Ordinary Traits That Make Extraordinary Leaders
by Riana Margaret G. Beduya
We’ve seen great leaders glaze history with their magnificent minds. We’ve heard stories of those who dismantled justice thus, taking years and generations more to restore—burdened generations who believe this same justice may already be irreversibly damaged. They have come and gone, and experience taught us that oftentimes, there exists more of the latter than the former. It is not a mystery as to why the scathe of unsatisfaction is always great enough to overpower all means of gratefulness after a president’s reign. We must never tire to seek great results from the people we grant power unto.
As election season in the Philippines draws near, us Filipinos face yet again another consequential event that will determine the country’s fate for the next few years. As the stakes rise along with the ongoing pandemic, territorial disputes, injustice, poverty, and a plethora of societal, environmental, and political issues, our next president already has a long list of responsibilities waiting.
The dilemma of electing the “perfect” leader to clean the dirty slate of politics which favored influence and abuse of power resurfaces with a louder cry in a vicious 6-year cycle. It often begins with hope and ends in an undertaking for someone better. We’re thirsty for a worthy leader, but time and again the clamor during campaign period easily puts us in a state of confusion. With the convenient access we have to information, we are left with a pile of truths and lies that bleed into one another. And so, echoes the question, how do we choose?
In the grand state of things, leadership is simply the ability to make others follow—that’s about the bare minimum. We encounter them everywhere where there is a community, from human society to the animal kingdom. In a sea of people, all it takes is a single person for everyone to applaud in unison. In a trail of ants, there will always be one that is first in line. This alone does not make them extraordinary. There’s a significant difference between those who merely carry the title of a leader as a badge of unproven excellence and those who live to honor the position they were bestowed. In this comparison we all know which person will serve for the best interests of the people but, in reality, spotting this in the assembly of candidates is far more difficult.
That being said, each individual has their own checklist which contains the characteristics they look for in a great leader subjectively. However, there are some traits that no leader should be without. For others, these may seem like no-brainers, but occasionally it is the most obvious details that we fail to notice.
1. A leader must tell the truth, even the most difficult ones.
Disinformation is an epidemic that damages the integrity of society. When lies slip so easily it becomes harder to distinguish it from the truth. According to the European Parliament. “It (disinformation) also diminishes broader indicators of democratic quality, unsettling citizens’ faith in democratic institutions not only by distorting free and fair elections, but also fomenting digital violence and repression.” We’ve seen this in cases of historical revisionism, propaganda, and fake news that feeds on the misinformed. Those who remains idle in addressing these false truths are just as wicked as those who purposefully spread it.
A leader that values candor also understands the importance of accountability, being a witness themselves to the courage it takes to uncover truths that many have tried to bury. They would not tolerate any form of impunity, dishonesty, or corruption, all of which are a threat to democracy.
We must fight lies with the truth for moral ascendancy, a great leader once said. Otherwise, we would suffer the consequences of those who deceived us.
“Without facts, you can’t have truth. Without truth, you can’t have trust. Without trust, we have no shared reality, no democracy, and it becomes impossible to deal with the existential problems of our times: climate, coronavirus, now, the battle for truth.”
2. A leader must be vocal, never silent.
There are many people in Philippine journalism who tirelessly fought against media censorship. We all know of the woman who persistently sought the truth in stories that revealed the inhumane practice of extrajudicial killing in our country even if it convicted her of several cases. Like many journalists, she also received many threats against her life, but rather than silencing her, her voice became louder in the fight for justice. In 2021, she received a Nobel Peace Prize and said, “Every day, I live with the real threat of spending the rest of my life in jail because I’m a journalist.”
All leaders would eventually face a state of affairs where they would have the choice to withhold the truth, remain silent, and say nothing at all. It is this moment that determines their righteousness as a leader whose decisions will affect a whole country. Being vocal is crucial. It is where social awareness and important conversations begin. People will listen as well as their views will be heard.
In times of adversity, people need to hear the voices and feel the presence of those who made promises to work in service of the country. There will always be questions, scrutiny, and demands from the people, and it is the duty of a leader to address them instead of blindly leading according to his own notion.
To quote Tim Robbins, “When you have a person in power who punishes people for speaking their mind, it’s truly dangerous.”
3. A leader has a platform and carries it out as promised.
During campaign period, candidates ask people for their vote using their platforms, promises, and plans for the country. They are often asked of a time frame where we can expect to feel the change of wind brought by their leadership. Promises are what people rely on, but this is not the sole reference we have for determining their capabilities. They have credentials, experiences, and backgrounds that must be taken into account. Clearly, it is wiser to trust the candidates with a reputation of fulfilling their duties than those that do not.
These platforms are carefully designed plans created based on the country’s current state. From this we can decipher where the candidate’s focus lies, how aware they are of the needs of the Philippines, and what lives the Filipinos will be living during their term. What disrespect would it be if these objectives will merely come after the position has been handed to the next president, when it is one of the few ways they can show compassion to the people. The Philippines is worthy of a leader that plans ahead and works hard to shape the country into the place they promised it to be.
4. A leader is equal to the people they serve.
An individual does not assume leadership position by themselves. It is with the trust of the people that they are given the opportunity to serve the public. Elected leaders that carry themselves with humility and sees themselves in the people they serve understand their role as representatives for all Filipinos. They show malasakit to all marginalized sectors instead of merely focusing on those that would give them the most traction.
Leaders do not owe favors to the public. Just like any other worker, their duty is to adhere to the needs of the citizens of our country and not be swayed by power or greed—it is quite literally in their job description. They stand beside citizens, not above them with the opportunity to trample over their rights. A leader like this would hear the even the faintest of cries in the slums, acknowledge it, and would reshape governance to be in favor of all social classes.
“When we put Filipino people at the deepest heart of our efforts, that’s when we can bring real and lasting change to this country.” There must be no room in the government for leaders who use their positions for personal agendas, only genuine individuals with empathy and kind hearts that will tirelessly fight for the Filipinos.
5. A leader actively lives by example, even when they are not a leader.
Every leader has lived a life before and after their leadership. By observing these smaller but equally significant moments in their lives, we see the consistency—or lack thereof—in their actions. I’ve mentioned how the campaign period is used to win the votes of the people. Silent candidates suddenly rumble in their running positions, idle hands get to work, and absentees suddenly resurface. There are some who have been earnestly serving the public away from the spotlight, and there are others who only show up when it is necessary to secure them a position.
A leader who lives by example is no different when they are not a leader. Their principles remain the same, and their desire for the greater good remains evident. There is no mask to put on before the curtains open or gloss to shine their horrid intentions. Instead, they live merely as servant leaders with a track record that reflects what they stand for.
“Maraming matitino at mahuhusay na local officials pero hindi masyadong napapansin. They are usually the ones who do not call to much attention to themselves, are simple and humble. Walang masyadong bravado at nagtatrabaho ng tahimik.”
As voters, a huge responsibility rests on our shoulders. Electing the future leaders of our country requires awareness and openness to seeking the best candidate regardless of their name or gender. On election day, we are not fans who dawdle to worship candidates, instead we stand as citizens of the Philippines with the well-being of every Filipino in mind. We should not be lax in choosing our next leader nor should we ever stop demanding results and accountability. On May 9, 2022, we will not settle for less.
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