Looking like a leader

Ben D. Kritz

Ben D. Kritz

A few days ago, people who are easily impressed were delighted by a supposedly candid photo posted on Facebook of Congresswoman Leni Robredo waiting for a bus to take her back home to Naga City after delivering a speech at an evening event.

“Just a simple gesture of how simple and humble a government official should be,” one commenter wrote, parroting the sentiment of hundreds of others. On the website Kicker Daily, which was almost nauseating in its praise for Rep. Robredo, comparison of her “candid” photo was made to one that staged on the MRT a few days earlier by the social media team of Interior Secretary Mar Roxas. In the latter instance, the team made the error of crediting the photo to itself, inadvertently exposing the image of Roxas riding the train like an ordinary citizen as a publicity stunt.

Secretary Mar and his PR team were pilloried for it, and rightly so; the man has made a habit of having himself photographed doing “ordinary” things—directing jeepney traffic, driving a pedicab, carrying sacks of vegetables—that many now understandably wonder if he spends more time dreaming up ways to look like an Average Guy than actually doing his job.

Madame Robredo seems to be flirting with falling into the same trap. The photo of her waiting for the bus, according to Robredo’s own caption, was taken by her “friend,” who is reportedly actually a member of her Congressional staff. (An important caveat, however: Despite being assured by several people that the photographer is, indeed, one of Robredo’s staffers, I have not actually been able to verify that firsthand; the woman in question maintains a very discreet public profile.) Robredo herself posted the picture on her Facebook page, and in fact pointed out, “Yes, that is definitely me . . . . Definitely my worst angle, but can’t resist posting.”

It would have been charming, had the photo been taken by a stranger passing by; Robredo’s having the photo taken by her own companion (“friend” or “staff member” doesn’t make much difference at this point) and then posting it herself, only a day or two after floating the trial balloon to the local media that she is “mulling” a run for Senate in 2016, sends an entirely different message. One that screams, “Hey, look how much like regular people I am! Vote for me!”

For someone in a leadership position, there is a thin line between “appearing human” and “appearing to try too hard.” One of my colleagues at Get Real Philippines describes it as a “malady of treating something ordinary as something special.” Indeed, the discovery that a leader is otherwise a normal person who does normal things is interesting, and makes people feel connected on a personal level.

But it is a discovery that has a genuine positive impact only when it is actually a “discovery” and not “self-promotion.” After all, there is nothing inherently extraordinary about riding a bus—millions of people do it every day—but when someone like Leni Robredo points out that she’s riding the bus, she’s sending the message that she thinks it’s extraordinary, which in turn, only confirms her awareness of the social distance between the leader and the led, and presents quite the opposite image of the “humble public servant” she apparently intended.

That social distance exists for any leader, whether one is in politics, in business, or in any other kind of organization. Except for one’s own family and close personal friends, it defines the relationship with others, therefore if one wants to “manage” that image, it must be done in the context of one’s role. In her post, Leni Robredo mentioned that she was on her way home from making a “Freedom Speech” at the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom; given her role as a legislator, then, was waiting for the bus in front of the Shell gas station the most important or relevant thing she did that evening?

Probably not. There is a big difference between trying to be a leader, and trying to look like one; not everyone will succeed at the former, but absolutely no one ever succeeds at the latter. It is a basic lesson that some of this country’s “leaders” apparently have yet to grasp.



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  1. nice try for a surviving article writer! at least your potshot made it with more than 3 comments unlike your other trivial articles, some even none.

    Potshot – a criticism made without careful thought and aimed at a handy target for attack. (So called because such a shot is fired by a hunter whose main purpose is to “get food for the pot”)

    you can try some other business topics instead which only requires your narrow opinion.

  2. Its very unfair for congresswoman leni to be accused of staging that photograph. Before the author of this article had commented regarding the picture, he should have inquired whether mam leni is commuting manila to bicol using the bus? The fact is she is. If you follow the activities of mam leni, i am proud to say that she served her constituents well because of her hands on approarch of looking after them by directly talking to them and looking at the actual situation in her district.. And also on keeping up with her speaking engagement and meetings. Ang tanong ko sa author, kasalanan ba na and isang congressman na sumakay sa bus?

  3. PersonaNonGrata on

    What would you rather see? Politicians with entourage in SUVs roaming the city streets with lights and blinkers as if they own the streets? Throng of bodyguards? Private jets? If you are not used to seeing public servants actually SERVING the public and just living a simple life and so grounded… don’t come to Naga! Stay in your own rotten world and patronize your own rotten so called “leaders”. This is “talangka” mentality at its finest.

  4. Written by someone who obviously does not know her personally. We were UP dormmates for so many years and the simple person that I knew Leni to be back then is still true to this day. We met up for a get-together last month and I can definitely say she’s still as simple and down-to-earth as before. The fact that she is a testament to her innate honest character. She is not a dirty, scheming politician. She is a public servant, in the truest sense of the word. Have you taken a look at her proposed bills yet? Her efforts to help her constituents? All you saw was that picture and you wrote up a whole article about how she’s probably scheming for a higher office.

  5. Jaime Hernandez on

    So she rides the bus & was posted on FB…what’s the big deal? Napoles has 33 luxury cars & billions of stolen money. That’s the big deal.

  6. The whole thing started with the stereotype in local governance where the executive learns how to document plans, even when these plans are not workable. The act of documenting plans provides basis for recognition and awards. Some executives execute their plans without fanfare. The credit for plan documentation descends to posterity, ir something happens, providing undeserved laurels which history would be unkind to rectify. This should place the article in context.

  7. The late Sec. Robredo, Leni’s late husband they say is an extraordinary person, honest, sincere and nationalist. If Sec. Robredo is like what they say he is, does it necessarily mean that his wife Leni is like him? Do not think so. For sure Leni Robredo won her seat in Congress because of the death of her late husband, so much like PNoy who would not have been “President” if Corazon Aquino is still alive today. Sec. Robredo’s credit cannot be transferred to others, even to his wife unless we are a monarchy or we are a country like North Korea. If Leni Robredo is truly a good leader, she will not have dared to show herself in facebook, almost glorifying herself. As the Good Book says, do not let your left hand know what your right hand will do is self explanatory.

    • victor m. hernandez on

      Since you are at it,i.e., bilical passages, here’s another one Let your light shine upon men. You do not put a light in a bushel but on a mountain top.. so that your good deeds will be known, will be emulated, and will glorify God. But of course, posing with your ack at the camera, and not your best angle, is definitely not one of those ‘good deeds’. Nice try, anyway.

  8. All government workers from senators to office workers should be made to commute to work without a car so they see the problems first hand day in day out then & only then will they come up with ideas to improve traffic in this country. Leave it as it is & nothing will change as it doesnt affect them at all. Yes they may get stuck in traffic but they arnt driving they sit in the back oblivious to all the traffic problems.

  9. Two points:

    1. People who are easily impressed are also easy to frustrate. They make decision in haste, without thinking deeply. They readily join the band wagon. And sadly, their decisions affect our country for so long already.

    2. People who end their statement with a period and break it afterwards should not be trusted. If you say you won’t run for a public position, just stick with it otherwise just keep your silence.

  10. opinion reader on

    I agree with this article, before we make a comment that was posted in social media, lets always look at both sides of the coin or gather some more info. Hirap kasi, lagi one side lang ang nakikita ng tao, comment agad para maging “in”. Isip-isip din. At sa mga gustong gumawa ng “gimi” kung pwede yung totoo lang po at natural, sila na nga ang nagsabi na mabilis kumalat at maganda at panget na balita sa social media, ingat din baka mag backfire lang…

    • Opinion Reader, your message goes first to you, I think. Look comprehensively first. This is really the way Leni does things, it’s not gimik at all. I’ve been a witness to it.

  11. Doesn’t seem real to me. She came from giving a speech.From another post, she was supposed to be wearing yellow flipflps ! When you are a guest of honor you give due respect to your host and dress properly, and why is she all alone waiting for a bus? Bus stops are hardly ever empty in the provinces. I have heard people talking about her running for Pres or VP with Grace Poe, supposedly women’s party

    • Make Leni different from the rest. This is really the way she does things even before she became an elected congressional representative. Context-wise, she was from McKinley Hills that evening, she said she changed attire before and after the event, which explained why she was in denim pants in the photo. She wasn’t alone also, that’s why she credited the photo to someone else. Take it from me who lives in Naga. Take it from me who witnesses everyday the way Leni leads. People talk, yes, that she run for higher position; but her constituents here also ask her to remain; for now she just does her job. Unlike other politicians, yes, she takes the bus, not for a show whatsoever, but it’s the way she usually travels, without escorts. I’ve been in the same public bus with her to Naga City a couple of times, I’ve seen her get off at Naga terminal several times. Take it from me, Felisa, what you see is very real. Perhaps, we’re just not used to politicians like her. But it’s very real.

    • Yadda! Yadda! Have you ever booked and reserved a bus seat to Bicol? That’s how exactly it works. You book ahead of time and wait at a certain pick up / time & place designated along Edsa. That explains why CW LR was waiting for her bus. So people look before you leap! Stop judging her, she is a very humble person just like the rest of her family. She is doing her job well as a public servant!

  12. i agree with this article.. another thing is how about her security/safety, if indeed she buses, and alone? with her position in government, she will be a good bait for those with criminal intents!

    • Believe it, she does regularly (almost every weekend) travel on the bus, even the criminals respect a honest politician. Which might explain why most of them need security guards :-)

      Come to Naga and criticize her publicly….

      You would probably not survive LOL

    • It’s her regular thing… to travel by public transpo (bus not even by plane) with no bodyguards in tow. I think she’s not scared of getting harmed, people from her place love her to much to cause her any harm.

    • Point here isn’t whether she really uses public transportation everyday or not, as the article pointed out that is a perfectly normal thing to do. The point here is, if she really what she says she is. (In response to John Whelan and vanj)