Stepping back

Published July 7, 2019, 12:14 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat



Dr. Jun Ynares
Dr. Jun Ynares

“How does it feel to be out of the limelight?”

That was one of the first questions asked me last week as I officially became a “former” mayor of Antipolo City.

I sensed that there was something not quite right with the premise of the question. It seemed to presume that I had deliberately stepped into center-stage, grabbed the limelight, and relished it. Close friends know that the opposite is true. I am more of a backstage worker. I prefer to be part of a team which ensures that the production runs smoothly and that the stars in the cast are able to play their roles well.

Inspirational speaker Lloyd Luna, former president of the Philippine Association of Professional Speakers (PAPS), calls it “Stepback Leadership.”

I have not read Lloyd’s book which he has written about this. He has not yet gifted me with a free, autographed copy. My understanding and appreciation of the concept was shared to me by one of his associates, international communication coach Archie Inlong, my fellow Antipoleño.

Lloyd’s concept of Step-back Leadership is interesting.

He explains that this could have been the original Filipino style of leadership. Here, the leader “steps back,” puts his people at the center, empowers them, and then makes sure that the credit for any and all outstanding feat is given to the entire community.

Lloyd provides convincing evidence to the existence and power of Step-back Leadership — the Banaue Rice Terraces.

He points out that the creation of this centuries-old wonder of the world has never been credited to one single person. The credit has been given to the noble and mighty Filipinos of the Cordilleras who carved the terraces out of a mountain range and transformed this product of agricultural genius into a marvelous work of art.

Lloyd’s point stands on solid ground. A masterpiece like the rice terraces must have had a mastermind — a designer, an architect, and a powerful leader who rallied the people of the Cordilleras behind a grand vision. There must have been effective project supervisors who orchestrated the motion of the people who provided the labor. There must have been someone or some leaders who made sure that the result of the collective toil of the terraces’ builders conformed to certain quality standards.

Yet, none of these leaders have had their names carved out in a monument somewhere.

They are anonymous. Instead, the credit has been given by history to a race, to a people. Those who led them “stepped back.” They were never in the limelight. Instead, they placed their people and the community at the center.

Lloyd contrasts the leadership style behind the terraces to the one used by the builders of other historic monuments: for example, the Pyramids of Giza (credited to the Pharaoh Khufu), and, the Great Wall of China (credited to the Emperor Qin Shi Huang).

In many ways, that was the same leadership style used as we worked together for the transformation of Antipolo City over the past six years. It was step-back leadership. We stepped back. We allowed the power of a shared vision – and the might of the collective talents of our city hall staff, of our fellow Antipoleños, and of the various sectors which comprise our community – to create the Antipolo of today.

Our experience in Antipolo shows that much happens when the leader steps back.

Stepping back creates a lot of room for creative ideas. For new perspectives. For innovative ways of accomplishing a task.

Stepping back optimizes the value of available talents. It allows the leader to see and appreciate the fact that Filipinos have an abundance of talents which usually remain untapped when the “limelight leadership” casts too big a shadow on them.

Stepping back is not the same as “stepping aside.” The leader does not step aside to relinquish responsibility and accountability.

It is not the same as “stepping out.” The leader does not abandon the task.

So, what’s the answer to the question, how does it feel to be out of the limelight?

My answer is, I have never really been there.

The limelight has been on the men and women of Antipolo’s City Hall who implemented our shared vision for high standards of public service. It has been on the entrepreneurs of the city who transformed it from a bedroom community into a preferred destination for investments. It has been on the families who chose to make Antipolo their home and who, in the process, attracted the presence of world-class health, recreational and educational facilities.

In the limelight was the vision – the shared dream.

That shared dream was created not by one person but by an entire community.

*For feedback, please email it to [email protected] or send it to #4 Horse Shoe Drive, Beverly Hills Subdivision, Bgy. Beverly Hills, Antipolo City, Rizal.