Over the past couple of months, I’ve spent Monday afternoons at Dunearn Secondary School, together with a class of secondary one students. First and foremost, an honest confession – I know that my strength is with developing emerging leaders, so when KK told me that I had to stand-in for him for two sessions, I couldn’t help but to brace myself for the challenge of teaching 13 year olds. I like being around young people, but handling these especially restless students required a higher calling; I applaud KK as well as the school teachers, who have done it for years.
I took a gamble today and conducted an activity that I wasn’t really confident of pulling off or sure if it would succeed. I briefed the class on the six typical roles in a committee – chairperson, secretary, treasurer, publicity coordinator, logistics coordinator and programme coordinator – and got them to plan a fictitious event from scratch. The nominated chairperson in each group would choose from the following events to plan: rock concert, CCA open house, school excursion, iJourney camp, fun fair or sports day. They were given 25 minutes to nail this.
When I handed over the time to them, I was pleased to see how involved they were. I had expected the students to get rowdy and to lose interest but they were so engrossed in the planning and creative process; I had expected them to give up or ask a barrage of questions about the various roles but they grasp their functions pretty quickly. I had given each group an imaginary budget, but after seeing how absorbed they were, I upped their budget ten-fold to encourage them to dream even bigger and get even more creative; their budget calculations, though elementary, really caught me by surprise.
I was secretly delighted at their seriousness in accomplishing the given task. When it was time to present, each chairperson was given five minutes to describe everything the group had discussed; it was truly a sight to behold as every student listened attentively and responded enthusiastically to the wacky ideas tendered. I closed the session by sharing PK’s rags-to-riches story (founder of Nike) and drilled into them the importance of planning – especially if they desired to be successful. I drew parallels from the events-planning exercise and helped them to see that planning precedes success.
I sincerely hope that they caught it and would apply it into their lives. Frankly, I’ve never seen them paying such intense attention before. I gave them another five minutes to translate what they have learnt into fulfilling their childhood dreams. During this time of reflection, one (of the more serious) girls actually planned to move up from the normal technical to the normal academic stream by the end of the year to fulfill her dreams of becoming a rich businesswoman. My heart leaped for joy with her. Pardon the cliché, but if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
Today, these students taught me a lesson even as I shared my lesson with them – that if you instill belief in people by giving them the key to being responsible for their own planning for success (or failure), they might just surprise you by actually taking ownership of their lives and pilgrimage to success. I was even treated to a bonus exhibition of dandy ideas! I believe that if you empower a young person to dream, they will truly dare to dream along with you. The challenge then, for youth workers like me, is to give them a platform, some perimeters, and to help their see the picture that it takes a team to realise a dream.
This was, without a doubt, the iJourney session that left the greatest impression on me thus far.
Two days ago, I wrote on the first three struggles of leadership – leadership without relationship, leadership without encouragement and leadership without vision. I shall complete the article as I said I would.
Fourthly, there are some who lead with laziness – rephrased in layman language, these are leaders who simply cannot be bothered. It becomes dangerous when a leader loses his momentum, hence it is imperative that he prevents this by making a conscious decision not to slack. Complacency often takes place during times of success.
Fifthly, there will always be a group of leaders who lead in disarray – they are misplaced in their position, though for some this is no fault of their own. A leader who doesn’t utilise his strengths will obviously struggle in his weaknesses. So if you are a leader who has the necessary influence and authority, be sure to put the right people in the right places; you tend to do the wrong things if you’re placed in the wrong place.
Sixthly, there are those who lead without details. I’m glad that I found good opinions on the importance on micro-management here and here. Get this clear – you don’t expect what you don’t inspect. I’m of the firm belief that knowledge is king and the more you know about your objectives, challenges and people, the higher your chances of success as a leader. That’s when excellence comes into the picture.
Last but not least, I think the seventh common struggle of leadership is to lead without belief. You need to believe in whom you have empowered and in your vision and objectives. To believe in people is to trust them to deliver what you’ve delegated them to do. But this goes beyond mere words; a good leader follows up his words with action – the call of leadership is to journey with people; this is most effort-intensive but if you hang around long enough, you’ll see the fruits of your labour.
That concludes my short reflection on leadership struggles based on my own experiences. I’m off to Grace Retreat from 7th June til 11th June and if you can, do pray that I will be able to get a fresh touch from God and to receive a new vision from Him for my life and for my ministry. I desire to be a life-impacting and life-changing youth minister.
During the peak of an event that I was a part of, some 30 minutes before it started, the organiser stormed into the room and blew her head off at all the seemingly inconsequential matters. She lost her cool and threw unnecessary tantrums to and in front of everyone. My colleague simply commented, “这种人，做不了大事” (direct translation – this kind of person, cannot accomplish big things). I couldn’t help but agree with his harsh and cruel but very accurate assessment!
Looking back at all the different people I’ve worked with, I realise that I can somehow tell how successful a person is and can be simply by observing how he handles his roles and responsibilities, or by how he responds to stress. To an extent, those who cannot undertake major events are usually those who will crumble when the going gets tough. One man whom I really admire is my uncle and former boss, AT. I cannot find a better word other than “Hero” to describe him; his problem-solving and stress-taking abilities are nonpareil and I really look up to him in that aspect.
Assessing a person based on his capacities to manage pressure is not a fatalistic way of evaluation, but it certainly is one way you could analyse him. Of course it’s always easier to just do what you’re comfortable with and prepared for, so naturally it’s the unexpected that truly tests a person’s competence to cope with the bigger things in life. At least for me it indicates the stage that one can operate on and how big it can get.
Don’t misunderstand me – there’s nothing wrong if you’re only able to handle a small platform at this point of your life. The question is, are you even able to handle that platform? I reckon that discontentment, disappointment and disillusionment will set in when a small-platform person desires and covets a big stage that he cannot handle (and vice versa). So, how aware are you of how and what you are built for?
I guess we’ll figure out the answer to this million-dollar question as we progress through life and figure out the answers while we discover how much we can actually manoeuvre. So remember that one sign of your threshold to handle big matters is simply how you complain about small matters. I remember the three key lessons from KK’s excellent lesson during the leaders’ retreat – do not complain (about your situation), do not justify (your actions) and take responsibility (for yourself).