Maroon blooded

On leaders and followers

I spent yesterday relaxing at home, reunited with my two canine “sons” after a week of absence. I was flying here and there meeting friends who are in public office or key media practitioners and even student leaders who are engaged in efforts to help explain the value of responsible mining to the general public - especially to the younger (and more impressionable) segments of our population.

As is my practice, one TV set was on the whole time while I was at home. Tuned in either to CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera or Channel News Asia, I get to hear a constant stream of news and commentary while going about my day - feeding Hayden and Apollo; reading back issues of the New York Times that have accumulated on my doorstep; checking my email; etc. When 1 in 5 Filipinos are said to get their news from Facebook, I guess I am not one of them as I still prefer tuning in to world media outlets or reading hard copies of newspapers - and that’s why most of my afternoon o was monitoring the meeting of Donald Trump and Chairman Kim at the Panmunjom Peace village along the demilitarised segment of the border of North and South Korea.

It’s always amusing - yes, amusing - listening to Donald Trump when he speaks off the cuff and inflates the impact of whatever it is he is doing. No joke, I find POTUS an interesting study in leadership.

The other day, while in between meetings in Cebu, I caught a special on Al Jazeera that was focused on the diplomatic moves of Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner. The report wasn’t flattering - it pictured Kushner as engaging in high level diplomacy sans the guidance of the US State Department. Of course what made Kushner special is the fact that he is the son-in-law, and in many parts of the world that status gives the status holder significant “weight”. The same goes for a wife, a son or daughter, a sibling, a parent or even an in-law.

Then again it doesn’t have to be. I know of one or two corporations who are strict about keeping in-laws, for example, out of the company business. Others make sure that sons or daughters go through the grind before “earning” their posts at the top - Enrique Zobel was an example at Ayala. But this is business, and in politics — especially in Philippine politics — things can be the exact opposite.

It’s really a question of leadership.

One more thing about Trump interests me - to find out whether he is he what I think he is, a leader who does not appreciate being contradicted by staff, being told he is wrong? Because many such leaders abound - those who feel (if not truly believe in their heart of hearts) that they stop making mistakes the moment they rise to the top.

Lucky me I’ve never had to work with anyone like that - not Rene Cayetano, not Enrique Zobel, not the five presidents of the Coca-Cola Company in the Philippines under whom I served nor the two presidents of the bottling operations. And thankfully not the leadership of Nickel Asia Corporation.

I would be appalled working under such a leader. Because it would mean “leader” he or she is not. And even at this late stage in my career I’d rebel working under someone who believes he knows it all, and worry about the future of the younger people working with me in the same organization. I’d quietly tell them to contact the nearest headhunter and start looking for opportunities elsewhere.

The truth is, a leader is a leader depending not only on his character and his training but also on the quality of his followers. If we who work for leaders know nothing but to toe the line, to brown nose, to be a complete toady, then we do not do our leaders and our organizations a favor. If we are afraid to speak up because we fear incurring the ire of our superiors or, worse, losing our perks and our perch, then we are just as complicit in the disaster that is sure to befall the organization down the line because we “conveniently” traded our better judgment (or even our principles) for remaining in the good graces of the big guy.

So what type of a leader are you working for - and just as important - what type of a follower are you?

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