women leaders

[Episodes] Divergent leadership mindsets: Lessons from Jacinda Ardern and Bongbong Marcos

Adelle Chua
[Episodes] Divergent leadership mindsets: Lessons from Jacinda Ardern and Bongbong Marcos
'It was never about the people, then. What ever happened to the desire to serve?'

The Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, announced this week that she no longer has the energy to seek re-election in October and is stepping down when her term ends February 7. 

“Leading a country is the most privileged job anyone could ever have, but also the most challenging,” she told CNN. 

“You cannot and should not do the job unless you have a full tank – plus a bit in reserve for those unplanned and unexpected challenges.” She said she no longer had enough in the tank to do the job justice. 

Ardern rose to power in 2017 at the age of 37. Among her challenges: a terrorist attack, a volcanic eruption, the coronavirus pandemic.

She also gave birth while in office.

Ardern is generally seen as a decisive, progressive leader. She is admired globally for her swift response to the pandemic that spared her country from the virus’ more serious effects, and for her humanity and empathy for the victims of terrorism. 

Some world leaders sent well wishes upon hearing of her decision to leave. Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said on Twitter that Ardern had shown the world how to lead with intellect and strength. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau thanks her for her emphatic, compassionate, strong, and steady leadership over these past several years. 

Of course, it is not all praise for the outgoing leader. There are those who say that Ardern has not been able to deliver on the promise of transformation she made when she first assumed office. Some say she might be stepping down now so that she would not suffer a humiliating loss in October. At home, her popularity is reportedly at its lowest since 2017. 

But Ardern, who used to be a DJ and a cashier at a fish-and-chips restaurant, and who was named in her high school yearbook as Most Likely to Become Prime Minister, is also said to be genuine, authentic, and transparent – no public or private version of herself. And she says she is tired. 

“Politicians are human,” she said. “We give all that we can for as long as we can, and then it’s time. And for me, it’s time.”

“I had hoped that I would find what I need to carry on over that period. But unfortunately, I haven’t, and I would be doing a disservice to New Zealand to continue.”

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Over in Davos, Switzerland, another head of state claims to be a reluctant leader – at least at first. 

During a one-on-one session with World Economic Forum President Børge Brende on January 18, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said he had to become a politician upon their family’s return from exile because the legacy of his father and their own survival required that somebody go into politics. 

In his 20s, he said, as he was “coming out of university,” he had seen much of the sacrifices that his father was making such that he did not want to follow in Marcos Sr.’s footsteps. 

But life takes you places you do not expect to go, he said. 

Overall, during the meetings in Switzerland, Marcos Jr. said all the right things that a good leader is supposed to say to “sell” his country to the international community. 

He extolled our young and able workforce, highlighted the need for upskilling and retooling, said that unemployment was going down, committed to focus on the micro, small and mid-sized enterprises, (MSME), acknowledged the contributions of the BPO, mining, and semiconductor sectors as well as OFW remittances, acknowledged that the bureaucracy had to become digital, resolved to learn from the lessons of the pandemic, specifically on the weaknesses of our economy, and announced that the government would get into more partnerships with the private sector especially in infrastructure projects. 

He professed that national interest would be the sole determinant of our foreign policy. He is employed by neither Beijing nor Washington, he said.

In Davos, there was no mention of the high prices of basic commodities, the practical unattainability of onions, nothing about the deplorable state of public transportation, nothing of the taxes that remain unacknowledged and unpaid, and nothing of the dark days that Filipinos endured during Martial Law. 

The dark days that Mr. Marcos did mention were the time that his family was in exile, uncertain if  they could ever come back. Interestingly, he said those were dark days for the country, too.

But they did come back. Oh, how they did. 

Watching the half-an-hour conversation between Marcos and Brende, one cannot help getting more than a whiff of entitlement to power as the Philippine president spoke, as if being in power were a birthright, as if he were compelled to save his father’s legacy, as if their family were superior to all other families in the land.

So when was it ever about the people, then? When is it? What happened to the desire to serve? 

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Alas, this is not a mindset peculiar to the Marcoses. Many prominent families in many parts of the country share the same sentiment about being in politics. This is why we have extended families in the branches of government, at the national and local levels. This is why provinces that have been under a family’s rule for so long have never progressed. This is why people are submissive and deferential to public officials instead of seeing them as people whose salaries they pay. This is why we have violence during elections.

This is why we find ourselves stuck in the same rut. Politicians think this way – and the tragedy is, we allow them to. We reward them with our adulation and our votes. 

On the contrary, it’s refreshing to see politicians who think of public office as a real job which they must carry out well and for which they are accountable. We wish there were more of those who do not see themselves, much less their families, as indispensable to the life of the nation. Despite their efforts and their intentions, they always know when their time is up. 

The rest, on the other hand, believe in eternity. – Rappler.com

Adelle Chua is assistant professor of journalism at the UP College of Mass Communication. Prior to joining the academe, she was a longtime opinion editor, editorial writer and opinion columnist for the Manila Standard. 

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