I know a number of people who have solved the problem by simply addressing Aquino by his current title and post, which is as senator of the Republic. Thus, Senator Noynoy Aquino.

What we can glean from this current dilemma is that we do have a culture that puts a premium on titles and designations as status indicators; which is a topic for another column.

***

I was in Davao City over the weekend for work. Local politics in Davao City has always fascinated me not only because I spent some time there as a child but more because local politics in this city at the foot of majestic Mount Apo has always been colorful and out of the ordinary. The Dutertes trounced Speaker Boy Nograles in the last elections and very few people were surprised. The Dutertes have a firm hold on the city. Thanks to Duterte’s iron resolve, Davao City strictly implements an anti-smoking ordinance, bans firecrackers all year-round, and even has a strict ban against selling of liquors after 2:00 am any day of the year. The father-and-daughter team ran for vice mayor and mayor, respectively, this time around; the daughter, Sara, used to be the vice mayor of the city while her father, Rodrigo, used to be the mayor. The rigodon was required by term limits.

What struck me this time around were two giant billboards near the Davao City International Airport which had this message printed in bold, complete with an illustration of a human eye: Pikat nimo, Pete! The message is lost in translation, but it’s a childish taunt equivalent to “in your face.” For Tagalog speakers, the phrase is equivalent to “belat, Pete!” The billboards went up immediately after the results of the elections and most people initially thought it was a teaser for a new product, or a new ad campaign for an event such as a theatre play or musical.

The billboards, it turns out, are a direct taunt at the local parish priest of the area named Pete who used the pulpit during the campaign to denounce the Dutertes. Residents told me that the parish priest campaigned openly for Nograles, who lost in the elections. The billboards are amusing because it illustrates a shift in paradigm in the way politicians—or anybody in particular —can get back at another person who presumably did wrong. Instead of physically doing harm on others, we can always shame or ridicule them in public.

Prior to the “Pikat nimo, Pete” billboards, Davao City had already seen a profusion of billboards proclaiming all kinds of messages. One message that was plastered in many billboards all over the city was “Change? What for? We have the best!!!” This message was obviously in response to billboards that proclaimed: “Change is coming on May 10, 2010.” One wishes that conflicts and disagreements among local politicians in Davao were always settled this way—through billboards rather than through bullets.

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