From vision to execution

From vision to execution

Benito L. Teehankee

22 July 2010

The View From Taft, BusinessWorld

Watching President Aquino’s leadership moves unfold each week is more interesting than watching reality TV. Most people concede at this point that he is intent on delivering on his campaign promises. After garnering more than 15 million votes in the elections, the president has obtained an unprecedented plus-83 trust rating, according to the most recent survey of SWS.

In line with his vision, the president set the proper governance tone for his administration by emphasizing constitutional principles in his inaugural speech. He continues to push his values-based leadership philosophy through his public pronouncements and staunch refusal to disrupt traffic flow by using sirens and bypassing stoplights -- inspiring many to believe in public office as a public trust again. The president has scored well in the public arena by achieving one of the toughest challenges of public governance: setting a transformational agenda through the strength of personal example.

In Leadership, James McGregor Burns, a Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of state leaders, defined transformational leadership as a process where leaders and followers engage in a mutual process of “raising one another to higher levels of morality and motivation.” Transformational leaders appeal to the higher ideals and values of followers. In doing so, leaders may model the values themselves and use charismatic methods to attract people to the values and to themselves.

Not known for his oratorical skills, the president has achieved his own brand of charisma through an unusual source – the use of rhetorical devices reflecting the experiences of ordinary Filipinos. He uses key phrases that get relatively complex social messages across. His much-analyzed “walang wang-wang” (no sirens) fiat not only emphasized respect for public sovereignty in a simple but dramatic way but also, coupled with “Kayo ang boss ko” (you are my boss), made principles of public governance a living reality for ordinary citizens.

Having earned massive social capital from the people, the president has been attending to the execution of his vision starting with his cabinet appointments. While some have complained about the appointments, I find them generally consistent with his vision. Also, when his appointees have committed gaffes, such as a badly worded executive order or imprudent statements to the press, the president has been quick to take corrective action. I was pleasantly surprised when Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson reversed his earlier stance and, citing delicadeza, gave up his post as concurrent chair of the Manila Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS). Despite some missteps, the president has been making corrective actions consistent with his avowed commitments.

The task of appointing thousands of middle- to top-level heads in government agencies and government-run institutions remains. The problem often cited is the amount of financial and social sacrifice involved in giving up a private sector position to serve honestly in government. The president can take comfort from what psychologists have known for some time. For the kind of leaders he needs, money and social acceptance are rarely important considerations. Such leaders are motivated by a desire to apply their competence to make a positive difference for others and to lead lives of integrity consistent with their cherished values. The challenge for the president is to convince such people – and there are enough of them – that he really means business when he calls for change.

Unfortunately, appointing leaders ready to promote change is not the same as effectively achieving change. Private sector managers know that executing change effectively is a head-breaking challenge. In the public sector, pushing for change has broken the will of even the most able and qualified. Therefore, quick-fix solutions should be avoided in favor of systemic and systematic change programs. After all, the president himself said before the elections: “So, what does it profit us to embark again on failed strategies? If we don’t really address root causes, we will not get to the right solutions.” Thus, I was concerned when the heads of BIR and the Bureau of Customs recently announced their target of filing a case against tax evaders twice a month. Filing cases in pursuit of a numbers target may be well-intentioned; however, without the needed systemic analysis, this may actually backfire. Clogging the courts with cases that may not stick can only worsen the problem as defendants appeal their cases indefinitely. What I would like to know is how big-income earners can evade taxes in the first place and what the revenue agencies plan to do about it.

Vision and execution are two different things. The first requires the moral courage to respond to the call of the times. The second requires sound analysis, planning, and coordinated implementation. I look forward to seeing both from this promising administration.

Dr. Teehankee is an associate professor at the College of Business of De La Salle University. He welcomes comments at