Servant leadership in PPPs
In his book titled Servant Leadership (1977), Robert Greenleaf defined a new leadership approach. This is the type of leadership that could “future-proof” public-private partnership (PPP) arrangements, since it will ensure, hopefully, adherence to the “true north” of this development strategy. We need servant leaders and servant institutions.
All the stakeholders in a PPP, even the private sector proponent (PSP), must serve the people. If the public good for better quality of life is not the objective, the government will be remiss in its obligation, and the PPP strategy or project will fail sooner or later.
Servant leaders must possess certain traits. Some are highlighted here relative to PPPs.
(1) Take initiative. One of the traits of true servant leaders is initiative. Servants must be proactive and not sit idly by while the communities live in a poor or dismal quality of life. First necessary steps include having a vision, adopting PPP as a strategy, knowing the needs of the people and learning about PPPs.
(2) Focus on the goal. All throughout the process—from conceptualization, selection of PSP, award, construction and project implementation—the stakeholders must not lose sight of the goal.
(3) Be competent. Once PPP is set as a strategy, and a PPP project is seen as priority, government and the PSP must have the necessary competencies (financial, technical, regulatory, operations and maintenance) and must have the tenacity to pursue the project because it redounds to the public good.
(4) Listen and understand. Since PPP is for the people, the government and the PSP must talk to and listen to the people and understand their needs. A project that is not needed will not be used. A project that is not structured well will fail.
(5) Stir imagination. PPPs call for innovation. PPP advocates must stir the imagination of stakeholders who do not have an operative understanding of what a PPP is and the benefits of PPP. Those who have undertaken PPP projects may conduct round-table discussions to present their experiences in making a leap of imagination.
(6) Withdraw yourself. Reflection is key for servant leaders pushing PPPs. In pursuing PPPs, servant leaders must withdraw and reflect to resolve impasses in negotiations in the terms of the PPP contract. Some degree of detachment is needed. Rate adjustments and performance-based mechanisms must be resolved in favor of the public good.
(7) Persuade, not coerce. If only one stakeholder supports a PPP project, then it is bound to fail. None of the stakeholders should be forced to accept a PPP project. Persuasion and influence, not coercion or threats, are needed. The government must market and sell the idea so that the PSPs and the community will own and be involved in the PPP project.
(8) Foresight, please. Servant leaders must take stock of current resources, acknowledge the strengths and weaknesses of the organization, and plan and strategize. It takes foresight to see the future of a PPP project. Seeing water down the road today when water is not available requires foresight, which must be shared amongst all PPP stakeholders.
We are called to serve. Let us all be servants of the public.