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A cognitive standard to measure candidates by

(Article published in the May 9, 2007 issue of Manila Standard Today)  

To those not completely satisfied with the criteria by which certain well-meaning groups and institutions have selected the candidates they have endorsed to their constituencies for the elections next week, I suggest reading Leading Minds, subtitled An Anatomy of Leadership, by Howard Gardner.

Candidates vying for our votes on May 14, whether they admit it or not, propose to us that they be our leaders.  Hence, it is a valid question to ask whether this or that candidate has what it takes to be a leader.  Only thereafter need we try  to foresee, with fear in our hearts, whether this or that candidate will be a good leader.

 There are, of course, many theories of what a leader is, as many as the yearly crop of seminars and books, of striking titles and arresting covers, some blatantly designed to do no more than to part a fool with his money.  What Gardner adds to the cacophony of views on what makes a leader is his cognitive approach to leadership.

 “Cognitive,” the dictionary defines as relating to knowing, or learning, or, in a broader context, something to do with the knowing facility of the mind.  Gardner theorizes that “our understanding of the nature and processes of leadership is most likely enhanced as we come to understand better the arena in which leadership necessarily occurs, --namely, the human mind” (Italics in the original). 

 Now that assumes, of course, that both leader and followers have minds.  I know that my former student Teddy Boy Locsin would have a mind to contest that.  In the height of the aborted suspension of Makati Mayor Jojemar Binay last Friday, he seemed to suggest that the administration-backed candidate for Jojo’s post is, at the very least, mind-challenged.  But since over the week-end, the process servers decided, rather mindlessly, to defer action until after elections, let the two negatives result in the positive affirmation that everyone in politics, the leader and his followers, each has a mind.  

 Learning Minds is an examination of how eleven individuals, who are accepted by most people as "leaders" such as Pope John XXIII, Marin Luther King, Jr. and Margaret Thatcher, had characterized and resolved important life issues in their own minds, and, in parallel or in turn, altered the minds of their variouas audiences to effect desired changes.

At the end of the enterprise, Gardner, among other things, identifies six “constants” that were present in each of the cases of the eleven. These constants are what lawyers call redundantly in their trade as “essential requisites”, features that must be present before a phenomenon called a “leader” can be said to exist.  For now, I limit myself to three which, in my view, are by far the most relevant to us on the eve of choosing our leaders,

 The first, is called the leader’s “story”. The “story” is what the leader relates about himself, over a period of time, from time to time, linguistically and by deeds.  For every leader, as with every human being, it is a work in process, told and retold, revised and revisited, as and when the circumstances so require. 

 However, since words and actions emanate from a central self, the “story” eventually achieves a certain coherence or a unified impression about the person of the leader.

  The choice of what “story” a leader decides to relate, or is eventually known by, is crucial to the reach and breadth of the influence he will be able to exert on the second constant, the audience.  For instance, Kiko Pangilinan’s story, capsulized in his TV ad, is one of being a man of conviction, explaining thereby why he ran as independent.  Others portray themselves as advocates of specific sectors, the women for instance. 

 The audience is the mass of people whom the leader wants to be his followers.  Since the audience is composed of various groups, often holding contrary interests, the more inclusive the story, the more it glosses over the interests that divide the members of the audience.  Since politics is supposedly addition (not necessarily, the dagdag in dagdag-bawas), most stories are inclusive, if not all-embracing.  We thus hear of candidates trying to fool us by seeking to present themselves, their respective stories, as everything for everybody.

 Remarkably, certain stories of candidates are on the surface exclusionary but in substance inclusionary.  Thus, Alfredo Lim’s campaign to clean up Manila and to apply the law with fear or favor is an effective story despite the seeming exclusionary note against crooks and lawbreakers.  In reality, Lim is telling voters who are sick and tired of what they see in Manila’s current administration, that he is on the side of the angels.

  Similarly, Kiko Pangilinan’s “I am an independent” stance  because he wanted to be consistent with what he had said and done, with respect to GMA and Erap in the past, is (despite seemingly excluding the die hard followers of both GMA and Erap) in reality a rallying call to all those who, like me, detest political butterflies, derisively known as “balimbings,” some of whom are now in the line ups of both GO and TU.

 But, the mind of the audience, or the assent of the voter in an election, will not be won by a leader’s story if the third constant is not there, namely, “embodiment” or the living out by the leader of  his story.  The more consistent and coherent the embodiment is with the story, the greater the influence of the leader on his audience.  In an election, the more a candidate is known to be living consistently with what he says he is, the more likely are people to vote for him. 

 Conversely, a candidate whose political career is marked by seasonal changes of party and allegiance, as being pro-Marcos in times of martial law; pro-Cory after 1986; pro-Erap after FVR and then now pro-GMA, would be hard put telling a story of being steadfast in one’s beliefs.  Thus, we are bound to see his pitch focusing on “the record” glossing over the somersaults and flip-flops he had done to make that record.

 Of the eleven leaders studied by Gardner, most illustrative to Filipinos, of the powerful impact of the unity, or integrity, of story and embodiment is Pope John XXIII. His story, as pope, is aggiornamento, meaning, a renewal, or an updating, of the spirit of the Church.  And he lived his story.  He called the Second Vatican Council and for the first time people got acquainted with the word “ecumenical”.  He wrote Mater et Magistra welcoming reforms in the Church and Pacem in Terris asking West and East to reconcile.  We all are enjoying the benefits of his leadership up now.

 Would that we had choices in the likes of John XXIII.  But since we don’t, we have to be content with the material we have to work with here and now, and make the most of the limited choices we have.  Applying the cognitive test on candidates appears, at least to me, a good way of selecting those to whom I will entrust my granddaughter’s future.