The leader I want

Jose M. Montelibano

Much of our social life is focused on leadership. There is no denying that the right leader can trigger miracles to happen. What many forget, though, is that the miracle is done by the people who are inspired by the leader. Great victories in war have always identified the leader, whether it be Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Napoleon, or Genghis Khan, but we hardly know the millions of warriors who died under their commands. Yet, the victories were hammered out by those millions, not the leaders who led them.

At the same time, human and societal consciousness has evolved from the more primitive and physical to the largely peaceful. Yes, conflicts still flare up now and hundreds of thousands have to battle with their lives and guns. But these hundreds of thousands, or even a few million, are not enough to break the more stable world of more than seven billion. My focus is on those billions of which more than one hundred million are Filipinos.

It is not that the Philippines has no violent conflict with rebel groups. The long-running communist rebellion still bothers several areas although the insurgency will never see their original end game come to fruition. After fifty years, they are too few and too late. The state of life in the country and in the world has simply shifted to a stratosphere where the rebellion cannot win. Rebellion bothers us, but if they could not get the mass population to go with them against the status quo for fifty years, it is only looking for a good deal, not victory. Modernity, technology, and younger generations simply provide too many other options to revolution.

Of course, a total breakdown of Philippine society remains a possibility no matter how remote. But should that ever happen, Filipinos will not go communist. In fact, Filipinos are slowly but steadily weaning themselves out of traditional and ritualistic religion. Still, Catholicism will not disappear before communism does.

I believe that the most important factor is the paradigm shift from centralized, authoritarian, or dictatorial governance in favor of the democratization of power. In the old days, and for a very long time, most people had no rights except to follow their leader. But the last two hundred years have been a great and continuing revelation to the 99% – that they may not be the equal of the 1% but have basic rights as well. The more progressive societies have gone way beyond that – the peaceful struggle for equality, one man equals one vote. This consciousness towards the egalitarian is only at the tip of the iceberg, and the iceberg will emerge as sure as day follows night.

I am seeing the younger generations in the Philippines today. They say that Filipinos 40 years old and younger are now the vast majority of the population, close to 70%. The rebels of the ‘60s are in their ‘70s today. Their lives will be about IT, about Artificial Intelligence, about everything that is being discovered or manufactured by the day. And each day is more about new knowledge and opportunities that come their way more than the dialectics of Karl Marx. Yes, there is China with its brand of communism, which is really a hybrid of both capitalism and central governance. But look at the immigration lines. Filipinos want to visit China to shop for affordable products, but they are not applying to become residents or citizens there. On the other hand, there are queues for the United States, Canada, Australia, and Western Europe. The future is not in authoritarian countries, it is where individual rights and freedom are more valued.

The leader, then, that younger generations are looking for, and this includes the young who are not so young, who are, in fact, already the engine of growth and development as we speak, is not anymore just someone who will save them, or lead them to war. The leader they look for is one that understands their needs and their challenges – and leads the way in addressing them. In other words, the leader fills them up, cushions their failures, and encourages their experiments. They are not looking for someone to take over their lives but one who can show them how it is to experiment as well.

There will always be a special space for the hero. Heroes are magical, they make the impossible possible. But the hero of today is one who awakens the hero in everyone, not the one trying to do all the fighting for everybody else. When there is fear or confusion, a hero can make the first strong moves that trigger the others to move as well. But the hero leader cannot take over the lives of those who follow him because the followers will soon want to live their lives themselves. The big difference between the hero leader of yesterday and the hero leader of today is not really between them. The big difference is the follower of today presents a sharp contrast to the follower of yesterday.

The present and emerging future are about a life of discovery. That will define the atmosphere. Both leaders and followers will breathe within that context. The leader who will try to control as powerfully as the leader of yesterday will meet generations that do not want superstructures, or superheroes, to control them. Help them, yes, but control them, no.

The lesson of the era that has begun and eager to dominate the next decades is that followers will follow but their goal is to be empowered themselves. The leader they want will fill that need to be empowered. The leader they do not want is the one who will not let go of control.

The old Filipino would say, “The leader I want is the one who will save me.”

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