Revisiting my leadership philosophy

grass_sky-600x337THIS paper summarizes my leadership journey and analyses it within the framework of leadership theories, experiences of leaders who spoke to our class and the discussions among professor and students in the class. With this reflection, I hope to discover what resonates with me within the context of my leadership opportunities and challenges and from there build a leadership philosophy that can guide me, and perhaps others, in the quest for a better future.

My Leadership Story

Leadership Awareness

When Dr. Edna Franco asked me, “How do you see yourself as a leader?” my reply was in reference to the positions that I held in the corporate world. Truth to tell, I was bit taken aback since I had always seen myself as a manager and not a leader. In fact, all my corporate life, I was keen on becoming a very good follower of my superiors, conscientiously making sure I was able to implement programs in accordance with the directions they set. This was a trait that probably made it easy for me to ascend the so-called corporate ladder as I now realize, bosses tend to promote people because they are good followers and not necessarily good leaders.

As an HR manager in various companies for more than 20 years, my leadership style was generally directive and task-oriented though with a bias for innovative change. As a social entrepreneur advocating learning through print and broadcast media for around seven years, I focused more on resource mobilization and alliance building. As an editor, writer and teacher, I wrote and taught more of the “how” of leadership rather than the “what” and the “why.” Now, as a new student, I have the opportunity to reassess and redirect my leadership journey through this course.

Needless to say, viewed from an informed leadership perspective (which I now have as a result of this course), I realize that I was not able to fully utilize the positions of power I held to address leadership imperatives. However, I see that I had also exercised leadership as a social entrepreneur, trainer, editor and writer by empowering and elevating the condition of jobseekers and people at work through continuous learning.

Leadership Influences

A variety of factors influenced my leadership behavior during this period, working more perhaps on the unconscious level than consciously followed. I believe that my thinking had been formed not only through my experiences but by the thousands of books that I have read starting at age 10 (it is not a surprise that my classmates dubbed me the “walking encyclopedia”). The most significant period of book reading occurred when I started writing in 1997 once-a-week reviews of business and management books for the Philippine Daily Inquirer for three years. During that time, I must have read more than 150 books! With various theories colliding with each other in my mind, I depended upon intuition rather than memory to draw from the treasure trove of learning from those books.

Four people also influenced my leadership thinking and action. The first is my husband (to whom I have been married for 36 years) who is a natural leader. He taught me the value of focus and time management. The other three were my former bosses, all women. Sylvia Munoz Ordonez, Managing Director at Technology Resource Center, taught me that people are best led from their strengths rather than from their weaknesses. Eugenia Apostol, founder of Inquirer, showed me that people are best managed by allowing them enough room to manage themselves.  And Alexandra Prieto Romualdez, Inquirer president, by her actions, gave me a crucial leadership lesson: give people multiple chances to better themselves.

Leadership Discourse

From the books and other readings of this course, I found many points that added new dimensions to my knowledge of leadership as well as validated my own thinking and experience.

The paper “Concepts of Leadership” illustrates how leadership evolved and is evolving.  Its numerous definitions of leadership clarified (rather than confused) my thinking of leadership and enabled me to situate my own leadership perspective among these definitions (Bass, 2008).

Out of all these definitions, what resonates for me is the concept of Transformational Leadership which focuses on the purpose of leadership. Burns (1978) is his book “Leadership” delineates what he called “transactional leadership” from “transformational leadership.” Transactional leadership “…occurs when one person takes the initiative in making contact with others for the purpose of an exchange of valued things (p. 19).” On the other hand, “transformational leadership is “when one or more persons engage with others in such a way that leaders and followers raise one another to higher levels of motivation and morality (p.20).” The latter definition broadens the concept of leadership and recognizes that persons without formal authority who can influence others in this manner are leaders. What also struck me was his final sentence where he declares that the secret of transforming leadership is when people can be lifted into their better selves (Burns, 1978). Although this was written from the political leadership perspective, I believe that these ideas find application for leadership in general.

On the other hand, the book “Leadership Without Easy Answers” looks at leadership as a process that addresses adaptive challenges. He points out that the term “leadership” is not value-free and possesses moral values. Heifetz also says, “To lead and yet sustain the personal stresses that come with leading requires inner discipline (p. 252).”  In this regard, he gives seven practical suggestions:   1) get on “the balcony,”  2) distinguish self from role, 3) externalize the conflict, 4) use partners, 5) listen—“using oneself as data,” 6) find a sanctuary and 7) preserve a sense of purpose (Heifetz, 1994). While this book was written from a public organization perspective, I find its ideas appropriate for the business and educational sectors as well.

The book “Presence: Human purpose and the field of the future” takes transformation beyond political boundaries and applies it to the much broader perspective of large complex systems and the world. Paradoxically, while calling for changing the future of the world through systems thinking, the book also calls for deep personal change.  Co-author Jaworski muses, “When all is said and done, the only change that will make a difference is the transformation of the human heart (Senge, Jaworski, & Flowers, 2004, p.26).

I also learned from the experiences of Fr. Ben Nebres, Fr. Jose Ramon Villarin, Dr. Edna Franco, Dr. Regina Hechanova and Atty. Tony Lavina. Fr. Nebres emphasizes that Filipino leadership should take into consideration the clash of the Asian cultural substrate which focuses on relational, family and conflict avoidance values with the American superstrate which emphasizes individualism. Fr. Villarin poses a leadership challenge: “How can we rally to a common cause that can bring us together?” Dr. Franco shares how her leadership journey taught her to be more effective as a leader. Dr. Hechanova notes that we must be able to develop a concept of Filipino leadership and stresses the importance of leadership research within the Philippine context. Atty. Lavina calls for developing a thousand leaders to collectively move the nation forward rather than just looking to one national leader. Their leadership persona reflected a conscious self-awareness and motivation to improve their leadership skills.

Lastly, I find particularly meaningful the concept of servant-leadership which I encountered in making the leadership case study on Dr. Josefina Santamaria. I could see that her leadership actions were infused with this concept. Robert Greenleaf  (1977) defined  the servant-leader as “servant first, it begins with a natural feeling that one wants to serve first, as opposed to wanting power, influence, fame or wealth (p.352).” If transformational leadership is about purpose and adaptive leadership is about process, then servant-leadership is both about purpose and process since service is both a purpose and a process.

My Leadership Philosophy Reformulated

My Beliefs

A recurring theme in my life’s journey is the desire to effect change for a better future for Filipinos. Poverty, injustice and powerlessness are not abstract terms for me since I see these in actuality as a Filipino living in the Philippines. This is what had pushed me to become an activist during the early ‘70s and to become an innovator in my corporate HR practice and social enterprise. Thus, I believe that leading means having the power to effect the change sorely needed by organizations and the country. In this respect, the concepts of transformational and servant leadership have a place in my leadership philosophy.

I also realize that change in the system (or the whole) cannot happen without a change in the individual who is part of the system. And that the change in the individual is something that involves deep spiritual change or “connecting to the source of inspiration and will (Scharmer, 2007).” Considering the complexity of the human condition today, I find hope in the concept that we are all interconnected—the spaces that separate us from each other and us from nature are not empty—and that a change in a part will effect a change in the whole (Wheatley, 1999). Like a pebble that’s thrown onto a pond, its ripples move all that are in the river and eventually reach the river’s edges. This is why, even though each of us moves in limited spaces and time, I have faith that we can change the world—one individual at a time.

I also believe that anyone who seeks and wishes to effect change must herself be open to change. In Presence, the authors quoted William O’Brien, former CEO of the Hanover Insurance Company, “The success of an intervention depends on the interior condition of the intervenor.” If the intervenor or the change seeker is not willing to undergo, in Fr. Karel San Juan’s words, “a purification of intentions,” then the change process will be tainted by her ambition and selfish motives and thus will fall into failure. The purity of the leadership intention is what will guide the leader in determining the leadership mechanisms or actions that need to be taken. In my own experience, I think that perhaps many of my unrealized goals may have been because my works were tinged with personal ambition and selfishness. Perhaps, I needed to experience the loss of many material things to realize that what really matters is not how much one achieves but what you achieve: is it something “that builds people or destroys them (Greenleaf 1977)?”

I realize that change cannot be driven (without much cost) by one or a few persons for their own personal ends. This is the reason why CEOs and HR practitioners often wonder why there is so much resistance to change since many change initiatives are often led and conceptualized by top management. This is also the pitfall of many political leaders in the country who think that their prescription for order is the right answer to the country’s ills. The process, content and context of change (Pettigrew & Whipp, 1991) must be derived, initiated and created by the stakeholders of the change effort who, collectively, become leaders of change themselves (Scharmer, 2007).

Finally, I also believe that it is essential that as one grows into leadership, one must also grow in humility. One cannot truly serve if there is no humbleness of the soul. A person who is filled with himself cannot fill the needs of others. True humility is the only antidote to the sickness of pride and greed which push leaders into unethical behavior and misuse of power. When power is misused, it overcomes the leader. Guardini (1951) writes, “Nothing corrupts purity of character and the lofty qualities of the soul more than power. To wield power that is neither determined by moral responsibility nor curbed by respect for person results in the destruction of all that is human in the wielder himself (p. 63).” It is this danger that the leader must guard against at all times.

Leadership Philosophy Statement

Based on the above beliefs, the following is my Leadership Philosophy Statement:

God has given has given me talents, resources and free will to make use of wisely while here on earth. Like the parable of the talents, how I use these determines my place in God’s kingdom. Therefore, I strive to fulfill my mission given this unique combination of talents, resources and choices within the context and challenges of my own space and time.

As an HR professional, I work for the good of organizations and its members within the boundaries of healthy competition, ethical behavior and morality. I do not allow myself to be used by unethical leaders for their greedy ends. In facilitating change in these organizations, I make sure that all the stakeholders will be part of “initiating, sensing, presencing, creating and evolving” the change. Towards these needs, I acquire knowledge and hone my skills to become an effective change agent.

As a social entrepreneur, I make sure that my programs and projects will reflect the true needs of my target constituents—jobseekers and people at work—and not my own personal ambitions. I am focused on my goals but act with due consideration of the interests of my supporters and stakeholders. I work with the knowledge that not everything is achieved by man’s (or woman’s) genius. In the words of a noted professor, “We have to leave a space for God’s intervention.”

As a writer, trainer, teacher, and communicator, I provide defining moments for my readers, learners, students and listeners that will enable them to achieve their highest potential and become leaders in their own niche towards the creation of a better future and humanity. I continuously learn in the content and process of teaching to be able to impart the right knowledge, skills, attitudes and values to all who I reach.

Above all, I make sure that in my daily life, I accept without judgment and give respect to each individual (knowing that all human beings deserve respect—they don’t need to earn it) and intend and act with humility in all my undertakings fully aware that it is easy to succumb to the temptations of pride and power. I am humbly aware that since I am but a fallible human being with strengths and weaknesses that it is only through God’s grace and intervention that I continue to serve first and then lead in my life’s journey.

References

Burns, J. M. (1978). Leadership. New York: Harper & Row.

Greenleaf, R.K. (1977). Servant Leadership: A journey into the nature of legitimate power and greatness. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.

Guardini, R. (1961). Power and responsibility: A course of action for the new age. Chicago: Regnery Co.

Heifetz, R. A. (1994). Leadership without easy answers. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Pettigrew, A. & Whipp, R. (1991). Managing change for competitive success. Oxford, UK:  Blackwell Publishing.

Scharmer, C. Otto (2007). Theory U: leading from the emerging future as it emerges. The  social  technology of presencing), Cambridge,  MA: SoL Press.

Senge, P., Scharmer, C. O., Jaworski, J., & Flowers, B. S. (2004). Presence: Human purpose and the field of the future. Cambridge, MA: The Society for Organizational Learning.

Wheatley, M. J. (1999). Leadership and the new science: Discovering order in a chaotic world (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

Author: Regina G. Reyes

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