I was wrong.
For decades, I’ve been taught that leadership is about one single person on top. And in order for me to be there, I will have to beat every person in the way whatever it takes.
And because that’s what I knew, I competed and fought my way to the top. Sometimes, I would win. Many times, I would lose. Either way, the result didn’t make me happy. After all, knowing that I have beaten someone is as equally as heart-breaking as having beaten by someone.
Nobody wins in competition. However, the leadership concept that we have grown up with for a long time encourages people to compete in different levels, at different times, in different styles. If you want to be a leader, you’ve got to be on top, in front, and in-charge. It goes on and on. And not only that. The same competitor’s mindset cascades down to the very last man in the organization. It wears down everyone.
No wonder many leaders today say it’s lonely at the top. It is when you’re alone and even so when you realize you’re the one who put yourself into it. Or maybe it’s the system that allows you to be there. Now, you’re trapped. You’re lonely but you’ll have to stay there and defend your position from whoever aims to steal it from you. As it happens, the people under you will never stop challenging you for whatever it’s worth. You’ll keep on hanging on until either you’re exhausted or it’s simply time to go.
In the end, nobody goes out of it unhurt. Yet, we are made to believe that a healthy competition is good for an organization because it brings out the best in us. In reality though, this leadership philosophy breaks the leader, then the people, and in the long run the entire organization.
Our leadership today creates a culture of self-centeredness, individualism, doubt, and competition—a perfect recipe for an inevitable disaster where everyone becomes a casualty. But in the grand scheme of things, this is not even the original Filipino leadership philosophy. It was imposed on us. We embraced it. And because we got used to it, we forgot our own leadership art.
Prior to European invasion of the Philippines in the 1500s and Americans in the late 1800s, we already had our own unique leadership structure. In fact, it built one of the world’s most advanced mega-structures in the ancient times. Learning about it can shed light on our leadership challenges today. It explains what brought us in this chaotic leadership situation and why we can’t get away from it.