The Real Work Begins: Skills Needed to Run Government

by Eric Santillan

The first part of this article is here: Why We Vote the Wrong Persons To Power

When the stress of the campaign, the media circus, the awkward dancing, starlets and comedians fed to bored men and women, and the results of the elections are out (we had the first ever digital/automated elections a year ago and this will help cut down on the stress of having to wait for the election results for months and months on end as well as the potential election protests that stretch for years), and someone is declared winner, the real work of governing begins.

And this is the crux of the matter. We all know that those who win don’t necessarily end up being the best at governing. But why do we still end up voting for them anyway? Every.single.time! If it is as easy as that–if winning elections give you the automatic powers of governance, then why are we still in the shit we are in? Why do people like Vilma Santos, Lucy Torres Gomez and Manny Pacquiao still need to study in Schools of Government like the ones in the University of the Philippines and Ateneo de Manila? And why do other people have the werewithal NOT to study? Do they think they’re already good enough to govern us? What pride. What bullshit we have to deal with from people we vote to power!

The word government is derived from the Latin gubernare, “to govern” or “to manage”, and mente (“mind”). So government is really a management of minds. And a government leader is someone who can manage the minds of people–their expectations, their desires for a better life, their hopes and dreams.

That gives us a sense of what kinds of leaders this country need to run it. So what are the KSAX’s needed to run this country?

First things first: the Legislative skill set is totally different from the Executive skill set. You can be a very good administrator of a city or province but end up without the necessarily skills needed to be an effective legislator. Or the other way around. HR practitioners would have a field day trying to analyse the job fit among our politicians. A typical political career in this country would go like this: a councilor/provincial board member (legislative) becomes mayor or governor (executive), then after the maximum number of terms, he would run for congress (he would usually win, because everyone thinks a good mayor must make a good congressman!) while his wife takes over as mayor of the city. After that one term of being congressman, he would slide back down to being mayor, while the wife swaps with her husband as representative in Congress because we all know that her experience as mayor has prepared her to legislate (not!). The scary thing is, the Senate (a legislative body) seems to be the preparatory school to the Presidency (the Chief Executive). Which begs the question: are our senators ready to be Chief Executive? I hope so. Or we’ve just been doing it wrong the past 4 elections (only Ramos was not a senator before he became President. And Erap was Mayor of San Juan for a long time before he became Senator).

Skills Needed to Run the Country

1. Objectivity. In a country that is so big on “personalan“, a good leader needs to be objective and unemotional or else he runs the risk of making poor subjective choices.

Being objective means understanding yourself, your constituency, the inner workings of a legislative body, your staff, and how to speak to the public in an objective manner. You aren’t simply evaluating issues as they come at you — you’re evaluating them without adding your personal interests into the mix, which is a tension-filled and tricky thing, but is really needed to run this country.

2) Communication. The whole reorganization of the Office of the Press Secretary into what it is now: the Presidential Communications Group shows us the importance placed on communications by this administration. If government is management of minds, then the reorganization is an understanding of this role of government. The President is considered the Chief Communications Officer of the land.

3) Financial/Resource Management. Budget, finances and resources (both non-life and human) is a key element in running government. The ability to know what you have at your disposal, who you have, what their gifts and role are, the optimization of these, control of costs and expenses, and the increase of resource streams is critical in running a successful ship. My best friend, the executive secretary of a mayor of a local government unit, once told me that running government is like running a business; except that with government, you have a budget replenished at the beginning of every year, and in a business, this year’s budget is dependent on last year’s sales.

It is the height of resource mismanagement if you can’t make good use of the funds accorded you by the national government. If you use your funding well, and if you’re able to find ways for your unit to earn money–through tax or rental income for example–you’re doing the national government, and your local government unit a big favor. You help become a solution and not a problem to government.

4) Social Consciousness. Every leader needs to be aware of the problems that his constituents face on a day-to-day basis. We think this is something that every leader has, but you will be surprised how dense some of our leaders are. Leadership is about being conscious of the difficulties and hardships of people. Every leader has to move from me to we; and to expand ones perspective in order to better see things from another person’s or group’s point of view.

5) Dedication to Improve Society. This is not really a skill but a disposition. Every leader needs to come into government to better the office he was entrusted and the people under his responsibility–not just to enrich himself and his family.

It is also important for leaders to think long term and to think of legacy. One disadvantage with how our society and politics is structured is that terms are very short. And so leaders plans are only up to the end of their terms. It is rare for leaders to think long term, or to come up with plans that will come to completion after them. I am not sure if our country has an integrated development plan that is not term-dependent. I hope we have one that spans more than 20 years.

Japan has 50 year plans. And they are disciplined enough to follow it and push it forward. Their politicians’ egos are subject to the greater good.

6) Non-Corrupt. Ninoy Aquino won the Presidency because of his and his family’s reputation to be beyond reproach, and because of a simply logical slogan: Kung Walang Corrupt, Walang Mahirap (Without Corruption, There Will be No Poor). It is simple, succinct, and encapsulates the dream and desire of every Filipino to eradicate the systemic corruption that happens in government. We are finding out, one year into Aquino’s term, that it is not as easy as we thought it was going to be. The problem is just too rampant, too many people are involved, it has become organic to the culture, that corruption is not easily eradicated.

It is imperative therefore for people not to vote corrupt leaders to power. We want leaders who will not add to the already systemic problems that we have.

7) Ability to Bring People Together. Leaders, the good ones at least, know that they can’t do everything on their own. And leaders, the good ones at least, are not insecure about bringing people who are better than them so that real and good work is done. We need leaders who will be able to bring people together to work for a common goal — hopefully a goal bigger than self and family (Bayan Muna, Bago Sarili!) — and who will be able to bring out the best in people.

In the end, we hope the people we are so impressed with during elections, also impress us during their actual terms. That is our hope. That is our dream.

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.

2 responses to “The Real Work Begins: Skills Needed to Run Government

  1. eric! i envy you your faith. :) nice analysis, a point-by-point juxtaposition (freshly caffeinated so i’m feeling like big words this morning :p) of why they win and why we all lose. :p

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