Leila De Lima has two key lessons to offer leaders of all stripes: that when you challenge authority and force change, make sure you have a coalition to guide you and that you regulate the pace of change. Ronald Heifetz, a Harvard professor known for his work on Adaptive Leadership, calls the latter as ‘turning up the heat’ and cautions leaders to sense where a group is at before pushing them to do more work.
This is why I felt that bringing in Matobato to testify on the Davao Death Squads was a tactical error. As important as it was to bring such truths to light, it may have been too much too soon for the Senate at this point in time. Public opinion was also sorely against De Lima, limiting the capacity of all those who should listen to ‘do the work’ of connecting the dots between the DDS and the conduct of the current drug war.
To complicate De Lima’s fortunes, I noticed how alone she seemed. She stood alone in every press conference. She hardly had any entourage as she walked through the Senate. Her party allies hardly defended her; though at first Drilon was willing to raise questions on her behalf, he now seems less so. The other LP Senators are nowhere to be heard, save for a few loose remarks in the media from time to time. Most likely, they are reserving their own political capital and not raising the heat too quickly in their respective kitchens. And so it falls back on De Lima. She came in with no coalition to speak of to what was in all intents and purposes all out war. Whether she underestimated her alliance is irrelevant; the work of leadership is to mobilize and not merely count favors.
So can De Lima recover?
Right now it doesn’t look good. The Hearings at the House are politically calculated to poison De Lima — no one would want to ally, much more coalesce with her. And the heat has been raised so high that the gasket has blown and now the kitchen is blowing up in many places. There is not much room for her to maneuver right now, but Heifetz always recommends that leaders should know when to retreat, lick their wounds, and ‘step on to the balcony’ to view the terrain anew, strategize, and find new inspiration. The last thing she should do is to remain on the confrontational path she’s been on. This is not to recommend that she reverse course — that’s a surer way to lose — but to live on to fight another day.
Since she quoted the Ancient Romans in her privilege speech the other day, it would be fitting to remind her of how they regard Fortune in the work of politics. Fortune is a fickle woman, the Romans say. And while Lady Fortune is with her opponents right now, De Lima can only hope that she tires soon and that there will be a reversal.
Maybe then I could write about how Duterte was close but didn’t win. If it happens.