Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Aquino team is on a losing streak

Rep. Walden Bello is only the first fan and ally to abandon the ship. Others will likely follow.
This is what happens to sports teams and athletes when they are on a losing streak. The players stop trying. The fans stop going.
Am I being facetious here? Nope. I am underlining the reality that that we Filipinos and our country are caught up in a cycle of failure and decline under President Aquino, and it will get progressively worse before things get better when he leaves office in June next year.
Lessons from Harvard
In her fascinating and original book on management, Confidence, Dr. Rosabeth Moss Kanter of Harvard Business School documents the strong connection of management in business and politics, with sports management.
The link is vivid and apt, because her subject is “how winning streaks and losing streaks begin and end.”
The lady says she picked sports for discussion “not just for its intrinsic interest (I am a big fan myself) but also for widely applicable lessons” from the great or faltering teams she examined.
“Sports is a near-universal source of metaphors for leadership and management, because it is a good microcosm for examining patterns or winning and losing and seeing the elements of exceptional leadership and teamwork,” she explained.
I was impelled to look up Kanter’s book because of what she had written about the dynamics of decline, and what it takes to restore confidence and stop all the losing.
The dynamics of decline
The dynamics of decline, says Kanter, are remarkably similar whether we are talking of governments, corporations or sports teams.
She writes: “Underlying the problems of distressed organizations are pathological patterns that are self-perpetuating and mutually reinforcing. Decline is not a state it is a trajectory.
“Losing teams, distressed organizations, declining empires, and even depressed people often run downhill at an accelerating pace. Common reactions to failure prevent success and make losing in the future more likely. Unchecked cycles of decline can easily turn into death spirals. Problems are exacerbated by responses that make them ever harder to solve.
“Secrecy , blame, isolation avoidance, lack of respect, and feelings of helplessness create a culture that makes the situation worse and makes change seem impossible.”
Once a cycle of decline is established, it is hard to simply call a halt, put on the brakes, and reverse direction. The system has momentum on its own.
Trajectory of decline
Kanter could just as well have been describing the Aquino government during the past two years, because it has been on a trajectory of decline since 2013.
The marks of a serious losing streak afflicting the Aquino administration have been pronounced since the country was hit hard by typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan in November 2013.
It lifted a bit when Pope Francis visited the country in January this year. But the good feeling generated by the visit quickly dissipated because of President Aquino’s ungracious welcome for the Pope in Malacañang and his subsequent and long-running quarrel with the Catholic bishops.
Finally, when the Mamasapano tragedy occurred last January 25, President Aquino bungled everything by lying shamelessly to the nation, and by laying all responsibility on a designated scapegoat.
The lying was impelled mainly by his anxiety to get Congress to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).
Ironically, Aquino’s dishonesty is destroying virtually all hope that the law will be passed.
Representatives ad senators are all under pressure to give up on the Bangsamoro project.
The threats of war erupting uttered by Miriam Ferrer and the MILF only serve to clog legislative arteries for passage.
The key is accountability
So how then can a losing streak be stopped and reversed?
Surprisingly, Professor Kanter uses exactly the same word as Filipino protestors and critics of the president: accountability.
The cornerstones of confidence in an organization are accountability, collaboration and initiative. When they are replaced by a culture of anger and blame, vicious cycles are set in motion.
The first step in change is understanding.
In an insightful passage, Kanter writes:
“Accountability is the first cornerstone of confidence, a pillar of winning streaks. When accountability crumbles – when troubles provoke denial, or people cover up their own mistakes or find an enemy to blame – winning streaks end.
“Accountability is missing in losing streaks, when people stop talking, stop practicing, and stop trying, they become more accustomed to finding fault than facing facts. To shift the cycle from losing to winning, leaders must develop accountability – the discipline and responsibility of the best athletes and the best teams.”
Others have said as much that the key is for president Aquino to accept and apologize for his accountability in the Mamasapano tragedy.
But facing facts and acknowledging his failure are things that are totally alien to Aquino’s character and background.
This is a pity because confession could be good for his soul and our well-being.
Kanter introduces a beguiling twist to the biblical saying that the truth will set us free. She says: “It is said that truth sets us free; it also helps us win.”
And she cites the example of Duke’s men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, who felt that telling the truth was essential to the success of his legendary winning teams.
“We have a rule on our team that we always look each other in the eye and tell the truth,” he explained.
When prayer doesn’t work
In part II of this series, I will return to Ms Kanter’s ideas about reversing a losing streak, and how we can use them to repair our badly damaged government and nation.
When President Aquino tried prayer last Monday to rescue himself from the crisis, he was like a desperate gambler with little left to lose and who goes for broke by betting all on the next roll of the dice.
Of course, despite Brother Eddie Villanueva’s histrionics, the invocation of prayer power didn’t work.
I read somewhere that prayer used for patently selfish ends is not usually answered.
It means no relief just yet for the President, and more anxious days and nights for our hapless nation.

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