Jesse Robredo’s credentials, like those of many others who had risen to positions of leadership before him, look pretty “ordinary”: he did well in school, worked hard and rose to responsible positions in a reputable corporation, and clawed his way to victory in hard-fought elections.
However, Robredo distinguished himself from the rest because of his different style of leadership. He led not by a naked exercise of power and influence but by taking a close look at what his constituents wanted and needed, and finding ways to satisfy those wants and needs.
Academics have recognized this shift in focus in favor of the attending to the followers’ needs as opposed to the old notion that leaders always had the prerogative to impose their wishes on the people.
“It was presumed until only recently that leaders should dominate and followers defer,” points out Public Leadership lecturer Barbara Kellerman of Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government in her recently published book, The End of Leadership.
Kellerman says: “Leaders were generally expected to tell followers what to do, and followers were generally expected to do as they were told. No longer.”
Followers now are
“far sturdier than they used to be, stronger and more independent,”
and leaders, at least in an ideal situation, are
“supposed to suggest or recommend that their followers follow, not order them to do so,”
the Harvard lecturer further says.
This shift in the balance of power between leaders and followers—with leaders becoming weaker and followers stronger—is the result of cultural evolution and technological revolution, adds Kellerman.
Merit-based system in City Hall
This point is being raised in search of an explanation to the kind of pro-people leadership that Jesse Robredo pursued. Was it instilled by Kellerman during his days at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government—where Robredo worked on his Masters in Public Administration, and where Kellerman is currently the James MacGregor Burns Lecturer in Public Leadership?
That looks unlikely. Robredo was at Harvard in 1999 and at the time Kellerman was director of the Center for the Advanced Study of Leadership at the Academy of Leadership at the University of Maryland. Kellerman moved to the Kennedy School only in 2000 after being named founding executive director of the School’s Center for Public Leadership.
Besides, when Robredo, who had completed in the mid-1980s a graduate program in business administration at the University of the Philippines even while working at San Miguel Corp.’s Magnolia Dairy Products unit, enrolled at Harvard for his masters, he had just completed his first three terms as mayor of Naga, by which time he had already earned numerous plaudits for his revolutionary governance style.
In putting the interest of his followers in Naga ahead of those of the leaders, Robredo moved for the institutionalization of the participation of NGOs and people’s organizations in all official discussions of the city’s policies and projects. He initiated programs that cemented partnerships with the poor so that they would eventually acquire their own land and houses. Also quite importantly, Robredo introduced a merit-based system in staffing City Hall and solved the crippling traffic problem in the city center, a move that proved crucial to attracting investment into the city.
Those were only some of the big tasks Robredo handled and on which he delivered big results. There were others which, at least to some people, may look “minor”—like sweeping streets in Naga himself even when he was already mayor, or replacing busted light bulbs on posts along major roads.
It was difficult at first to pursue reforms. Robredo recalled during his response after being conferred the 2000 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service:
“Important political benefactors, whose interests ran contrary to our reform agenda, disowned us. Businessmen who were my friends but were affected by the city’s honest-to-goodness tax collection campaign questioned our intentions and loyalties.”
But the people of Naga rallied behind Robredo, who stood his ground against corruption and patronage politics.
“They rejected dirty politics and shunned manipulations by those who have power and money. Instead they demanded for more efficient services and organized themselves into proactive sectoral groups not only as a means of extending influence but more importantly as a tool for developing themselves into responsive citizens who were sincerely involved in public affairs.”
His desire to serve the people grew out of an outrage over the Marcos-era murder of the charismatic Benigno Aquino Jr. Robredo committed to a kind of politics that was the opposite of what he saw during the martial law regime, one skewed more towards caring for his people—not exploiting them.
Ninoy’s assassination so affected Robredo that he joined the mammoth crowds that lined up to view Aquino’s body and pay respects to the fallen leader. As pointed out in the Ramon Magsaysay Awards Foundation archives, Robredo even managed to talk briefly with the widow Cory Aquino during the wake. He also joined the funeral march later—and the throng that jammed EDSA during the People Power Revolt of 1986.
The assassination of Senator Aquino, plus the sudden gush of contradiction that he felt in working for a company that at the time was controlled by a known Marcos crony, apparently stirred something in Robredo. It was during this period that he became interested in working in government to serve the Filipino people.
When Cory Aquino became president, Robredo was appointed program director of the newly created Bicol River Basin Development Program, leaving his high-paying job in the private sector.
The science of governance
Robredo also aligned his city with the similarly trailblazing Institute for Solidarity in Asia (ISA) that was started in 2000 by Jesus Estanislao, finance secretary during the Cory Aquino presidency, as a vehicle for post-Marcos governance reforms that focused on local government units.
The strategic importance of local governance at that juncture was highlighted by the fact that more than half of the Philippine population lived in cities, said Estanislao. ISA introduced the Performance Governance System (PGS) management tool in 2004 to a pioneer group of eight cities, including Robredo’s Naga.
“With our guidance, they crafted City Road Maps. They formed multi-sectoral coalitions, made up of leaders from various sectors of their city who would contribute to meeting the targets they set,”
With the active participation of private citizens, the cities started implementing their development strategy, tracking it regularly, and measuring the city’s performance using scorecards.
At the time of his passing, Robredo was a member of ISA’s board of trustees. Many of his ideas on good governance are certain to serve as guides for local government leaders for a long time to come.
In leadership mentor Kellerman’s view,
there are two qualities that characterize good leaders: “ethical and effective.” Without a doubt, Jesse Robredo was both.
Source: — GMA News Why Robredo led the way he did