1 Listen in order to lead. It’s rare to find leaders that truly listen; that is one trait of Sen. Bam Aquino that inspires me the most. I learned the concept of active listening for our organization development work back in college, and so when I met the Senator, he struck me as someone who truly listened. He was a social entrepreneur then, and already had several other accomplishments. But he would always make sure there was time for us to share our thoughts, even if we were the least experienced stakeholders in the room. To this day, and even during the most difficult of times, he always maintains a listening and caring posture.
2 Passion trickles down. Aside from the ability to listen and empathize, another set of traits I find inspiring in the Senator is his capacity for wonder, passion, and rigor. I know of dozens of leaders who have the capacity for wonder, especially for what is possible and meaningful. Many are also infectiously passionate about their work, but leaders with a sustained capacity for rigor are hard to find. All of us who work with Sen. Aquino can attest to his diligence, and his meticulous eye for detail. It can be intimidating (to live up to his expectations in the workplace), and to this day, I still struggle in keeping up. But how I wish we have more leaders who are as thorough.
3 Ensure effective meetings. Typical meetings are thorough and concise, but always with enough time for even the least confident persons in the room to share their thoughts. A favorite tip I learned from him is building a toolkit of techniques that you can deploy to make sure that meetings start and end on the right note. This has proved useful when facilitating meetings of our own with other offices.
4 Challenge limitations. I always had this misconception that if only government had more money for this or plowed more resources for that, then the problem would be solved. We often underestimate the size of government, and so we tend to forget that its sheer enormity is also its constraint. But if designed carefully, the government’s size can be a force for good and there is nothing else out there that can compete against it in terms of scale. Working with Sen. Aquino has shown me that government can be designed more thoughtfully, even with limited resources.
5 Know when to delegate, lead, and participate. Back in 2014, we were able to pass the GoNegosyo Law to promote enterprise development in the Philippines. Sen. Aquino wanted to make sure this law was implemented as intended. So we formed a team and designed a series of activities with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and many others to oversee the rollout of this new policy. To my surprise, Senator would attend these activities himself and fully participate in the modules alongside entrepreneurs, bureaucrats, and others. His active presence during these events affirmed his commitment to the new law and inspired many others to commit as much. Today, there are now more than 500 Negosyo Centers established by DTI and its partners as mandated by the law, and servicing more than a million new and existing entrepreneurs.
Dozens of leaders have the capacity for wonder, especially for what is possible and meaningful… but leaders with a sustained capacity for rigor are hard to find.
SEN. BAM AQUINO: 2016 in Review
Committee on Education, Culture and the Arts
Committee on Science and Technology
Committee on Finance
17 LAWS PASSED by the end of the 16th Congress
108 BILLS FILED for the 17th Congress
3 COMMITTEE REPORT SPONSORED for the 17th Congress
23 RESOLUTIONS FILED for the 17th Congress
By the end of the 16th Congress
RA 10644: Go Negosyo Act
RA 10642: Philippine Lemon Law
RA 10668: Foreign Ships Co-loading Act
RA 10679: Youth Entrepreneurship Act
RA 10693: Microfinance NGOs Act
RA 10742: SK Reform Law
RA 10744: Credit Surety Fund Cooperative Act
RA 10756: Election Service Reform Act
RA 10754: An Act Expanding the Benefits of Persons with Disabilities
RA 10755: An Act Authorizing Punong Brgy. to Administer Oath
RA 10821: Children’s Emergency Relief and Protection Act
6 Public service, like leadership, is unique to the individual. I’ve learned that not all politicians are alike, the same way that no two humans are alike. It is possible to find a public servant you can respect and willingly work for and still do some lasting good. I did not appreciate this before entering government. But there truly are more good people than bad. And that sometimes, all they need is permission to innovate. You will be amazed at the level of resourcefulness and passion many of our government workers have.
7 Not every fight can be won, you must persevere. Working in government can sometimes feel terrible and overwhelming, as we have had our share of disappointments and challenges as a team, but Senator Aquino would always remind us that being part of something as big as this (working in government and public service) is a privilege. A recurring lesson from most of these challenges would be that “Lasting change takes time.” And also, “Choose your battles.” – KARL VENDELL SATINITIGAN
Editor’a note: Karl Vendell Satinitigan has been working with Sen. Bam Aquino for five years as Director II. He also heads the Senator’s service design team that bridges key policy initiatives with assigned implementing agency and their partners.