There is no leader if not for the follower influenced to take the road he leads. It is the follower that makes a leader. Through human history, leadership has evolved in its essence and form, but leadership finds meaning in how the leader and the followers become one to achieve the victories in their times. The pandemic experience has nurtured the nature of the “being and the becoming” of leaders. The crisis became the shining moments for some of the great leaders, like the great sailors navigating rough seas.
The leader and the followers become one in the three domains of their interdependent relationship. These are the shared values, the vision and the culture. These became the central theme of the learning session moderated by this writer during the Second Quezon City Business Conference of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry—Quezon City held virtually recently. Panelists were some of the finest leaders during this pandemic.
The vision beyond sight
Influence is like the magical power that puts the followers under the leader’s spell. The vision is the statement of the ideal state of the future, which, once shared by the leader to the followers, becomes a powerful source of influence. It gives the followers the answer to the question “where are we going?” Such willingness to follow shall be based on the “wanting to get there too.” The vision aligns with the mission, which answers the “why we are getting there?”
Wilcon Depot started as a 60-square-meter hardware store in 1977 with a dream to build outlets across the country. Now, Wilcon has 61-store network in key cities. COO Rosemarie “Rose” Ong started from the ground as purchasing officer and confirmed that the legacy was a product of a vision that came to reality—Building Big Dreams. Seemingly governed by the same law of nature, the fruition of the vision knows no shortcuts. The vision was shared with strong-willed ladies and gentlemen with integrity, passion and determination. And the rest is history.
The Wilcon WIN formula not only transforms vision to reality, but also enables the company to survive and thrive meaningfully through the pandemic. WIN stands for withstand, innovate, and navigate. Withstand is a goal to remain undamaged through its most important asset and stakeholders—people. Innovation changed the way Wilcon do things. While on a lockdown, they engaged in rethinking the business continuity plans to future-proof the business. And thereafter, continued to serve the market through the various digital transformation and execution of safety and health protocols. Navigation starts with the plan on the road to take with the mind that Wilcon sell solutions, not products.
To Rose Ong, who is also president of the Philippine Retailers Association, Covid-19 has changed us and will stay with us forever, and it is important that we all learn from this crisis. She pointed out that the unity in hope and in nurturing the value of compassion to make humanity adaptive enough so that together we conquer and win.
The value of values
Values are fundamental beliefs found in the core of persons and organizations that guide decisions, priorities and actions. To the leaders, the core values serve as the moral compass, a north star, to navigate the organization as one.
Jennylle “Yeng” Tupaz started as a staff in the Ayala Group and rose from the ranks to become the president of the Ayala Malls. She expounded on the five values or philosophy by which Ayala pursues entrepreneurial leadership, namely, mindfulness and critical thinking, maverick thinking, courage and conviction, commitment and malasakit (compassion), and trust.
Mindfulness and critical thinking as a pair of values is the conscious awareness of purpose, performance and impact of decision and action and, in the process, making use of available data to keep the examination of the situation well grounded. She cited concretely, as in the case of Nuvali, that the balance of form and function is like the deliberate intent for sustainable living by selling only 50% so the rest becomes open spaces and greenery. Such value unearths opportunities by which one can improve the various facets of the business. It allows keener awareness on how to connect and relate to internal and external forces to pivot, innovate and remain relevant.
Maverick thinking is derived from the realization that, while we need to value tradition, we cannot behave in the same way every time. With transformation happening around us, we end up questioning and challenging the status quo. She asserted that we need to confront reality that the world is increasingly more and more connected digitally as the pandemic only accelerated the shift to digital consumption and the new behaviors of the consumers are likely to stay.
After grounding of the idea comes the pounding to take the appetite for risk by refining the plans and bracing for execution after due diligence through the approval gates. Then the questions of readiness will have to be answered.
Courage and conviction are values that boldly transform vision to reality and commit to it. It is when the leader rallies the organization to serve the stakeholders. Commitment and malasakit manifest as everyone hold dear the shared responsibility to care, not only to make profit but also to provide jobs, keeping the organization productively engaged and the business going and growing.
Finally, Yeng Tupaz emphasized on trust—a deeply ingrained most treasured battle cry that is permanently whispered in the head of everyone. It is anchored on integrity and needs to be taken to heart.
The nature of culture
The culture sets the contexts for everything that an organization does. Strong organizations are characterized by strongly held and widely shared set of cultures that are supported by strategy and structure. Culture manifests itself in a variety of ways, including leadership, as well as in the environment, processes and policies that enable the organization to live its mission on a day to day toward the vision. Culture is the unspoken force that moves and the unwritten rules that guide the organization.
To Jose “Jomag” Magsaysay Jr., the multi-awarded entrepreneur of the multi-awarded brand Potato Corner, at the core of the Potato Corner corporate DNA is the culture of giving and sharing. Leadership is based on the situation. Audacious leadership, a willingness to take risk, is a trailblazing attitude towards running the business to be in the forefront. The culture is set to do its own rules.
The audacity in the Potato Corner culture is always anchored on caring and sharing for the franchisees and noticeably the caring culture always comes back, and in circles. Before the 1998 financial crisis, Potato Corner has over a hundred stores. It was reduced to less than 40 stores, mostly our franchisees, after the crisis. The franchisees took the bullet for Potato Corner. And during the pandemic, the same thing happens. During ordinary times, the company takes care of the franchisees. During crisis, franchisees take care of the company. That is in the Potato Corner culture, embedded in its DNA.
The leaders are born out of what they are able to deliver as results of their actions, and then expand the modelling influence and earn the essential trust to lead. Eventually, leaders are able to gather and rally divergent people around to trust themselves and each other and move in unison toward what they collectively believe in. When everyone shares the core values, culture is made alive at all times, the vision remains the guiding compass by all means and the legacy is built to withstand the tests of times. And the footprints are traced back to the point where the leader and the followers become one.
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