Lingcod Bayani – Servant Hero

The final speech at the conference was billed as “an inspirational story”. It was not what I expected.

As well as informative and inspiring plenary sessions and ten concurrent presentations delivered at the HR Symposium 2014 in Cebu, we’d had culture and wonderful entertainment with a troupe of traditional dancers and a choral group over dinner the night before. We’d had fun learning about opportunity and possibility with an “engaging activity” and we’d developed unity though orchestrated drumming – and let me tell you 1500 people banging, shaking and rattling make a lot of noise!

What I imagined was coming was a celebrity motivational speaker who would lift the audience to even higher enthusiasm. And that’s exactly what happened, just not in the way I’d anticipated.

Lights and music pulsated in the massive ballroom, it could have been Las Vegas. The unseen MC boomed an excited introduction for the speaker and the audience applauded in the electric atmosphere. Yet, instead of hype and bounce, a quietly dignified gentleman in traditional Philippine dress, made his way to the stage slowly as people stopped him to shake his hand. Many members of the audience stood in ovation as he climbed the steps.

Rogelio L. Singsong, Secretary, Department of Public Works and Highways, in the Philippines has transformed his organization. His story is indeed inspirational.

Anyone who has tried to change organizational culture knows how hard it is. Add money, power, corruption and physical danger and you have an almost impossible task. Yet this is the battle the civil servants of the Philippines are winning. Here in Australia we think of “red tape” merely as time consuming bureaucratic rules, requirements and paperwork but in developing nations it can mean opportunities for corrupt “fixers” to cut through quickly – for a fee or favour.  Transformation to proper governance, transparency and accountability takes resolve, strength and dedication.

Mr. Singsong had left a career of achievement and senior roles in the government sector and its machinations behind him. In the private sector he was highly paid, respected, got results and still had time for his family, spirituality and his beloved golf. He’d been approached to return to public service but had declined. He was on a spiritual retreat where, in what Mr. Singsong calls a divine coincidence, the priest spoke about “heroic leadership”, a path of self-sacrifice and serving others joyfully, when yet another call from the president’s office came, requesting him to take the helm of a most disliked and distrusted government agency, Public Works and Highways. His religious mentor’s message in his ears and in his heart, Mr. Singsong said he’d pray on it. Despite resistance from family and very real risks, prayer and meditation led him to the conviction that he must take the path of service to the Filipino people.

Vision, Mission, Goals

Mr. Singsong’s first task was to collaboratively develop the vision of the organisation, gaining employee trust and input to envision a positive future. He then elicited the mission, the purpose of the organization and the values people would commit to. They then set specific goals and targets and engaged all staff in actions to achieve them. People who could not embrace the new model of transparency and accountability left.

The mantra of Public Works and Highways became “delivering the right project for the right price and the right quality, in the right time and using the right people”.

  •  Since then the results achieved by the 19,000 people of this department include:
  • Paving 2,800 kilometers of national roads
  • Fixing 2,678 kilometers of bridges
  • Completing more projects with less people
  • Saving 28 billion pesos (about AUD $700 million)
  • Replaced politicized patronage with promotion from within based on merit
  • Improved public perception rating

Leading Change

Rogelio L. Singsong is one of a growing number of heroic leaders in the civil service of the Philippines. His personal sacrifices have been great. He has lost his privacy, has less time with his family, never plays golf, is financially worse off and requires personal security in order to “serve God and country, joyfully”. His heroic leadership means walking the talk, leading by example, consistently living the values and principles espoused. He sees human resources not as a staff function but strategic.

Chairman of the Civil Service Commission, Francisco T. Duque III pointed out that ASEAN integration calls for a Filipino global leader and the responsibility for developing leaders to international standards rests on the shoulders of HR. Programs to institutionalize meritocracy and excellence, performance management standards, cutting edge leadership competencies and public organizations as centres of excellence are all in progress.

There are 1.4 million civil servants in the Philippines. By developing leaders who embody the principle themselves, the aim is to make every one “Lingcod Bayani” a servant hero.

Disclosure: Ann Rolfe was a speaker at the HR Symposium 2014 and guest of the Philippine Australian Human Resources and Organizational Development Facility.

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About Ann Rolfe

Ann Rolfe is internationally recognised as Australia's leading specialist in mentoring, and is available for speaking, training and consulting. Here Ann shares her knowledge and allows you to ask your most pressing questions about mentoring.

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