Case study on servant leadership: Dr. Josefina O. Santamaria

josie copyHOW does one recognize a true leader? Robert Greenleaf (1970) in the classic essay, “The Servant as Leader” answered this question through a story that showed that those whose influence built people, rather than destroyed them, are true leaders.  “By their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:16) is a quote from the Bible that definitively answers this question.

Based on these measures, Dr. Josefina O. Santamaria, whose leadership philosophy is based on servant-leadership, can be called a true leader. Now 75 years old, she remains active as a leader in her own company, community and religious groups. Her continuing leadership journey is marked by her passion for excellence, strong will to achieve, the highest standards of ethical behavior and most importantly, her steadfast faith in God. The fruits of her leadership can be seen in the numerous individuals she has guided through her sterling example, coaching and writings as the pioneer and pillar of career development in the country.

 Her leadership journey

Early signs of leadership

Santamaria became aware of her leadership qualities as a young child playing with her friends. Though the word “leader” was not yet part of her awareness at that early age, she knew that she did exert some influence over her playmates. “What will we play?” her friends would often ask and Santamaria would decide for them. And when they have played all the usual games, the young Santamaria would then make up whatever game would come to her mind. 

The opportunities to lead followed Santamaria in her high school and college years. As a high school student, the teenage Santamaria was shy and reticent. Since her family lived in the province, she went to live with her aunt and uncle to be able to study in high school in the city. Because she was a “provincial lass,” Santamaria became self-conscious and shy. However, she made it a point to answer questions in class. One day, her teacher suddenly decided to appoint Santamaria as class president after becoming disappointed with the existing class president.

Taking up A.B. Psychology in the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Santamaria was once again thrust into the leadership limelight. Student leaders on campus noticed her and she was co-opted into running for student council representative. Here she experienced “dirty politics” as the supporters of various candidates resorted to waylaying students who supported their opponents so that they could not vote. It was also in college that she made a pivotal ethical decision—despite pressure to join the popular sorority, Santamaria opted to join the UP Student Catholic Action instead because of the death of a student due to hazing. It was also during this period that Santamaria met her then future husband, Jorge, who would later become her partner not just in marriage but in career and spiritual life as well.

Career crossroad

Motivated by her need for achievement, the twenty-something Santamaria graduated cum laude from college and launched a teaching career. While teaching, she earned her master’s and doctorate degrees in Psychology from the University of the Philippines. She would eventually devote around 20 years of her life to the academe, a good part of which would be spent in the De la Salle University (DLSU) where she became Associate Professor, Department of Psychology and Graduate School and Professorial Lecturer, Graduate School of Education and of Business and Economics until 1983. It was in the academe where she was able to flex her leadership strengths on the international stage and where she experienced her greatest disappointment.

In life’s journey, there is always a crossroad where one has to decide which way to go. What waits at the end of each road in the seemingly far off future is unknown. But once one picks a road, it determines the direction of your journey. Santamaria reached a crossroad in DLSU. But she was unaware that her choice would inevitably lead her to the road that enabled career development education and training to flourish in the Philippines.

In the 1970s, DLSU, together with the Fund for Assistance to Private Education (FAPE) and the National Manpower Youth Council (NMYC) which, at that time, was tasked to provide vocational education training to out-of-school, established the Career Materials Development Project (CMDP). This was in response to the findings of the Presidential Commission to Study Philippine Education (PCSPE) released in 1970 that revealed a mismatch in the courses being taken by students on the one hand and the needs of industry on the other. This mismatch resulted in the unemployment of a large and growing number of graduates. Thus, CMDP’s mission, was to develop career information materials (such as booklets, pamphlets, slides, film strips and other materials) on different occupations and professions in the Philippines which could be used by students  in choosing the college, course and career that they should take (Santamaria & Watts 2003).  

DLSU offered the post of CMDP Director to Santamaria. Her acceptance of this post started her on the road to studying and eventually becoming one of the foremost experts on career development in the Philippines.

The post brought Santamaria joys and heartaches. Since CMDP existed only through grants from the government, Santamaria had to do a lot of networking and fundraising mostly in the government sector, a difficult task especially during the early years of martial law. But she was able to get funds to finish 18 titles, including a Manual for Career Counseling for guidance counselors, before it was closed in 1980 when NMYC withdrew its funding because of shifting priorities.

The post also opened the doors for Santamaria’s exposure abroad. She visited various institutions in the US to study practices on career guidance, career counseling, career development and career education. She also presented a paper on CMDP at the regional conference of the Asian Regional Association for Vocational and Educational Guidance (ARAVEG) held in Tokyo where the work of the CMDP was hailed as the “first” in the Asian region. Santamaria was elected First Vice-President in that conference. She later served as ARAVEG president from 1978 to 1982, a job which required her to attend annual conferences in various parts of the world (Santamaria & Watts 2003).

Because of her involvement on an international level, she worked to organize the ARAVEG regional conference in Manila in 1977 and the first international conference on career guidance and career development in Manila of the International Association for Vocational and Educational Guidance (IAEVG) in 1980. She was not able to get the support of the Philippine Guidance and Personnel Association (PGPA), the only professional organization of guidance counselors and counselor educators in the Philippines at that time, for the ARAVEG conference. Undaunted, she organized the Philippine Vocational Guidance Association (PVGA) which coordinated the ARAVEG regional conference in 1977. This proved to be providential since PVGA eventually became the Philippine Association of Career Guidance and Development (PHICGuide) which is now known as the Career Development Association of the Philippines (CDAP) (Santamaria & Watts 2003).

Santamaria served as CDAP’s first president from 1977 to 1985. CDAP is now widely considered the premier organization for career development in the country today.  CDAP acknowledges Santamaria’s role in the founding of the association and stated, “Thus began the first impressive growth of CDAP and the start of a series of professional practice area in education and guidance.” CDAP is a member of the Asian Regional Association of Vocational and Educational Guidance (ARAVEG) and of the International Association of Educational and Vocational Guidance (IAVEG) (

Crucible of failure

While Santamaria was being recognized internationally, these laurels became her “crown of thorns” in her academic career. She admits, “The school thought I was neglecting my duties as a professor because I was so often abroad. Thus, they decided not to give the promotion to full professorship that I was expecting.” She says that the university’s decision so devastated her that she resigned in anger. Already late in her forties, she tried looking for a job in the corporate world. However, companies found her overqualified because of her doctorate degree and under-qualified because she had no corporate line experience at the same time. She further explains, “At that time, career guidance was just a buzzword in the corporate world. Companies were not yet giving career guidance.”

Though her husband Jorge had a good executive job at Mead Johnson, Santamaria needed to find work to help in raising their seven children. Santamaria recalls that during that period, her children would often ask her, “Mom, have you found a job already?”  This so humiliated her that her husband had to request the children to stop asking that question. The advice of two friends (whose names she can never forget to this day) saved the day, so to speak. They suggested that she organize training seminars and go into the consulting business. Thus began Career Systems and the story of how her “derailed promotion led to career success” (Garcia 2001).

Birth of Career Systems

Encouraged by friends, husband and her faith in God, Santamaria organized her first seminar on career planning for executives. Husband Jorge helped her market the seminar. Their joint efforts resulted in 24 participants and the seminar was a resounding success. They organized a second seminar, this time on career counseling (one of the few offered in the Philippines at that time). Sadly, their marketing yielded just four participants. With characteristic determination, Santamaria, though disappointed, pushed on with the seminar for the sake of the four who registered. This serendipitous move enabled her to get to know one of the participants, Rose Lazaro, who was in charge of training at the Development Bank of the Philippines. Lazaro offered her large residence as venue for the seminar and even arranged for the transportation of the other three participants so that Santamaria could minimize the cost of the seminar.  Afterwards, Lazaro offered to partner with Santamaria in her business which the latter joyfully accepted. Lazaro provided an elegant office, new clients and financing for their new company, Career Systems, Inc. which was registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission in 1983.  Lazaro became the first chair of the company. Santamaria credits this twist of fortune to Divine intervention. She remarks, “Do you know the beautiful office she offered was just one block away from my one-desk office on Pasong Tamo?”

The company’s first clients included Manila Mandarin Hotel and the Development Bank of the Philippines. Later on, reputable companies like IBM Philippines, Inc., Eastern Telecommunications, Inc., San Miguel Corporation Beer Division, The Manila Hotel contracted their services. In 1985, Santamaria’s husband Jorge, retired from Mead Johnson Phils., Inc. as Vice President for Marketing and Director of Business Development to join Career Systems, Inc. as its Managing Director. He took full responsibility for its marketing operations. Their present client base includes companies in the Top 100 in the Philippines, many of which are in the pharmaceutical industry, and organizations in the Asian Region such as Indonesia, Singapore and Hongkong (

What makes Career Systems, Inc. different from all other training and consulting companies? For one, both the husband and wife management team say that they are doing all these for the glory of God.  When asked who their chairman is, they say it is Jesus Christ—officially, Jorge is vice chairman and Santamaria is president. Their mission reflects their values: “We are the partner of choice for organizational and human resource development consulting services, customized, research-based and innovative training programs and relevant publications which sustain personal growth and organizational transformation, thereby contributing to the achievement of business goals and nation building.” With Santamaria’s remarkable track record in career development and Jorge’s marketing savvy, Career Systems is arguably the recognized leader in career development in the Philippines and the Asia Pacific region.

 Leadership Philosophy and Style

Leadership motivation

What moves and drives Santamaria as a leader? Initially, she says that she is driven by goals—she wants “to see improvements in the way things were being done, to leave a legacy, to be able to do something that others have not done.”  She recognizes that she has a strong need for achievement. Because of this, she is able to overcome obstacles to achieving her goals. Myra Lapus, a senior consultant at Career Systems, Inc. who has been working with Santamaria for 17 years, describes her as “passionate, focused, relentless, persevering and will never stop.”

However, Santamaria reflects that until Career Systems was established, she did not quite have the focus of her motivation. Focus became sharper over time as she became more involved in the renewal movement through various religious groups such as the Parish Pastoral Council of Merville, Paranaque, Christian Family Movement (CFM) and the Ligaya ng Panginoon (LNP).  As her involvement with these religious groups grew deeper over 30 years, it molded her leadership motivation. Santamaria’s image of an ideal leader is that of Jesus humbly washing the feet of his disciples. She adheres to the concept of servant-leadership as her guide for her leadership action. Santamaria says, “The desire to serve is the antecedent of leadership. Service is not consequent to leadership.” She also believes in the concept of stewardship. “The Lord gave me talents and opportunities of leadership to use wisely.” Her words are not empty—she devotes every Thursday to the prison ministry which involves feeding and sharing the word of God with sick and ailing prisoners in Muntinlupa.

Reviewing Santamaria’s leadership journey, it is evident that she did not pursue leadership positions as others with selfish ambitions would have done. Leadership opportunities presented themselves to her, situations which she attributes to Divine intervention. She notes,  “These leadership opportunities enabled me to exercise initiative.” This in turn firmed up her leadership roles. Greenleaf (1970) identified initiative as one of the characteristics of servant-leaders. He writes, “A leader initiates, provides the ideas and the structure, and takes the risk of failure along with the chance of success.” In a similar vein, Santamaria says, “I always see opportunities and I initiate action.”

 Influences in leadership

 Not surprisingly, when asked who and what influenced her leadership, Santamaria points to Jesus Christ as her role model. Santamaria remarks, “Everything that Jesus did was motivated by love.” She admires John Maxwell and Stephen Covey because of their God-centered philosophies.

Santamaria also looks to the Gospel for guidance. While attending an international conference, she was pleased that she was being noticed at the conference.  Impressed by Santamaria’s participation, the US adviser attending the conference invited her to seat with their group. She did so until one of the conference organizers went up to her and asked her to sit with the other participants. After sharing this story, Santamaria noted somewhat ruefully that the incident taught her a lesson in humility. She related it to the parable in the Gospel of the wedding guest who took the place of honor but later on was asked to take the lowest place. The Gospel states, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:7-11).

Leadership style

What kind of leader is Santamaria to her staff and people she works with? According to Lapus, Santamaria treats her and others as partners in the business and coaches and empowers them as well. Lapus also says that Santamaria is open to ideas of others and remembers people’s needs and wants.  

Lapus also points out that while Santamaria adopts a delegative style with her consultants, she closely supervises others who are in need of her close guidance. Overall, Santamaria’s leadership style can be described as situational, following the Hersey and Blanchard model.

Regina Reyes, Santamaria’s former editor in Philippine Daily Inquirer, remembers Santamaria for her ethical behavior and concern for friends. Reyes invited Santamaria to be a columnist in People at Work to write the column “Ask Your Career Counselor.” When Reyes resigned from her post in the newspaper, Santamaria offered to also resign as a columnist, an offer which Reyes of course appreciated but discouraged.

Leadership insights

Summing up the lessons she learned in her leadership journey, Santamaria observes that leadership will only work if it is goal-oriented and you are able to enroll people in that goal by showing them the benefit of that goal. She also believes that it is important for leaders to give recognition to their followers for their contribution to the achievement of the goal. Santamaria emphasizes that, “Leadership is not only knowing what and how to do. You have to gain the trust of your followers through your character.”  

Given these parameters, how does Santamaria assess the leadership in the country? She says that leadership in the country revolves around the personhood of the leader and people still look for charismatic leaders. She also observes that to be a leader in the Philippines, people expect him or her to have considerable money. Santamaria has yet to find a leader in the Philippines she can admire as most of our leaders often find it difficult to leave their positions of power.

Given all these insights, how does Santamaria want to be remembered? She says that she wants people to remember her as a person who was able to help them learn how to increase their leadership and effectiveness. However, what matters most to Santamaria is how she can satisfactorily answer the question, “Is Jesus pleased with what I have done? Have I developed the people he placed under me?” The questions are rightly asked because at the final destination of all men, it is how God remembers you that would be most important.


Career Development Association of the Philippines. Retrieved from

Career Systems Inc. Retrieved from

Christian Family Ministries of the Philippines. Retrieved from

Garcia, C. (2001). Derailed promotion led to career success. Philippine Daily Inquirer, p. B10.

Greenleaf, R. (1970). The servant as leader. Retrieved from

Ligaya ng Panginoon. Retrieved from

Santamaria, J. & Watts, A. (2003). Public policies and career development: a framework for the design of career information, guidance and counseling services in developing and transition countries (Country report on Philippines). Manila, Philippines: World Bank.

Author: Ms. Regina G. Reyes