In response, what I look for in a leader

The following post grew from an answer to Bencard’s question: Why is she [PGMA] not, and who do you think is fit to express a vision for the country at this point in time?

In featuring this as a post, I’ve reworded some parts and expanded others from my original comment. I can fully answer his first question, but I’m not too confident about who I can propose for the second. That in itself can be a commentary on the state of our politics. But the following post will give you an idea of what I look for in a leader, especially in the President of the Philippines.

There are many arguments against GMA, but I’ll put forward my own take — I don’t find her charismatic enough.

My take off point is sociologist Max Weber’s tripartite classification of authority which would be charismatic (leader by virtue), traditional (leader by practice) or legal (leader by law). GMA is a leader in the traditional and legal senses, but not so in the charismatic way. And this evaluation has been reached by comparing her to other charismatic statesmen we’ve had in our history such as Manuel Quezon, Ramon Magsaysay, Ninoy Aquino and even Cory Aquino. Reach even farther back into the annals of history and you have people like Siddhartha Gautama and Jesus Christ. And it may be even a little more unfair to GMA when I compare her today to Barack Obama — he may be too green for the White House but he can definitely deliver a speech!

It is my position that our country, in general, still yearns for a charismatic (but not necessarily popular) authority. At least, this is the understanding I’ve derived from studying our history and politics. We need leaders who are not just good technocrats, but are virtuous and of supreme moral character as well. A lot phrase this as the “messiah complex” though I believe that phrase is becoming passe. That requires some level of delusion, which is gradually disappearing in these days of disillusion. Yet in a way, this is why actors and icons have traditionally been elected easily into public office.

The danger here is that being charismatic and popular are vastly different and yet are easily confused. Philosophically speaking, charisma is an inner virtue while popularity is a matter of image and perception. Though the two reinforce each other, perception matters a lot in politics. This is why some people wish for us to have more legalistic forms of authority, and to go beyond the level of the popular — but not necessarily charismatic — vote. We all still want a leader we can believe in.

While we’ve seen the spark of some change in that in the last election, 2010 will show us whether there is really a tipping point or not. It will take some measure of economic and social development in a society before they can place value on merit rather than on character or virtue. That shift takes time, a claim made accessible by Jared Diamond in his book, Guns, Germs and Steel. Another implication of Weber’s tripartite distinction is that it is a hierarchy, with the charismatic leader as the most fundamental, the legal as the most advanced. A society, too, develops its taste for a leader. So we will we ever get there? I’m crossing my fingers.

Thus, I don’t find GMA to be one such charismatic authority. She is a good politician, yes, and has proven herself quite capable in dealing with the law and the economy. It’s just that the ‘X’ factor, the pizazz, isn’t there (for me at least). She can deliver us her vision of course, but whether she can get everyone as equally excited is another. It is the prospect of that not happening that concerns me.

Her 2006 SONA was actually interesting and played to her strengths. She is an economist and the Super Regions talk showed her insight into our situation. But for ‘07, it may take a little more than a speech to blow us away with the vision of becoming a first world country. It will take results, and she is arguably capable of delivering those. It’s just that there is still so much to do and too many hills to climb. And yet, the trenches between the administration and opposition grow deeper, in the same way public opinion towards her administration continues to remain split. Hence, there is a growing consensus that we should just stop bickering and work together as a people; but to rally support and foster unity is one power of the charismatic leader.



2 thoughts on “In response, what I look for in a leader

  1. I’ve read that our senses take in much more than our consciousness can process (in the order of tens of Megabytes per second that goes into the subconscious or pre-conscious) versus a few bytes per second that finally emerges in the conscious mind. I believe that the ‘charisma’ (or x-factor) of a person is that part that we take in but cannot articulate at the level of the conscious. That is why we should not take charisma (or the lack of it) lightly.

  2. In a country where leaders are chosen by personalities, character, and qualities of its candidates, charisma and a good communicator is of prime importance. But not necessarily where a leader is chosen based on the Party System.

    The last time we had a great leap in our economic boom, got rid of multibillion deficits and consistently maintain a substantial annual surpluses was during the Tenure of then PM Jean Chretien, who many believe was somewhat arrogant, dismissive and could not communicate as eloquently as others because of his “in-born physical defects” that impaired his speech. But he was supported by a very able and good Cabinet and that include the Man that eventually replace him as the Leader of the Party, Paul Martin who run the Minister of Finance and formulated a successful program of balance budget. Compared to Elliot Trudeau, the Charisma was able to propel him personally as one of our Great Leaders, but still it was the Programs of the Liberals and that he as the PM communicated them so well with the Populace.

    In the Philippines, a leader who could clean up corruptions or minimize it to the point that it will not hurt the well-being of the nation, implement a sensible population control program, provide a universally funded basic education for all and an affordable health care, would be remember as perhaps the Greatest of them all. The country had not such a Leader Yet

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