The number of women leaders in the largest companies in the United States declined by 25 percent this year, as reported by Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times.
Because the number of female chief executive officers (CEO) is small to begin with, the departure of even one – such as the recent departure of Denise Morrison as the CEO of Campbell Soup Company, has a big numerical impact.
In fact, the number of female CEOs has dropped from thirty-two to twenty-four in the past year.
Why does it matter that so few women are CEOs and that the numbers are declining? One reason is that unconscious assumptions about gender determine who gets seen as leadership material when managers need to hire or promote.
In a study reported by Heather Murphy of the New York Times, both women and men almost always draw a man when asked to draw an effective leader.
Murphy reports on another study where research participants were asked to listen in by phone to a fictional sales meeting. In some of the “meetings,” study participants heard “Eric” offer change-oriented ideas while other participants heard “Erica” read the same script.
When research participants were asked to rate the speaker, either Eric or Erica, on how much he or she had exhibited leadership, the Erics were far more likely than the Ericas to be identified as leaders, even though the Ericas shared the exact same ideas.
Murphy cites Nilanjana Dasgupta of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, who explains that “when people are consistently exposed to leaders who fit one profile [male], they will be more likely to notice leaders who fit that same profile in the future.”
In other words, even when a woman acts like a leader, her talents are less likely to be noticed or identified as leadership because the generally accepted profile of a leader is a man.
This inherent bias is why it matters that the number of women in high visibility CEO roles in big companies is declining. Murphy points out that we need to see more women in leadership roles to expand our unconscious assumptions about who can be an effective leader. Instead, the numbers are declining.
In fact, depressingly, every female executive who stepped down during the past year was replaced by a man.
Miller notes that the obstacles for female executives are rooted in biases against women in power. In fact, Miller cites two studies to make her case:
Both women and men have families, but caregiving is considered to be a woman’s problem and, therefore, limits the opportunities made available to women.
Leadership ability does not appear to be affected by gender differences. A study of 2,600 executives found no difference in multiple areas assessed, including interpersonal skills, analytical and managerial skills, and general ability.
Yet, women were much less likely to become chief executives.
This problem is clearly a vicious cycle. Because we don’t see women in executive roles, women don’t get the opportunity to be hired or promoted into executive roles.
We have to keep challenging both women and men to examine their unconscious biases about who can be an effective leader. We must also continue to push for more women on corporate boards who will hopefully push for more women to be considered for CEO roles.
And, we need to elect women to office where they can raise these issues legislatively.
Let’s keep asking: “Where are the women?”
Anne Litwin is an organisational consultant and keynote speaker on workplace issues. She is the author of New Rules for Women. To contact Anne, email email@example.com.Reposted with permission.
Succession planning is a vital component in an organisation to ensure the sustained success of any business in identifying talent which will fill important roles of organisations in the future or in time of calamity.
It is essential for organisations to have a succession plan to guarantee the person who succeeds the former employee is capable and fits the requirements to replace the employee exiting.
What happens when you do not have a succession plan in place?
Your legacy could be jeopardised
According to Carol Sankar, the job of a great leader is to identify and mentor their successor(s) who will continue to move the company forward. Remember, there is more at risk than just your business, because it is also your legacy.
If you pass on the baton to someone who is under-trained and incapable, you are not only risking the position you held, but you are also imperilling the organisation’s image.
It will make it harder to find a skilled candidate
The Association for Talent Development reports that 87 percent of organisations find it strenuous to chance upon skilled candidates. These challenges brunt business performance, customer service and growth.
Recruiting is more expensive than training
According to Nick Davis, all organisations need to watch out for the main issue and be prudent with expenditure. Without a succession plan set up, you may wind up in the circumstance where you have to quickly fill an executive position, but you do not have any prevailing, competent employees to fill the position. All things considered, you will need to direct your concentration toward external candidates.
While your recruitment selection process may expose numerous exciting prospects, the expenses of external candidates have a tendency to be significantly higher than the cost of training existing employees. On top of this, they are new to the organisation’s culture, qualities and techniques.
In addition, external candidates tend to obtain lower marks in performance appraisals and are more probable to be laid off when compared to internal employees. For this reason, it benefits you to make the most out of existing talent, and plan for their succession.
Without a succession plan, stress and frustrations escalates
Davis, further stresses ─ if a succession plan is not in place, you are almost assured to suffer the stress and frustration that accompanies lack of preparation. From the moment an employee exits, the pressure is on to find a pertinent replacement, and you have limited time to do so.
Judgments made in hurriedness can often prove unwise, irrespective of how unwavering you are to be systematic and vigilant in your selection.
Recruiting external candidates could impact engagement and retention
Sharyln Lauby emphasises that employees want to know they have a fortuity with the organisation. One way to establish that is through training and development.
You do not have to tell employees they are a part of the succession plan. Consider providing training in problem-solving, conflict resolution, collaboration and decision-making.
There is a potential for disputes to occur within the organisation when there is no clear succession plan present within the organisation or a department. These disputes happen because employees or people working within the organisation may quarrel because they think they are most competent to fill up the empty spot.
Loss of employee faith in company leadership
According to Jeremy Green, employees will start losing faith in the organisation’s leadership for business to continue and employees will seek other opportunities for fear of ambiguity of business steadiness and their own job security.
No clear direction for the business without a known leader
Jeremy Green also stated that when a person from a business-critical role exits the organisation, and the organisation does not have a succession plan and if the spot stays vacant, it will not bode well for the organisation.
This is especially if it is Chief Executive Officer’s (CEO) or a Managing Director’s (MD) position – the mid and lower management will not have a clear path as to what needs to be done.
According to Darleen DeRosa, there are two very important elements that need to be taken into account to ensure the success of a succession plan.
Identifying the Right People
One of the most important aspects of any succession planning is to find a steady stream of high-potential employees to fill your organisation’s business-critical leadership roles.
Regrettably, there is a common fallacy that a high-performing employee is a high-potential leader. This leads many organisations to put top performers into leadership roles that, honestly, they are not always prepared for.
According to DeRosa, some measures that an organisation can take to make sure it puts the right people into the succession pipeline include creating a success profile for key positions. The first step is to establish what ‘success’ looks like for a specified position.
Consider which skills and behaviours are desirable to make the best use of outcomes for the role, and use these to form the foundation of the assessment criteria.
DeRosa also recommends conducting an assessment to identify those with leadership potential:
Leadership assessments recognise high-potential employees by determining important metrics, such as learning agility, strategic thinking and emotional intelligence.
These assessments can also detect potential ‘derails’, or physiognomies and preferences that could disrupt efficiency in a leadership role.
Conducting interviews to assess the employee’s experiences, goals, and past behaviours can be helpful. This can prove critical for recognising a true ‘high-potential’ leadership candidate.
Gather feedback from peers, managers and direct reports whenever possible. A 360 feedback would help provide a wide-ranging representation of a candidate’s potential as a leader.
A potential inventory (PI) is an assessment that is filled out by an employee’s manager. This assessment delivers a future-focused aspect at the magnitude to which the employee has the potential to take on additional obligations based on a range of dimensions that are aligned with the role and predictive characteristics of high potential.
2. Accelerating development
After determining high-potential candidates, it is paramount to set them up for success. Using the criteria established in the ‘success profile’ and the information collected from the leadership assessments, you can classify skill fissures and modify the development each individual receives to maximise your leadership development outcomes.
These on-the-job learning opportunities for high-potential employees can have a mammoth influence on their aptitude to prepare for a leadership role. They also help validate how a precise skill can be significant for work by creating a real-world example of the skill in action.
There are no strict ways on how to make a succession plan as every organisation would have its own way of planning their succession. It is essential to have a succession plan in order to maintain stability within the organisation.
Roubeeni is an avid reader with love for languages and music. She is driven by passion for writing and believes that written words make an impact to those reading them. If you have more views and experiences to share about the importance of succession planning, do share them with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Most countries are now diverse in some shape or form. How represented or visible that diversity is, relies on active inclusion – welcoming and embracing the complexity of every human being.
Diane Richler, former president of Inclusion International said it this way, “Inclusion is not a strategy to help people fit into the systems and structures which exist in our societies; it is about transforming those systems and structures to make it better for everyone. Inclusion is about creating a better world for everyone.”
Inclusion goes deeper than political correctness or grin-and-bear-it tolerance and it is essential to growth – social, economic, and organisational growth.
Research indicates that people want to feel included, heard and valued, and they will go above and beyond if this essential need – to belong – is met.
If inclusion is not present, diversity may be attainable, but not sustainable. A lack of belonging negatively impacts an organisation’s bottom line through attrition – a sure-fire indication that your staff is primed to leave.
When organisations foster inclusion in their workplaces, they open themselves to new ideas, insights and learning from people who may otherwise shrink to a corner.
While it is impossible to consider all the values, beliefs, and norms of every individual at work, we can try to reflect on our own beliefs and unconscious biases.
How do these affect the assumptions we make about others and what do we project onto other people because of them?
What assumptions are you making when you interview someone for a job? What evidence do you have for those evaluations?
It’s important, as a leader, to be aware of the bias in our decision-making and a good way to start challenging that is to be reflective. It’s also equally important to create ways to reduce bias by working with the human resources department to evaluate hiring processes, policies and training so that they may foster a healthy, inclusive workplace.
Learn inclusive language
The language leaders use can set the tone for how others in the organisation communicate and treat each other. Used constructively, language can reflect social and cultural diversity in a positive and accurate way rather than perpetuating negative stereotypes about individuals and groups.
This example needs to be set from the top. Therefore, it is necessary for leaders to learn the most appropriate terms when referencing someone else’s age, gender, disability, appearance, race, etc.
Make it explicit
Be the “change you want to see” in your organisation. So, make your vision for inclusion clear and let it inform meetings and discussions.
This can be tricky when you – as a leader – are not part of a marginalised or less represented group. In this case, listen emphatically to others and let their experiences inform how inclusion evolves in your organisation
People are created equal, but not the same
People have different needs based on their backgrounds, abilities and experiences. Inclusive leaders are more successful when they can see the strength in the unique qualities of each individual within their team. This also means building a flexible and agile work environment.
Inclusion is a value that is needed for future workforces. Companies that have been built on it have proven to be more successful. So, besides being the humane choice – it’s also the smart thing to do as a leader.
Louisa is currently pursuing a Masters of Development Practice overseas, majoring in community development. She is an editorial associate and freelance writer with Leaderonomics. An extrovert who loves the outdoors; she thinks change is exciting and should be embraced.
Intelligence is one of the most valued assets in today’s society, and remains at the forefront of psychology and social studies. But does one need to be highly intelligent in order to lead effectively? Does the way we view intelligence have any implications for organisations’ leadership development efforts?
In this Raise Your Game session on BFM89.8 – The Business Station, Hui Yi-Wen and Jeff Sandhu discuss ‘intelligence’ and whether it ought to be the foundation of leadership.
Photo credit: Pexels
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The great 17th century scientist Isaac Newton had once said that what we know is a drop, and what we don’t know is an ocean. He also opined that all great discoveries begin with a bold guess.
I’m sometimes asked why there doesn’t appear to be as many great discoveries now as there have been in the centuries gone by.
Actually, there have been thousands of great discoveries in the 21st century.
After a little digging in the conversation, the question that’s left is usually, “Why are we so afraid to be bold and innovative on an everyday level?”
It boils down to a simple fear that holds us back: the fear of taking risks. Why rock the boat? If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.
This is how we’ve always done things. These are the kinds of risk-averse clichés that get businesses into trouble, which can lead to disaster in some cases.
Business leaders talk often about the “ever-changing world”, the “rapid evolution of new technologies” and the “need to adapt and thrive”.
The talk always sounds impressive, but how many of us actually live the ideas we advocate and champion?
Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far it is possible to go.
‒ T.S. ElliotBe bold and innovative
Pioneers and innovators are celebrated because they dare to explore their ideas in ways that most of us wouldn’t.
In extreme cases, such as James Young Simpson’s experimenting with the anaesthetic properties of chloroform, being bold and innovative can be highly dangerous, even if it does lead to game-changing breakthroughs.
To paraphrase Newton, any kind of progress requires risk. As the saying goes, ships are safest when they’re at harbour, but that’s not what ships are meant for.
Simpson was a radical innovator, but many of the greatest inventions ‒ since the wheels were developed ‒ has been with some degree of risk that constantly ran alongside the progress made.
Needless to say, being bold and innovative doesn’t have to lead to ground-breaking inventions or discoveries.
As business leaders ‒ or even in our personal lives ‒ being bold is about finding the courage to explore and test new ideas that can advance and build on past successes and triumphs.
“What you have to do and the way you have to do it is incredibly simple. Whether you are willing to do it is another matter.” ‒ Peter Drucker
One of the worst things we can do as leaders in our field is to distance ourselves from ideas and visions that are in line with helping us keep pace with the reality of change.
For example, I know some business leaders who have yet to move beyond traditional marketing as their sole means of reaching an audience.
They are reluctant to embrace modern methods such as digital marketing and social media that would allow their message an authentic and even greater reach.
We have to keep moving forward or fall far behind ‒ it’s as simple as that. Being unwilling to take risks is worse, in the long run, than taking no risks at all.
At Leaderonomics, I’m always happy to consider any ideas that are presented to me. The main questions I tend to ask are:
Can it be done?
Should it be done?
How will it help to realise our vision?
What’s needed to bring this idea to life?
It would of course be unhelpful to say “yes” to every idea immediately. Being bold doesn’t mean being reckless.
But it does mean starting from the question, “Why not?” and being able to sincerely explore the potential benefits that an idea presents.
It can often be hard work. Sometimes, the resources needed aren’t immediately available at hand, and it can be the case that not everyone is entirely sure of how the process should go.
The one thing that these problems have in common?
They can all be overcome relatively quickly, and it’s amazing what can be achieved when people have a little bit of faith and the willingness to try.
“I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.” ‒ Pablo Picasso
Growth in discomfort
There’s an amusing joke which says that entrepreneurs are the kind of people who will jump out of a plane first and then figure out how to build a parachute on the way down.
As with many things said in jest, there’s a profound truth to be found. In this case, the truth is that, for as long as we’re comfortable, we don’t grow.
It’s only when we commit ourselves to being bold ‒ when we’re up against it ‒ that we push ourselves to find solutions to challenges that were previously thought insurmountable.
When we are driven, passionate, bold and innovative, great things really can happen. More often than not, those great things come during times when we decide to simply bring an idea to life and see where it goes.
Great discoveries and incredible inventions aren’t the exclusive domain of exceptional people.
Extraordinary breakthroughs are usually brought about by ordinary people who possess a deep curiosity and the passion to follow their intuition.
Their boldness enables them to see what they can create by pushing the boundaries and leaving behind the conventional wisdom that often stifles progress.
Imagine what you could achieve, imagine what your team or company could achieve, if an open culture of innovation and creativity was nurtured.
Imagine what could happen if mistakes were allowed to happen and people were free to express their ideas of how things should be done, how today should be different from yesterday, and what that could mean for tomorrow.
We have the talents, resources and capabilities available to us ‒ more so now than ever before. Just imagine what Newton could do with the technologies and opportunities that exist today?
His fearlessness in exploring would know no bounds. But we needn’t be a Newton-level genius to make discoveries and create great new innovations.
We only need be curious about how we can be doing things better and embrace the courage and willingness to try.
Roshan is CEO of the Leaderonomics Group. He believes that everyone can be a leader and make a dent in the universe, in their own special ways. To engage with him deeper, go to www.Facebook.com/roshanthiran.leaderonomics
You might assume that “capacity to think” is something you don’t have to worry about if you’re in the process of selecting a new leader, whether it’s a new chief executive officer (CEO) or the founder of a company you’re investing in.
You’d be wrong. Surprisingly, great credentials, a record of success, and an impressive education do not guarantee that someone has the ability to do the high-level thinking required of a leader whose decisions have fateful consequences.
Every search committee looking for a new CEO or organisational president and every investor evaluating the strength and promise of a business’ founder should include evaluation of the capacity for judgment and critical thinking as part of the vetting process when deciding to put the fate of their company in the hands of a new leader.
How can someone even get close to a position as CEO or leader of a great organisation without these fundamental cognitive strengths?
It happens all the time. Charisma, connections, luck, canniness, creativity and vision can propel someone into a position of power. It doesn’t mean their judgment is up to snuff.
Elsewhere, I’ve written about five core character traits and cognitive abilities that every leader who is responsible for the fate of an enterprise and its people must have.
Perhaps the most vital is the capacity for critical thinking and judgment. This is not to minimise the importance of the other four: empathy, trust, self-control/discipline and self-awareness.
This model of the fundamental requirements for a leader is distilled from two broad sources – my own 35 years’ experience as a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst and organisational leader, using the long traditions of thought and research in psychology and psychoanalysis, and a remarkable document (itself based on the same theoretical and empirical foundation), the Army Field Manual on Leader Development.
More than just a thought process
Good judgment depends on the ability to think critically and strategically. This can be broken down into multiple essential functions, including the ability to plan ahead in a way that is thoughtful and organised, the ability to organise information into a coherent and logical narrative, and the ability to understand cause and effect.
To my mind, the most important aspect of critical thinking is the capacity to anticipate consequences.
At the basic level, this is linear – what are the immediate, mid-term and long-term consequences of a decision?
But the best leadership mind anticipates consequences more expansively, perceiving a multidimensional outcome and, immediately, the range of complex secondary and tertiary outcomes that will spin off in response to each level of change.
A leader’s thought process needs to be dominated by reason and facts, not emotion. But it’s equally important for a leader to know the effects stress and emotion have on his own thinking and be able to discern when irrational forces are overtaking dispassionate logic.
This is harder than it might seem since we are all subject to unconscious mental forces that can distort thinking without revealing they are at work.
Critical thinking requires the ability to compare current situations to similar ones encountered in the past, using the richness of previous experience with problems to inform present assessment.
But this necessary use of past experience has to be tempered by alertness to unconscious biases and fears.
Doctors are taught to beware of the “last grave error syndrome” – the tendency to overcompensate because you screwed up last time.
Just because you missed a case of heart disease doesn’t mean every patient you see now needs excessive cardiac testing.
In investing, just because you left a short position too soon and lost a mint doesn’t mean you should stay in your current short positions.
The leader who can think clearly is able to set aside his own ego and self-esteem as he evaluates a situation.
Critical thinking requires the ability to approach a problem with an organised assessment process: knowing what information to gather, considering alternative explanations and points of view, actively seeking contrarian opinions and perspectives, identifying gaps in information and knowledge and identifying a process to fill them.
Since problem-solving is dependent on thinking and judgment, these capacities can be assessed by observing how the leader organises her response to a crisis, an unexpected situation or a stalemate.
How can you identify inadequacies in a potential leader’s critical thinking and judgment? Look for these specific signs of deficiency.
I’ve extracted many of these from the Army Manual, which does an invaluable job of operationalising what otherwise would be abstract and difficult to assess capacities:
Signs of disorganisation in thinking or speech.
Over-focus on details; inability to see the big picture.
Lack of clarity about priorities.
Inability to anticipate consequences.
Failure to consider and articulate second and third-degree consequences of an action or decision.
Inability to offer alternative explanations or courses of action.
Inability to distinguish critical elements in a situation from less important ones.
Inability to articulate thought process including the evidence used to arrive at a decision, other options that were considered and how a conclusion was reached.
Unable to tolerate ambiguity/over-certainty.
Difficulty outlining a step-wise process to solve a problem or implement a change.
Besides recruitment and promotion, this conceptual model provides a useful framework in other contexts.
Leadership coaches can use it to identify areas a client needs to attend to and strengthen. Mentors and managers developing leadership potential in individuals they’re working with can pinpoint strengths and weaknesses.
Anyone in a leadership position herself or who aspires to one can also use this model, with its breakdown of the components of critical thinking, as a self-assessment and capacity development tool to identify personal deficiencies and look for ways to improve in this essential area.
Each of us has a unique hard-wired and learnt set of cognitive tools and none of us has a toolkit that isn’t missing a few pieces.
Critical thinking and judgment are among the most advanced and sophisticated cognitive skills, demanding difficult and fluid mental processes of synthesis, discrimination and complex analysis.
Even the best thinker will lapse to a lower level of cognitive functioning at times of enormous stress, emotional overload, illness, sleep deprivation or fatigue.
Knowing when one’s capacity for critical thinking is sub-par is just as vital as being able to do it well.
Prudy is the founder of Invantage Advising. She has 35 years of experience as a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst and advises leaders in business and finance on the underlying psychology of critical decisions. She can be found on Twitter @invantageadvis. Email us at email@example.com to share your thoughts on the article.This article first appeared.
In all the years that I’ve been involved with leadership development, one question that I’ve often been asked is: Which is most important — to have passion or a plan?
I’ll bet that many people will have an initial reaction to this question, and everyone will have well-thought out reasons as to why their choice trumps the other. Personally, when I first pondered this question many years ago, I was instinctively drawn towards passion as the most important trait.
Without passion, there’s no commitment and without commitment, there’s no perseverance. And with no perseverance, most people fall at the first hurdle in pursuit of their goals and ambitions.
But passion without a plan can be aimless. It can also become an obsession and, like a raging fire, if there is no careful direction, can get out of control and consume us.
Of course, on the other hand, a plan without passion can be a laborious and cumbersome process — I’ve yet to hear of a success story that was built solely on a plan without an intense passion driving the overall vision.
Stepping outside the box
In business, as with life, we can often get caught up in dualistic thinking. The “this or that” approach is more often a hindrance than a help, and yet, it’s one we see embraced all the time. How many career choices are weighed by this measure?
You could try to become an artist, but you probably won’t make any money. Better to become a banker; that way, you’ll have a solid career and income.
Here we see “this or that” in full flow: you can either be creative or sensible, but you can’t be both… Why not?
This modern-day conventional wisdom directs us to be boxed in, to compact the complexity and range of who we are into a single space. Passion is for the few who are creative enough to put it to good use.
And yet, when we think of great minds of the past — who weren’t born great — we see this dichotomy smashed into pieces.
Albert Einstein was told at school that he’d never amount to much. The renowned and revered physicist was a genius…and one who credited his success to his ability to play the violin.
Einstein once said of playing that the “most joy in my life has come to me from my violin,” and he would often play classical music as a brainstorming technique.
Another giant of history, Leonardo da Vinci, had a whole range of talents. Many people associate the Italian icon with his famous paintings.
And yet, he was also a musician, cartographer, mathematician, geologist, sculptor, engineer and geologist…just to name a few of his capabilities.
Whenever I advise young students and professionals, I try to remind them to delve into as much of the human experience as possible, just as any great mind of the past and present has done.
It’s by immersing ourselves in the world that we come alive to the possibilities that we can create through the passions that we discover.
We all see things through different perspectives, and so our potential to contribute to the world is absolutely unique.
The flip-side to this, of course, is the requirement for a plan of action. To briefly counter an objection I’ve often heard: yes, there are people who successfully wing their way to success thanks to an unyielding dedication to their passion.
But these truly are the lucky few who are able to make use of their circumstances, timing, opportunities and other factors that happen to come together at the right moment.
We risk falling into the trap of believing that passion and success are reserved for the few and not the many when we look to exceptional examples of those who both work hard and find Lady Fortune on their side.
But success and deep satisfaction is available to anyone who takes the time to discover and evolve their passion, while at the same time making sure they have a plan in place, an idea of where they want to go and how to get there.
Within that plan, there needs to be room for flexibility to allow for unexpected circumstances and challenges that might arise.
If we are able to have a framework within which our passion can thrive, it’s in that space that we can truly maximise our potential to achieve great things.
It’s by dropping clichéd conventional wisdom that this process can flourish. There’s a reason why we’re often advised to “think outside the box” — because that’s where well-worn ideas are kept.
If we want to make changes for ourselves, we can’t make those changes by repeating the same thoughts, words and actions.
By marrying our passion and a solid plan together, rather than seeing the two as mutually exclusive, we can reach amazing heights. As the saying goes, electric light didn’t come about by constantly improving candles.
Roshan is CEO of the Leaderonomics Group. He believes that everyone can be a leader and make a dent in the universe, in their own special ways. To engage with him deeper, go to www.Facebook.com/roshanthiran.leaderonomics
The current world is being disrupted on a daily basis with the emergence of business model that even Nostradamus couldn’t have imagined. In order to remain relevant, some companies are reassessing their own organisational culture. Many are racing to brand themselves as “The Place for Millennials To Be At” in order to tap into the unstoppable wave of talent.
In this Raise Your Game session, Ikhwan Tharwan discusses one of the big questions currently posed by organisations: are colourful workplace and bean bags really the answer to unleash the so-called “Worst Generation”?
READ: The End Of Dinosaur Leadership Development. What’s Next?
Image | pexels
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DIODE: how it helps break boundaries and unleash talents
By MWAFFAQ ALHAJJAR
Leaders are not always born! They can be made!
That was my first thought after coming back from the DIODE Youth Leadership Camp. It all started when I was appointed to accompany a group of refugee students to a leadership camp, from the school I had been working in since late 2017.
I packed my bags and grabbed a book to read, thinking that I would have time for reading like in a school camp!
As a teacher in a refugee school, and a refugee myself, I do know the obstacles that refugees are facing around the world, particularly in Malaysia.
My biggest concern has always been the children – their hopes and dreams; teenagers who are marginalised and grow up away from normal conditions.
How could they possibly believe in their future, when they witness the barriers their families face daily?
Hence, I was curious to see their interactions during this camp and the results they would get.
The camp helped break barriers
During my first moments at the camp, I knew right away that this experience would be something that would stay with me for a lifetime.
I can’t even begin to express what I felt, seeing my students integrating with the other groups of students and facilitators, expressing themselves slowly and happily.
The camp, as I noticed, was a real opportunity to showcase their skills and talents, to speak about their dreams, loudly and fearlessly.
A quote I had once read sprang to mind: “The art of communication is the language of leadership,” and that was truly what these teenagers needed – to start demonstrating their potential.
Having conversations, building relationships, and exchanging thoughts and ideas with others, confidently helped them overcome the difficulty of being strangers.
Moreover, being embraced with love and care from facilitators and peers paved the path for them to shine.
Looking back at those six astonishing days, there were a few who really stood out.
I’ll never forget Dima*, a teenager from Yemen, who was deeply touched in the Breaking Boundaries session.
She faced her fears and worries, probably for the first time ever. She released all her weaknesses through tears and discovered that she was not alone. Day after day, I could see Dima overcoming her pain and sorrows.
Then there was Ahmad*. He was a young man who impressed everyone at the camp. He was a friend to all the students. In face, all the campers loved to sit with him because of his humble personality.
The camp was also the perfect opportunity for Ahmad to showcase his talent: I discovered that he writes his own lyrics and produces beautiful music.
Another inspiring story would be Bahar*, a girl from Iran who had been facing issues with her self-esteem. She was always covering her face and was always hiding behind the lights. Midway through the camp, she came to the hall of campers, stood tall and proud with the rest of them with a big, confident smile on her face.
That was a sign of breakthrough in her. It started with the Breaking Boundaries session where students were asked to write down their fears and things that were hindering them on a piece of wood. They were then required to break the wood in half.
Her transformation after that session was remarkable. She became more confident, started to show her talents and began to present herself differently.
Being a co-facilitator and a camper at the same time, I was definitely inspired and humbled by the whole experience; watching the students from different backgrounds interacting with each other without fear or limitations.
The facilitators were a group of professionals. Tirelessly, they were extracting the buried energy from every participant, believing in their potential and giving them a hand to light their future.
It was just amazing!
*Pseudonym used to protect the individual’s privacy.
Mwaffaq is from Syria. He is a petrochemical engineer and a creative writer, who is now working at the Malaysian Social Research Institute school as a chemistry teacher. To share your thoughts with him, write in to firstname.lastname@example.org.
DIODE Youth Leadership Camp: a total of 44 campers – 15 of them were sponsored campers from the Malaysian Social Research Institute refugee school.
So, what happens when Malaysian students come together with students from India, Afghanistan, Yemen, Iran, Somalia, and Egypt? They form a very beautiful and unique camp experience.
I was a facilitator for Team Russia (each group was to form a country name, not necessarily related to their country of origin).
As expected, on the first day of camp during the first group meeting, everybody was very quiet and shy.
It was so nice to see them breaking the ice by working together to come up with group games.
The quiet ones began to talk… the jokers began to show their ‘belang’ (stripes) … it was a very beautiful picture I had captured in my memory.
They did very well and won many games together, and eventually became the overall champions of the camp!
Though they were different from one another, their characters complemented each other very well. There were the motivators, doers, jokers, leader, follower, younger and older campers.
They reviewed, they strategised, they gave constructive feedback to each other to improve, and they encouraged one another.
They went for challenges together, learnt lessons together, ate together, played games together, and shared meals together. It was indeed a very holistic six days of living together.
Whenever a team is leading in the games, they’re bound to have more opponents in the field.
Team Russia were severely ‘attacked’ by all groups during the Capture the Flag game, yet when the game finished, they took the initiative to stay back to debrief themselves on how they could do better.
They took a lot of initiative to eat with others and make new friends. Wow, what an extraordinary demonstration of friendship!
Occasionally, they would quip some inspirational quotes: “Don’t think negative thoughts,” or “Don’t just think of yourself, think of us doing it as a team.”
To me, these words being uttered by 14- and 15-year-olds were very impactful!
Part of the camp experience was also having to live and bunk down with new friends. By default, they preferred to stay together with their own friends. Staying with new friends was a challenge as some found it hard to connect with each other.
The author’s beloved group members from Team Russia, supporting one another and carrying each other’s burdens.
After games time, the girls in Chalet 8 had some distress in their chalet so I went over to check on them. They had heard someone knocking on their door a few times, but when they opened the door, there wasn’t anyone there.
Naturally, the five girls were afraid and anxious. One of the girls, Chloe* (not her real name) shared how she did not have a good feeling about it as she’d also had a fall on that day.
She felt that the mishap might be something more, an ominous sign of something bad. Out of fear, she wanted to change chalets.
While this was going on, others who had been wanting to change rooms to be with their own friends started coming forward with their intention to change rooms. It seemed like nobody wanted to be in Chalet 8!
Just that morning, the girls had been through a session called “Breaking Boundaries”. I reminded Chloe that she needed to lay down her fears that were holding her back from growing as a person.
I reminded her that we can’t change the situation, the only thing we can change is ourselves. What if she changed chalets and heard knocking on that door too?
As the session’s lessons slowly came back to her, Chloe started looking much more composed and decided to remain in Chalet 8. The others who were clamouring to change rooms also had a change of mind.
The entire atmosphere in Chalet 8 changed. All the girls started encouraging one another to stay on together.
Since that night, the Chalet 8 girls formed a bond – they walked to the dining hall together and walked back to the chalet together.
They were constantly on the lookout for one another, making sure everyone was alright. What beautiful camaraderie! It was this kind of camp experience that created lasting and unforgettable lifetime memories.
In case you’re wondering where the knocking sound was coming from, we found out from the caretaker that there are woodpeckers around the campsite, hence the knocking sound!
Six days of camp was long enough to go through fun times, learning times, stretching times, breaking times, and victorious times.
In a camp where we learn about leadership, some highlights include self-awareness, breaking free from fears that are holding us back, project management, and public speaking.
In this camp, students learnt to grow their leadership skills as a person; and it was also a time for social learning by living with new friends who are different from us.
What kept me going throughout the six-day camp as a facilitator was seeing how lives were constantly transformed during the camp.
It gives me hope to know that young lives can change. Youth is the crucial time to anchor their character and growth.
Here in Leaderonomics, our research indicates that effort and hard work put into the first 18 years of one’s life shapes how the person turns out to be in the future.
Certain key elements need to be introduced, ingrained, and cultivated. That’s why we intentionally focus on building the right attitudes and character and providing solid foundations for these youths from which they can then launch their respective journeys in life.
Ee Ling oversees the Leaderonomics Clubs. She loves reflecting on life’s beauty among the ordinary things to gain new insights in life. She is also passionate about youths, believing that there’s potential in each one of them. To share your thoughts with the writer, write in to email@example.com.