by Eric Santillan

A few years ago, the President of the Philippines was impeached. It was a difficult time. And while the president that came after him was not impeached, she went down in infamy, and the office of the President was never the same again. The underlying question at the time was: if you cannot trust your President, the highest elected position in the land, who can you trust?

The answer–at that time–was the man who presided over the proceedings. Chief Justice Hilario Davide comported himself with so much dignity and integrity that you wouldn’t think of questioning any of his questions, moves, decisions.

And then this happens. The man who is supposed to preside over impeachment proceedings is the one being impeached himself. Are the days of the Davides, Fernans, V. Mapas, J Abad Santoses long dead?

I hope not. But our country is in dire straits. If you cannot trust the President, and the Chief Justice, who is left to trust?

Bill George, author of “True North”, talks about lessons for leaders during crisis times. Think of this as what is expected of leaders when leadership itself is in crises. Those of us from Cagayan de Oro can also relate with this well because we are also going through a crisis of leadership there. I have chosen five of George’s lessons for us to think about:

Lesson 1: Leaders must face reality. Reality starts with the person in charge. Leaders need to look themselves in the mirror and recognize their role in creating the problems. Then they should gather their teams together and gain agreement about the root causes. Recognition of reality–and telling the whole truth–is the first step before problems can be solved. Leaders can’t solve problems if they don’t acknowledge their existence.

Lesson 2: No matter how bad things are, they will only get worse. Faced with bad news, many leaders cannot believe that things could really be so bad and they try to convince media that things aren’t so bad, and swift action can make problems go away. Because of this, corrective actions undershoot their mark. Leaders must anticipate the worst case scenario and base their actions on these. That way, they’re also prepared for the healthy turnaround when it happens.

Lesson 3: Get the world off your shoulders. In a crisis, many leaders act like Atlas, carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders. They go into isolation, and think they can solve the problem by themselves. In reality, leaders must have the help of everyone to devise solutions and to implement them. This means bringing people together, empowering them, and gaining their commitment to painful corrective actions.

Lesson 4: Before asking others to sacrifice, first volunteer yourself. If there are sacrifices to be made – and there will be – then the leaders should step up and make the greatest sacrifices themselves. Everyone is watching to see what the leaders do. Will they stay true to their values? Will they bow to external pressures, or confront the crisis in a straight-forward manner?

Lesson 5: Never waste a good crisis. When things are going well, people resist major changes or just try to get by. In fact a crisis provides the leader with the platform to get things done that were required anyway and offers the sense of urgency to accelerate their implementation.

To be sure, these are hard lessons to learn, but they’re critical if we’re to get out of this crisis of leadership we are in right now.

About Eric Santillan

AngPeregrino is Eric Santillan. He is a management consultant for two firms specializing in sustainable business, competitiveness and risk management, cost control and culture management. He is also a writer for The Mindanao Current. At one time or another, he has taught, moderated college organizations, done organizational development work for BPOs, been a Jesuit, mentored people and given retreats.

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