Frontline Leadership

Dear All,

Below is a review of the Ateneo School of Government's recently launched book,"Frontline Leadership: Stories of 5 Local Chief Executives," edited by Angelita Gregorio Medel, Margarita Lopa-Perez, and Dennis Gonzalez. The book isavailable at the ASoG-CSP, Ateneo Loyola, and the ASoG, Ateneo Rockwell, at a modest sum of P200. The review was made by Dr. Edna E.A. Co, a faculty memberof the ASoG and the UP-NCPAG. The book was also featured on the frontpage of the Inquirer last Sunday, Dec. 9. Dennis Gonzalez


"Frontline Leadership: Stories of 5 Local Chief Executives" is a collage ofcolourful life experiences by local executives who, as leaders, would make a difference in people's lives and whom ordinary Filipinos would look up to. And on top of the value of experience-sharing, the book is also an opportunity forreflection and what I may call the "superiority of silent knowledge" as a step toward sensible action. " Frontline Leadership: Stories of 5 Local Chief Executives" is an invitation to those who are in the field of governance--whether as practitioners, thoughtful reformers, or academics -- to pause and reflect about leaders, leadership, and local governance in our nation. Let me continue the process of such reflection through this review:

What do I find as meaningful messages of this book? What are the common threads that weave this brand of leadership?

Firstly, the book narrates the power of power, i.e., the power of positionand leadership -- how much difference could one person in a position of power make in the lives of people? All cases: from Naga, to San Fernando City, LaUnion, to Surigao del Norte, to Bulacan and on to a western province in theVisayas - show that local executives have much space and many options to contribute as an opportunity offered by the power of being office-holders. Ergo, power is not negative at all times; power could be and, in fact, should be positive to have. However, there is an important caveat on power, namely: that power should be constantly embedded in the ordinary citizens -- as shown by some of our stories in this book.

Secondly, a common thread that weaves across the 5 cases in the book is the magnitude of the passion for work, - a particular brand of work ethic which sets apart a leader from the mediocre politician. All cases show how the chief executives exhibit discipline, punctuality, working beyond the bureaucratic time-line, a penchant for details, "hands-on" responsibility, and dedication toserve whatever it takes. Such work ethic meant putting into the work more than what the ordinary politician would.

Thirdly, the leader in these cases manifests the ability to see the "cornerpocket" -- the space which is not normally seen by many. The creativity, the resourcefulness, and the "out-of-the-box" skills. These leaders are, again, set apart from the ordinary chief executives who merely rely on the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA), on the graces that trickle from the national government, on the regular sources, and hence could not go far, nor go autonomous, and much less turn their communities into prosperous local government units.

All together, the 5 cases in this book define the qualities of a leader, and most of these qualities relate to managers who deliver the "goods." The book also describes the conditions under which these managers deliver - under difficult circumstances, often with limited resources, with urgency, with political pressures, including pressures of expectations from their constituents. But in all these circumstances, the leader-manager did not yield, but stood his/her ground with firmness and decisiveness.

What stands out in each one of these awesome leaders?
1. There is Mayor Jesse Robredo's eternal compassion -- the ability to empathize with the poor and to connect with the ordinary citizens, the grand message that, when one succeeds, one does not leave behind or forget those who have no power. "Walang iwanan." And finally, this is the leader who exhibits simplicity -- howhe looks, how he dresses - he is his own person, at all times.
2. There is Mayor Mary Jane Ortega's cluster of traits - that of a manager, and the multifaceted person: educator, marketing person, and if there is such an English term, a "networker."
3. There is Governor Lyndon Barbers' discipline and punctuality which is veryun-politico; of being hands on, or "into it" -- the only Surigao governor who visited all of 435 barangays and 27 municipalities.
4. There is Governor Josie de la Cruz's being the ultimate program initiator and implementer, creative resource manager, and the optimal user of IT (information technology) in her place, thereby making governance constituent-friendly,transparent, and accountable.
5. And finally, the mysterious governor in the Visayas and her boundless energy and penchant for details.

Indeed, these chief executives are achievers par excellence, and although theyhave their inimitable traits as individual leaders, they sing a common tune onl eadership and management altogether making a difference in the lives of others: hard work, dedication to work, results-orientedness, and resourcefulness and creativity. We salute these leaders and their exceptional traits. And we hope that their political species increase!

To the publishers, researchers and writers - congratulations for putting forward a clear message on local governance! The challenge for all of us in thefuture is perhaps to move from these best practices toward an institutionalization and continuity of these practices in the local domain, and to multiply these examples shown by the local chief executives to a critical mass - until we make such best practices a national culture of governance.

"Frontline Leadership: Stories of 5 Local Chief Executives" offers hope and shows that there could be states persons and achievers in our politicians. Thebook is inspiring and should be widely disseminated among local government officials, community leaders, students and young leaders, social activists andall other Filipinos who find Philippine politics and governance too dim areason to stay and serve the country.

Edna E. A. Co
5 December 2007, Bulan Restaurant, San Juan City