Kamis, 31 Januari 2013

The Spirit of Leadership

"It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership. "
-Nelson Mandela

Cultivating the spirit of leadership within ourselves does not only occur when we become team leaders of a group. Rather, it also takes place when we become followers. This is because in order to be good leaders, we must learn to maximize our effectiveness as good followers to support the performance of the leaders. This is the means whereby a team can work together in a solid manner.

Last February
2012, I became the Indonesian delegate in the International Youth Exchange (IYE) in Malaysia. The activity was attended by youth from several countries, including Indonesia, Malaysia, Korea, Mongolia, Pakistan, Nepal, and the Philippines. At the outset, I thought that all the participants would be able to speak English very well because this was an international event at which English would be used as the language of instruction. I began to greet the participants from other countries and we started to get acquainted with one another, especially when all the participants had been divided into mulitnational teams. I was assigned to a team that consisted of delegates from Indonesia, Korea, Nepal, and Mongolia.

When we began to get to know each other I realized that most of our friends from Mongolia were completely unable to communicate in English. One of the participants from Mongolia who could not effectively communicate in English was on my team. His name is Choijilsuren Altangerel. For the sake of simplicity, we agreed to call him Choi.

We started to discuss an appropriate name for our team, and I asked Choi in English the name of his favorite Mongolian hero. It became apparent that he did not understand what I meant. Finally, one friend from Malaysia named Atau, who also could not speak English fluently but could at least understand some English vocabulary, began to help Choi so that he might understand what we meant. Atau explained that we wanted to create a team name that would be derived from the name of heroes from Indonesia, Malaysia and Mongolia.
Choi, 2nd person from the left side

Atau attempted to communicate through a process of a quite humorous mix of body language and gestures with Choi. Choi finally mentioned a name, that of his favorite hero in Mongolia, Shren. So we decided that the name of our group would be Hang Shren, a combination of the names of a traditional literary hero in Malaysia and Indonesia, Hang Tuah, and Choi’s favorite  Mongolian hero, Shren.

After naming the group, it was finally time for our group to select a team leader. We began to discuss in English who deserved to be chairman of the group. At that point, Choi did not say anything, because he was unable to understand what we were discussing. Realizing the hindrance to his active participation in the group because of the language barrier, we wanted to pick Choi to be the team leader so that he could stay active in the group.

It turned out that Choi’s leadership of the group was quite enjoyable. There were many funny incidents, especially when we had to keep re-explaining our assignment from the committee to Choi, who as team leader did not understand the instructions of the committee. Fortunately, Choi was also very eager to ask us about anything with rudimentary English.

Realizing that he had difficulties in communication and in pronouncing the name of the team, which sounded very strange to him, Choi always carried a small pocket book and pen wherever he went. He was never embarrassed to ask questions, or request that someone else help him record the English vocabulary that he needed. Choi also tried to make us all laugh with funny body language that he would use to communicate.

Interestingly, Choi also enthusiastically taught us some words in the Mongolian language.  He taught me phrases like "Sain Banu" (Hello Banu), Bi Chamad Hartai (I love you), and other vocabulary. He also recorded all the Indonesian language vocabulary I taught him. I was amazed by his spirit and confidence in introducing the culture of his country despite limited communication.
Mongolian Brothers n sisters

Having a group leader who could not speak English in fact resulted in our team being the best team for the outdoor game session. We learned to address a shortcoming and turn it into an asset, making lemonade out of lemons as it were. Choi taught us the spirit of seeking knowledge and never giving up. It can be argued that in the process of direct instruction between a teacher and student, sometimes the most learning is in fact attained by the teacher. And I think a deserving and worthy leader is one who learns much from one’s followers. I received many valuable lessons from this experience as a member of the team, but I think Choi gained the most valuable lesson from the experience as the team leader.

My time with IYE made me realize that while perhaps one is not the best individual member in a team, one can still achieve the best results for the team. That was a lesson in true leadership. Everyone effectively is a leader and must take responsibility for the role for which one is accountable. From IYE I learned to accept other people’s shortcomings without a sense of superiority. None of the members of the team looked down upon Choi for his limited English, but rather we all were laughing together as we attempted to communicate with and understand others with a variety of educational and linguistic backgrounds.

Diversity is fun!

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