Category Archives: Call to Leadership

Finding Our Centre

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It is an auspicious day for me and 16 other young men and women as we complete and earn our master’s degree from Carnegie Mellon University-Australia.  Today is a testament to the hard work that the candidates have put in.  Never in my entire life have I spent so many hours and sleepless nights just to work on projects and prepare for exams one after the other.

A few weeks back, one of my mentors called me up and asked what I will be bringing home from this experience.  More than from coffee, wine and chocolates that have long been packed in my luggage, I know I will bring home a lot.

In the movie, Rise of the Guardians, Santa Clause asks Jack Frost, “What is your centre?”  When Frost was confused by the question, Santa was prompted to show the Matryoshka nesting dolls, where the smallest doll hidden within symbolizes the purpose or core of one’s life.  For Santa, his centre was the sense of wonder.  For the Sandman, his centre was dreams.  For the Tooth Fairy, her centre was memories.  And for the Easter Bunny, his centre was hope.

Like Frost, I still don’t know what my centre is.  But in the course of my stay here, I have come closer to realizing what it is.

Firstly, I bring home profound gratitude.  Like most of us, I come from a developing country.  I was born in an ambulance, in a province, north of the capital of the Philippines.  I come from a working class family where my grandfather was fixing railways as a mechanic and my grandmother was selling fish paste in the marketplace.  My life has always been a story of improbability so I have been taught gratitude every step of the way.

And I have never ceased to be given reasons for even deeper and abiding gratitude.  Never did I imagine that I would be able to study in one of the top-ranked universities in the world, live in one of the best cities, and meet people who come from different backgrounds, all yearning to make a difference.  I am grateful for the opportunity to receive world-class education; learn tools and frameworks that have shaped nations, and that will continue to push boundaries.

I am also grateful for friendships forged, for each story, journeys far and wide, and the diversity of understanding that has opened up for me.  The philosopher Martin Heidegger once said, “to think is to thank” and so “to remember is to be grateful”. By bringing home gratitude, I will keep on remembering all these gifts I have received and experienced with you.

I also bring home with me the desire to be more and do more.  Our stories share common themes – the struggle to eradicate corruption, the need to address gender and ethnic inequality, and the fight for equal access to economic opportunities.  From your stories, I saw how the world is beautiful, yet broken yearning to be healed.  We all are kindred spirits as we dream of wealth trickling down to the most vulnerable and disadvantaged.

There is so much to do in the name of gratitude.  It moves us to see the plight of humanity that we desire to integrate our technical skills, management and leadership competencies with our passion to move and work for more equitable and inclusive societies.

As I listen to your stories, I listen to the story of my people.  As we talk about the differences of our cultures, the more I realize that we are more the same than different.  I will go home knowing that, in other places in the world, there are also people looking at the same stars and moon with fervor.

At the end of the movie, Jack Frost was able to discover his centre.  His centre was fun; he was to give people the chance to embrace joy in the midst of pain and suffering.

I ask you my friends, what is your centre?  We look back at the past year or two of hard work and sacrifice, and we know that we have transformed immensely in the present. Our centres have guided us to decide to study here, to leave our families and friends, to take on a multitude of tasks, and to adapt to a new environment on our own.  We continue to ask ourselves, what is our core, our deepest desires?

I take home from this journey pieces of this centre – the gift of gratitude from which I embrace the world and the desire to be more and do more that we have all shared and been equipped to realize by our education.  Yet, it is not complete.  Let us continue to search for our own centre as we go back to our countries to serve our peoples, or start new lives and contribute to humanity significantly and fervently.

Thank you very much, God bless everyone at mabuhay tayong lahat.

I, together with 2 other graduands, shared our thoughts on graduation day at Carnegie Mellon University – Australia.

20 December 2013 | Adelaide, SA

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Primal Leadership and the Global Enterprise

Great leaders move people.  They are able to inspire the best of us that we follow them in their direction, to hopefully to do something good.  A majority of the literature deals with techniques and series of methods in order to lead.  Nonetheless, Daniel Goleman describes that there is much more fundamental in leadership.  According to him, great leadership works through the emotions.

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The Leader of the Pack

In his book, Primal Leadership, Goleman posits that leaders are able to move people because they are emotionally compelling.  Leaders need to drive the collective emotion of people in organisations (and nations) in a positive direction.  They need to trump over the negativity in a group climate in order to bring about change.

He puts emphasis that the key to leadership is emotional intelligence.  When leaders drive emotions positively, they are able to bring out the best in everyone.  He calls it primal leadership because of its fundamental characteristic; a leader needs to handle oneself and one’s relationships with others.

I think Goleman does not discount the fact that technical competence is also needed in leadership.  He merely highlights how leaders need to be aware of themselves and how they develop meaningful relationships in their circles.  Emotional intelligence suggests that leaders are able to empathise with their group.  The group then is able to resonate with the leader, therefore, conducting a high performing organisation.

For instance, a vision for an organisation is to be shared.  If there is resonant leadership, the organisation members would be able to understand, accept and work on the vision that was set by the leadership.

On the other hand, some leaders do not have the competencies of emotional intelligence.  Like a misplaced chord in an orchestra, the leader produces dissonance among his peers and followers.  This creates a negative energy in the group atmosphere, causing a low morale and ultimately, low productivity.

I personally like Goleman’s emphasis on how leaders are able to be on the same wavelengths with his peers.  Emotional intelligence is as crucial as the technical competencies.  Self-awareness helps a leader locates whether he or she is able to first understand the feelings and concerns of the team members.

A misplaced striking of a chord will yield a distance between the leader and the team.  Worse, it can develop mistrust.  People are impressionable and one has to work his or her way back to gain the trust of people.

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The world is getting smaller.

As the world moves into globalisation, resonant leadership is indeed an important leadership framework as ever.  As discussed, global enterprises are now dealing with problems they didn’t face when they were only concentrated in certain regions.  Now, organisations deal with differences in cultures, where norms and values of different nations vary.  Leaders need to be sensitive with these nuances and complexities.

Suppliers, customers and even stakeholders have varying interests in enterprises, either in for-profit, non-profit or public organisations.  Add the fact that they communicate differently, leadership is an even more serious work in this century.

What I want to add to the discussion is that as cultures in organisations change, systems do also change.  The hierarchical and bureaucratic structures are being challenged by cross-functional, mixed team structures and the outsourced, cheaper supply chain points.  In addition, digital platforms have blurred systemic lines and organisations are facing a demand for more flexibility in their decision-making and accountability policies.

Contextualising the leadership environment today made me realise how leaders now have a daunting task to put all in order (or is chaos the new order?).  As the leader deals with demands from its stakeholders, he or she needs to put in work to transcend boundaries, skin colour, religions and conflicting values systems in order to orchestrate a cumbersome symphony.

Daniel Goleman will be able to help the 21st leaders then.  As the world of complex organisations continue to foster, I realise that leadership demands from the leader to be rooted to oneself even more.  Leaders need to get a firm footing of himself and learn to embrace for who he or she is. Then, he is to develop strong bonds with his or her team; and to have resonance with people or groups that may be across the world, as they deal with different challenges in their own lives and in their own contexts.

One cannot understand the plight of the other if one is not able to understand oneself.  I think leadership of the self is the hardest task of the leader.  It is in that level of awareness that leading others and organisations depend on.  Changes and challenges in global enterprises have been on the rise; leaders will only be able to contend if one has a grasp of the self and steering groups through these instabilities.

Students of leadership are invited to reflect further in this regard.  How does one search oneself in the middle of an ever-changing enterprise?  How can one withstand differences in values with team members yet are able to find harmony and balance in the teams?  What values transcend cultures?  What does humanity hold true and can serve as rallying point for global enterprises?

24 November 2013 | Adelaide, South Australia

This essay is part of the requirements for the Transformational Leadership for Global Enterprises class under Ms Linda Chaousis, adjunct faculty at the Carnegie Mellon University – Australia.

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Blake and Mouton Managerial Grid

Scholars and practitioners have created various leadership models that leaders and managers can use in their daily roles and functions.  It is actually an industry in itself where it has been generating content and I assume good profits.  This is a statement how leadership is crucial in organisational life, performance and success.

Robert Blake and Jane Mouton developed a situational leadership model in 1964, the managerial grid.  The grid classifies different leadership styles based on how the leader-manager’s prioritises its concern, whether for his people or for the task/production.

Blake and Mouton define the leadership styles as such:

  1. Authoritarian leader: high task, low relationship
  2. Team leader: high task, high relationship
  3. Country club leader: low task, high relationship
  4. Impoverished leader: low task, low relationship
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Produce or perish. How inspiring.

The model posits that the team leader is the ideal leader, that he or she can develop meaningful relationships and be able to produce highly efficient output.  Though, as a situational leadership model, it does not discount the importance of the other types of leaders.  These may still be effective given certain circumstances.

Leadership styles vary in one’s life stages.  It is part of the process of self-development, as one betters the self, leadership styles change to suit the person and the values one put forward.  I remember before how I was so task-oriented.  It came to the point I became a hindrance to the harmony of organisations, and even causing conflicts among colleagues and friends.

On the other hand, there were also times that I was people-oriented.  I chose to develop relationships than realise the tasks at hand.  The challenge is to constantly aim to integrate the two objectives of organisation performance – maintaining a high standard of output in a warm environment.

Leadership models are good as reference for self-reflection.  These models are leadership archetypes, and that they are products of certain universal characteristics.  These serve as pegs for us to further craft our own leadership style, as we aim to transcend who we are now and maximise our leadership potential.

12 November 2013 | Adelaide, South Australia

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On Resilience

A friend sent me an article about resilience as we were talking about finding the centre of our lives (that’s for another blog post).

Rosabeth Moss Kanter defines resilience as the “ability to recover from fumbles or outright mistakes and bounce back… [One has] to learn from [one’s errors]. Those with resilience build on the cornerstones of confidence – accountability, collaboration and initiative” (2013).

Volatility has been constant in the past decade.  Organisations today have faced economic, social, political, technological, and environmental challenges.  These are aggravated by the interconnectedness of the world.  Changes anywhere typically result in changes elsewhere, making efficacious self-directed behaviour problematic at best (Bryson, 2011).

As we expect the unexpected, leaders, managers and organisations will fail at some point.  I agree that the challenge for true leaders (or people of character as more fundamental) is the acceptance of defeat with humility and have an intrinsic desire to try again.

APTOPIX Philippines Typhoon

I am writing this as my country is recovering from a disaster that Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan).  Latest reports say that the provincial government of Leyte has said that at least 10,000 of its residents have been killed.

Filipinos are familiar with resilience.  Our love for being an underdog is rooted in our history of colonialism, and economic and political repressions.  We installed an action star as president before. We may be battered with various tragedies, still, we find a way to get up and continue on, if not for the better.

This year, we’ve been hit by several disasters – storms, an earthquake, a civil rebellion, and now, a super typhoon.  For a few days, we will traverse the horrors of the devastation; grieve over the deaths, and loss of property and opportunity.  As we move to relief operations, we, as a nation, have enough faith in ourselves that we will be able to recover.

Tragedies drive out the best and worst in people.  Distraught brings out our true personality as a nation.  We are gritty, and we show courage in the face of pain.

I hope and pray that we will get through this.  Let us grieve. Let us cry to the heavens. Then, let’s get up again and rebuild our nation as we always do.

10 November 2013 | Adelaide, South Australia

This essay is part of the requirements for the Transformational Leadership class under Ms Linda Chaousis, adjunct faculty at the Carnegie Mellon University – Australia.

We need all the help that we can get for the relief and rehabilitation efforts in the Philippines. Here’s the list of ways to help.

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Social Innovation and Transformational Leadership

As part of the 2013 Australian Change Makers Festival, The Australian Centre for Social Innovation hosted a social innovation workshop this morning.  TACSI was created to tackle Australia’s tough social challenges such as family break down, child abuse and career stress.  The seminar was a four-hour interactive workshop that introduced tools where business, social science and design converge to create new solutions to complex social problems.

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Challenging the Status Quo

The workshop introduced four key steps in social innovation. These are:

  1. Start with a question and not a solution.
  2. Everything is an assumption.
  3. Learn from people in context.
  4. Learn through making and testing.

These four steps guide TACSI as they create social innovation solutions for their cases.

During the workshop, I tackled an issue that I have been reflecting on this year – how to assist the fresh graduate/young professional segment in their journey of finding their purpose (and ultimately, themselves).  We went through the process of dissecting the issue and used tools that they have introduced.

For a four-hour workshop, I had some rough notes on my personal project, which I am happy about considering the time constraint.  Complex problems need creative solutions to be able to address the needs of the times.  Identifying the right tools is a challenge; moreover, locating the right issues is a work in itself too.

There was one statement from the workshop that reminded me of our transformational leadership class last week – constraints breed innovation.

Bernard Bass, in his article, From Transactional to Transformational Leadership: Learning to Share the Vision, highlights that as organisations continually change and re-strategize, leaders need to think of new ways to do things given their limitations.  In a changing environment, transformational leaders “inspire, energise and intellectually stimulate their employees.”

In the article, Bass illustrates characteristics of a transactional and transformational leader.  For a transactional leader, these are contingent reward, management by exception and laissez-faire.  For a transformational leader, these are charisma, inspiration, intellectual stimulation and individualised consideration.  Bass insinuates that 21st century organisations need transformational leadership, and transactional leadership leads to mediocrity.

I agree that in today’s changing markets, political instability and economic slumps; we need more transformational leaders that will be able to bring in the positive energy as organisations deal with uncertainty.  However, there would be some situations that transactional leadership, even though seen as old fashioned, may be needed.  There is this idiom, different strokes for different folks.

I think what characterises a true transformational leader is that he or she is able to adjust given different situations. Not all situations would ask leaders to be charismatic.  Organisations need bottom lines with results and situations may ask for leaders to be transactional (albeit cruel for some).

Innovation is not a mere bright idea but a continuing understanding and learning of issues that we face as leaders, organisations and societies as well.  There is work to be done and there is an urgency to create solutions.  Whilst it’s a demanding environment, organisations need to continually innovate to survive.  Leadership is crucial to that sustenance.

05 November 2013 | Adelaide, South Australia

This essay is part of the requirements for the Transformational Leadership class under Ms Linda Chaousis, adjunct faculty at the Carnegie Mellon University – Australia.

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Winding Down

This week is midterms week for my last semester. I am on my last mini (about 6-7 weeks) before I finish my program. I begin to wind down and try to experience as much as I can in the city that has been home for me this year.

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The Sunset and Horizon

As I wrote in my leadership paper for a management class recently:

Moving Forward: A Continuing Leadership Transformation
I tend to make meaning of all the experiences I’ve had this year – living in a new country, being exposed to the best practices in the world, and seeing the overwhelming gaps of the global problems that we have.  These are opportunities for a continuing reflection and locating leadership possibilities. I continue to see leadership as a gift where leaders are asked to transform themselves for the benefit of their teams, their organisations and their communities.  As the world opens up and teams diversify, essential thoughts as breaking barriers and commitment to quality results emerge.

How do I make sense of what has happened this year?  How do these add up to the greater scheme of things?  What lessons that I will take home? What memories will I be keeping? Have I changed or remained the same?

It’s the last kilometer before going home. I begin to slow down. I become more aware of my surroundings as I now take my time, making sense of this whole experience, as I see the end.

22 October 2013 | Adelaide, South Australia

On Calls to Heroism

On Calls to Heroism

As usual, on the week of the birth anniversary of the former Senator Ninoy Aquino, we have been busy due to numerous events and projects that commemorate and promote his legacy.  I try now to stop on the eve of his eightieth birth anniversary and make sense of all the work that we have put in and what it means for other people.

Firstly, I realize that Ninoy’s call to heroism was something special, albeit unique.  His was the dramatic type, borderline telenovela and cinematic.  From the best presidentiable to state prisoner to dying on the tarmac were really for the big screen.  His heroism story is truly exciting, emotive and energetic.

However, not everyone would have a call as theatrical as Ninoy’s.  Most people would experience their call to heroism to everyday whispers, silent & small taps on the back, unassuming invites to transcendence.

My Dad is one. (See previous post.) His call was to serve in one company for thirty five years.

I’ve had teachers and friends who have chosen the vocation of education and have been teaching for fifteen, twenty or thirty years.  I just met with human rights lawyers who chose to work with the marginalized instead of lucrative careers in the industries.  I have a young leader who commutes to work four hours everyday to be able to do service for Mindanao.

There are others who walk for hours just to serve their communities in the regions. Others ride boats to reach communities in the islets.

They won’t be able to have monuments.  Their stories won’t be written in books.  Their dedication won’t be acknowledged until they retire. Yet, they have responded to their own calls to heroism.

What Ninoy did was selfless (even crazy during that time) – telling his story to the next generation will surely inspire others to give themselves for a greater cause. Yet, I suspect, that with every Ninoy born, there are hundreds of heroes out there doing the work silently, with no fanfare.

The invitation for the non-Ninoys is to be sensitive to that pinches of call to serve & self-sacrifice.  The work that is ought to do is also important because measuring heroism is not with the amount of spectacle & flare, but with the quality of impact that is providing the community.

27 November 2012 | Antipolo, the Philippines

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